Garbage seeks to unclutter chaotic world on new album
Q&A with Duke Erikson — guitarist for the alt-rock band that formed in Madison — about 'No Gods No Masters' album that dropped June 11
Since forming in Madison in 1993, the alt-rockers of Garbage have rarely shied away from ambitiously pushing their sonic boundaries or speaking their mind. Singer Shirley Manson is poignant and honest in her lyrics and tells it like it is. At the same time, the band doesn’t feel they’ve been “overtly political.”
“I guess we’ve always kind of steered clear of that because I feel it can come across as sermonizing or what have you,” says guitarist Duke Erikson, the lone band member still based in Madison.
However, the protests in this country and abroad for social and political justice and chaotic nature of the past few years made it impossible to not write about. The band’s seventh album, “No Gods No Masters,” out June 11, features some of the band’s most socially and politically charged songs to date. The album’s lyrical content ranges from capitalism and lust to loss and grief. It was the band’s way to make sense of how out of control things are in the world.
“I think we just felt on this record that to not say something, that’s being irresponsible in some ways to not make some comments on what’s happening in the world around you,” Erikson says. “I think we just found ourselves at that place when we started making this record and up until we finished it.”
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Madison Magazine caught up with Erikson recently to talk about the band’s emotional journey writing and recording the album.
How has the pandemic influenced your thoughts on this collection of songs?
I think the last four or five years kind of influenced this record. Of course, Shirley writes the lyrics, but we all pretty much share the same thoughts on what’s happening in the world, especially in America these days and over the last four years. I think that was a big influence on all of us. I think Shirley did a really great job on some of these songs and summing up how all four of us feel.
How does being in Madison influence your worldview?
Madison’s like the liberal bastion of this whole area. I think living in Madison certainly exposes you to a liberal viewpoint … I lived in northern Wisconsin, even where I grew up in Nebraska … I think one of the reasons I moved to Madison, it was because I loved the atmosphere that was here. When I first visited Madison back in the early ’70s, it was a very exciting time. Revolution in the air and what have you. But of course, it’s settled down somewhat. But I love living here and I think of course it affects your viewpoint. Where you live affects your viewpoint.
It’s fascinating how the band was able to take a lot of the chaos of the past few years and to channel it in a more constructive way. Can you talk about that?
I guess I feel lucky to be in a profession where you can express yourself through some art form and make a statement and still be doing the work you love. Like I said, the lyrics on this record were all written by Shirley, so she deserves that credit. The other three of us, we simply tried to construct something around her, her lyrics and her voice that did justice to her lyrics.
What impressed or surprised you most about her songwriting on this album?
I think she just felt really confident, and I guess we were all a little surprised in some of the lyrics that she started singing when she was in the recording booth. I can’t say it surprised me, but I was just impressed with the confidence. It requires a certain amount of courage to write politically charged or socially charged lyrics like that.
Why do you think the album’s title is fitting for this collection?
Sheryl’s comment on just sometimes the misguided use of religion. Not necessarily anti-religious, just how it’s sometimes used. More of a political statement than anything else. But I’m uncomfortable really with calling this album some political statement. There’s a lot more in there than just politics or anything like that. It goes deeper than that.
The lyrics deal a lot with how people interact with each other, which is pretty timely given the times.
Yes, there’s personal politics in it. It goes beyond just politics … I think this set of lyrics is some of the best she’s written. I think I’m really happy with what we did musically as well.
“The Men Who Rule the World,” opens the album and is described as a protest song against things such as racism and sexism. Why do you think the song worked so well as a protest song?
I think it works really well as a protest song because it’s got a sense of humor. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.
What was one of your favorite moments during the recording sessions?
I don’t know that I have one favorite moment, but the best moments are when we all kind of hit the same mark, when we all agree on where a song idea is headed. And at that point there, it kind of takes on its own energy and we all just have to kind of follow that idea. Four people, four rather opinionated people, in the same room can get tricky. So, when you finally all agree or all have kind of the same idea as to what a song should become or is becoming, it’s a good feeling.
It seems like the atmosphere during the sessions was pretty loose. Was it?
It wasn’t always perfect. It wasn’t always loose. There are disagreements sometimes. But I think overall, we had a good time making this record. The longer we worked on it and the more it took on its own shape, we got more and more excited about it and enjoyed it even more.
I really like “Wolves” with its theme of the dual nature of people and making the right and wrong decision.
It’s something we can all relate to. There’s always questions in all of us as to how we figure out who we really are, how we treat other people.
It reminds me of the image of the angel and the devil on your shoulders trying to convince you what to do.
Yeah, exactly. You have to decide every day, which one you’re actually listening to. The devil or the angel.
What was the most challenging song for you on this album?
I don’t know if I would use the term challenging, but I think one of the most interesting arrangements we came up with was the arrangement for “Anonymous XXX.” We tried to avoid the verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge formula. Of course, we had done that before, but I think it succeeded really well just from the way it moves from one part to the next. Seemingly unrelated sometimes but it seems to work really well. It was a bit of a challenge, I guess, to get that right. And I hope we did.
I imagine you’re eager to getting back on the road in the future.
Yeah. It looks like we’re going to actually be playing some live shows. We’re actually going to tour. I feel like I need to knock on wood having said that, but it looks hopeful [and] promising right now. I think we’re all very excited to get on the road and play some shows for live audiences. There’s nothing like it. There’s nothing better than that.
Listen to or order Garbage’s new album by clicking here.
Joshua M. Miller is a freelance journalist and web designer in southeastern Wisconsin.
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