CHAMPAGNE WITH SHIRLEY MANSON: My Interview With The Garbage Frontwoman And Rock God

I rarely think meeting anyone is a big deal. But this is Shirley Manson. This is a big deal.
Publish date:
April 9, 2013
music, rock & roll, garbage, Shirley Manson, rock

“Would you like a glass of champagne?”

I’m standing there, slack-jawed, in the doorway of a dressing room marked “SHIRLEY,” with none other than Shirley Manson, lead singer of the band Garbage, standing before me. She’s holding a bottle of Moët Chandon rosé. The pink champagne compliments her hot pink tights, which is the only pop of color in between these insane black platform wedges, black skirt and black leather jacket.

I’m seriously dying. Like, my life is flashing before my eyes.

I’ve met a ton of celebrities (OH, YOU KNOW), but seeing as I’m totally self-obsessed, I’m rarely star struck by anyone because I’m too busy basking in my own shine. With the exception of when I met Gaga, when I saw Kanye totally ruin Taylor’s moment at the 2009 VMAs, and the time Beyonce’s bodyguard almost broke my foot, I rarely think meeting anyone is a big deal. But this is Shirley Manson. This is a big deal.

“Sure!” I reply, taking a flute of champagne.

I'm so excited to interview her that I forget that champagne is the one thing that I absolutely do not drink, because it makes me go clinically insane. I worry for a second that I’m sabotaging my own interview. But a glass of champagne with a rock star? Don’t mind if I do.

“I don’t usually have champagne before shows, this isn’t a normal thing. But it’s a home show so this is a special night. Cheers.”

Garbage started out in Madison, Wisconsin, nearly 20 years ago and went on to achieve massive success worldwide, so every time the play a venue here, it’s like a homecoming. They’ve been out on a world tour promoting their latest record “Not Your Kind Of People,” after a seven-year hiatus. The album is incredible and it solidifies their unwavering place in rock history.

“I really like what you’re wearing!” she tells me.

“Thanks!” I tell her, thinking to myself, No one else does. I’m wearing a beat up AC/DC T-shirt that I always try to pass off as vintage when I really got it at H&M last spring, a pair of motorcycle leggings, which is a new thing that I’m trying to make happen, and a fresh pair of Jordans. I figured if I was really going to go for it on the fashion front, I might as well do it in front of Shirley.

“Who are those by?” She asks, gesturing to my leggings.

BALENCIAGA, I want to lie. “They’re just from Urban Outfitters.”

Shirley: Oh, and our nails are the exact same color!

Tynan: I mixed this color to match the one you were wearing last time I saw you guys play live. I know that you love an orange nail. When I saw you in August, I could see your nails glow from like thirty feet away.

S: Is that true? Did I have neon nails then? God, I’m good.

[At this point I spill a bit of champagne on the floor. I am mortified, thinking the champagne-crazy is already setting in. I try to clean it up, but Shirley insists on cleaning it herself. Am I not THE ABSOLUTE WORST?)

S: So you’re with Jane, yea?

T: I’m with Jane!

S: I love Jane.

T: Have you met her?

S: I haven’t, but she was one of the first people who gave me a cover in America, so of course she has a special place in my heart.

T: I love her. And I love, love your new record “Not Your Kind of People” -- I think it’s wonderful. You’ve been on the road with it for a while now, how does it feel to be back in the swing of things, back out touring and performing?

S: It feels, triumphant, I have to say, because not many women my age have ever been able to get back up from basically a stand still. So I feel victorious.

T: How does it feel to be back on the road as an adult? You're not new to this, it isn’t your first album. Is it more grueling, is it more fun?

S: I think it's -- well, let me preface it with: Clearly I was built to do this, I’ve done it for a long time, I think I’ve canceled one show in a career that’s lasted 30 years. So obviously I’m meant to do this. Physically and mentally, I don’t find it very tough. It’s probably more fun now that I’m older, I’m not caught up in the craziness that I think maybe younger women are. I’m grateful that when I first came out, I was older. When Garbage was brand new, I was almost 30, so I wasn’t a baby. I’m very grateful for that because I think I had just a little bit more concrete under my feet.

I look at some of the younger artists right now, and you hear about them, you know, canceling tours or they’ve got problems with their voice or they’re exhausted, they collapse. I don’t know, there’s a myriad of things. I think a lot of it has to do with the Internet’s presence in their lives, because trying to do what we do is kind of tough, but if you love it then it’s not really that hard.

But I think that for young people who are constantly on Facebook and using the Internet, reading about themselves, seeing pictures of themselves everywhere, I think that really contributes to the stress. So because I’m older, I don’t feel that same stress because I just don’t read it.

T: That was actually my next question. How do you think social media affects the music industry now, whereas when you started, there was no Facebook or Twitter? Do you think it’s a bonus, or do you think it deters?

S: It’s a double-edged sword. I think there’s a lot of great things that come with it, but I also think that it creates a lot of stress for artists or for anybody in the public eye I think it’s very difficult not to go to the Internet for positive affirmation. And of course, that’s a driving force behind a lot of artists, they’re seeking something to fill a hole and so the temptation to go to the Internet and find positive affirmation is, it’s like a drug, you know? But then of course once you go there, what do you find? You find every troll under the sun has something negative to say. It’s very easy to be critical.

T: Especially from behind a keyboard.

S: Yes, it’s very easy to be anonymous. To give an anonymous critique is so fucking easy. And to actually do something, to risk something is difficult.

