Skip to content

Shirley Manson on Real Sexiness, Cutting, and Independence

MONTERREY, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 12: Shirley Manson of Garbage performs onstage at the MTV World Stage Monterrey Mexico 2012 at Arena Monterrey on September 12, 2012 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by Victor Chavez/Getty Images)

It’s been seven years since Garbage’s last album, but the platinum grunge-gloss brooders pick up where they left off with Not Your Kind of People, the band’s first self-released record. Bolstered by this newfound independence, the band’s Scottish-born singer is feistier than ever. But she’s learned a thing or two along the way.

It’s not our job to reinvent the wheel.
That’s the playground of the young. When we came off the road last time, we thought there would be a million bands inspired by us that do it better. Seven years later, nobody really did. Nobody sounds like us, and we have to value that.

We’re all going to get to this age if we’re lucky.
I’m 45 years old. I used to be a club girl, but that’s not my world anymore. That doesn’t mean I can’t make music that excites. I think it’s inspiring to see an artist you grew up with take another crack.

Darkness is a necessary vocabulary.
It’s unhealthy for people to never express any kind of negativity or doubt. To have balance, you need to address that side of your thoughts as well as the positive. Otherwise, you tend toward crazy. Particularly in a decade when there’s been such a proliferation of pop and such an absence of alternative expression on the airwaves. It’s a culture of dishonesty and true fear, because if you actually do look into the dark, you realize it’s not that scary after all. I explore those threads of the human condition because I find it empowering.

When you hear the voice, turn the volume down.
I’m a cutter, and I will be a cutter for life. The sensation of never feeling good enough will always be there; you just learn to be more powerful than that other voice. I don’t think there’s any other way of getting through it. If you practice, sooner or later, it becomes a habit. A really dear friend of mine once said, “All of these feelings you have, Shirley, they’re just feelings, not rational thought. That’s why we use our brains.” There’s a lot to be said for that.

Real sexiness comes along once in a blue moon.
Though it’s a ridiculous cliché, sexiness is found in a person’s mind and generosity of spirit. When somebody is willing to make room for you — that is the height of hotness. Looking back at our videos, I can see why people would think we were sexy, but I didn’t at the time, and we certainly aren’t now. Whenever there’s a woman involved who is even remotely feminine, that word gets bandied around like it’s going out of fashion. It’s not always a welcome descriptor in my book.

We’re done making money for anybody else.
There are a lot of indie labels out there we respect, but they all wanted a cut of our touring. Nobody else got their arse into a bus and did that work except us. That’s ours, and we’re not giving it to anybody. We’re not working for the man anymore. We are done, done, done.

I’m trying to have a playful mindset instead of being wrapped up in trying to do well.
Acting classes have changed my life, and my teacher has really worked with me on this. My dad marked everything — at Christmastime he’ll ask, “So how would you grade this dinner against last year’s?” My family would go, “I’d give it a seven out of ten,” and I’d think, “What the fuck is wrong with you people? It’s a meal. Are we not having a good time?”

At our most popular, I felt at my lowest ebb.
A lot has changed for me. When I got off the road, my mom got very ill, and then she died. That really sobers you up, when you lose somebody who’s so important you think you can’t live without them. And then you realize you’re still standing, like, “She’s dead, but I’m here.” It’s both devastating and really empowering in a strange way. I realized I’d wasted so much time worrying about what others thought.

The most powerful thing you can do as a woman in music is be authentic.
How you present yourself is nobody’s business but your own. The stylists have an opinion. The hair people have an opinion. The fans and the management have opinions. Ultimately, you have to trust that you are the safe-keeper of yourself. Talking like that makes me want to vomit all over myself, but it’s true. There’s nothing I’ve done that I feel a lot of regret over because I stuck to my guns, even when it got uncomfortable — and it will get uncomfortable because you’re going up against the wall.

Beware of any woman who has failed, then managed to pull herself out of the mud pit, for she is horrifyingly emboldened.