Seventeen years is an eternity in the lifespan of a rock band, especially one like Garbage that prides itself on its cutting-edge techno sleekness.
Steve Marker, one of the band’s multi-instrumentalists, is taken aback when reminded that the renowned quartet featuring Scottish siren Shirley Manson last performed in Israel in 1999, when they were sitting atop the global pop charts.
“I’m kind of stunned we played in Tel Aviv so long ago, it does seem like several lifetimes ago,” laughs Marker, during a phone conversation from Nashville, where Garbage was performing as part of a year-long tour marking a resurgence after a six-year hiatus that officially ended in 2012.
“The changes that we’ve seen since then in the music business have been unbelievable.
It’s completely different. When we started out, we barely had email. The music industry that was such big business when we started out doesn’t really exist anymore, at least for the kind of music we do. We’ve tried to weather the changes and adapt.”
That they’ve done well, following up their first act as one of America’s premier bands with an encore that has featured two well-received albums – 2012’s Not Your Kind of People and this year’s Strange Little Birds – and a new energized life on the road with sellout shows populated by older fans and a new generation that wasn’t even born when Garbage ruled the world.
“We were very lucky to have established ourselves when we did,” said Marker, who is joined behind Manson by co-multi-instrumentalist Duke Erikson and drummer and producing legend Butch Vig. “We’ve kept a lot of the same fans from over the years who have stuck with us and we’re grateful for that. But we also see a lot of young kids coming to our shows... I can’t explain it, but we also really appreciate it.”
Maybe it’s the band’s evocative music that draws them in – part pop, part tape loops, part noise experiments, Garbage bridges a gap between the worlds of rock, club dance music and trip hop, with a little girl-group fun thrown in. Or maybe it’s just the allure of Manson, one of rock’s most striking personas.
The trio of Marker, Vig and Ericson met in the early 1980s in the University of Wisconsin music scene. Marker, then a film student, took a liking to the band Vig and Ericson led, called Spooner, and helped them record songs on a primitive four-track recorder he bought with money he earned mowing lawns. The three began collaborating on their own material as well as recording other bands with their expanding equipment.
Renowned independent labels like Sub Pop, Slash and Twin Tone all sent their top artists to Madison to record at the trio’s highly touted, musician-friendly facility.
Their own music, unfortunately, took a back seat to the burgeoning business, and by late in the decade the three friends went their separate ways, while Marker continued working in studios, producing bands and inventing new sounds.
Vig entered the rock ‘n’ roll history books by producing some of the most groundbreaking albums of the alternative/grunge sound, including Nirvana’s Nevermind, Sonic Youth’s Dirty and Smashing Pumpkins’ Gish and Siamese Dream.
However, the desire to make their own music remained, and when in 1993 the trio found themselves reunited, working together doing remixes for songs by Nine Inch Nails and House of Pain, they decided on the spot to form a band.
Searching for a “moody, industrial, alternative sound” the trio spent countless hours in the studio experimenting, until one night in 1994, Vig saw a video on MTV of a band called Angelfish led by a striking redheaded Manson. He knew she was the voice he was looking for, and the band’s eponymous debut in 1995 proved Vig right on target, with the disc achieving both critical and commercial accolades, spawning a number of hit singles and selling over four million copies. The hot streak continued for the next decade – including a slot performing the theme song to the 1999 James Bond film The World is not Enough, but by the mid-2000s, with the record business imploding, the pressures on the band forced them to take a step back.
“Things had gotten sort of poisoned by how ugly the music business got in the early 2000s. Sales were going down, down, down, and our sales did too,” said Marker.
“But there were still expectations that somebody like us was going to continue making million-selling CDs every year, and that was simply not the case anymore. That created tension between the business and us, and sadly, between the band itself.”
The members went their separate ways in 2006, working on various projects – Marker created ambient soundtracks for corporate events – but they stayed in touch with each other and never doubted they would regroup one day.
“I don’t think any of us didn’t want to see each other or not work together again,” said Marker, adding that the first steps toward reconciliation in 2012 were tentative but reassuring.
“There was some walking on eggshells but it was also very natural. We desperately wanted it to work and didn’t want to screw it up,” he said. “At the same time, there was the same kind of chemistry that the four of us always shared when we work on music – it was there from the beginning.”
“I was very nervous that something could go wrong, or someone would say the wrong thing, or most importantly, that the inspiration wouldn’t be there, but luckily it all came together. We would get in a room, grab whatever instrument we felt like playing that day, have a glass of wine and make some noise. Some days it would turn into a song and other days it wouldn’t. There wasn’t a lot of pressure and that’s when you do your best work, when you’re not trying to force it.”
Having settled into its second incarnation without losing a step, Garbage returns to Israel on August 16 and 17 for shows at the Shuni Zappa Amphitheater. Fans still talk about their triumphant Israel debut at Hangar 11 in 1999, and Marker said that the band still talks about it too.
“When people ask us what were some of our best experiences back then, coming to Israel was always one of them,” said Marker.
“It was a fantastic vacation for us in Tel Aviv, as well as a great gig. The people were so amazing, as nice as we’ve encountered anywhere in the world. It meant a lot for us to be there, and we’re excited to be coming back.”