Garbage - Biography

By David Downs


             American-Scottish pop group Garbage formed in 1994 in Wisconsin when Nirvana producer, Butch Vig, and associates Steve Marker and Duke Erikson, auditioned and hired Angelfish singer Shirley Manson for a side project that would unite Hip-Hop beats, rock guitars and electronica under a pop music aesthetic. The hit combination helped Garbage sell millions of records in the '90's and into the 2000s, earning the hit machine seven Grammy nominations.


            Garbage's nucleus is largely Vig, born Bryan Vigorson on August 2nd, 1957 in Viroqua, Wisconsin, a small town of Norwegian farmers. Vig's father was a doctor, and his mother a music teacher. He learned piano by the sixth grade, but switched to drums after watching The Who perform on television. Vig joined a few high school bands, listened to Steppenwolf, and started taking drugs. He later dropped out of the pre-med program at the University of Wisconsin to drum in the local band Spooner, before attending film school where he learned production via sound effects training. Vig met both Erikson and Marker at this time. Erikson was born in Nebraska in 1953, formed his first band at sixteen, and studied art history in college. He also was a member of Spooner which later morphed into Fire Town.  Vig quickly left Spooner but returned to drum for Fire Town until the band called it quits in 1989. Marker was born in 1959 in Minneapolis and played in bands before delving into production with Vig.


            In 1983, Vig and Marker founded Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin with a $3,000 loan from Vig's parents. They began by recording punk bands and then funneled the money back into gear. The two also recorded their own material focusing on brevity, spontaneity, and at least one radical tempo change. By 1989, Vig was producing for popular grunge label Sub Pop, and handling work for the Smashing Pumpkins. In 1991, Vig produced and engineered Nirvana's Nevermind, permanently changing his life. By 1992, he was working for Nine Inch Nails and House of Pain, and foreseeing an opening in the market for something popular that could bridge industrial and Hip-Hop. In 1994, Vig sampled some of his experimental ideas he had remixed for Nine Inch Nails for percussionist Pauli Ryan. Ryan said it sounded like garbage to him and the name stuck, but Vig felt the sound was lacking something special, and that something was Shirley Manson.


            Manson was born in 1966 in Edinburgh, Scotland, the middle of three daughters.  Her geneticist father had been a jazz singer aat one time and had passed his love of music onto his middle daughter.  She learned to play the piano by age seven. After high school, she joined the band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and later their sideproject, Angelfish, where she was spotted by Vig on MTV. Still needing a voice for their project, Vig called Manson for an audition. The audtion was unsuccessful, but eventually they bonded over musical influences. Manson brought a voice and an attitude and a core to Garbage and Vig says that he was initially scared of her, but drawn to her multifaceted voice - capable of conveying any emotion, especially desperation, lust, fear, sadness or insanity.


            The band's first effort, Garbage (1995 Almo Sounds) was a certified industry knock-out. The first single, "Vow" combined Vig's electronica ideas with industrial drums, distorted guitar and Manson's petulant vox. The album went double platinum in the UK and America each. "Stupid Girl" made it to number two on the Billboard chart of Modern Rock Tracks, only to be topped by number one-placing of "#1 Crush" off of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996-Capitol) -- a classic of Hip-Hop beats, pornographic moaning, electric guitar, and Manson's lyrics of romantic martyrdom.


            Surprised by the global response, Vig and crew regrouped for Version 2.0 (1998-Mushroom), planning on leaning into their sound. The direction paid off with Grammy nominations for Album of the Year and Best Rock Album, and platinum sales in America and the UK again. Singles "I Think I'm Paranoid", "Push It", "When I Grow Up" again topped the Billboard Modern Rock charts at six, five, and twenty-three respectively. Three years and more than one thousand live shows later, Garbage had played with the Smashing Pumpkins, Alanis Morissette, U2, and No Doubt. Their follow-up, however, Beautiful Garbage (2001-Interscope) was marred by legal battles, and the unfortunate timing of the release to the worst enemy attack on American soil in history. The promotional video for single "Androgyny" premiered on MTV on September 10th, 2001, and so began a dark period for the band that has yet to fully lift.


            Vig contracted a serious case of hepatitis A, got married, and had a kid. Manson had to undergo dangerous surgery to remove a cyst on her vocal chord. The band regrouped to record in Madison, but then broke up. Five months later, "Bay Boyfriend" was recorded with Dust Brother John King and features Dave Grohl on drums. Garbage then pieced together the rest of the album remotely using the internet, convening in Madison for mixing in 2004. Vig has said that the mixing focus was on simplicity and more guitars. Single "Bleed Like Me" demonstrates the idea in action - beginning with a modest guitar progression over little more than Manson's voice. "Why Do You Love Me?" essentially speeds up a girl group song into a punk track, fulfilling the band's desire to rock the studio like a live show. Bleed Like Me (2005-Geffen) debuted at a record number four on the Billboard Top 200. Further distractions again put Garbage on hold, save for Absolute Garbage (2007-Geffen), a best of collection. In 2012 the band returned with Not Your Kind Of People.


            In an era dominated by gangster rap on one hand and grunge on another, Garbage set the bar for pop music -- charting a course between the percussion of Hip-Hop, the guitars of rock, and capitalizing on the emergence of electronica as a pop force. The massively multifaceted voice of bawdy Scottish muse Shirley Manson crystallized Garbage's idea and Vig's association with Nirvana lent the project credentials. In the final view, the experimental pop project presaged the rise of platinum-selling acts like Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley -- knocking down the walls of pop music to make room for future innovations, ones that will most likely include themselves.

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