Butch Vig had built a reputation as a rock producer before deciding to form Garbage.
Formation and early years (1993–1994)
Duke Erikson and Butch Vig had been in several bands, including Spooner and Fire Town (with Steve Marker as a sound engineer). In 1983, Vig and Marker founded Smart Studios in Madison and Vig's production work brought him to the attention of Sub Pop. Spooner reunited in 1990 and released another record, but disbanded in 1993 as Vig and Marker's career as producers gained strength. In 1994, as Vig become "kind of burned out on doing really long records," he got together with Erikson and Marker, and they started doing remixes for acts such as U2, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, and House of Pain. The remixes featured different instrumentation, and often highlighting new guitar hooks and bass grooves. This experience inspired the three men to form a band, where they "wanted to take that remix sensibility and somehow translate it into all of the possibilities of a band setup."
According to Vig, the team drew inspiration for its name from a hostile early comment, when a friend of the band heard recording material, probably for "Vow" and groaned, "This shit sounds like garbage!" However, according to This Is The Noise That Keeps Me Awake, an autobiography of the band, Vig wrote in his 1993 studio journal about the creative process; of working for long periods of time, "without coming up with anything cool... and when you least expect it, it all falls into place." The name derives from the last line of this entry: "I hope that all this garbage will become something beautiful!".
Initial sessions with Vig on vocals, along with the members' past work with all-male groups, led to the band's desire for a woman on lead. Vig declared that they wanted to find a female vocalist like "Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde and Siouxsie Sioux – all really strong, unique personalities". Marker and Vig desired someone "who didn't have a high, chirpy, girly quality to her voice" and who could sing in an understated way, in contrast to "these alterna-rock singers [that] have a tendency to scream". Marker was watching 120 Minutes when he saw the music video for Angelfish's "Suffocate Me". He showed the video to Erikson and Vig while their manager Shannon O'Shea tracked down the band's singer, Shirley Manson. When Manson was contacted, she did not know who Vig was and was urged to check the credits on Nevermind, the popular Nirvana album which Vig produced.
On 8 April 1994, Manson met Erikson, Marker, and Vig for the first time in London. Later that evening Vig was informed of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain's suicide. Garbage was put on hold until Angelfish was finished touring North America in support of Live. Erikson, Marker, and Vig attended the Metro Chicago date, and Manson was invited to Madison to audition for the band. The audition did not go well, but Manson socialized with the men while there and they found they had a similar taste in music. Angelfish disbanded at the end of the Live tour. Manson called O'Shea and asked to audition again, feeling that "it could work out".
Manson described her first session with the band as "a disaster", as she had no experience as a session player, and she and the band were "two parties totally uncomfortable with the situation", but the "mutual disdain" from that meeting managed to pull the band together. The first songs were skeletal versions of the songs "Stupid Girl", "Queer" and "Vow", which led to some ad-libbed lyrics by Manson. Manson had never written a song prior to this session; nevertheless, this time she was invited to join the band. Lyrics were penned at a cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin while the songs were recorded at Smart Studios. Conscious of the grunge genre that had made their names, particularly Vig's, the band made every effort to avoid sounding similar, deliberately striving to make a pop record.
Garbage sent out demo tapes with no bio, to avoid a bidding war over Vig's production history. Garbage signed with Mushroom UK worldwide (excluding North America) and secured the band a Volume magazine compilation inclusion. The only potential candidate for release was "Vow", as it was the only song for which the band had completed production. When released in December, "Vow" began to receive radio airplay on XFM and from Radio 1 DJs Steve Lamacq, John Peel, and Johnnie Walker. Word-of-mouth on "Vow" took the track back to the US. On December 21, Garbage signed to Jerry Moss's label Almo Sounds for North America. Manson was licensed to both Mushroom and Almo by Radioactive Records for a single album, with no compensation from any of Garbage's labels.
Garbage had not considered "Vow" for inclusion on the album or even as a single. Because the exclusive licensing of Volume prevented a full commercial single release, on March 20, 1995, Mushroom issued "Vow" in a limited 7" vinyl format through Discordant, a label set up just to launch Garbage. By May, commercial alternative radio in the US had picked up on the track, and it began to receive heavy rotation nationwide. "Vow" debuted on Hot Modern Rock Tracks at No. 39. It climbed gradually over the following weeks, peaking at No. 26 on July. "Vow" bubbled under for two weeks before it spent two weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 staying at No. 97 both weeks.
