Butch Vig on Garbage's political new album No Gods No Masters and the 30-year legacy of Nirvana's Nevermind

EXPLORATION: Rock legends Garbage have produced their most political album of their 30-year career, No Gods No Masters, in response to the chaotic past five years in the US.
EXPLORATION: Rock legends Garbage have produced their most political album of their 30-year career, No Gods No Masters, in response to the chaotic past five years in the US.

ACROSS three decades Garbage have never shied away from sending an unfiltered message to the world.

The 2001 single Androgyny explored gender fluidity long before "being woke" was mainstream and going back to the band's superb self-titled 1995 debut, frontwoman Shirley Manson has always advocated for the sexual empowerment of women in classics like Vow and Queer.

However, in Garbage's previous six albums politics has waded in the background, never truly demanding centre stage. That's not the case on album No.7 No Gods No Masters.

After enduring the most politically-divisive period in living memory in the US through Trump, Black Lives Matter, climate change and #MeToo, Manson felt compelled to pour all her scorn and indignation into her most caustic lyrics.

There's no room for poetic metaphor either. On Godhead over a dystopian dark-wave riff Manson spits, "if a had a dick/would you see me?" and on the first single The Men Who Rule The World the gender power imbalance is addressed with, "The king is in the counting house/ He's chairman of the board/ The women who crowd the courtrooms/ All accused of being whores."

"No Gods No Masters is not overtly political, but it's definitely speaking much more about what Shirley is seeing in the world," Garbage drummer Butch Vig says.

"As artists who have been around for so long, we don't feel like we have to try and be a pop band, and nor do we want to.

"We're never going to be played on top-40 radio, we know that at this point in our career, so it's freed us up to do whatever we want."

Work on No Gods No Masters began in 2019 when Manson, Vig, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson convened at a property in the desert resort town of Palm Springs to begin jamming.

Initially the album sounded orchestral and spacious, but once Manson began presenting her lyrics, it was apparent the record was headed in the opposite direction.

Garbage - No Gods No Masters

"We sharpened the sound immensely," Vig says. "All the music that Duke, Steve and I came up with got a lot more confrontational. It had an energy that reflected the world that we live in.

"It's weird because Shirley wrote most of these lyrics in 2019. It's like she saw the future of what 2020 was going to become with racism, the MeToo movement and lockdown with COVID and the politics moving to the far-right and divisiveness in countries all over the world."

While recording finished a day before LA went into lockdown in March 2020, Manson added additional lyrics in the mixing process to more closely reflect the atmosphere of the pandemic.

With 52 per cent the US adult population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, life is slowly returning to normality for Vig. Prior to our interview, Vig completed a recording session in his LA home studio with rock band Silversun Pickups.

"It's the first time anyone's been here, outside of my family, for over a year," the 65-year-old says. "It was fine because everyone's been vaccinated here, so we were cool with that."

Garbage are also heading out on tour with Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair in August to play US amphitheatres. A return to Australia for the first time since 2016 is also among plans for 2022.

Australia was among the first countries to embrace Garbage's eclectic mix of grunge, electro and new-wave in 1995 when their self-titled debut spawned the hits Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains and introduced Manson as one of the '90s top frontwomen.

Vig credits the late Mushroom founder Michael Gudinski for Garbage's success in Australia.

"We were really close to him, he championed us for 25 years and signed us to our original deal," he says. "He believed in us 100 per cent.

"We're going to miss him dearly. I feel like as a band we want to go there and do a kick-arse tour for Michael."

Before Garbage even formed Vig was renown for producing Nirvana's era-defining 1991 album Nevermind. This September 24 marks the 30th anniversary of the record, which electrified alternative music and literally altered youth culture.

"That record changed my life," Vig says. "It opened up so many doors for me that I never imagined possible. I think the record still sounds as powerful and as hooky now as it did when it came out.

"I think it's a great record and a lot of that is because the band wrote great songs and I captured that in the right moment."

Garbage's No Gods No Masters is out on Friday.

This story Garbage master political message to trash status quo first appeared on Newcastle Herald.