Girls Rock Santa Barbara Interviews Shirley Manson of Garbage

This year, Girls Rock Santa Barbara has developed The Summer of Love Internship, its first ever paid internship for teen girls and gender-expansive youth, which allows the organization to continue to provide a safe, collaborative environment in which to encourage lifelong skills like positive peer bonding and self-confident resilience. The internship, which lasts six weeks and pays each intern $500, offers six exciting and arts-focused disciplines: Record Label, Recording Artist, Social Media, Journalism, Photography, and Podcasting. Audiofemme is pleased to publish the following article, written by Julia Duva and Emma Hogarth, two interns from the Journalism program.

Photo Credit: Joseph Cultice

The second she joined our Zoom meeting, Shirley Manson (the bold and charismatic lead singer of Garbage) was all smiles and laughs. After having done a few interviews with a plethora of different artists for the Girls Rock Santa Barbara Internship, we approached this last one with confidence and ease, but Manson’s energy far surpassed what we had experienced up until that point. She ignored subtle attempts to start the interview off slowly and instead pushed us to genuinely answer her questions, likely a habit she’s picked up as the host of The Jump podcast, in which she interviews musicians about their career-defining songs. Its second season premieres this week, and features interviews with George Clinton, Liz Phair, Angel Olsen, Matt Berninger, and more.

Having been a musician for almost forty years, Shirley Manson has been asked practically everything about her career. However, in the nineties, when Garbage was at its peak popularity, Manson didn’t get to spend much time talking about one of the only passions of hers that might have surpassed music: feminism. So after the introductions and jokes about our current situation, we spent our time discussing sexism in the music industry, feminism in the nineties, her relationship with her bandmates, and changes brought on by the 21st century.

GRSB: When did you first consider yourself a feminist? Was it in the beginning of your career or was it further down the line?

SM: I discovered I was a feminist when I was really young, and I watched my father give my mother housekeeping money, and I was offended by that. My mom was the queen of our household – she basically did every single thing except go out and do a traditional job like my dad did, and that seemed like an imbalance to me and it pissed me off. I think there I realized, “Wow, the playing field is not what I hoped and thought it was.” A feminist was born that day. I think my indignance has developed over the course of a very long career at this point. I am old and I am still outraged!

GRSB: Other outspoken artists of the alternative era, like Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair, have been very open about the struggles of being female in the music industry in the 90s. What was your experience?

SM: I have managed to circumvent a lot of what I consider to be a system that is not necessarily rigged in women’s favor. I’ve had a long career because I am tough, and I have never felt that I am lesser than a dude, so when I am faced with sexism or misogyny, I am well-equipped to deal with it. I have had people ask if I was a prostitute. I was told that I work with three geniuses and I was the face of the “Garbage clock.” The list is endless. That is beginning to change, and I thank your generation for the changes that we are about to see. My generation was pretty quiet. You lot are like ‘Fuck you, you don’t get to touch me.’ In context with what we are seeing in this Civil Rights movement, I was dismayed to see that white feminism had left behind our Black, Brown and Indigenous sisters. The white feminist movement has its hands pretty dirty, and I want to see that change. That’s something I feel really passionate about. I see these changes occur in your generation, so that gives me great hope and makes me feel excited.

GRSB: Would you say that the music industry is becoming less aggressive, and an easier place for women to find a career?

SM: No. It’s a really tough industry, and particularly hard on women. We’ve got centuries of mindset to unpack, so we are all – men, women, and anyone in between the two binary pools – part of a system that does not benefit women, Indigenous peoples, Black peoples, gay peoples, trans peoples. It is changing, but we have got a long, long, long, road ahead of us all, unfortunately.

GRSB: It’s sad to think about all my favorite women artists, and how they maybe going through hardships in the industry due to their gender. One of my favorite artists nowadays is Lauren Mayberry from Chvrches. Is it inspiring to see someone like her carry feminism into the next generation?

SM: Don’t feel sad, get outraged. It’s something that can be tackled. The system wants you to be sad and sit back. Instead, we have to all push. Sadness is a very unhelpful emotion. I never want any young women, or any young people to feel dismay. There is so much out there for you all – this is an opportunity. So to see someone like Lauren Mayberry – who grew up in my country [Scotland], and has been so generous to me in the press – is so touching and I’m so proud of her. I love to see how she touches younger generations. It’s wonderful seeing Lauren setting peoples’ imaginations alight.

