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:: Spotlight :: Bleed Through This

By: Kate Scott

“It just got to the point where, to me, it didn’t seem like there was any point going on,” relates Garbage's Butch Vig. Meet Bleed Like Me, the album that almost wasn’t.

“I didn’t want to devote this much time to it,” says Butch Vig bluntly. ‘It’ is Garbage, what was meant do sideways dalliance for the uber producer and became a 10-year, four-album concern, edging out everything else in the band’s lives. 1995’s Garbage was a near-perfect debut, ideal for the temperament of the time, hinging equally on guitars and misanthropic electronics when such a thing was still a bracingly fresh undertaking. It also introduced the world the Shirley Manson, the firebrand frontwoman who used interviews as therapy, pontificating on self-loathing, sex, and the particular charm of pissing on one’s lover. It was heady stuff that neatly summed up the first half of the decade and made it seemed like all kinds of nasty delights beckoned in the second.

Maintaining that fissure has proved difficult at times. Garbage played more shows than they could ever count. They sold roughly 11 million albums and peaked with popstastic singles like Push it from 1998’s version 2.0, and Androgyny from 2001’s BeautifulGarbage. They were, ostensibly, a functioning, high-colour, high-profile unit, dispensing that indefatigable combination of sex and death with pitch-perfect aplomb. But there were myriad, snowballing, gutter-scraping lows, piling up like a car crash around the time of BeautifulGarbage. Like so many releases, it was pretty much killed by September 11, aside from the fact it was hardly their best work. Somewhere, in that hazy, fractured time, Butch was hospitalised with Hepatitis A. Shirley quietly split from her husband and had a potentially cancerous node scraped from her vocal chords, and the once-tight foursome of Vig, Manson, Steve Marker and Duke Erikson could barely sit in a room together.

“Beautiful Garbage was a difficult record for us,” says Butch, sounding tired. “It came out the same week as September 11 in US so it kind of disappeared for a while. It still did pretty well in Europe and Australia but it was just a hard tour Literally, we had to hit the road a few days after that happened to try and promote the record and it seemed really weird and awkward. There were a lot of personal things that happened to us and I think that left a hangover effect. We finished the tour for BeautifulGarbage and went to record Bleed Like Me but didn’t realise there was this black cloud hanging over our heads.

“We bottomed out in October 2003 when I walked in the studio and said ‘I quit, I can’t deal with this anymore,’” he continues. “All four of us were really miserable; we weren’t communicating; we were arguing about everything; we couldn’t agree in which direction the songs were going; personal issues between us kept us from even being in the room together. It just got to the point where, to me, it didn’t seem like there was any point going on. It got so low that we couldn’t sit in the room and talk about things. We needed to bottom out in order to clear the air and reassess if we wanted to do it as a band; to get back into a room and see if we could find some common ground.”

There’s a sense of this gritted-teeth determination on Bleed Like Me; a much gloomier excursion than its two precursors. “Bored” with technology, Butch muted the electronic tracks to produce, in essence, a drums-bass-guitar album at a time when drums-bass-guitar album reign. Dave Grohl even drums on a couple of tracks. It’s sharp, dense, astringent, exhausting, and while it might not be their best record, as he claims, it’s certainly their most cohesive; deliberately ragged at the edges.

“When we split up it had a very beneficial effect because when we got back together it raised the bar,” says Butch. “I think that we realised that something very precious could be taken away in a split second. Shirley up to that point had problems writing lyrics. Then they took a much darker tone: they were much more topical with social political overtones. Steve really amped up the guitar playing, it just took on this frenetic desperation. The tracks we did in 2003 didn’t sound very exciting - there were still some pretty good songs there but we pretty much canned everything to start over from scratch in 2004. The energy level was much more intense and much higher than it had been previous to that.”

After everything that’s transpired, Vig admits Bleed Like Me may well be their last album; that they’ll tour as if it is. He also concedes that Garbage would have no hope in hell of maintaining the career they’ve had if they were releasing their debut now; that the industry changed irrevocably - and not for the better - since he produced albums the likes of Nirvana and Sonic Youth. So after nearly 30 years in the business, what’s the verdict? Does life get easier or harder?

“I used to think it gets easier as you get older and smarter, but it seems like maybe I’m more aware of all the bulls**t in the world now, and take more responsibility for things,” Vig says, sighing. “When you’re young you don’t really care as much - you coast through problems and you roll with the punches, and it gets harder to do that when you’re older. I also appreciate what I have, so it made it important to finish this record; to make a record that we love and that meant something to us. When you’re younger you just don’t give a s**t.”

Bleed Like Me is out now through Festival Mushroom Records