There's no room for complaining when you've been fed a compliment from Shirley Manson. At the end of my interview with the frontwoman of Garbage, she describes my accent as being "mental and twisted," followed up by "it's gorgeous." And I'm less confused and more on cloud nine, a strange little bird that's flying high on Manson-induced toxins. Maybe it's this kind of organic, unyielding warped honesty that's caused Garbage — coming to Charlotte for a performance at The Fillmore on July 23 — to surpass more than two decades together as a band.
Garbage, comprised of original members — Manson, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker — has a band dynamic to be treasured. In June, the quartet released its sixth studio album, Strange Little Birds, a followup to band's previous album, 2012's Not Your Kind of People. Manson credits that band's sophomore success on the independent record label front, as being largely due to luck.
"We had nearly no idea quite how much work it would be to release our records on our own independent label and, lucky for us, we have a pretty incredible team around us that consists of people we've worked with, ironically, for 21 years at this point," Manson says.
But it's also been a learning process. While the band's first independent offering has more optimistic elements, Strange Little Birds takes a harsher, more honest approach. Follow the crumbs and you'll find thrashy rock and darker, industrial sounds, reminescent to the band's self-titled, 1995 debut. There's just no denying the resemblance and Manson doesn't try.
"I think we kind of knew what we were doing this time around. The songs had to be atmospheric and I think that's what the similarities are between this new record of ours and the debut," Manson says. "Both records are very cinematic and atmospheric and I would say that was a deliberate move on our part."
A reason for revisiting the nostaglic aggressively electronic sounds that spawned tracks like "Queer," "Only Happy When It Rains" and "Vow," was due a collective agreement from within the band. They felt as though today's mass-produced, mainstream pop music is lacking in darkness.
Manson shares her love for Lana Del Rey, The Weeknd and Rihanna, all of whom she feels are putting a dark streak back into pop.
"I feel like pop music, for the most part, is full of a bunch of people who just want to be famous, who want to be rich and brag about their wealth and their power and their status," Manson says. "They sing happy-go-lucky songs that reflect nothing about what's happpening in our world and nothing that's happening in reality and, to me, that's not really very helpful art. I feel like music's job is to reflect the times we live in."
On Strange Little Birds, songs like "Even Though Our Love Is Doomed" and "So We Can Stay Alive" reflect on violence around the world. But while some of songs express concern about violence, others were inspired by worry over global warming and the planet's conservation efforts.
"We were very serious when we made this record. We wanted to make music that felt like the times we were living in, which we believe to be quite hectic and confusing and contradictory and melancholic and we feel like we did that," Manson says.
The title for the album, part of a line on "Even Though Our Love Is Doomed" describes humanity.
"I feel like we're all a little annoyed with one another, a little strange and a little mysterious. I feel like the title just refers to humanity and how we really have to struggle to try to understand one another and try and make sense of all our differences and compromise and come to some kind of understanding," says Manson. "The title represents the struggle to understand, which is so essential to a happier, more equal society."
While understanding, communication and compromise are the much-needed qualities for a more peaceful human race, the band's longstanding dedication to one another might serve as a source of inspiration to stay united, rather than divided.
Over the course of Garbage's long history, the band has only had one hiatus — the result of stress during the 2005 tour for Bleed Like Me.
"The frustrations were coming to a head and we understood that if we didn't do something about it immediently, we would destroy the thing that we spent building together. So, we did take a hiatus and I think we all learned a lot of valuable lessons during that time — one of which is that we really enjoy making music together and we actually have a pretty incredible chemistry. We're really good for one another because we're so different. We work well together as a team and I think that's probably one of the reasons we've had such a long career."
Manson, who is tredding on 50, recently dyed her trademark red hair, hot pink. And that's the only big change she wants to make. She isn't inclined to make changes to the band setup.
"I just remember waking up one day and thinking I can not be a redhead for another day," she says. "I need a change I felt this desire to look into the mirror and see something differemt."
She repels rumors that she tried to embark on a solo music career path, following the band's hiatus.
"I made some music while the band was on hiatus just because I have to make music in order to feel happy. In order to survive, I feel like I have to make music, but I don't have any intention of being a solo artist," Manson says. "But that being said, I dont know what's going to happen in the future. The band is considerably older than me. If they decide they no longer want to do this or they don't want to tour anymore or what have you, I don't know. But for as long as the band is functioning in a healthy manner, I would much prefer to be with my band."
On Strange Little Birds, the band's dedication shines with Manson taking the spotlight and exposing her raw feelings, which range from outraged and apologetic to vulnerable and empowered. That's a combination that hasn't always been easy for the singer/songwriter, who has long struggled with self-esteem issues.
"When I emerged I was a very scared aggressive individual and I generally sort of put on armor everytime I stepped up to the mic or when I was writing. It was authentic but it was intuitive of self-empowerment. Now I feel, still aggressive unfortunately, but I'm very unafraid of many things," Manson says. "As a result, I felt like the greatest sign of self-empowerment is to be able to admit your failures, weaknesses and mistakes, and I think once you can get to that point you have nothing else left to be afraid of."
For Garbage, straying from the formulated pop soundscape pathway, wasn't so scary. Instead of satisfying the mainstream, they chose to satisfy themselves by writing an album with that incorporates sounds that they like hearing.
"To me, the darker the better. I've always loved dark music, it's what I graviate to," says Manson. "We had to make a record that sounded different from our peers with the intent to annihilate that very upbeat, happy sounding music. We just wanted to be the change in the world that we wanted to see."