Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Garbage Frank Ockenfels III
Nine Songs
Shirley Manson

As Garbage release the expanded version of Bleed Like Me, Shirley Manson talks Kitty Richardson through the songs and artistry of the female artists that inspire her.

26 April 2024, 10:00 | Words by Kitty Richardson

When Garbage released their 2005 album Bleed Like Me, it sounded especially confident.

The band’s alt-pop predecessor Beautiful Garbage had pushed their more delicate sensibilities to the front, but this fourth outing, which began with a hammering - if anonymous - performance by Dave Grohl, hailed the return of big riffs, biting lyrics and Shirley Manson’s statement black kohl eyeliner.

The vibe behind closed doors, however, was notably sour. “That was the end of our career with major labels,” explains frontwomen Shirley Manson. “They decided we had no future, and you believe what people tell you, right?” The band are now finally releasing Bleed Like Me on vinyl, 20 years after the majors had, according to Manson, “washed their hands of us.”

It’s the second time I’ve spoken to Manson, and I’m struck again by her slightly unsteadying swings between tough and tender. She is diplomatic - blunt, even - about the reality of navigating a sexist, ageist industry. At the same time, I find myself caught off-guard by her audible grief, as she remembers the way she found out her band were due to be dropped from Interscope’s Geffen Records.


“I was flying from Los Angeles to London,” she tells me. “And this famous musician I was sat with, he tells me he had been sitting in a meeting where they had a discussion about whether they were going to plough money into Garbage, or they were going to plough money into No Doubt. And they decided, as a whole, that they would support No Doubt. Because, you know, radio would only play one of us. To be told that by somebody…” she pauses.

“It's incredible, when you think about it now: ‘There's only room for one queen’, but that's life. And anyway, we did survive. In fact, we thrived as it turned out. We just didn’t know that at the time.”

Manson is rightly proud of the band’s endurance. As most women-fronted rock bands slid into obscurity - crowded out by the queens of ‘00s rap and pop - Garbage kept their edge. Across three future releases, their iconic industrial sound - and Manson’s fierce femininity - lured in another generation of weird girls and queer kids.

And now, decades on from that fateful plane trip, Manson, with bandmates Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, are gearing up for their first performance at Wembley Arena since the ‘90s.

“It seems wild to me, you know, and really gratifying,” says Manson. “Because we haven't had any real championing in the press. We've done this pretty much on our own terms for a long time. It gives you a sense of independence and autonomy in a way that we did not have when we were younger - when everybody wanted to control us, take a piece of us and claim part of it as their own. We've been really lucky, but we've also worked hard.”

For her Nine Songs selections, Manson has chosen women who have underscored her career - from Siouxsie Sioux, her teenage heroine, whose vocals inspired Manson’s own, to Chrissie Hynde, who has become a close friend and confidante.

“I've kind of stopped talking about the male artists that I love, because I feel like there's plenty of other people talking about them. And there’s such a long list of women who’ve made an impact on me - it wasn't a difficult task,” she smiles.

“Love in a Void” by Siouxsie and the Banshees

SHIRLEY MANSON: Siouxsie is the one who's had the greatest impact on my career. As a teenager, I just wanted to look like her; sound like her; be her. But I was a redhead, I was freckled. I was about as far from the dark mysterious goth as you could get. But she was the one that grabbed my attention.

I picked “Love In the Void” because that was the first track I'd ever heard of Siouxie, on John Peel. Unlike a lot of the punk music that was on the radio at that time, this was a woman singing and sounding really fierce and confident. On this track in particular, she's got this sarcastic ‘nanananana’ call that felt to me like a subversion of many of the girl groups from the 60s.

I thought I understood where she was coming from in a funny way. It wasn't intellectual; it was just a sound and a feeling and it blew me away. And then later on, I saw what she looked like…

BEST FIT: Did you ever dye your hair like her?

I dyed my hair once. Jackie magazine had free brown hair tie in a little plastic pocket on the front. I think I was 11 or 12 years old… and my dad cried. [Laughs] I looked really weird. It looked like I’d thrown my head into a puddle of mud.

I had a look at the lyrics for this song and was pleased to see the instruction [Barks] at one point!

Oh yeah. She sounds really primal, really brutal. On every single Garbage record, there is a tiny Siouxsie moment. It may not sound like that for the casual listener, but there is at least one moment where I’ll try and fuck with my phrasing or a backing vocal would be a total rip off of her - just done through my funnel.

“Black Boys on Mopeds” by Sinéad O'Connor

SHIRLEY MANSON: Back in my teens and early twenties I was a real nerd. I was obsessed with music. I was obsessed with counterculture. I was obsessed with magazines like Melody Maker; I bought them every single week, and I read them from cover to cover. It was there that I first saw Sinéad O'Connor

I just loved the way she looked. She really jumped out the page back then - this incredible, inconceivable face, popping out of a music magazine. Then I saw her singing “Mandinka” on Top of the Pops. I went out and got that whole album. And I mean, I've worn it out. But I picked this song in particular, because I had never heard someone be so direct about racism on a record before.

