Out of all the bands and musicians who have roots in Wisconsin’s capitol city, Garbage is perhaps one of the most successful products of the Madison music scene, having sold more than seventeen million albums worldwide over the course of their career.
Garbage was formed in 1993 out of the now-closed Smart Studios on Madison’s east side. At the time, Smart Studios founder Butch Vig was still fresh off the success from his work on Nirvana’s 1991 album, Nevermind, and had been experimenting with new sounds while producing remixes for various big-name acts such as Nine Inch Nails, U2, and Depeche Mode. This inspired Vig, alongside co-founder Steve Marker and colleague Duke Erikson, to form a band that utilized “remix sensibility” in their music. As Vig, Marker, and Erikson began playing and producing material for their new band, the name “Garbage” was born from a friend stating that their music “sounds like garbage.”
During these early days, the three men decided that Garbage needed a female vocalist. Shirley Manson was discovered by Marker in 1994 after seeing her performance in the music video for Scottish alt-rock band Angelfish’s song “Suffocate Me.” Manson was subsequently tracked down by Garbage’s manager and flown to the United States for an audition. This first session with the band at Smart Studios was rocky for a variety of reasons. The audition was disorganized, Manson had no experience performing in a recording studio, and there were communication barriers, considering that the men struggled to understand her accent. However, after Manson left to finish out her live tour with Angelfish, she returned to Madison for a second audition and joined Garbage as a full-time member.
Together at Smart Studios, Garbage began working on the first drafts of their songs “Queer,” “Vow,” and “Stupid Girl.” After years of recording punk records, Vig had gotten bored of the same old sounds and wanted to try something different with Garbage. Much of their music was recorded using loops, samples, jam sessions, and ad-libbed lyrics. Often their original ideas for a song would mutate and result in something entirely different through experimentation and trial and error. They eventually sent out demo tapes and, as a result, were signed to both Mushroom Records and Almo Sounds. This recording session at Smart Studios lasted from April of 1994 to May of 1995, and resulted in the debut of their first album, Garbage, in August of 1995. Garbage received critical acclaim, boasting various multi-platinum certifications, reaching number 20 on the US charts and number 6 on the UK charts. One of the singles off Garbage, “Stupid Girl,” was even nominated for a Grammy in 1997.
With Shirley Manson on vocals, Butch Vig on drums and production, Steve Marker on guitar and keyboards, and Duke Erikson on guitar, bass, and keyboards, Garbage’s main lineup has stayed consistent since 1994 despite several breaks over the years. Including Garbage, the band has gone on to release seven total studio albums with their latest being No Gods No Masters, released in the summer of 2021. In addition, they have headlined ten tours and supported two other tours, one with Alanis Morissette and another with Blondie. Though Garbage has recorded and produced their music in many different studios, they continued to work in Madison’s Smart Studios in varying capacities until the studio closed its doors in May of 2010. From its modest beginnings in Madison to its worldwide renown, Garbage has continued to expand the limits of its musical style and experiment with new genres.
Written by Kaylee Bittner, June 2022
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