Garbage filed suit against the Universal Music Group in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, January 29th, claiming that the entertainment conglomerate is holding singer Shirley Manson “hostage” under a contract she signed with Universal subsidiary Radioactive Records in 1983, when she was a member of the now-defunct band Angelfish. The members of Garbage — Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig — have filed a complaint for declaratory relief, asking the court to free them from Universal. Their rationale for leaving lies in the band’s 1994 contract signed with Almo Sounds, which included a “key man clause,” which would allow the band to leave the label if Almo chairman Jerry Moss left the label for any reason; Moss retired last year.
According to the suit, “UMG is effectively holding Shirley Manson as ransom for the band’s continued performance for UMG against their will and without the benefit of Mr. Moss and an independent label.” In addition to the Almo contract, the band is asking for Manson to freed from her contract with Radioactive, which the suit claims allowed Universal to garner twenty-five percent of the band’s net profits from their second album, 1998’s Version 2.0.
“Key person provisions are rare in recording contracts,” explains attorney Laurie Soriano, the head of the music division for Manatt Phelps & Phillips, who counts Aimee Mann, Carole King and Diane Warren among her clients. “Usually they are reserved for superstar artists.” She also adds that plaintiffs who evoke the clause are “usually very successful” and that we seldom hear of such cases because they are a “slam dunk.” When the executive leaves the company, the artist usually follows without incident or lawsuits, such as the case of the Foo Fighters leaving Capitol Records after then-president Gary Gersh exited to form a management company with partner John Silva.
As for Garbage, they are continuing work on their follow-up to Version 2.0 at Vig’s Smart Sound studio in Madison, Wisconsin. “This isn’t going to affect the work,” said the band’s management. “They’re continuing to write and record on a daily basis. Matt Chamberlain [Wallflowers, Fiona Apple] came in to play drums last week, and everything is going well. One thing has nothing to do with another.”