T: Right. What you’re doing is way harder.

S: Well, is certainly harder than sitting behind a keyboard and being nasty about people (laughs).

T: What do you think about the way that younger artists are expected to be not just an artist, but more of a brand? First comes the album, then comes the fragrance and then the clothing line and then the reality show. Do you look think it can be a good thing, or do you think it distracts?

S: I don’t know, to be honest. I’m sure some people handle it very, very well. I know Gwen Stefani for instance, can handle it all, and handle it gracefully. She still can focus on being an artist and being a mother and being a CEO of a brand. I don’t know that everyone has that same talent.

I think if you are hands on, like someone like Gwen is, then sure that’s a natural progression of who you are and what your interests are. But I see a lot of young women just being sort of handled by people who are probably making a percentage of the profit, and the branding isn’t necessarily authentic to who they are. And that, I think, is destructive and feels very phony to me and doesn’t feel artistic in any way, shape, or form. It feels like corporate business to me, and I always wanted to be in music because it was the opposite.

T: It’s funny you mention Gwen because I was going to ask you about her. I love Gwen Stefani.

S: I knew you would.

T: No Doubt returned from their hiatus in 2012 as well, and I’ve seen footage of you performing with her, which is incredible. Was it cool to be back on the charts with her? Do you know her personally?

S: I do know her personally, yeah. Our careers broke out at the same time and we met on the festival circuit. We were the only two women on the bill and so of course we gravitated to one another. She’d be like, “I like your style,” and I’d be like “I like YOUR style.” We sort of had a girl fest, a love fest, and it’s been amazing to watch her career explode into the stratosphere. She’s an amazing pop star and a lovely person and manages to straddle both, being a massive star and also being cool in the streets. She’s got it all.

T: I know that you’re very influenced by Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders and Debbie Harry and Patti Smith, but now I feel like you’re the one doing the influencing. What do you want your legacy to be?

S: I don’t know if I even think in those terms. The longer I continue to have a career, I think it is inspiring for young women, or anybody for that matter. I was reading an obituary about Robert Ebert and he had this amazing quote that, I think it was Perez Hilton, funnily enough, ran on his site, which was that Robert realized far too late in life that our job really is to bring joy to other people, he wished he’d known that earlier in his life.

I think that’s something that I’ve suddenly realized that if I can make somebody feel good, or bring them comfort, or encourage them to pick up a guitar or sing into a microphone, or better yet use their words to speak up and speak out then, I think that’s fuckin’ rad. (laughs)

T: You’re a married woman, correct? You were married in 2010. How is life on the road? Your husband is in the industry, right? He’s a sound engineer?

S: Yeah, he travels with me all the time, so yeah, I’m in a very, very privileged and weird position of not having to be away from my family, which I’m sure has played a large role in the fact that I’ve had a long career, because I’m not having to deal with that horrific pressure.

T: When Garbage is on tour, how do you travel? Is it just the bus with you and the dudes or are you flown around?

S: Full of me and the dudes! We fly sometimes, we bus a lot, we stay in hotels, it just depends.

T: I don’t want to seem reductive by talking to such a big rock star about what she's wearing, but you do have this look that, no matter if it’s your photos in Lucky magazine last year or when you were recently on the cover of NYLON, which was insane, whether it was elegant or more edgy, it was all so…Shirley Manson. You’re so iconic in that way, nobody else looks like you. What are you inspired by and how do you put that look together

S: People have talked a lot about my style throughout my entire career, and I feel like “Wow” because I don’t really think about it that much. I know what I like, and I’ve been lucky in the last few years to have been bequeathed amazing gifts from really talented designers. I get so spoiled that way, and I also work with a really talented stylist.

But I like movies and painting and art, a lot of fine art, without sounding too pretentious. I always want to look like somebody in a painting, or I want to look like Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard." I’ve always got ideas of who I want to look like. I used to work in clothing retail when I was younger so I’ve always been fascinated by how fashion partners well with music.

When I was a kid, probably about your age, all the rock stars were incredible, they were like, freaks of nature. They wore freaky, weird shit that people wouldn’t wear in the street. Like David Bowie, Siousxie and the Banshees, they all had their own look, they were so unique, so that has always been inspiring to me.

T: Aaand, this is the last one! Whether you’re at home or on the road, what is your go-to beauty product?

S: Oh my god, I’ve got so many. Um, well this is my current favorite, because this makes you smell like Cleopatra. You can use it on your hair, use it on your lips, use it all over your body. I’m obsessed with it.

What else? Oh, I can’t live without hairspray. The greatest of all products.

T: It’s good for that topknot!

S: Fucking RIGHT! Oh, and my Lady D MAC lipstick. I can’t live without it. I try on all shades and end up smearing them off and putting my Lady Danger back on.

T: That’s one of Rihanna’s favorites.

S: Is it really?! (gasps) Oh, my god, that’s hot.

T: Well, I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, I know you’ve got a show to do. Thank you so much, and kick ass tonight.

S: It was a pleasure. Thank you!

T: See you soon!

Isn't she just EVERYTHING. So warm, so funny, so genuine, and so COOL. I couldn't believe I had the chance to sit down with her. Even when I was transcribing the interview, I thought to myself, "God, did that really happen?"

If you haven't grabbed Garbage's new record "Not Your Kind Of People" yet, you need to go out and do that. People keep saying, "It's so good to have Garbage back," but this album proves that they never left.

Tynan is still reeling on Twitter: @TynanBuck.