Rolling Stone

Shirley Manson

The Garbage singer on fighting the patriarchy and living for now


What are the most important rules that you live by?

If it’s not fun, then I’m uninterest­ed, entirely. If somebody’s treating me poorly, I have to walk away. Life is so fricking short, and I’m three-quarters of the way through mine already. I just want to have a good life, full of joy.

Who are your heroes and why?

Patti Smith is a huge hero for me, most importantl­y because she’s a woman who has navigated her creative life so beautifull­y and so artfully, with such integrity and authentici­ty, and has proven to me that a woman, an artist, does not have to subscribe to the rules of the contempora­ry music industry. It’s very rare for a woman to see examples of women actually working still in their seventies. That, to me, is really thrilling and really inspiring, and fills me with hope.

You’re also a role model. How do you handle that responsibi­lity?

I make mistakes, I fuck people off, I say stupid shit, I’m not all-knowing, I am ignorant in so many ways, but

I do try my best to be a decent person. There’s always going to be people who think I’m an asshole, and that’s just part and parcel of being in the public eye. I have gotten to that point in my life when

I’m able to just go,“You know what? Fuck it. You can’t win them all.”

You once said that the idea of legacy was a masculine construct that you don’t believe in. Do you still feel that way?

Yeah. I know a lot of male artists who bang on about their legacy and their importance. For me personally, what do I care? I’m going to be dead and gone, and totally unconsciou­s of any so-called legacy that I might leave behind. I want fun now. I want to have a good life now. I want to eat good food now and have great sex. It’s absolutely meaningles­s to me what happens after I’m gone. I want to use my time wisely, and that’s all I’m really concerned with, to be honest.

You tackle gender on the new Garbage song “Godhead,” where you ask if people would treat you differentl­y “if I had a dick.” When did you become aware of the patriarchy?

When I was young, I was so busy trying to make it, I didn’t see that there was a patriarchy in place. It’s only as an adult that I started looking back, going, “Oh, wow. When that A&R man told me to my face that he wanked over pictures of me, that was really uncool.” But at the time, you kind of laugh it off. In this song, I’m talking about how patriarchy bleeds into absolutely everything, specifical­ly under organized religion. The “Godhead” is the male, and that’s unquestion­ed, and how crazy is that? Because a dude holds a higher position in society, because he’s got a dick and a pair of balls. Often, these balls are smaller than my own [ laughs].

You say that some of these biases only become clear to you later on. In light of that, what advice do you wish you could give your younger self?

“Take up your space.” When I was growing up, to be a girl was to be told to minimize the space you took up: “Close your legs. Don’t be loud. Smile. Be cute. Be attractive. Be pleasing.” I inherently balked against that as a kid. I was a rebellious kid, and I wasn’t going to sit in the corner and be quiet. However, looking back, I still notice some of the patterns of my own compliance. It’s not that I hate myself for it, but I just wish I could turn around and say to my young self, “Take up space. Take it. Take your seat. If there’s not a seat there, drag a seat up to the table and sit down.”

In 1996, your bandmate Butch Vig said about you, “So many singers screamed to convey intensity, and she does the opposite. It just blew us away.” How did you come up with that approach?

I’m comfortabl­e with conflict. I thrive on conflict. It excites me in a funny way. I like to shout back; that’s just how my family were. We’d shout at each other all the time, but I didn’t come from a violent household. For me, when people get really quiet, that’s when I know they’re really serious, because they’re in control of their rage — and that’s when they’re most deadly.

‘No Gods No Masters,’ the first Garbage LP in five years, is out now.

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