On 15 August 1995, Garbage debuted on the Billboard 200 at No. 193. In the United Kingdom, its release was preceded by non-album track "Subhuman" and "Only Happy When It Rains" as singles to promote the album instead of "Queer". The album debuted on the UK album chart at No. 12. In Australia, the album debuted at No. 5. "Queer" was quickly released in the UK and Europe, while Garbage began their first tour. Garbage was nominated for Brit Awards for Best New Band and Best International Newcomer.
Garbage toured for the self-titled Garbage throughout 1996. "Only Happy When It Rains" was released as a single in North America; "Stupid Girl" was released to promote European dates. MTV announced that "Only Happy When It Rains" was certified a "Buzz clip", guaranteeing heavy rotation on its network from February 13. "Only Happy" peaked at No. 55 on the Hot 100. "Stupid Girl" received frequent video and radio airplay in the UK and peaked at No. 4, becoming the band's first top 10 hit on the UK Singles Chart and elevated the album to No. 6.
In May, Garbage reworked "Milk" with Tricky in a Chicago recording studio before supporting Smashing Pumpkins on their arena tour until the overdose of Pumpkins keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin. "Stupid Girl" peaked at No. 24 on the Hot 100. Its Top 40 radio remix by Todd Terry received massive airplay.
Garbage Video, a compilation of the album's promotional videos, was released in November 1996. Garbage was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, while "Stupid Girl" received two nominations for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group.
Worldwide, the final single release from the album was the reworked version of "Milk", which became the band's second UK top 10 hit. The band performed the song live at the MTV Europe Music Awards in London on November 14; Garbage won the Breakthrough award at the event. In North America, Almo Sounds released album track "Supervixen" to Modern Rock radio, while Mushroom Records released a remix of "#1 Crush" in March 1997 as a single from the soundtrack to Romeo + Juliet, which topped the Modern Rock Tracks chart for four weeks from the start of the year; the remix was also featured as the theme for the TV show Hex. "#1 Crush" was later nominated for Best Song From a Movie at the 1997 MTV Movie Awards.
Version 2.0 (1997–2000)
Garbage relocated to Friday Harbor, Washington on March 1, 1997 to write songs for their second album. Returning to Smart Studios a short while later, the band found themselves under intense pressure to repeat the success of Garbage. The band decided not to change their formula, but progress musically by pushing their sound as far as it could go—hence the album's eventual title Version 2.0, which was completed by February 15, 1998. In March, the first single "Push It" became the No. 1 most added record at the UK Alternative Radio. It became their third consecutive UK top ten hit at No. 9.
In May 1998, Version 2.0 debuted at No. 1 in the UK and at No. 13 in the Billboard 200. Garbage began touring Version 2.0 that month, a tour which lasted until the end of 1999. "I Think I'm Paranoid" was released worldwide in July, while the music video for "Push It" received eight nominations at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. By October 12, "Special" was released and Garbage was nominated for three MTV Europe Music Awards: "Best Group", "Best Rock Act" and "Best Video" for "Push It".
In early 1999, Version 2.0 received two Grammy Award nominations for Album of the Year and Best Rock Album "Special" was No. 1 most added single at the Top 40 radio. In Europe, Garbage began their biggest headline tour, releasing singles for "When I Grow Up" and "The Trick Is to Keep Breathing". In April, "When I Grow Up" was released to Modern Rock radio. "When I Grow Up" was then featured on the movie Big Daddy. Version 2.0 was awarded the European Platinum Award by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry for 1 million sales across Europe and US. "You Look So Fine" was released as the final single from Version 2.0 worldwide, as Garbage toured Europe, including headlining in Edinburgh to mark the opening of the Scottish Parliament.
On August 4, Garbage was contracted to perform the theme for the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough and worked with composer David Arnold in London and Vancouver. Garbage co-headlined an Australian tour with Alanis Morissette, while "When I Grow Up" spent three months in the Australian chart, becoming the band's most successful single there. "The World Is Not Enough" reached the top 10s in Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Finland, as well as the top 40 in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the UK. "Special" received Grammy nominations for Best Rock Song and for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group, while "When I Grow Up" was re-issued in Europe.
