20 Years Ago: Garbage Release Their Self-Titled Debut
Nowadays, when we think about the sound of rock music from the 1990s, the alternative loud-quiet-loud sound is typically what first comes to mind. But there was another sound present that has had just as much influence over modern music as grunge did.
This sound was marked by beat-pushing dance rhythms and strange samples, a sound that came about as rock bands began taking cues from the burgeoning world of hip-hop. And Garbage marked the point at which this dance sound became fully incorporated into the mainstream when they released their self-titled debut 20 years ago today (Aug. 15).
Butch Vig and Steve Marker met at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where they made a D.I.Y. recording studio in Marker's basement. Fast-forward a dozen or so years, and the duo are recording the biggest rock bands in the country.
Vig wound up recording some of the most important albums of the 1990s, including the Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream and Nirvana's breakout album, Nevermind, in his and Marker's Smart Studios in Madison.
Vig had played in a few bands before producing started demanding all of his time, and watching so many other bands come and go began to make him miss his drum kit. He also felt a push to do something that wasn't a grunge band. He told Billboard:
Part of the reason why I started Garbage was that by the time I'd done 'Nevermind,' I'd recorded -- I swear to God -- 1,000 bands that were just guitar-bass-drums. I was reading about all these other records that I was getting excited about -- like Public Enemy using a sampler in the studio -- and I just decided I wanted to do a bit of a U-turn. Everyone told me I was crazy that I wanted to start new band and I probably was, but luckily it worked out for the better.
Vig and Marker, along with their friend Duke Erikson, formed Garbage, and began looking for a singer. After hearing and recording so many male-fronted groups, the three musicians decided they wanted a female singer. Marker saw a woman named Shirley Manson singing on MTV's 120 Minutes, and the lineup was soon complete.
Manson's vocals were important to Garbage's overall sound. Her delivery and energy served as the perfect counterbalance to the band's noisy, aggressive sound. It's very easy to picture Garbage as becoming a small footnote in '90s music history without Manson's contribution.
Their debut album, Garbage, was a hodgepodge of found sounds and musical styles thrown together almost at random, it seemed. Once Vig and Marker freed themselves of the guitar-drums-bass grind they had been doing for almost a decade, they acted like kids in the proverbial candy store.
Samples and loops filled in all of the spaces between the traditional instruments on the album. Some of the sounds were actually mistakes they decided to keep. Vig told Sound on Sound:
Like at one point Steve was trying to dub something from one track to another track on the ADAT, something happened digitally and he got this scratchy feedback. He thought, "Oh, this sounds cool," so he sampled it and managed to tune it into the song, and that almost became a hook.
That song was "Stupid Girl," the fourth single from Garbage, and the one that really got everyone's attention. Vig's drumming pushes the song along, giving it a sort of anxious feel. Marker's digital noise sample sits just under airy guitars and a sample of the Clash's "Train in Vain":
The band's first single -- in the U.S. anyway -- was "Vow." While it didn't make Garbage big, famous rock stars, "Vow" drew the attention of the critics and set the stage for their future superstardom:
Even though Vig and Marker had expressed their boredom with the old soft-verse, loud-chorus format that dominated rock music at the time, this same format was still apparent in many of their own songs. "Queer," on the other hand, was something very different:
Apparently, the music-listening public-at-large was also looking for something new, because Garbage was an instant hit. The album was certified gold by January 1997, and double platinum by 1999.
Since then, Garbage have worked on and off, with occasional long gaps between albums. They're celebrating the 20th anniversary of their first album's debut with their "20 Years Queer" tour. And we may have a new album from the band soon. They most recently released a new 10" for Record Store Day. The A-side, "The Chemicals," features Silversun Pickups' Brian Aubert and finds Garbage true to form.