GRSB: Along with being an outspoken feminist, and a leader of the feminist movement, you are also often seen as an LGBTQIA+ icon by the queer community. What does it mean to you to garner such support from them?

SM: Our relationship with the LGBTQIA+ community has been enormously valuable to us. This binary system that we have been conditioned into believing is the only way forward for human beings has been incredibly restrictive, and as someone who doesn’t like being restricted – I don’t like rules, I don’t like being told what to do – I always saw that community as really brave, breaking all the boundaries and not allowing themselves to be caught in cages. I just fell in love with that freedom, that ideology of “I will be who I want to be and nobody is gonna tell me who I’m gonna love and how I think.” So I think I have just always felt at home in that community, and still do.

GRSB: Even though your band was sort of outspoken about these issues and in support of you, what was it like being a woman in an all male band? It seems like it could be a little alienating…

SM: (Laughs) As I flop to the floor and burst into tears, once again, I’ve never been asked that question. It has been fraught with some difficulties. I’ve continued to experience some of these difficulties just by the fact I work almost exclusively with men, and I am usually the only [woman] in the room. That can be very tough, very frustrating and it’s just something I’ve learned to live with. I certainly hold my own defenses, but it’s exhausting sometimes. But again, I knew what I was stepping into – the music industry is not for the faint of heart.

GRSB: You are currently in the studio putting the finishing touches on a new Garbage record. Before we go, can you tell us anything about the new record that we are dying to hear?

SM: It’s really good (laughs). Very aggressive, but it’s also much poppier than our last record [Strange Little Birds]. Our last record was kind of esoteric in a weird way and very ambiguous in many ways. This is not ambiguous at all. This is absolutely straight down the line, in your face, and I’m proud of it. I’m one of very few women in their 50s who manages to put out records with a band – I mean, you could count us on our digits at this point – so I want to impress that on every woman I ever speak to, every young woman I speak to: don’t get caught up in the bullshit about how you look. It’s what you do and how you conduct yourself in your life that’s important. Do some good work and when you’re in your 50s, still get to go on stage and have a fantastic life.

And just like that Shirley Manson, the spitfire feminist, vocalist, writer, and activist wishes us goodbye and leaves the call, ending the interview with one last bit of sharp-witted advice: “Stay safe and wear your fucking masks.”

Follow Garbage on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYLIST: Transgender Remembrance Day

Transgender Day of Remembrance

While perceptions of LGBT musicians have evolved dramatically over the past few decades, the subject matter has been the stuff of some truly iconic songs (such as “Walk On The Wild Side,” a notable exclusion from this list due to its sheerly self-explanatory status). November 20th  marks annual Transgender Remembrance Day, dedicated to raising awareness and memorializing those killed due to anti-transgender discrimination across the world. In honor of the occasion, AudioFemme has collected a list of songs that deal with the topic, or were created by artists identifying as transgender.

1. The Cliks – Dark Passenger: Canadian rock band The Cliks, who take their name from an amalgamation of the words “clit” and “dick,” were the first band with an openly transgendered lead singer to be signed to a major label. Energetic, hard-hitting soul rock dominate The Cliks’ sound. “Dark Passenger was released in May of this year, on the band’s album Black Tie Elevator.

2. JD Samson & MEN – Who Am I To Feel So Free:This track is fun, plain and simple. Former Le Tigre member JD Samson has extensively commented on her sexual minority status as a lesbian, but this single is—as you’d expect from the name—liberated and giddy.

3. Antony and the Johnsons – You Are My Sister: Antony Hegarty’s voice holds a reverberating, haunting appeal, backed here by soft strings and quietly building harmonies. “When I heard him,” Lou Reed has said of Hegarty, “I knew I was in the presence of an angel.” Hegarty, who never anatomically transitioned from male to female, embraces ambiguity and dissonance in his songwriting as well–refusing to shy away from contradictions, he lends his music and organic, somewhat mysterious slant, always leaving just a few spaces in his songs blank.