Beautiful Garbage (2001–2002)
Shirley Manson performing live at Voodoo Festival 2002
Garbage regrouped on April 10, 2001. The group began work on their third record, and put aside plans for a B-sides album due to the sale of Almo Sounds to the UMG. Manson ran an online blog throughout the recording of the album named Beautiful Garbage. During the recording of the album, Garbage invoked a provision of its contract to leave Almo, and sued UMG when it refused to terminate the contract. UMG threatened to use Manson's 1993 solo contract to tie Garbage to the label. The suit was settled on July 29, 2001, and Garbage moved to Interscope. Lead single "Androgyny" was released to radio by the end of August, and its video was released on September 10. The following day, due to the September 11 attacks in New York City and Washington D.C., the promotional schedule for the album was put on hold.
Released three weeks after the September 11 attacks, the album suffered from lack of promotion, mixed reaction from critics and fans alike, and the failure of its lead single "Androgyny" to achieve high chart positions. Despite faltering in major markets, Beautiful Garbage debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Electronic Albums chart where it stayed for 8 weeks, topped the album charts in Australia, and was named one of Rolling Stone's "Top 10 Albums of the Year".
In October, Beautiful Garbage achieved a No. 13 debut on the Billboard 200, as well as reaching No. 6 on the Top Internet Albums chart and topping the Electronic Albums chart for seven weeks. In its first three months on sale, Beautiful Garbage sold 1.2 million copies.
Garbage supported U2 on the third leg of their Elevation Tour. After the last show, Vig contracted Hepatitis A and was replaced by Matt Chamberlain for European dates. In December "Breaking Up the Girl" was released as a single. On December 27, Rolling Stone's US and Australian editions named Beautiful Garbage as one of their critics "Top 10 Albums of the Year".
"Cherry Lips" was released at the end of 2001, becoming a massive hit in Australia, peaking at number seven on the ARIA Charts, and number eleven in the highly influential Triple J Hottest 100, 2001. Sony Music Japan released an exclusive E.P. of rare tracks titled Special Collection.
Bleed Like Me (2003–2005)
Garbage started proper work on their fourth record in March 2003, writing "Right Between the Eyes" in 30 minutes. It was a false start. Recording was halted during the summer when Manson underwent surgery on her right vocal cord and was not given the okay to sing again until August. By October, due to rising tension within the band and a breakdown in communication, Vig relocated to Los Angeles while Manson returned to Scotland. During the Christmas period, Vig decided to give the band another chance, having met excited fans eager to hear how the album was going.
In January 2004 Garbage reconvened in Los Angeles with Dust Brothers' John King, drummer Matt Chamberlain, bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and on February 6, Dave Grohl performed drums on "Bad Boyfriend". His performance was regarded by the band as "raising the bar" for the record. Following the John King sessions, the band formally relocated to Los Angeles and wrote "Metal Heart" and "Boys Wanna Fight", both more energetic than they had been writing and lyrically more "overtly political"; both songs referenced the US and UK-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In 2005, lead single "Why Do You Love Me" debuted on the Modern Rock Tracks chart at No. 39. as well as No. 97 and No. 81 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Pop 100 charts respectively, becoming the band's most successful single for six years. Bleed Like Me entered Top 10 in US.
On August 25, 2005 Garbage cancelled their scheduled October tour dates in France, Belgium and United Kingdom. They released a statement that the band had "somewhat overextended themselves" and decided to conclude their tour in Australia on October 1. Ahead of the Australian tour, "Sex Is Not The Enemy" was released to Australian radio. The end of the tour marked the end of active promotion for Bleed Like Me. The band confirmed that they were going "on indefinite hiatus" to dispel reports of a split. "We were barely even speaking," Manson later admitted. "We didn't want to talk to anyone outside of the band about the problems we were having with our career, so of course it turned into this whole passive-aggressive thing between us. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there and go home."
