Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson is no stranger to the test of time. The alt-rock band kicked off a 20 Years of Queer anniversary tour last fall, and released their sixth LP, “Strange Little Birds,” in June. With a summer tour to support the release, Manson is ready to get back to doing what she does best with renewed energy — so why does everyone want to talk about her age? Manson has some theories.
There’s darkness in “Strange Little Birds.” What period of your life do the songs on this album represent?
It’s present day for the most part. I find the great thing is that if you can hop between decades and fantasy or embellish with your imagination, there are times when you can pool from all aspects to complete a story. I feel like for the most part, the record is present, but I time travel on a couple occasions. The very last song on the record is called “Wandering,” and it’s very much in the moment.
On a song like “Blackout,” when you say, “try not to think, be cool, be calm, be fake,” is that an internal conversation or is it an argument?
Again, it’s a bit of both. It’s a confrontation but it’s really an observation. It’s how people talk down to their real selves for whatever reason, I’m not entirely sure. I think a lot of people don’t live truthful, authentic lives, and I think they somehow think that doesn’t impact everyone else. But when you’re not truthful, you impact everyone around you.
Likewise, for “Our Love is Doomed,” is the tone meant to be hopeful or lamenting?
I think we certainly aren’t trying to make music that makes people feel despondent. It’s the opposite, though our approach is not the most obvious one. We like to make melancholy-sounding music, but because we find it comforting. I realize I’m out of step with the majority, but happy-go-lucky music makes me more anxious and agitated, more alarmed. I like the new Radiohead; that’s incredibly melancholic. I find myself lost in its beauty. As a human, we’re all wired differently and we need different things, and for me, I like exploring the shadows.
I recently read some things you’ve said about the industry putting pressure on women for aging. Do you think that’s an Americanized issue or does it span globally?
I think it’s globally. We’ve all lost when anyone over the age of 25 isn’t fit for the industry. It’s not only relative to music. It’s a current cultural sickness, in my mind. I think it’s important that we listen to young people, because they teach us a lot, but as a culture, we’re moving further and further away from the concept of elders. It worries me a little. You have a very different perspective of age. It’s a vital one to a healthy community.
Do you think there’s media backlash for being vocal about this issue?
It’s funny because whenever you speak up about ageism and you’re not considered young; you’re written off as someone who is complaining. I don’t feel I’m complaining. I have a healthy career and I don’t feel impeded by people’s ageism, but there are many women my age who feel like they’re in the garbage pit. You’re not. You have superpowers that younger women don’t have, and we should value that.
I find it interesting that whenever I speak up about sexism, ageism or feminism, I’m discredited as complaining. I’ve fought sexism and I’ve survived in that system very well. Now I want to speak up for anyone who doesn’t have the same opportunities. I think to be passive and mute is convenient for those who wish to run their agendas, so I’ll always be the fly on the ointment. There’s a belief that if you are passive, you can live peacefully, but there are always consequences to being passive in your culture or community. Passivity can often lead to a lot of unhappiness.
How are you feeling about this obligation to engage in social media now?
My manager hounded me to start; I was very reluctant. They said, "Unless you’re one of the very lucky few, your voice will be drowned out if you don’t get engaged." There are exceptions to the rule, but when you’re an artist you want your voice out there. I resultantly agreed and I found I’m quite good at it and there are aspects I really enjoy. Not all of it. It feels a bit narcissistic and self-serving, but there are parts I find pleasurable. Instagram is a garden of hidden delights.
Oh it’s a rabbit hole for sure. Who do you follow?
There’s something quite wrong with me. [Laughs] I’m one of those people who is obsessed with Cats of Instagram and Cute Emergency. I could look at it endlessly. I find solace in the royal beast.