Soapbox: Shirley Manson

Equal parts fierce and fragile, Shirley Manson has been the brazen voice behind Garbage for nearly two decades, unapologetically standing up for the outsiders among us and bringing a little glam to the boys’ club. And now, after a seven-year absence, Garbage is back this month with a highly anticipated new album, Not Your Kind Of People—and it turns out that Shirley is as much of a badass ally as ever!

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There were a lot of reasons why we eventually did get back together, and I won’t bore you with the details. But I think ultimately we knew we were ready to make a record that mattered to us. We invested everything in this—ourselves and all the money we had saved in a pot for a rainy day—and I think there’s a lot of passion in that. As a result, we’re getting the response that people can feel that authenticity and commitment.

To be honest, and this is a very contradictory statement to make, but if we didn’t have the fans that we have, we would not have made this record. But the responsibility of this record lies on our shoulders. We didn’t make it for anybody else. And if they don’t like it, that does not concern me one iota. I don’t know if it’s confidence or complete dissonance, but we made this record for us.

We got treated pretty poorly by our record label in the last couple of years, being stuck on their label. So this time around when we did start to think about how we could release a record, we looked at all possibilities and it just made no sense for us to go through the label system. And we didn’t even think about the business; that was one of the rules we set amongst ourselves. We were like, “Fuck everyone! Fuck everybody’s opinions. Let’s just listen and trust ourselves.” I think it does feel like it really means something to us. I think one of the amazing things about my band is we’re really old but we are incredibly innocent and in touch with a sort of childlike wonder about making records and the excitement about being in a band and we’re in love with what that means.

It’s been about a year and a half since we started back, and this was, for me, the best experience I’ve ever had in the studio. It was fun and playful, very free and easy. We had a really fucking good time! The one thing we said was that we needed to make records the way we love to make records and not feel apologetic about that. I think it got to the point in our career where there was a massive shift in the musical landscape. I could tell that there was this movement that was about to sweep through our consciousness that was at complete odds with the way we were making records. So I thought we were doomed because this is a new sound and we’re not part of that.

So this time around, we were determined to not care if we’re not cool or hip or not the sound of the street. We’re not going to make any apologies for that. We’re going to make a classic-sounding Garbage record and do what we do best. Because there’s no other band out there that sounds like us.

Thankfully you’ve responded to it! We’ve had huge support from the gay community since the beginning. Huge! It’s always been natural to all of us. It’s something that we feel very strongly about. I mean, “Queer” is our gay anthem, of course! And we never, never, never got any negative reaction to it. And to put that word on the radio [15 years ago] was a big deal. Things have definitely changed over the course of the last few decades for gay rights, but we just believe in equality. Full stop. And when it comes to the [marriage battles], that makes me fucking crazy! I can’t imagine as a gay man or woman how nuts that must make you. But it makes me crazy enough. I feel it’s an absolute breach of human rights, and I feel very strongly and have been very outspoken. I have a lot of gay friends who I love and adore and cherish, and this just makes me ashamed that they don’t have the same rights as me.

As a former self-harmer myself, I really do relate to anyone who is suffering so acutely from feelings of worthlessness that they attack themselves. That’s born of a feeling of not being heard. It’s such a gentle person usually who turns in on themselves, like they’d rather hurt themselves than hurt somebody else. I feel a lot of empathy toward people who suffer like that, or what I like to call “hypersensitivity.” It’s a form of intelligence in a funny way; you’re reading things that most people are blind or deaf to. When someone says to you that you’re being too sensitive, spin that around and think in your head, “Well, you’re just not being sensitive enough.”

But since the rash of teen suicides, I’ve seen a lot of celebs come out—who you can just tell have never had a day’s fucking trauma in their life—and say they were once bullied or some other lame-ass story. You know what? Bullying is about consistent, violent or verbal abuse. A daily basis, a weekly basis. It’s not the same as once having something “horrible” happen to you. It’s a big difference.

I’ve realized that people who are drawn to our band, we are communicating using common language. So I feel maternal toward our fans, my “darklings.” I know how much it meant to me when I fell in love with bands, so to think for one minute that we meant something like that to someone else is such an amazing feeling. And to come from the gay community, I could literally cry.

Moderated by Jeff Katz; art by Dave Arkle. Not Your Kind Of People is out May 15