As the frontwoman of multi-million-selling rock outfit Garbage, Shirley Manson has acquired a reputation as a somewhat scarily tough, no-nonsense super vixen.
The punky outfits, the Goth make-up, the relentlessly dark song lyrics -“ it’s clear that this is a woman not to be messed with.
And while all that is, to a certain extent, borne out when you meet her, she also comes across as warm, witty and downright fun.
Sitting in her London hotel room, she’s very striking and much younger-looking than her 38 years, even without a scrap of make-up.
With Bleed Like Me, the band’s first album after a long break, doing well in the Australian charts and its first single Why Do You Love Me on high radio rotation, Manson talks about band dysfunction, getting her tits out and why she wants to go gay.
So what happened with the band: did you actually split up?
Yeah, we did. Things had gotten so untenable in the studio and we were all miserable, and we had a huge -¦ not a row, but a bit of a heart to heart.
We said, This is no fun and if it’s not going to be fun we shouldn’t spend our time doing it, so we took about five months off from each other, and then by the time we got back together we were excited again.
There were some minor attitude adjustments and then it was fine.
Did you ever slap each other?
No! I mean in some ways I think it would have been a lot healthier if we’d had a physical fight.
We’d literally not speak to each other for eight hours a day and it just grinds you down.
But we never hated each other. We love each other deeply. With great abandon!
Have you ever done it with them?
No, we’ve never fancied each other and I think that’s one of the reasons we could work really well together, because there’s no creepy sexual tension at all.
I mean, I think they’re cute. I love my band and we’ve been through stuff that nobody else will ever understand and that ties you to people really intensely.
So how does it feel to be back? Exciting, scary?
Yeah, both. I’m proud of the record we made and we’ve had an amazing reaction to it already.
Just before we left for the UK we switched the radio on and on came Garbage and we were all like, We’re on the radio!
Do you still get excited by things like that?
Yeah, especially after everything we went through, this record feels really brand new. I think we all realise this might never have happened. Everybody’s like, Thank fuck we made it!
Why did you call the album Bleed Like Me?
We felt it was a really universal title, very ambiguous and very inclusive, which we liked.
I had this realisation that I wasn’t the only one in the band who was really entrenched in grief about what was going on between us.
All of a sudden I had this moment of, Oh my god, they might be feeling this way too. So it’s basically about that, recognising that other people might think and feel the way you do.
Do you never feel like putting on a crop top, doing some synchro dancing and singing a happy pop song?
(laughs) Well, yes and no. I mean I think our music is just realistic. To me, pop music is total escapism. I understand why people really love that but I’m not like that.
I am never someone who’s going to walk into a room, see a turd in the corner and pretend it’s not there. I’m going to want to have a look at the shit and poke through it and say, Ooh, I wonder who left that.
Have the others ever said, We need to sell more albums, show some more cleavage?
Every day! [laughs] And then I squeeze my tits together and they go, Oh forget it, that’s no use to us! I have no cleavage to sell.
I mean, somebody like Kylie is great at what she does because she enjoys it, but I would look absolutely repulsive doing some of those things!
The gays love you, don’t they?
We have a massive gay following.
Why do you think that is?
I think the way we go about making music, where we fuse different elements and anything is welcome, resounds with people who traditionally have been forced to feel that they are outsiders, and I think they also relate to a lot of things that we sing about.
Gender is of huge fascination to me, how we’re thrown into cages according to our sexuality.
It’s always been a subject in our songs, with Queer through to Sex Is Not The Enemy on the new record, so I think they know that they’re meeting with a kindred spirit, they’re not being judged and they’re welcome regardless of their sexual persuasion.
And have you ever tried gayness?
Umm -¦ well, yes and no. I mean, when you’re young, girls fumble around, but sadly I’m 100 percent heterosexual!
I mean I’ve often wished I was much more open to fucking around with women but it just doesn’t turn me on for some reason.
In the video for The World Is Not Enough you snog a girl.
Yes, there’s a girl-on-girl fumble, which is fantastic. I love it and that’s what I mean, I wish the fantasy could turn me on in reality, it just doesn’t, unfortunately. I’ve tried my damned-est!
Do you get a lot of lesbians throwing their knickers at you?
Yeah, we’ve got a huge lesbian following, and I love that. I understand why women would want to fuck other women, I totally get it and I admire it. Any celebration of the female sex to me is wonderful.
Have those lesbians tried to turn you?
Often. I’m forever getting, Do you want to come up to my room tonight?
There’s a track on the album called Bad Boyfriend. Who’s been the biggest wanker you’ve ever dated?
I had a boyfriend who was fucking around behind my back and finally gave me VD.
That’s no fun.
No, that wasn’t any fun. That was the first and only time I’ve tolerated it.
Are you a good girlfriend?
Because I’m not the archetype of an adoring girlfriend who will wash someone’s underpants and cook them dinner and breed. I mean it’s great for some people but I don’t want to be forced into that role.
What’s the biggest myth about being in a rock band?
That it’s glamorous. People see a tour bus and think it’s exciting. Well, that excitement dies after about two hours.
You spend a lot of time in cold shitty locker rooms waiting to go on stage. Clubs may look glamorous but you literally want to use hand sanitizer all day, they stink, it’s disgusting.
You’re getting made up in front of a little mirror propped up against a filthy wall and you’re squatted on a filthy carpet.