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Garbage set to make its first stop in Oklahoma since 1998

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More than 20 years after Garbage entered the music scene and rewrote the rules of alternative rock, the foursome is back and just as fierce as ever. It wasn’t uncommon for plenty of ’90s acts to try to retain relevancy going into the new millennium, chasing trends and  keeping up with the changing landscape of modern music.

But Garbage never did things that way. Comprised of gravel-voiced vocalist and guitarist Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson (bass, keys, guitar), Butch Vig (drums, percussion) and Steve Marker (guitar, keys), the group had a sound that stood out in comparison to the era’s saturation of sounds from grunge to bubblegum pop. In fact, the more they eschewed of-the-moment trends in favor of grittier, more politically tinged rock, the more beloved they became.

“The state of the industry right now is totally hit- and single-driven, but we’re kinda stubborn in that we still really like albums,” Marker said during a recent telephone interview with Oklahoma Gazette. “We’re lucky that we don’t really care about that anymore because we know there’s no way we’ll have a single that’s competing with Beyoncé for No. 1, and that’s liberating to let us just do our thing the way we want.”

That’s the sort of unapologetic approach the Wisconsin-formed four-piece had going into its sixth album, Strange Little Birds, released in June. At times light and romantic, at others dark and theatrical, it’s akin to Garbage’s iconic self-titled debut. With a mix between structured walls of sound (“So We Can Stay Alive”) and stripped-down tracks (“Night Drive Loneliness”), Strange Little Birds manages to sound fresh and innovative while retaining that classic Garbage sound.

Full experience

While bandmates hardly stuck to a formula while recording Strange Little Birds, Marker noted that it was borne out of their love for albums as opposed to a collection of singles.

“I still like the experience of sitting down and going on a journey from the first song all the way through the end of the record, and that doesn’t really happen anymore,” he said. “We wanted to make an album that works from start to finish and top to bottom.”

Garbage members wanted the album to feel cinematic, and Marker said they all tend to see music visually. They like to create moods, emotions and scenes that they hope listeners can relate to, such as nostalgia for simpler times.

“I think a lot of the lyrics draw upon a former romantic time in your life when you’re still figuring things out and how it’s all gonna work out for you, so we wanted to make an album based on the four of us sitting in a room, writing songs,” Marker said.

He added that they would spend days coming up with ideas and going through takes.

“With this album, we really all worked together, and I think it resulted in a stronger band identity,” he said.

That democratic studio dynamic also has been key to the group’s success, with each member contributing to almost every aspect of the recording process. They each certainly have a specialty, with Manson’s emotive contralto and Marker’s signature guitar work being big factors to the band’s dynamic and recognizable sound. But with all its members so adept in various aspects of production, it makes sense for Garbage to have a much more fluid process when it comes to making music.

Marker’s love of producing dates back to his youth, when he would spend all day picking apart his favorite records.

“Even as a kid, I loved listening to music, trying to analyze [albums] and experimenting with different sounds and figuring out why things sounded the way they did,” he said. “It was just my love of songs, really, and everybody else in Garbage is really turned on to that as well. It’s one of the reasons we still love working together in the studio, because it’s sort of a laboratory of possibilities.”

Emotional work

Even after 23 years working together, that laboratory still produces a lot of invention. With six albums and numerous side projects between the four, Marker said they still work together just as effectively today as they did when they released their 1995 debut.

“We all have to be happy with how something’s turning out or it doesn’t happen. We all bring ideas in for songs,” he said, “and then the other people always take it apart and disassemble it and put it back together in different ways, trying out new directions for songs and going off in weird tangents.”

He noted that one of the tracks off the band’s new album, “Magnetized,” was revised about 40 times before they arrived at a version that made everyone happy.

Band members’ interchangeable roles allow the group’s creative energy to remain dynamic.

“We’re not stuck on one person being the guitarist, one person playing the drums,” said Marker, who usually plays guitar but is credited as a Strange Little Birds producer and has always had a big role in crafting the act’s sound.

“We move around a lot, and that keeps it fresh so we don’t get bored. If we get bored, I think we would quit, and that hasn’t happened yet.”

That should make Oklahoma’s Garbage fans breathe a sigh of relief since the band hasn’t toured here since 1998, when it made stops at Diamond Ballroom in OKC and Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. It returns to Tulsa July 13 with a Strange Little Birds World Tour stop at Brady Theater.

Marker has fond memories of the show at Cain’s and is excited to return to Oklahoma.

“We haven’t been to Oklahoma very much, but we can’t wait to get there and see all the people who were probably at our shows there all those years ago,” he said.

While he hopes new fans will make it out to the show as well, Marker can’t help but gush about how much Garbage’s fan-base has supported the band over the years.

“We’re incredibly lucky and honored that people have chosen to stick with us for so long because we respect our fans a lot and try not to bullshit them,” he said. “Their devotion makes us very emotional because we see the way our music means so much to them, and that doesn’t happen a lot these days.”

Print headline: Strange Little journey, Garbage returns to Oklahoma for the first time in two decades as it launches its world tour. 

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