“I’ve always been the odd one out in Garbage,” Shirley Manson says matter-of-factly, her Scottish accent slightly emphasizing the word “always.” “Even now, I’m the odd one out. I was never part of the gang. I’m much younger than the guys in the band. I had a different upbringing. They’d been friends for 20 years before I came along, so I always felt out of things in some ways.”
Now, as Garbage prepare to revisit their debut album on the upcoming “20 Years Queer” tour and put out a deluxe reissue of the LP, the singer can look back and see how that feeling of displacement and self-doubt pushed her in the group’s early days. She’d grown up in Edinburgh and joined the genre-bending alt-rockers in her late twenties, after singing in two bands (Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie and Angelfish) that never quite made it. She was eager to prove herself in the new group. “Even when we got to playing live, I felt like I was letting them down in some way,” Manson says. “You know, I wasn’t Bono. I wasn’t Whitney Houston. I just felt like every turn I was failing, which is painful but also it’s good for you. It’s good for you to always be questioning what you’re doing as an artist, I think.”
Whatever internal battles Manson had to push through at the time were indeed worth it. Garbage, the album, made it to 20 on the Billboard chart and subsequently went double-platinum. Although the narrative surrounding the group at the time focused on the pedigree of Manson’s bandmates (drummer Butch Vig notably produced some record called Nevermind), it was a combination of the Garbage’s smart fusion of alt-rock with electronica and hip-hop sampling techniques and Manson’s magnetism as a frontwoman that earned them their success. Singles like “Stupid Girl,” “Queer” and “Only Happy When It Rains” expertly doled out melancholia, confusion and hope in a way that struck a chord with disaffected Gen Xers and paved the way for another hit record when Garbage released Version 2.0 three years later.
When Rolling Stone speaks to Manson, who is at home in Los Angeles, about the significance of the record – which turns 20 this weekend – and the period of her life surrounding it, she still sounds amazed by the experience. “It’s such a weird time when your first record comes out, and you have no perspective at all,” she says. “It was so intense.”
Why do you want to celebrate this album on tour?
There’s something just quite thrilling about having a defined set list and being immersed in a certain moment. And we’ve never, ever played some songs off that first record, and certainly none of the B-sides. When you’ve had a 20-year career, it’s difficult after a while to find things that you haven’t done before.