Band credits lead singer Shirley Manson for the success of their self-titled debut album

By Chris Willman
Updated June 07, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

The three male founders of Garbage are looking, well, trashed. Bleary-eyed after a 4 a.m. tour-bus roll-in to Manhattan and just two hours’ sleep, these Wisconsinite rockers may be a little too haggard to properly impress their uptown hotel’s lone mid-morning waiter. He seems to be good only for coming round to remind the Garbage men where, in his virtually empty restaurant, they can’t sit.

”We’ve been kicked out of every section of this cafeteria,” Duke Erikson tells just-arriving fellow guitarist Steve Marker.

”Yeah, they knew we were in a band,” adds drummer/producer Butch Vig, resignedly migrating again.

If only Shirley Manson were here. Tables would open, napkins magically unfold, staff multiply, waiterly tongues drop. A ravishing redhead with friendly defiance in her green eyes and a seductive challenge in her Scottish burr can, and does, have that effect. Unfortunately, she’s presently putting it to work at a fashion shoot across town, leaving her genial caffeine-challenged colleagues to fend for their less photogenic selves.

It’s worth remembering that when Garbage’s self-titled debut album was released last August, it was Vig who was perceived as the star, at least among the cognoscenti. His was the golden resume, with a career-making producing credit for Nirvana’s zeitgeist-shifting Nevermind, as well as albums for Sonic Youth, Soul Asylum, and the Smashing Pumpkins. Besides their membership in a series of Midwestern indie bands, Erikson and Marker were known in the alternative and dance-music communities for their producing and remix work. In America, at least, Manson — who’d fronted two failed Scottish bands, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie and Angelfish — was the wild card.

Emphasis on wild.

”When we’re having a really good show,” says Vig, finally rooted and sipping coffee, ”I’m behind the drum set triggering all these loops and samples, and these guys are totally rocking, and it’s just a wild craziness on stage, and I look out and there’s 2,000 people — and they’re all watching Shirley.

”Which,” he adds, with genuine appreciation, ”is all right.”

It’d better be. Vig isn’t exactly James Mason, and Manson’s definitely not Judy Garland, but there is a star-is-born story in the growing Cult of Manson. Ironically, the singer was the final addition; Vig, 40, Marker, 37, and Erikson, in his mid-40s, had been fielding frontwomen possibilities for months when they spotted the sole MTV airing of an Angelfish video. Marker rang her up just a couple of days after Angelfish’s founder had quit in a huff, leaving Manson in the lurch and all too happy to be transatlantically replanted.

Manson, 29, added her funny, omnifeminist sheen to what Vig calls the group’s ”sci-fi pop” — a visionary mix of the kind of guitar rock that goes down fine in the upper Midwest with the sort of ripe-for-remixing techno burblings that leave clubby downtown types literally raving. The debut album proved a smash in the U.K., where such cross-pollination is virtually mandatory. Here, although the singles ”Only Happy When It Rains” and ”Stupid Girl” have been embraced by MTV, things ”initially were slow going,” says Vig, ”because I don’t think it’s cool to say you’re in a pop band in the States. To be truly PC, you have to be in the grunge zone.” Now the album has gone gold, and a summer spent opening for Vig’s pals the Pumpkins will likely secure Garbage’s platinum card.