Blondie, Garbage

In the spring of 2013, the members of Garbage — Shirley Manson, Steve Marker, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig — gathered in Los Angeles to start work on their sixth studio album. Except the recording didn' t begin in a studio, per se. It began where so many bands first do: in a basement. The basement was Vig' s, perhaps one of the least elaborate home studios a multi-platinum producer has ever had. " My home studio is just a room where I watch Packers games," says Vig. " There' s no sound proofing. It' s just four walls of drywall. So it' s got a bit of a trashy vibe to it." It was a fitting launching pad for an album that, over the course of the next two and a half years, would see the band finding a way forward by looking backward, tapping into the spark of their youths to try an uninhibited back-to-basics approach. But Garbage — long known for their meticulously crafted blend of dark, industrial noise, sci-fi pop melodies, whirlwind guitar, and tricked-out rhythms — was going back-to-basics for the first time. " When you' re a teenager, you' re in a basement somewhere with your band, and you don' t know what you' re doing," says Marker. " There' s a lot of the teenagers that we were in this record." Some will hear echoes of Garbage' s 1995 debut album in Strange Little Birds—including Manson herself. " To me, this record, funnily enough, has the most to do with the first record than any of the previous records," she says. " It' s getting back to that beginner' s headspace." In part, she says, that' s a result of not having anyone to answer to. Strange Little Birds is Garbage' s second album off their own label, STUNVOLUME. It' s a return to the freedom they had when working on their very first songs at Smart Studios in Madison, Wisconsin, more than twenty years ago, before they' d ever signed a label deal. " It' s so liberating," says Manson. Manson calls Strange Little Birds Garbage' s most romantic album. " And what I mean by romance, really, is vulnerability. I used to feel so scared, and I think that was why I was so aggressive — but I' m much more willing to admit weaknesses than I was before." For her, the retrospective feel of Strange Little Birds is more personal than musical. Each song, she says, addresses " different points in my life between me and a person I' ve loved. They' re hot spots in my life, when I was afraid, or vulnerable, or didn' t behave at my best." Lyrically and musically, says Manson, the album is " less fussed over" than any Garbage has made. " We fell in love with immediacy," says Vig. " The vocals aren' t slick. They have a raw, emotional feel." " We felt less limited in what we could try," says Erikson. " On ' Blackout' we were just winging it. We just started playing, following one another."
" That song started with a jam in my home studio," says Vig. " It' s got a great ' 80s bass riff. It sounds like Garbage, but we' ve done a new spin on it — some crazy riffs and bits in the bridge." From the confessional opener, " Sometimes," to the pulsing static of the closer, " Amends," Strange Little Birds is a sweeping, cinematic record of a unified mood: darkness. " There aren' t really any upbeat pop songs," say Vig. " Even ' Empty,' which has a big, anthemic guitar sound, has pretty dark lyrics." " I love dark and dismal," says Manson, who once made a hit single out of her admission that she was only happy when it rains. " I' m aching for some dark and dismal. Because I feel like the musical landscape of late has been incredibly happy and shiny and poppy. Everybody' s fronting all the time, dancing as fast as they can, smiling as hard as they can, working on their brand. Nobody ever says, ' Actually, I' m lost and I don' t have a fucking clue what I' m doing with the rest of my life and I' m frightened.' " In the end, though, there' s power in the darkness, as the rhythmic throb and guitar crash of " So We Can Stay Alive" shows. " That song is grappling with mortality," says Manson. " The more that I see the clock ticking, the more it gives me fuel. It' s a song to all the things that keep you moving forward with passion, all the things that can be used as fuel. All these things you think aren' t good can be used as powerful material to enhance your life."

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