We’re happy to present our latest Audacy Check In with host Megan Holiday joined today by singer Shirley Manson of Garbage, who have just released their seventh studio album, No Gods No Masters.
Shirley Manson, who tops our list of the fiercest redheaded rockers of all time, has been the singer of the band Garbage since its inception in 1993 along with bassist/keyboardist Duke Erikson, guitarist/keyboardist Steve Marker, and of course drummer/famed record producer Butch Vig. Announcing work on the new record in mid-2020, Shirley said the band would be finishing up the album and moving into the planning stages for 2021. Now that release day is here, we're thrilled to hear more of the group's first music since 2016's Strange Little Birds, and speak to her about the new offering.
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“I am feeling pretty good today, I have to say,” Shirley tells Megan. “It’s a pleasure to talk to you, I’ve got a new record, my band are all healthy… life is good.” With the new album officially on shelves and streaming, Shirley explained how there was quite a lot of time and work put into No Gods No Masters, which got it’s start way back in 2018. “Actually, the record was almost completely finished about a week before lockdown. So, it was kind of crazy.” As far as the inspiration behind the release, “it’s funny, of course,” Manson says, “because a lot of the themes I lyrically touch on, are issues that we as a society have been facing literally for centuries. But it seems to have come to a head during COVID, where everyone’s had the time to sort of stop and really reflect on what’s going on, what our society looks like, and who are we as people. I address the ‘Me Too’ movement; I address the Black Lives Matter movement; I talk about climate change; I talk about misogyny and sexism; a little bit of ‘mansplaining,’ and also just general personal things, personal issues and developments in my own life. The record is just sort of a view of the world from my perspective as a human being. What I’m seeing out there and what bothers me, frustrates me, excites me, depresses me, scares me… It’s actually a pretty simple record, but it’s not an easy record. It’s a complicated, complex, somewhat challenging record in many ways -- but there’s lots of good tunes on there.”
As a longtime fan who fully expects Shirley to “go there” in her music and lyrics, Megan was happy to see the band take on topics such as cancel-culture and growth in a song like “Wolves,” from the new release. “I always go there, Megan! Always go there -- I wish I didn’t, but I do,” Shirley laughs. “I’ve always been outspoken, but it does surprise me that people think it’s a political record; it really isn’t… I’m not here to lecture anybody or tell them what to think. I’m just saying ‘this is what I think,’ and you can be in disagreement with me. That’s cool, I can handle it. If you don’t agree with me, cool, let’s agree to disagree. It is a personal record, but of course, the band has a lot to do with it too. Lyrically, it has a real perspective, but it has a real musical one too. I’m really lucky that I have a band that are willing to go with my outspoken attitude. They’re comfortable sitting in it… I don’t know if everybody would be.”
Shirley attributes the band’s sharing of her point of view as a large part of what has kept them relevant, and continue working together for the past quarter century. “I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve managed to negotiate a 25-year career, is that essentially for all our differences, and there are many differences in this band, we do look at the world from a very similar standpoint. We rarely disagree with regards to how we think things should be for human beings on this Earth. The title of the record, ‘No Gods No Masters,’ is just a declaration of our belief in egalitarianism—equality for everyone. Everyone is deserved of the same opportunities, and the same respect and kindness.”
Getting into the first single off of the record, “The Men Who Rule The World,” Shirley admits “a lot of men have gotten really cross” about the topics taken on in the song, admitting she’s been accused of “being political and choosing sides… but really it’s a modern retelling of the Noah’s Ark story from the Bible. So, if you’ve got a problem with it,” Shirley says with a smirk, “go read your Bible… it’s an age-old tale. When corruption gets so overwhelming, when greed gets so overwhelming, and cruelty and so on so forth… that down comes… I think me and George Clinton on a mothership come down to Earth, and actually, it’s not an arc this time, it’s a mothership and we open the doors to everything that’s beautiful and kind and divine, and we leave all the rest behind.”
Kindness is a virtue that we should all strive to have more of in our lives, especially now in these days of divisiveness. “It’s funny, it sounds so cheesy,” Shirley says. “If my younger self was looking at what I’m saying right now I’d probably be scoffing at it… but I really do feel there needs to be more of a culture of kindness because I feel like we’ve gotten so cruel to one another, we can’t have a difference of opinion without everyone getting really, really irate and nasty. I mean, some of the stuff on social media I’m really, truly shocked by. It’s like ‘really, did that comment of mine warrant this response?’ I get it, you disagree with me, that’s fine but you can speak kindly. You can speak from a rational, calm standpoint but people just lose it. It’s not good for anyone on either side of the line and I really feel we’re becoming so intolerant of having any kind of discussion, any kind of sensible debate. It’s just so black and white, and I do not think that’s how human beings actually operate in the world.”
“Now I’m going to sound really crazy,” Shirley warns, “but I really do feel the system wants us all to be fighting amongst ourselves so that we’re not actually paying attention to the thieving that’s going on at the top layer of power and influence. I think there’s a lot of corruption that we don’t even notice because we’re so busy getting on each other’s nerves, and it’s madness. We need to stop attacking each other and start paying attention.”
Although Manson feels attached to all of her songs as if they were her children, one particular part of the recording process for this album struck a chord for Shirley and the rest of the group. “The one that dismantled me completely was recording ‘Waiting for God,’” she admits, “which is a sort of statement about my awareness of how Black, Brown, indigenous people are treated in the world and how unfair it is, and how off-kilter everything is... addressing systemic racism for want of a better term. It’s not as grandiose as that sounds, it’s a very simple song just calling upon the powers that be to be decent, again to be kind, to fix this horrendous inequality that is really out of control. Not just in America, not just in the U.K.,” Shirley says, “but everywhere.” She remembers being alone in the studio when recording her vocals, “and I was crying when I sang it. I only recorded it twice, both times I was crying and anytime I play it for anyone, like I played it for my father and I started crying. I just feel so much frustration and despair that we still, in this day and age, are still tackling colonialism and racial intolerance. I just find it perplexing, and frustrating, and heartbreaking... we can do better.”
Looking back on her band’s 26 years as a unit, Shirley is most proud of the fact that they have remained together despite it being challenging, frustrating, and simply annoying at times. “Every member of the band has had to change shape to accommodate each other,” she says. “That, I think, is extraordinary. It’s definitely been a struggle, but it’s something that we have achieved and I’m enormously proud of that... It’s been such a trip; to be together for this long has been so wild!”
What’s also “wild” is the fact that live music is finally making its triumphant return after the long pause as tons of artists announce tour plans – Garbage among them! The band will be heading out on the road with Liz Phair and Alanis Morissette to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of Alanis’ Jagged Little Pill album beginning in August 2021 and running through October. “I still can’t quite believe it’s gonna come off,” Shirley says, “it seems too good to be true. I’m very grateful to Alanis, who invited us out in the ‘90s, we toured with Alanis back then, and for her to invite us back on the road with her this time around I feel is really an act of incredible generosity. I’m very proud to be on this bill with Alanis and with the wonderful Liz Phair – great writer, great artist. I just feel like it’s this really iconic tour, it’s like ‘whoa, this is one for the ages!’ It’s just a show of power!”
Watch our full Audacy Check-In with Shirley Manson and Megan Holiday above where they also discuss Shirley’s new podcast that she’s admittedly “still learning” about daily – and stay tuned for even more conversations with your favorite artists on audacy.com/live.
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