photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to GARBAGE was the music video for the song "STUPID GIRL" off their self-titled debut GARBAGE (ALMO, 1995) record which i saw on MTV at a relative's house in NEW JERSEY in the summer of 1996. it was my first trip stateside since my family's move to NIGERIA and it was during that impressionable period that i similarly discovered METALLICA and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE among several other bands.
obviously the first thing i noticed was how ridiculously COOL and POWERFUL a front-woman SHIRLEY MANSON was (and still is). usually women in bands have to put up with a bullshit double-standard and have to come off submissive, coquettish and demure to be accepted, but here was a dynamic SCOTTISH woman that took no prisoners. just an absolute force of nature. tracks like "VOW," "I'M ONLY HAPPY WHEN IT RAINS," "QUEER", "SUPERVIXEN" and the aforementioned "STUPID GIRL" convey a forceful INNER STRENGTH while paradoxically projecting an affecting sense of VULNERABILITY. MANSON is so compelling a singer that it is easy to take her for granted, which is why i think she should be regarded as one of the great ALTERNATIVE ROCK singers of the period without question. right up there with LAYNE STALEY, CHRIS CORNELL, SCOTT WEILAND, KURT COBAIN, SHANNON HOON and PERRY FARRELL. i know i just listed a bunch of dudes, but that is kind of the sad fact about MANSON in that she was one of a rare breed of ALTERNATIVE ROCK front-women that played by their own rules (the nearest analogue i can think of within the genre is COURTNEY LOVE or DONITA SPARKS).
just as crucial an ingredient is the production. GARBAGE stands as a seminal record during the period for its revolutionary hybrid sound that seemed to marry ALTERNATIVE ROCK with droning SHOEGAZE-inspired textures and POST-PUNK and SYNTH POP-inspired electronic flourishes. there were bands that played with this hybrid sound before and after, but GARBAGE perfected it and popularized it. its interesting to consider that the band has not one but three record producers as members in that of BUTCH VIG, STEVE MARKER and DUKE ERIKSON (all having been involved to differing degrees with SMART STUDIOS). VIG of course being widely celebrated for his singular production work with NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and the SMASHING PUMPKINS' GISH (CAROLINE, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) records among others. it is a testament to his production abilities as well as capacity for collaboration that GARBAGE sounds nothing like either band. GARBAGE is its own sonic animal.
my favorite track on the record is "MILK" which i have long found deeply affecting. during this period i felt culturally ISOLATED being abroad in a new environment away from my childhood friends in CALIFORNIA. being in middle school is difficult enough, but the stark, unadulterated realities of NIGERIA was an absolute turning point in my life and there was a period of transition. when i listen to "MILK" it takes me right back to that headspace of being somewhere other than where you wished to be. that sense of LONGING and DISTANCE is palpable in the song. of course, i eventually accepted my new reality and never looked back but that song evokes that sense of deep MELANCHOLY brought on by social DISCONNECTION and ISOLATION in a manner only matched by THE SMITHS and JOY DIVISION in my estimation.
i love the debut GARBAGE record. i highly recommend it to anyone interested in true risk-taking within an established genre. in my opinion, GARBAGE transformed ALTERNATIVE ROCK and progressed it forward by seamlessly integrating modern recording technology and making such acceptable by both fellow musicians and the general public alike. it is a truly great record that is most definitely worth checking out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
THE SMART STUDIOS STORY (CONEY ISLAND STUDIOS, 2016) is documentary about the outwardly unassuming yet highly influential recording studio in MADISON, WISCONSIN, that was founded and run by STEVE MARKER and BUTCH VIG. the creation of the studio was at an interesting inflection point in american culture as there was a definite influx of underground HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands that were supported in earnest by college radio and a nationwide network of bars, VFW halls and small clubs not to mention independent promoters and independent record labels and record stores. what connected all these stakeholders in the scene was a sense of self-reliance and DIY ETHIC. maybe its simplistic to say that the puritan ethic of the midwest played a role in this community, but essentially this mindset led to an era of experimentation in music that was free of financial considerations, because none of this was supposed to go commercial. given that VIG was a musician (drummer in local bad SPOONER with future GARBAGE collaborator DOUG ERIKSON) he also had the added benefit of being able to listen and suss out the needs of a band, how to bring out their sound in a fun, experimental atmosphere. he was also able to know firsthand what worked and didn't work from a musician's perspective in "professional" studios. i think his versatility is underrated and part of his work ethic and gets lost in the shuffle when success for his production duties gained global notoriety.
enter NIRVANA and THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, the two bands whose albums NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) altered the landscape for VIG and the underground scene seemingly overnight with the inception of a financially viable ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene that was supported by commercial radio, promoters and the commercial infrastructure of corporate AMERICA. this allowed VIG freedom in choosing projects since SMART STUDIOS was now a destination studio and his services a known commodity.
i think given that sea change it is to his credit that VIG along with MARKER and ERIKSON expanded their craft by utilizing technology and incorporating new techniques in their band GARBAGE. for me their incorporation of HIP HOP and ELECTRONICA elements into a new hybrid style are one of the defining sounds of the 1990s. the fusion of such is only that much more impressive given the cultural impact of his celebrated yet sonically more straightforward catalogue of ALTERNATIVE ROCK production work.
its ironic that this embrace of technology is also what brought down the studio, as digital recording software on personal computers made this DIY ETHIC spread to a new prosumer base of musicians. the time had come to move on.
my takeaway from this documentary is that good music can come from anywhere, no matter how far off the beaten path. SEATTLE, MINNEAPOLIS, PORTLAND. in this case WISCONSIN. innovation is a personal pursuit and must be met on its own merits. in many ways BUTCH VIG's career as an established producer was entirely a fluke of circumstance. on the other hand he was talented and was prepared to take advantage of opportunities when presented.
makes me wonder what other crevices of the UNITED STATES or even the golbal scene have i not considered researching. where should i look next? because i'm always searching.