4. David Bowie – Rebel Rebel: Bowie’s 1974 classic, apparently the most covered track on Diamond Dogs, is noisy, rife with slapstick distortion, and filthy with the glam mode that he popularized in the early seventies. The song, due to its massive popularity, was revitalized and re-released in 1999 . After “Rebel Rebel” was written, Bowie moved almost instantly away from the glam movement that had been his brain child—the following single was “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide.”

5. Geo Wyeth – I Am Chasing An Alien Light: Wyeth, a transgendered, NYC-based artist, makes wistful, exciting folk music that’s minimalist in style and radiates breathless optimism. Many of his tracks, including the one below, bear an alien theme, representative of his experience not only as a transgendered person, but as a musician whose songs don’t bear any direct relation to most of the other music going on around him.

6. Styx – I’m O.K.: “I’m O.K.” was released on the band’s 1978 Pieces Of Eight album. Beginning with a chorus of “heys” and a round of bouncing synthesizers, this track is one of the standout feel-good tracks on this list: Styx’s theatricality lends itself to a rousing, epic-sounding anthem.

7. Our Lady J – Hurt: Breathy, delicate synthesizers, close harmonies, both electronically engineered and non, and a sleek production finish dominate Our Lady J’s rendition of this song, originally performed by Nine Inch Nails (or Johnny Cash, depending on how you look at it). Our Lady J, a singer and pianist known for live performers and a masterful singing style, offers an entirely new take on the growling, stripped down original.

8. Against Me! – True Trans Soul Rebel: In 1997, Laura Jane Grace, then known as Thomas James Gabel, founded punk rock outfit Against Me! as a solo project, and quickly grew the band to a quartet. Fourteen years after Against Me! Was created, Grace publicly addressed her gender dysphoria and assumed a female name, continuing to perform with the band. In January of next year, Against Me! will release the first album to come out since Grace publicly announced herself to be transgendered. This summer, “True Trans Soul Rebel” was released as a single off the forthcoming album, displaying a more introspective, acoustic tendency that any we’ve seen in any Against Me! release thus far.

9. The Kinks – Lola: Released in 1970, The Kinks’ iconic single “Lola” is perhaps the best known song about a transgender experience in the world. Detailing a meeting between a young boy and the more experienced Lola, who is either a transvestite or is transgendered. Hard-rocking, story-telling and intensely singable, the song has spawned a bounty of live versions, a German version, a Greek version, a Dutch version, a Spanish version, and a Weird Al parody called “Yoda,” among many, many others.

10. Garbage – Queer: Garbage has performed an array of songs dealing with queer-oriented subject matter, and this is one of the best. Snarling harmonies combine with lead singer Shirley Manson’s angelic vocals and disenchanted lyrics.

11. Bitch and Animal – Boy Girl Wonder: Steeped in the queercore scene, Bitch and Animal apply an insightful, often improvisatory, take to the genre. “Boy Girl Wonder” favors the story-telling aspect of the song, accompanied by an extremely minimalistic acoustic guitar for the first two minutes and twenty seconds of the song, before sharp, embittered electric guitar cuts into the track.“The boy girl wonder from Queens,” Bitch screams over reverberating chords, proving she can escalate to a howl—or drop down to a purr—on a dime.

12. Wayne County and the Electric Chair – Fuck Off: Wayne County, now known as Jayne County, holds the title of rock’s first transsexual singer. County moved to London as the punk scene there was burgeoning, in 1977, and formed a group, releasing “Fuck Off” shortly thereafter. Jayne County never received critical acclaim, despite several releases, a tour, and even a book entitled Man Enough To Be A Woman. “Fuck Off” is a song whose time, perhaps, has come.

13. The Velvet Underground – Candy Says: With lyrics like “Candy says ‘I’ve come to hate my body/and all that it requires in this world,’” The Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says” represents one of rock’s most tender and intricate portraits of a transgendered woman. This soft, sorrowful song portrays Candy so vividly because she was, in fact, a real person (that would be Candy Darling, who starred in multiple Warhol films and died of lymphoma while still very young). Candy appears in other Velvet Underground songs as well, notably “Walk On The Wild Side,” but appears here in a fuller, much more poignant capacity.


Why not celebrate Transgender Remembrance Day with a donation to a worthy cause? The Sylvia Rivera Law Project, or SRLP, works to protect freedom in gender identification by providing legal services to fight against harassment. Go here to donate.  And post your additions to our playlist in the comments!

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”] [retweet][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]