Since forming in 1993 and putting out a self-titled debut album in 1995, Garbage has not been a band to take the easy road. The group is famously composed of three guys known primarily for their production work prior to forming it; it was Steve Marker who spotted Shirley Manson singing with Scottish alt-rockers Angelfish on MTV's 120 Minutes before convincing colleagues Butch Vig and Duke Erikson to give her a call.
Fast-forward 23 years, and Garbage has just released its sixth studio album, Strange Little Birds. Marker, whose studio credits also include L7’s brilliant Bricks Are Heavy, relocated his family to Carbondale, Colorado, about eleven years ago. The writing and recording of this latest effort involved some home-studio work, plus flying out to meet with the rest of the band in Los Angeles, where Vig and Manson reside.
It’s not the easiest arrangement, but Marker feels that it’s well worth it due to the quality of life that he now enjoys with his family.
“We had been on the road for almost fifteen years,” Marker says. “We got done around 2005, promoting the Bleed Like Me record, and I think everybody needed a big change. Part of the big change I needed was to move. It was a good time for my family to experience something else other than Wisconsin, so we just jumped in head-first. And we love Colorado so much, because of the reasons everybody does — the mountains and the outdoors. It’s been an incredible place to live.”
Marker and his family chose to live specifically in Carbondale after taking a couple of vacations in Aspen and exploring the surrounding area. Deciding that the self-proclaimed “Ultimate Rocky Mountain Hideout” had everything that they needed and desired, the Markers made the leap.
“I’m particularly lucky because I get to still travel with the band a lot,” Marker says. “I just spent the last week in Mexico, which was amazing. We’ll be back in Colorado next week, so it’s the best of all worlds for me.”
Despite the fact that the bandmembers are spread out, Marker says that Garbage is most productive when the four of them are physically in a room together.
“That’s when the weird chemistry that the four of us have comes into play,” he says. “On a good day, it results in something worth keeping. Most of this new record was done going over to Butch’s house, and Shirley’s husband, Billy, also has a studio that we spend a lot of time at. Sitting around, having a glass of wine, trying to come up with something to record. Some people call that jamming, but we try to avoid that word.”
Strange Little Birds is Garbage’s sixth album in 21 years, and true to form, the band hasn’t necessarily gone in a predictable direction. The bandmembers are all supremely talented and creative, and the last thing they want is to tread a tried-and-tested path.
“We’ve gotten punished for doing that from time to time,” Marker says. “We’ve sometimes put out things that wasn’t what the fans wanted as much as we enjoyed doing it, but we’ve kept going and persevered, and I’m proud of that. There were times when it would have been easier to say ‘Fuck it, I don’t want to do this anymore.’ I’m really glad that we managed to keep going.”
While that approach has undeniably gotten the band some flak, it’s also fair to say that time has been kind to Garbage’s catalogue. An album like 2001's Beautiful Garbage, which was panned by fans and at least some critics at the time, is looked at fondly by younger fans now. Some would say that the band is consistently playing with ideas way ahead of its time.
“I wish I could be more of a Noel Gallagher and be boastful about how incredible it was and it just took the world a while to catch on,” Marker says. “I don’t think it’s that, but that was a good example of something we did that didn’t really fit the time at all, and we really took a lot of heat for that. It had huge expectations, and then when we didn’t do exactly what people expected, we got punished for it. Now we’ll probably play a song or two from that album in Denver.”
While Garbage does have a lot of material to pull from now, this is a band that only gets together to write and record when they’re feeling it, and six albums in over two decades is productive but hardly prolific. But then, that’s why a new Garbage album is always worth a listen.
“I think the songwriting has held up, and we had a lot of fun making it,” Marker says. “We’ve managed to not overthink things on this record and get back to how we did it in the beginning, when we didn’t have preconceived notions. We don’t have any expectations making a record these days, because we can just do something that pleases us and the people who are fans, and that’s how it should be, I think.”
When the band plays Denver this week, it’ll basically be a hometown show for Marker, giving the guitarist and keys man an advantage when it comes to the old altitude-sickness problem. Thanks to Marker’s living arrangements, there will be plenty of friends at the show. This is the band's first time playing the Fillmore (since the name change), so there’s plenty to be psyched about. As for the set list, Marker says that it changes day to day, so it's tough to predict.
“There’s gonna be songs from every album,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve done any shows where we’ve missed anything. We did a twentieth-anniversary celebration for the first album last year when we toured, and that was just songs from that time. Now we’re doing songs from every time, including the new album. It’s a big mixture of everything.”
After that, Garbage will be touring around the globe through the end of the year and into the next one. The band will be tied up for months, and then, just maybe, another album.
“We’re all pretty fired up about what we’re working on now,” Marker says. “Ideas are starting to percolate even now for what we want to do next as far as recording goes. I think we’ll probably start a new record. We don’t know how to do anything else.”
Garbage plays at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 15, at the Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street, 303-837-0360.