Garbage – Strange Little Birds: Dark, Personal and Powerful

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Garbage – Strange Little Birds: Dark, Personal and Powerful

By Lauren Gutierrez

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Early on, musician and producer Butch Vig says, the band Garbage managed to get people’s attention with songs like “Queer” and “Stupid Girl” when they played on the radio because they were so unexpected and relatable for people who didn’t quite fit in. Vig said, “We sort of make music for the dysfunctional in a way because we sort of consider ourselves as a band, misfits. We never really fit into any PC category.”

Vig initially found success as a music producer for hundreds of punk rock albums and 90s bands that were launched into the mainstream like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins, but he burnt out from recording guitar, bass and drums. He and his friends, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker, then took to his studio in Madison, Wisconsin to record remixes for bands like U2, Beck and Nine Inch Nails.

“Those remixes led to the sensibility of starting Garbage because we ran everything through samplers. And that’s the approach we took with Garbage, it was very experimental,” said Vig. “We needed a singer and Steve saw Shirley’s band, Angelfish. They played her video for a song called ‘Suffocate Me’ once on MTV at like one in the morning.” That’s when they decided to fly Shirley Manson to Madison to start writing and recording with them, and Garbage took off.

Now it’s 20 years later, and in its experimental fashion, Garbage has nurtured the dark textures of their new album Strange Little Birds. Vig described it as having less rock ‘n’ roll and more atmospheric moments that work with the spontaneous lyrics created by Shirley Manson, the band’s front-woman. “Even though I think it’s our darkest album” says Vig, “I think Garbage finds solace in that darkness.”

Such an album required a very particular creative process. “Rather than go into a studio we started recording at my home in a bedroom in the basement of my house. So it was very casual and we tried a lot of different approaches. Rather than set up with me on the drums and Duke on guitar or whatever, we didn’t even use rock. We started writing with, ‘let’s get an orchestral sample and use that as the start of a song.’”

Vig added, “It was sort of getting back to the headspace that we had in the debut album which was very experimental and I think that we found that very liberating because it’s easy to sort of fall back on what you do . . . to sort of break that up and try different approaches was very fresh for us as a band.”

Garbage is currently on the Strange Little Birds Tour and will be performing at The Complex in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 16. “When the audience is jazzed up and part of it, it becomes a communal experience,” Vig said about their live shows. “I have to say that over the last couple of tours we’ve had, our fans have just been fantastic. We’re lucky that we’re still here after 20 years and we still have these hardcore, crazy Garbage fans that still come out to support us every night. The show is about them as much as it is about us.”

Garbage @ The Complex, 536 W 100 South, Salt Lake City, Sept. 16, 7:00 p.m., TheComplexSLC.com.