Shirley Manson


Shirley Manson: 25 Years of Garbage and Fortitude

Outspoken star won't yield in her fight for equality

Shirley Manson has been in bands since 1986, when, at 17, she joined the Scottish indie group Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie. She then fronted Angelfish before meeting her Garbage bandmates in 1994. But this will be her first SXSW. “I think it’s extraordinary that I’ve never, ever been,” says Manson. “Ever. The whole thing is quite exciting.”

At SXSW, Manson and Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES will engage in a Music Keynote conversation in association with PRS Foundation’s Keychange campaign, which is encouraging music festivals to book lineups with 50-50 gender equality by 2022. Manson had previously signed on as a Keychange ambassador.

“Only in the last few years has there been any kind of serious dialogue in our culture about the lack of parity between the sexes in a modern context.”

“Being a woman whose vested interest is in promoting a whole plethora of female voices in the music industry — which is still very much a patriarchal system — I jumped at the chance to put my name behind it,” she says.

Garbage, which most recently released a collaborative Record Store Day single with sometime tourmates John Doe and Exene Cervenka, will soon be back in the studio working on its seventh record, for a likely 2020 release.

Garbage performing in Manchester, England in 2015. Photo by Paul Anderson/CC BY 2.0

Garbage performing in Manchester, England in 2015. Photo by Paul Anderson/CC BY 2.0


Manson recently answered some questions from Jason Cohen (co-author of This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake, Garbage’s 2017 autobiography) in anticipation of her SXSW appearance:

Last year Lauren Mayberry tweeted, “I wouldn’t be in a band if it weren’t for Shirley Manson.” How does that make you feel?

Shirley Manson: It's one of the greatest privileges of my life. There's not many of us, women who have managed to have careers for as long as I have, and so I'm always grateful. I can't believe my luck that I'm still here. That I still get to make records, that I still get to be on festival bills with all these incredible young talents who have been influenced by something we wrote or played or performed. It's joyous.

In SXSWorld last fall, Mayberry said that 20 years ago, you were saying stuff that people are still having arguments about now.

SM: I guess you could say that I was talking about certain topics that people didn't feel were as urgent as they seem now. I was very outspoken about how the female-identifying narrative was constantly being erased in music. Never did I imagine in my wildest dreams that women's rights would start to regress, which they have over the last 20 years. But because the political climate is very anti-female currently, women are speaking out on those subjects without fear that they're going to be seen as, y’know, an “angry feminist.” Which I was always dogged as.

When was the last time that you were treated like “the girl” by someone in the music business?

SM: I'm always treated like the girl. Always. In ways that men, I don't think, can really understand or see or appreciate. For a long time it used to bother me and upset me. Now, I go quietly cold. And understand that I just have to continue fighting in ways that I know my male counterparts don't have to - and never will have to in my lifetime.

But my perspective now is not one that includes myself, necessarily. My desire for equality for all people is focused now on the generations behind me. Only in the last few years has there been any kind of serious dialogue in our culture about the lack of parity between the sexes in a modern context.

The thing about the #MeToo movement is that it forced men to at least listen to a certain degree. I don't feel that men necessarily are seeing it, but they certainly have been confronted for once, which is in itself a miracle. And women who identify as feminists also understand that we have to start speaking up about the lack of parity between white feminists and feminists of color.

Last year the Pitchfork Music Festival hit that Keychange 50-50 mark, but I talked to another festival promoter who said, “No, we don't consider that at all. We just book what's on tour and what’s popular.”

SM: What is popular is what is fed to the masses. That's a fact. You play anything on radio enough and it will probably become a hit if you're giving it the same amount of exposure as something else.

So to me it's really simple. Anyone who does not have a diverse bill on a festival at this point is a Luddite, and is racist, sexist, and misogynistic. My advice to anyone would be that if you don't see yourself reflected in the bill, don't give them your money. It's that simple. Fuck that. Especially in America, money talks. So take your money away from them, and you might finally see some change.Garbage played most of the big festivals back in the day, especially in the U.K., but it seems like that’s not a big part of your tours in recent years.

SM: Well, talking of marginalized: I'm a woman over 50 years old. So to secure a place in a festival is complicated at best. There are very few opportunities for women who are not of the fuckable age, which I would hazard is between 18 and fucking, I don't know… 30?

Women suffer from this sickness of spirit in our culture, where they start to believe that they have no sexual currency and agency past some year that is decreed by the populace. They really start to extinguish their own flame, and when that happens, you can't possibly continue in a career in the arts.

But if you're not basing your value and your worth on how popular you are, then you can continue to do good work regardless of what people are saying about you in the press ... Talking about your wrinkles. Or how you used to be really hot, but you're not anymore ... To shoulder that requires an unbelievable amount of fortitude, but I think that's something we as a band have managed to do. I think we're very lucky.

Shirley Manson and Lauren Mayberry will take part in a Music Keynote Conversation at the 2019 SXSW Conference on Thursday, March 14.

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