38 Years of Garbage: Tracing Their Exploited, Spooner and Nirvana Ties
Garbage

Photo: Maryanne Bilham Photography/Redfern

Back in 2005, Garbage¬†cancelled the final leg of their Bleed Like Me tour and announced that they were ‚Ķ not breaking up, exactly, but taking a break. “The hiatus may last two weeks, it may last two years,” Shirley Manson said at the time. It lasted a bit longer: Aside from one new song on 2007′s retrospective Absolute Garbage and a single show that year, they’ve stayed out of sight until Not Your Kind of People, released this week, and a world tour that started a few weeks ago. They’ll play in NYC next week, for the first time in over seven years (it’ll be livestreamed here on Hive as well). Here’s their new single “Blood for Poppies”:

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Though Garbage formed in 1994, their earliest roots stretch back nearly forty years. In 1974, the band’s multi-instrumentalist Duke Erikson, then known as Doug Erickson, started a drummerless band called Spooner. By the late ’70s, they’d added drummer Butch Vig. They released a power-pop EP called Cruel School in 1979, and a single called “Where You Gonna Run” the next year.

Spooner released full-length albums in 1982 and 1984, though they didn’t make much of an impact beyond their home state of Wisconsin. In the meantime, Vig and guitarist Steve Marker had founded a recording studio, Smart Studios, which became one of the destinations of choice for low-budget, high-attitude Midwestern rock groups. Their names became familiar credits on records like Intellectuals Are the Shoeshine Boys of the Ruling Elite, by the ultra-grimy, tongue-in-cheek punk band Killdozer. (Here’s that album’s song about an infamous Wisconsinite, “Ed Gein.”)

Marker and Vig had a band of their own, First Person, which apparently never got around to recording. It spun off a side project, Fire Town, in which Vig and Erikson were reunited, and whose records were engineered by Marker. Here’s the video for the title track of Fire Town’s second and final album, 1989′s The Good Life.

Still, Vig and Smart Studios were getting a reputation for midwifing much nastier-sounding records, like Seattle grunge-hounds Tad‘s album 8-Way Santa, featuring the totally creepy single “Jack Pepsi.”

That led to ambitious underground bands like Nirvana (who’d toured with Tad) and Smashing Pumpkins seeking out Vig to work on their records. Vig produced Nirvana‘s Nevermind album (the version of “Polly” that appears on it is was recorded at Smart Studios) and Smashing PumpkinsGish–the video from the latter’s “Siva” appears below–and after that, seemingly every band of the ’90s alternative explosion wanted his putatively star-making touch.

In the middle of that early-’90s rush, following a brief Spooner reunion, Erikson, Marker and Vig started a new, initially studio-based group of their own, Garbage. They worked up a few songs, but realized that they wanted to have a frontwoman singing them. The singer they found (through MTV!) was also connected to a long chain of bands–but on the other side of the Atlantic.

Flashback time. The pride of Edinburgh hardcore in the early ’80s was the Exploited, a band of tough guys with hairstyles that could put your eye out. They called their first album Punks Not Dead (no apostrophe!), and somehow ended up on national TV in the U.K. in 1981, playing their under-two-minute bruiser “Dead Cities.”

The Exploited’s guitarist, Big John Duncan, left the band in 1983, and went on to join a much poppier group, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie (keeping what remained of his blue mohawk, as you can see below). The Mackenzies, as they were known, owed rather a lot of their aesthetic to Echo and the Bunnymen. They had a minor U.K. hit early on with 1986′s “The Rattler,” below, but never quite reached those commercial heights again.

A few years later, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie responded to ongoing difficulties with their record label by starting a side project, Angelfish, which featured one of their two keyboardist/backup singers, Shirley Manson, on lead vocals. In 1993, Angelfish released their first single, “Suffocate Me,” which aired–once–on MTV’s 120 Minutes the next year.

Steve Marker happened to be watching that night, and really liked Manson’s performance. He and his bandmates got in touch with Manson and asked her to audition for their group. Their initial attempt at going into Smart Studios together was famously disastrous, but they somehow got over that hump; the first recording they managed to complete was their debut single, “Vow.”

Angelfish was history by the time Manson joined Garbage for good, although Goodbye Mr. Mackenzie kept on going without Manson for another year or two. Butch Vig has taken advantage of Garbage’s hiatus to return to producing punk bands with their eyes on the pop charts (Green Day, Foo Fighters, Against Me!). The Exploited are still at it, with approximately their tenth guitarist since Big John Duncan left. Some bands are held together by success; some bands simply can’t stop.

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