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The Trick Is To Carve Your Own Niche

(An Interview with Butch, Steve & Duke - Taken From Black Velvet 20 - May 99)

By Shari Black Velvet

It's Sunday lunchtime and we've just arrived at the Garbage's hotel in the heart of Birmingham for a round table interview which features a bunch of local fanzine and student press around a table with members of Garbage. We sit down in the lobby and play 'Pick The Student Newspaper Writer'. There are a couple there already. Shortly, more mosey on in. We chat. Someone's travelled all the way from York, another is from Bristol. There's one from Warwick, one from Lincoln, and the obligatory Birmingham character. Eventually we're told to make our way up to the second floor where we meet India from Mushroom Records. She gives us stick-on name-tags and we find a seat around the table, helping ourselves to coffee, tea and mineral water.






Steve Marker is the first member of Garbage to wander in. Butch Vig and Duke Erickson follow. India explains that Shirley's not too well so won't make it. Not to worry...

The band had just started the UK tour four days earlier in Ireland. Butch says the gigs were great. "The first show in Dublin was incredible. We were actually a bit nervous because we were playing a lot of songs we've never played before. We played 'Sleep Together'... we played a stripped down version of 'Medication' that Duke plays piano on..."

"I nailed it though" Duke interjects.

"He nailed it, yeah. And just with all the lights and everything that was going on... But the crowd was amazing. Got a really good response."

"We could do no wrong that night. We could have just stood there." Duke laughs. "They were just so into it. It was amazing".

After the UK tour, the band head to Europe and then America where they support Alanis Morrisette. By the time you read this, all will be completed. Will this be the last tour to promote Version 2.0?

"Don't know," Duke answers. "We never know what we're doing. We hope to maybe go to South America or Asia and Australia. We don't know how we're going to fit that into the next half of the year though".

"I kind of have a feeling this will be our last tour that we do here, although we may come back and do some festivals. We've already been offered some. But as Duke was saying, it depends on the routing." says Butch.

"Do you think we should just stay away!? Are you getting sick of us?!" Duke jokes.

Of course not.

The band haven't played a 'Wembley' in the States yet. They reiterate the fact that it is a massive thrill for them to be playing the arena.

"We've only done once around in America."

...Which is probably why Garbage decided to support Alanis.

Steve says "We want to play for other people who haven't heard us before. Her audience is really different to ours. We've played slightly smaller places in the US than in the UK, but it's all our fans. Sometimes you want to play in front of people who don't like ya! You have to work to win them over."

"We just did a four month tour of playing three or four thousand seaters. They were almost all sold out and they were great shows, and that's kind of where we're at right now." Butch ascertains. "Now we're going to play for 25 thousand people with Alanis. There are very few bands that we feel we would want to play with. In '96 we did a lot of big arena shows and some stadium shows with The Smashing Pumpkins and that was also a really good thing for us to do. You're playing in front of a lot of kids every night."

Garbage like the idea of doing things on their own terms. Whether it's touring, releasing an album that doesn't fit into one category, to not caring about chart positions.

Steve has noticed that regarding singles "everybody over here is so incredibly focused about what number it comes in at. It doesn't really appeal to us to think like that too much."

The important thing, Butch says, is "that we made a record that we thought sounded more like a band and that took where we were in the first album and made it better. Ultimately you have to make records for yourself. That we ended up selling four million copies first time out just seems weird and like a fluke. I don't think it made us feel any better or worse about the accomplishments. We sort of isolated ourselves when we made 'Version 2.0' 'cause we didn't want to start thinking of that pressure. When you have a lot of sales people say 'oh, it's going to be bigger' or 'it has to be bigger' to the point where you explode, I guess. We sort of purposely keep ourselves in denial and don't get too caught up with it. If you do start worrying about chart positions and numbers and stuff, you start looking over your shoulder and you'll go insane. You'll become totally neurotic. The music business is so fickle. 'Here today, gone today'... Sometimes not even 'gone tomorrow'. They don't give you much breathing room to stick around with so many bands out there. We kind of feel that we're trying to do things on our own terms, carving out our own niche."

Regarding how an album sounds, Duke says "We just hope that the songs get better. That's usually our main focus. Everything else that we do centres around that."

Garbage have a little room on their tourbus set up incase new song ideas come to mind - although writing on the road is not easy.

"We've got a little studio. We have had some gear set up in the back room of the bus and we've done a few things. But it's hard..."