BEST FIT: It’s so tender isn’t it? Very different to a lot of similarly political music of that era.

Well, for me politics is in everything. I mean, I find it astounding and convenient for people to label things as ‘political’. Whenever you're talking about something that people don't want to discuss themselves, it's political, and it's shut off and forgotten about or ignored. Being political is being … a living, breathing human being. If I'm talking about something very personal, that is political. If I talk about my body, if women talk about their abortions, if they talk about their rape, that's political.

And what I loved about Sinéad O'Connor back then was she was showing us all a way of hiding really dark, difficult matter inside a beautiful Trojan horse. A way of passing on concern and compassion for things and people and animals. What she did with this song was incredibly important.

And it remains important, which is so depressing, 30 years on. You know, unpacking racism and colonialism is imperative. You see the ongoing control that colonialism has in the world. I mean, just look at the way the horror show in Gaza is being reported on. You see the bias and it's shocking. It's absolutely shocking.

I think the about-turn the press did when she died was just horrible. Such a grim contradiction.

Oh, the press vilified her, to the point where she could no longer stomach getting up on stage to do what she was meant to be doing on this earth, which is being an artist. And it wasn’t just the press to be fair. It was everybody, even friends of mine. Everybody laughed at her. I think she died of a broken heart. And then they glorified her… they had the fucking nerve to glorify her.

“Sheela-Na-Gig” by PJ Harvey

SHIRLEY MANSON: So I heard PJ Harvey again through the music press and on the radio. I mean, I could have picked anything from Dry to be honest, but “Sheela-Na-Gig” was one of the first songs I'd heard of PJ’s.

And again, she had this unusual voice. She was sexual, commanding. It sounded furious to me. And when I find out what a Sheela Na Gig was, it was like, “Whoa”. I just fucking loved the humour behind it, I loved her vulnerability as well, which is so apparent in everything that PJ does. And yet, she still maintains this aura of mystery, which is remarkable.

BEST FIT: Yeah. The reason I love this tune so much is that it feels like a … reverse slut shaming anthem. It’s like, ‘Fuck you, if you don’t want this, I’m going to take it somewhere else.’

Exactly. That line about ‘Childbearing hips’ - she immediately made it fiercely sexual. I don't think there is a lot of that kind of ownership of female sexuality in music still. It felt like it was turning the patriarchy on its head. And it talked to female appetite and a lack of shame. She's a very precious artist. It's lovely to see her enjoy this kind of reverence that she so deserves.

“Waterloo” by ABBA

SHIRLEY MANSON: I was eight years old when I fell madly in love with them - I saw them in the Eurovision Song Contest.

This particular song takes me right back to the innocence of childhood and the formation of my tastes. I come from a family of three girls - I'm the middle child. Both my sisters loved Agnetha, but I was mad about Frida. Maybe I was projecting, but I thought she was the dark lonely saddened princess in the tower of glistening pop.

So every time I hear this record, I think of a black and white television set. I think of my sisters. I think of us all dancing in front of the TV and singing - my mum being alive. Everything as it once was. It's a time capsule for me, that just brings me to my knees every time I hear it. It's such a fucking great pop song, too.

BEST FIT: I think it’s impossible not to like ABBA. I think people who say they don’t like them are lying.

Oh, I think a lot of people don't. But they are one of the greatest pop groups of all time, bar none. I mean, they're phenomenal writers. I think, when I die and I'm on my deathbed, that will be the song that plays as my life flashes before me.

“Revenge” by Patti Smith

SHIRLEY MANSON: I heard this tune much later, when I was in a band called Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. And Martin Metcalfe, the lead singer, said to me, ‘You should listen to this’, and he gave me Gloria and it blew my mind.

And then I ended up falling into a tunnel of love with Patti Smith that remains to this day. One of the touchstones in my life, who has inspired me as a human being and as an artist.

Also, it's so great again to see someone who was still considered underground, you know, until she released Just Kids, the book. And then her reputation exploded and now she's enjoying mainstream success for the first time in her career, in her 70s. I'm not entirely sure if that’s ever happened before.

BEST FIT: Do you guys know each other?

Oh yes. We’ve shared stages with her. And I've met her several times, our history is long at this point. But she is extraordinary. And what really strikes me every time I see her play, is unlike every other artist I think I've ever seen in my life, she is augmented by her age, she's not diminished by it.

Every time she appears, she appears even more powerful, even more potent, even more challenging, and arresting. She’s taking us to task, but it also feels to me like it comes from a place of real generous love, I find that really beguiling in her. And I think this is, again, why she has managed to straddle all these decades in an industry that eats women.

