Post-grunge hitmakers Garbage rise from the scrap heap of success
When the world last heard from the band Garbage in 2005, they were still signed to Universal Records, still working out of the venerable Smart Studios in Madison, Wis., and had just quit a tour early after the band “somewhat overextended themselves.”
Seven years later, the Universal deal and Smart Studios are gone. Garbage’s forthcoming album, Not Your Kind of People, was recorded over the course of nearly two years at friends’ studios and home facilities on the band’s STUNVOLUME label. Smart Studios, the place where Garbage recorded its last original album Bleed Like Me (and where founding members Butch Vig and Steve Marker began recording Nirvana’s Nevermind) shut down in May 2010 after struggling with finances.
About the only thing that remains the same is the original lineup of Marker, Vig (who’s currently in the studio collaborating with Nirvana survivors Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl), Duke Erikson and frontwoman Shirley Manson.
Marker has since moved from Madison to Carbondale, where he balances his musical activities with hiking, biking, getting lost in the woods and taking his 12-year-old daughter Ruby to summer camp in Florissant.
“I think that we all found in our time off that we hated being inactive,” says the guitarist. “We all did other things, but this one thing called Garbage is really precious to us, and has been one of the best parts of my life, and it was very sad when it wasn’t there.”
Bloat like me
For Garbage to come back, however, the band needed to get back to its roots. When the band released its self-titled multi-platinum debut album in 1995 and its platinum follow-up Version 2.0 in 1998, it was working with a label called Almo Sounds, whose small stable of artists included Gillian Welch, Ozomatli and Imogen Heap. During that time, the band scored hits like “Stupid Girl” and “#1 Crush,” came up with all its own artwork, and had free rein in writing its songs. That all ended when Almo was sold to Universal.
“They ended up going out of business and our contract got sold to another company, which got sold to an even bigger company — which was Universal — and all of a sudden we’re this giant, giant corporation competing with bands like U2,” Marker says. “That’s not really where we’re at.”
The band made only two albums over the next decade, with both Beautiful Garbage (2001) and Bleed Like Me (2005) falling short of earlier album sales as the recording industry and music fans drifted away from record stores. Garbage nearly split in 2003 because of tensions between its band members, then cut short its last tour in 2005 as a result of animosity toward their label. Aside from releasing the greatest-hits compilation Absolute Garbage in 2007, the band remained dormant while it disentangled itself from Universal.
“We put the band together because it was fun and we developed an amazing fan base along the way … we did it for ourselves and those people,” Marker says. “It took all of the fun and joy out of making music to be involved with what’s basically a giant cigarette company or a giant paper company that didn’t have anything to do with making music anymore but ‘shifting units,’ as they say.”
Trashy but cheap
Since starting work on Not Your Kind of People, “fun” has reentered the Garbage lexicon, and is now the adjective of choice when Marker describes the band’s recent efforts. Instead of locking itself in a studio for six to eight months until the record was finished, Garbage worked in a friend’s studio in California for a week or two at a time before returning to their home studios and then returning a few weeks later.
Removed from the familiar confines of Madison and Smart Studios — where Marker and Vig had worked since 1983 — the band was reinvigorated by a small basement room with just a couch, a few microphones, a big pile of guitars, distortion boxes and “weird synths and stuff” scattered throughout. With Universal’s coffers gone, Marker found himself toying around with existing guitars and building tube guitar amps from scratch in an attempt to find new sounds.
“We paid for the whole thing ourselves and didn’t have some record company footing the bill for everything, so we had to watch the pennies and come up with different ways to do things,” Marker says. “If you have an unlimited budget and somebody says, ‘Let’s put a piano in this’ and arranges to get a beautiful Steinway that costs $1,000 a day to rent, it’s not even something you think about. And you get spoiled doing that.”
The new album’s lead single “Blood for Poppies” is perhaps the best indication of where Garbage is at this stage in its career. Its dance pop undertones were developed in an instrument-strewn mess of a studio between stays at seedy craigslist-procured apartments. But the sound also has the big fuzz, bouncing bassline and overall tightness of a production team that’s been doing this since Smashing Pumpkins, Tad and L7 graced its studios, as well as musicians who held it together for the better part of two decades.
“I can see us working together in different ways forever, really,” Marker says. “It’s not necessarily going to be all of us in the bus every minute of every day, but I think we’re going to keep going.”