Butch informs "We've done a couple of B sides and we're working on a Fun Lovin' Criminals remix. We may try and finish that this afternoon when we get down to soundcheck."

The band toured with Fun Lovin' Criminals a couple of years back.

"We had such a great time touring with them in 1996. They're total characters. We spent a lot of time carousing late hours in strange locations throughout Europe and we really hit it off with them. That was cool to do the remix instead of getting the record companies with their lawyers and stuff. It was like 'we'll send you guys a tape and you send us a tape and let's not get into any legal contracts and stuff, let's just do it... cool' and it's fun that way. The record companies can't tell us what to do or what not to do. We'll just go 'here's your remix'. It should always be that easy."

The band were nominated for two awards in the Grammys - Best Rock Album and Best Album Of The Year. Butch says "It felt pretty cool, really. We don't expect to win ever..."

"And we never do!" joker Duke quickly quips.

"I don't think we look at them as being something important, but it's pretty cool to be nominated, especially for the album of the year award, which is like the big cahoona in the States amidst the 10 thousand albums that were released last year. The Grammys, like anything else, are sort of political. A lot of them are based on sales. It's also amazing that it's really five women this year who got nominated for album of the year - Sheryl Crow, Shania Twain, Madonna and Lauryn Hill. To even be considered in that category is cool. The biggest thing is that we get to go to Los Angeles and go to the parties. We may not win but we're going to f**kin' party!"

Steve adds "The best part is that everyone's mad 'cause they all thought Celine Dion should've been in there instead of us."

On the subject of the females, and Shirley in particular, they talk about how she has become a role model for many young girls.

"I guess Shirley has become much more of a pop icon than the three of us because we can still wander around and people don't bother us too much, and even if they do they're usually really cool. Shirley can't really go anywhere now. She deals with it really well. Our fans, generally, are very cool and in some respects she has become a role model, in a lot of ways because she's brutally honest, she's all over the place emotionally, she's not particularly easy to pigeonhole, she makes mistakes and she talks about that. But she's also tough. I think a lot of young girls look up to her for some of those reasons."

When Shirley originally joined the band, they planned to be a total team. The most important thing was to make a record that sounded cool.

Butch continues: "We threw the ball in Shirley's court and told her "you're going to co-produce and co-write and be totally involved in everything". She'd never had that opportunity before. She literally took the ball and ran with it. She's blossomed as an artist. And to see her grow from day one when we started working with her to going out and taking charge of the stage every night is an amazing thing... She's a show-off. She loves attention. I think it comes very natural to her.

"We asked Shirley to sing on a couple of songs. We figured we'd have a couple of people singing different songs - sort of like the Golden Palominos, but we didn't really want to do that, we wanted to have a band. We wanted to try and find the right person and she was really the only person who came in that we seriously considered. We were lucky. We wouldn't be here now if it hadn't been a stroke of luck. Steve seeing her on MTV was a total fluke."

When asked what the best advice they've ever been given was, they each joke. "Whatever it was I probably ignored it" is Duke's answer.

"Find a good attorney" is Butch's.

"Stick with a bottle of water in Mexico." Steve replies, presumably from experience.

Advice for up-and-coming bands comes from Duke's mouth. "Don't do it for the glamour... 'Cause you won't find it. A lot of musicians start writing songs and forming bands because they see or read about some rock star dating a model or owning a mansion on a hill or something, and how glamorous the life is, but it's not true. It's hard work. Do it because you love it.

"One of the reasons you get into a band is because you want to meet girls and cruise around, but that doesn't last. You have to do it because you love it. There's a lot of hard work involved."

"Try also to carve out your own identity" advises Butch. "There are so many thousands of bands out there and it's really difficult to do something entirely new. What we're doing isn't real inventive; we use techno and hiphop loops and noisy guitars and pop stuff and anybody can do that. Somehow the sensibility of the kind of melodies that we write, because we're not great players, that we write simple parts and try and make them sound interesting... And with Shirley's voice and the combination, I think we've carved out our own turf. If you hear a Garbage song on the radio it sounds like us; it doesn't sound like anybody else. A lot of it probably has to do with Shirley's singing. So if you can find a way to carve out your own niche as a new artist and develop a sound so that somehow you stick out, that's important."

Yes, Garbage definitely have their own niche.

Visit www.garbage.com for more info.


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