“Brass in Pocket” by The Pretenders

SHIRLEY MANSON: Chrissie Hynde was the first really famous person I ever met. Garbage were playing Top of the Pops, for the first time I think. We were called in for our dress rehearsal and we're standing on the stage, and I look over and then she is. And I go into a sort of a state of shock. Because I admire her so much.

Anyway, she strode over - she's got this incredible swagger still, you know, it's intimidating. And I'm not one to be easily intimidated. But here she comes across the floor of the BBC. And I'm almost shaking with expectation and trepidation. And she's thrust her hand into mine and she goes, “Hey! I'm Chrissie!”.

What is spectacular is that was the beginning of a really beautiful relationship between she and I. We even texted over Christmas. I love her so much, and she's been so generous to me.

At times in anybody's career you have moments where you think you're over and done with. But when people like Chrissie are saying, “You're great, you're great at what you do. I love you, keep going”, that is enough to sustain you over years of being in the desert.

BEST FIT: You have said before that you weren’t the most confident in yourself as a kid. I’m assuming that kind of swagger helped even then, when you didn’t know each other?

Oh yes. I also loved Chrissie’s androgyny. I was actually a very proud child, funnily enough, but at the same time I was emotionally miserable. And my favourite pop and rock stars literally saved me from the abyss. I never felt like I really fitted in with a lot of my peers. Because I wasn't particularly girly, I mean, I'm a girl, and I present very feminine, but I have a lot of attributes that are historically attributed to men. So I really found a reflection of myself in her.

“Why’d Ya Do It?” by Marianne Faithful

SHIRLEY MANSON: First of all, let's talk about her glorious voice! You know, I came to Marianne faithful through Broken English - that was my entry point. I was obsessed with her. And this song was a revelation to me. Again, talking about sexuality, this wilfulness and an unwillingness to be boxed in.

I just did a cover version of “Why’d Ya Do It?” with Peaches, on a compilation called The Faithful, which came out last year to help raise funds from Marianne’s medical bills, which have been immense since COVID.

To participate in an act of love for an artist that has gifted me so much in my career was a really extraordinary and beautiful moment; to pay your debt, in a strange way. It was again, a sort of full circle moment. Plus, there were all these incredible artists - Peaches, Chan Marshall from Cat Power. Donita from L7, incredible artists showing their devotion to Marianne, who still remains relatively unknown outside of music circles, you know? It was wonderful.

“You Don’t Own Me” by Leslie Gore

SHIRLEY MANSON: Well, it's a feminist anthem. And it's a song I've known since I was young. And I fucking love it, for obvious reasons.

I don't know if you've ever seen the video of it on YouTube, but she's on some TV show in the 60s and she's looking right down the barrel of the camera. If you think about the time in which she recorded the song, it must have been so punk rock.

But the reason why I picked that song in particular was that, in 2016, I was invited to perform it with the great Fiona Apple with Girlschool LA. It’s an incredible initiative run by the great Anna Bulbrook, which brings together an all-female band, all female crew, female designers and female artists.

It was the first time ever I had been to a gig that was run exclusively by women. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for one gendered experience… But this was a very novel experience! And to stand with a whole female band and orchestra behind our backs and sing with Fiona Apple. I don't think I will ever forget that experience for the rest of my life.

“What A Bastard The World Is” by Yoko Ono

SHIRLEY MANSON: Yoko Ono is yet another artist who has been reviled and dismissed and omitted from history, and now we've all come to realise - we've had that ‘Come to Jesus’ moment - just how important she is as a visual artist, as a musical artist, as a muse. You know, she's got this incredible retrospective at the Tate - which if you haven't been yet, you must go.

Anyway, I got to perform this song at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles with an orchestra, and Yoko Ono was in the audience. At the end of the show, she asked to meet me because the song had brought her to tears, and I can't begin to tell you what that meant to me. To meet her… [pauses] to have Yoko Ono thank me for my performance. And with an orchestra!

I’d never sung with a full orchestra before, and that the whole night was like, literally, if somebody had come up and said, ‘You get to do this night and then die, or you get to live but never do this’, I would have taken the show and death. It felt like a miracle. It was really, really one of the most profound experiences of my life.

And the song is essentially challenging the inescapable tyranny of patriarchy. It was written around the time that John Lennon left for his LA… adventure in with May Pang. It starts off as a rebuke to him. But then… it reminds me funnily enough of Beyoncé’s Lemonade. Because she’s doing the same thing; she's challenging why a man would step out on you, but understanding that they too are victims of this society that we all live in.

The profundity of that understanding is really beautiful. It's really sad, but through her fury and her disappointment she finds an understanding. And at the end of the day, what more can we ask for as human beings?

The expanded version of Bleed Like Me is out now via BMG/Stunvolume

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