How George Clinton, Chilean protests, and Watchmen inspired Garbage's new album
The Musical Moodboard is a recurring EW feature where musicians run down the inspirations behind a new album.
Throughout Garbage's storied career, the four-piece group has never shied away from being as candid as possible in their music. On their seventh studio album, No Gods No Masters, the alt-rock trailblazers, driven by the divisive politics and socio-economic issues currently affecting the world, take that candor one step further.
"I wanted to be the most authentic version of myself that I could be as an artist, and that was being forthright about how I saw the way things were panning out," says singer Shirley Manson of the band's first overtly political record (due June 11). "For the public record, I wanted to register my complaints, my indignance, and my disapproval of how things are being run around the world. Not just in America, not just in my own country, but globally. What a f---ing s--- show."
With Manson's lyrics tackling everything from Trump to systemic racism, drummer and co-producer Butch Vig felt like the band had to sharpen the music to match. "The record is very much a reflection of the insanity of the world that we live in," Vig tells EW. "As a band, we felt like we needed to make a record to sound like the way it is."
While that "intense" aesthetic — full of blazing guitar riffs and pulsating synths — is a throughline of No Gods No Masters, there are also quieter, return-to-form moments of melancholy and loneliness. Here, Manson and Vig take us through the artists, events, and TV shows that helped shape their latest album.
The Chilean protests
In 2019, Manson found herself in Santiago, Chile, working on a project during what was essentially a people's revolution. "I saw with my own eyes people rise up and challenge their government, and it was one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my life," she recalls. What Manson learned there affected the writing of No Gods No Masters — specifically, its title track. "The great privilege of being a working musician is that you get to go all over the world to travel, and you start to identify patterns of political thinking and so the alarm bells were ringing for me long before my homestead," she says. Inspired by the way the citizens of Chile were challenging the government, "No Gods No Masters" reimagines the future as something sustainable and lasting. "This is a time when we need to change our thinking, we need to change our approach."
While the band was in the beginning stages of making No Gods No Masters, Manson had the good fortune of getting to spend a few inspiring hours with Parliament-Funkadelic's George Clinton. When she returned to the studio to meet with the rest of Garbage, she had an epiphany for a song: "I immediately had this look into my body — I'm sure it was beamed over by George himself — of this sci-fi Noah's Ark set in the future where I come in on a mothership, take everything that's beautiful and good in the world and lave behind all the assholes." That concept became No God No Masters' gut-punching opener "The Men Who Rule The World," a pissed-off rallying cry to end the patriarchy and corporate greed. Manson ultimately considers the song a gift from Clinton — even if it surfaced in an unorthodox way.
After writing the sweeping sax and guitar riff that kickstarts "Anonymous XXX," the band listened to Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" from their second LP For Your Pleasure. "It's a long, slow, creepy build about a man in love with a plastic doll, and some of the sonic references from that we used as a reference for the quieter parts of ["Anonymous XXX"]," recalls Vig. For Garbage's drummer and co-producer —and former president of the Roxy Music fan club — it was only natural for the British art-rocker's to impact No Gods No Masters: "The way Shirley sings that first verse, I swear I could hear [Roxy Music bandleader] Bryan Ferry singing." At one point, Roxy Music's sax player Andy Mackay was supposed to play on the track, but COVID hit and changed their plans.
After Manson recorded an episode of her podcast The Junk with Liz Phair, inspiration struck again. She returned to her husband's studio and instantly had an idea for a song the band was working on; it later became "Flipping the Bird," an unfiltered kiss-off to the patriarchy.
"I tried to write in Liz's style, and I deliberately pitched my voice much more than I would normally, naturally sing," recalls Manson. Similar to her experience with Clinton, Manson was trying to "embody her spirit." "I admire her writing, I admire her, and I have the residuals of her spirit left in me after having interviewed her, so I consider that also a gift from Liz," she says
An Eastern European fairy tale
Manson can't quite remember the name of the fairytale that inspired the bombastic pop track "Wolves," which details the struggle of having two different sides of yourself. But she does credit this unnamed Eastern European folklore with helping fuel the song's narrative. The story, as she recalls, is a vehicle for teaching children about who they are and how to control their tempers. "It really captured my imagination, this idea of two wolves battling inside your body and how you choose to present yourself to the world," Manson says.
Ana Lily Amirpour's A Girl Walks Home at Night
At the root of many of Garbage's songs is Manson's disgust at the world's misogyny. With No Gods No Masters, Manson was influenced by the Iranian vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour. Mason was drawn to the idea of "turning the narrative of victimized women on its head, acknowledging that actually women are really powerful and they too can be dangerous, they just choose not to use their power that way." The movie made Manson think of the #MeToo movement and how she didn't like how women were being portrayed. "All the onus was being put on the woman," she recalls. "I was like, 'Why is this f---ing bulls--t being put at our door? Why is it not being put at the men's door? What are other men doing to police other men who are f---ing hurting women?'" For Manson, this classic vampire revenge story really spoke to her at that time.
Watchmen and its score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The dystopia of HBO's hit vigilante drama Watchmen — and its corresponding imagery — helped fuel Vig's own creativity on No Gods No Masters. "I did a lot of layering and really fleshed out more processed synthesizers on the record — and that's definitely from watching [the show] and taking that out as a reference point," he says. Specifically, though, the sound for the chorus on "The Men Who Rule the World" ("The violator, hate the violator") stemmed from Vig's time spent listening to the Watchmen score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as music from Reznor's group Nine Inch Nails. The result? A lot of blending and layering of guitar, distorted synths, and electronic processing. "That song sounds like a cross between Talking Heads and Nine Inch Nails if that's possible," Vig says of "The Men Who Rule the World."