Absolute Garbage (2007)
Garbage ended their 18-month hiatus on January 31, 2007, at a benefit show in Glendale, California, organised by Vig to help pay musician Wally Ingram's medical care following treatment for throat cancer. Prior to this, Garbage had been sharing song ideas via the internet and were keen on getting into the recording studio to complete them. Garbage began work on the new songs in earnest during February and March at Vig's home studio, completing four tracks including "Tell Me Where It Hurts", which was released as the album's lead single.
Absolute Garbage was released in July, remastered and including a special edition bonus remix package. A DVD format rounded out the package; among the fifteen Garbage music videos included was a documentary film titled "Thanks For Your, Uhhh Support" featuring backstage and behind-the-scenes footage, live performances and interviews. A Garbage track called "Witness to Your Love" was released on a charity, "limited availability," compilation in the US. The release was available from Urban Outfitters from Wednesday, October 15, 2008, to Thursday, January 31, 2009, and went on radio in the US on October 17.
Not Your Kind of People (2010–2012)
On February 1, 2010, it was confirmed through Shirley Manson's official Facebook profile that she spent a week in the studio with her bandmates. In the post, Manson wrote "Guess who I just spent a week in the studio with? Would you be pleased if I said one of them was called Steve and one of them was called Duke and another was a Grammy-winning producer?" In October 2010, it was officially confirmed that Garbage were recording their fifth studio album.
On September 17, 2011, the band clarified that their forthcoming 11-track LP would be mixed by October 17, while another 12 songs would be finalized by the end of the year and see release as "b-sides, extra tracks and maybe one might even come your way simply as a Christmas present from Garbage as a thank you to you all for sticking around," though this did not materialize.
The band announced to Billboard that their fifth studio album would be released independently of any major label support. On January 6, 2012, the band announced that they had entered Red Razor Studios in Glendale, California to record bonus material for their forthcoming album, later confirming on Twitter that a further five tracks were being worked on, including the new title "What Girls Are Made Of." Not Your Kind of People was released on May 14, 2012, to generally positive reviews. The album reached number 13 on the Billboard 200, and number 10 on the UK Albums Chart. The band supported the album with the year-long Not Your Kind of People World Tour. The song Not Your Kind of People was used in a trailer for the video game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
Record Store Day releases (2013–2015)
Garbage and Screaming Females recorded a cover of "Because the Night" for Record Store Day 2013. They released a video directed by Sophie Muller. The band released their first live DVD, One Mile High... Live, in May 2013. Shirley Manson confirmed that they would release two new songs for Record Store Day on April 19, 2014. "Girls Talk", an out-take from the Absolute Garbage sessions, was re-recorded to include vocals from Brody Dalle, and was backed by an out-take from the Not Your Kind of People sessions, "Time Will Destroy Everything".
In 2014, Manson confirmed that the band is working on a book, and noted that the next record would be her "romance novel". On January 23, 2015, Garbage confirmed on their Facebook page that they completed two new songs for Record Store Day 2015; "The Chemicals", which features vocals from Brian Aubert of Silversun Pickups, was released on April 18, 2015. The band played the Pa’l Norte Rock Festival in Monterrey, Mexico, on April 25, 2015.
On October 2, 2015, the band released the Deluxe Edition of their debut album, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the album. The album was remastered from the original tapes, and all b-sides (called G-sides on the album), were included. During the 20 Years Queer tour, Vig announced that mixing of the new album would be finished by February 1, 2016, and that it would be promoted by a world tour beginning in the summer.
Strange Little Birds (2016–2018)
Garbage on the 2016 tour.
On February 6, 2016 Garbage stated on their Facebook page that mixing was almost done: "Our new record is an inch away, just an inch away from being done. And I do mean an inch away from being completely done. Recorded. Mixed. And soon to be mastered." Vig also confirmed the title of a new song, "Even Though Our Love is Doomed". Three days later, Garbage announced that they had completed the album. Strange Little Birds, the band's sixth studio album, was released on June 10, 2016.
Version 2.0: 20th Anniversary and new album (2018–present)
The band announced that in May 2018 the band will release a 20th anniversary edition of their second album Version 2.0 in a similar fashion to the 20th anniversary edition of their self-titled debut album. The anniversary edition will also see Garbage commit to touring for this celebration which is expected to take place towards the end of 2018. As of March 2018, Garbage is also working on a new studio album which, according to Shirley Manson, is due for a 2020 release.