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Shirley Manson: “The Role of the Artist is More Important Than Ever.”

August 2, 2017


Garbage, the 90s hit-making group, will take the stage tonight at The Mann Center with Blondie, the legendary rock/punk/new wave band.

So, we caught up with Garbage’s lead singer, Shirley Manson, and talked about the role of the artist in the bizarre world we live in today, and why Garbage won’t make shiny, happy music. (image via Shirley’s facebook page)

What’s it like to make music and perform in this day and age? What’s it like to be on stage in this climate?

The actual experience of being on stage has not changed much, thank god. That has not been tampered with. That’s still as gorgeous of an experience as it’s always been. There’s a relationship that exists that remains unhampered with by anything outside the magic that exists when audience and band are together. That still remains the same, unlike every other aspect in the music industry.

Over the tenure of your career, what has changed?

What hasn’t changed? When we started Garbage, guitar music was very much in vogue. There were hundreds and hundreds of bands that were able to rise up and enter the mainstream. And now it’s very, very difficult for guitar bands to get that kind of exposure.

Of course, there are still hundreds of thousands of amazing guitar bands but they haven’t necessarily infiltrated the mainstream. They don’t enjoy the same cultural attention as, perhaps, a pop artist would. So, that has changed.

Is that because of the audience or the industry?

The industry has control over what people hear, what they’re exposed to.

The problem with bands and guitars is that they are not as economically viable as a young, 16-year-old kid straight out of school. They can make more money on a solo pop artist than they can with a band. A band costs a lot more money to put on the road and everything.

Record companies gravitate toward what makes them the most money and what makes them the most money are the artists who sell the most, obviously, and those artists tend to be mainstream, pop-oriented.

That’s one of the reasons we’re seeing less and less bands now. Record companies don’t want to be bothered dealing with them. I’m not sure I entirely blame them. Bands are pains in the ass, you know?

If we’re only getting that shiny, pop music that is going to sell, is there a larger impact on society?

I would argue yes but it’s also a little more complicated than that. Everything effects everything else, the domino effect. We currently have a culture that is obsessed with money, and obsessed with profit, and obsessed with whatever is most popular, and with what is the most dominating presence on social media, and so on and so on.

I just think we’re living in a strange time that none of us has fully gotten a grasp on yet. It’s the whole fallout from the technological revolution. This is the first time that human beings have dealt with so much at such speeds. We are all absorbing so much information in ways – and better ways – than we ever have as the human race. The human brain is really struggling to keep up with that.

It has yet to settle. We’ll see a shift again. I think we’re already seeing a mild shift right now. The shine of our smartphones is beginning to wear off. We’re not as enamored as we were, perhaps, five years ago. Things are changing, I think.

Is there still a role for the artist? Not just as an entertainer, but as an actual artist who is pushing boundaries and making a statement?

I think there is always a role for the artist. How big that role will be, I don’t know. But the role is always there.

It’s very important in our culture that we allow people to be in dissent, to argue with us, to debate with us, to challenge us. We all need to learn to engage in conversation without losing our temper, without getting upset, or resorting to insults. Like, you know, our current president.

We really have to elevate ourselves to the point when we are all challenging ourselves so that we can get to a point when everyone seems more happy. Clearly, all the sides of the equation are not happy right now.

We’re seeing a lot of unhappiness from all sides. The role of the artist is more important than ever.

Does that inspire you? To see what’s happening in society or in our political world?

We feel that we just want to create full-stop. What inspires us changes on a day-to-day level. Sometimes it will be our relationships. Sometimes it will be the kids. Sometimes it will be the environment. It changes from day-to-day.

That said, we’re just about release a new song that was inspired by the current climate and the imaginings of where, if we continue in this vein, where we could end up. It’s a bit of a rumination of where we feel our culture is currently headed. We hope that it will turn around again.

The song is an imagining of a future where everything that doesn’t make money is considered useless and destroyed. In this case, I was focusing on the idea of a horse. The horse used to be our beast of burden. We utilized the horse in a lot of different ways in industry and so forth. But the horse has become obsolete in terms of industry now. We ruminated on a future when government decides that horses have to go because they don’t serve a purpose any more. What a tragedy that would be.

That’s really depressing.

It is depressing! But I believe that history is long and we have not seen the end of the arc. We never will. We’re just these little creatures that scurry around for a small amount of time on Earth and sometimes, we mess things up.

Sometimes we make glorious art and sometimes we do beautiful things. I do believe that mankind will ultimately balance everything out. We all do evolve. We make mistakes but we ultimately tumble forward. So, I don’t feel too depressed.

Sometimes when there is difficulty, a light comes at the end of it, you know?

Could Garbage craft a song that is a feel-good radio hit?

I do but I feel like the world is populated with pop songs. And I want to do something that people aren’t talking about.

Sure, we could make a throwaway pop song but so what? It could be a cynical move to try to get plays on the radio and sell more records but ultimately, as an artist, it sort of wrong.

I feel like that’s for young kids! It’s what the young artists can do. They’re just discovering their joy. They’re just discovering love and sex and adventure. I feel like I want to do what nobody else I doing. I want to be different from everybody else. I want to serve a purpose. I want to look behind the curtain and lift up the carpet and figure out who left the big turd in the middle of the carpet.

Are you excited to hit the road and tour with Blondie?

It feels to me like a magical summer camp. We get to go out with people who have influenced and inspired us, and who we love and respect. We get to share the stage with them every night and it feels like an extraordinary adventure and wonderful privilege. We don’t take it lightly. It’s not often you get to share the stage with your idols.

I imagine Screaming Females had a similar feeling when they toured with you.

The beauty of being a musician and getting to travel, you get to play with other bands. Seeing bands like Screaming Females, who were just emerging, is exciting to see.

And it’s a privilege to share the stage with a young band. You continue to learn from new artists. They may learn from you but you really learn from them. It’s great to be reminded of that headspace when you’re just starting out. I gets you back in touch with what should be your priorities.


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