hirley Manson has been on stage for three decades, has done thousands of shows with her band Garbage. We talk to her about the magic of live appearances, and what a carrot has to do with it.
Reeperbahn Festival: You’re touring with Debbie Harry this summer, you’ve spent more than half your life on stage. Is there still a thrill for you when you step on stage?
Shirley Manson: I’ve been performing with bands since I was about 15 years old – it’s all I really know (laughs). If anything, the older I’ve got the more I found joy in what I do. When I was young I would get really grumpy and upset if I made a mistake or the crowd were quiet. That would spoil my enjoyment of the show and now I realise: it’s so inconsequential! The important thing is: I dig for truth and I will do that every night, relentlessly.
Reeperbahn Festival: You’re very open about having self-doubts – on the other hand you said to a reporter that once you’re on stage you’re not scared anymore. Why is that?
Shirley Manson: If I had the answer to that I’m sure I’d be writing an international bestseller. But I think for me – and it’s different for everyone – I go on stage and I am genderless and I am ageless. That’s incredibly freeing. I don’t know why that metamorphosis occurs but it does and it’s something that I’ve always found really thrilling.
Reeperbahn Festival: It almost sounds spiritual.
Shirley Manson: (Laughs a roaring and most infectious laugh) it’s the closest I’ll ever get to being spiritual, that’s for sure. I’m a non-believer, I don’t practice a religion and I always believed in marching to my own drum. But it is spiritual in some ways. Not from this world.
Reeperbahn Festival: You said you started music when you were 15. Who was your inspiration back then?
Shirley Manson: When I was a child I accidentally discovered Siouxsie Sioux on TV performing on Top of the Pops. She set the template for me of what to desire from a performer. She encapsulated everything that was exciting, dangerous, challenging, interesting, intellectual. Through her I discovered Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry and Stevie Nicks. I was obsessed with them when I was young and have remained that way ever since.
Reeperbahn Festival: Most of the ANCHOR nominees are newcomers – what are you looking for in them?
Shirley Manson: What excites me is truth. You can – as a young talent – enjoy 15 minutes of fame no matter who you are and how you approach things, but if you’re not willing to dig a little deeper as an artist you won’t last. I see a lot of young talents that remind me a little of automated dolls – they look perfect, they sing perfectly, they pose in magazines like supermodels but they don’t appear to have anything to say.
Reeperbahn Festival: Emily Haines, your co-juror, said that what attracted her to the ANCHOR was that it’s so different from “all this American Idol stuff”. What excited you?
Shirley Manson: I’ll give you two words: Tony Visconti (laughs). I’m in. I get to hang with someone that I consider a great master at what he does, I get a week in Hamburg. I mean ... excuse me (laughs)! Bloody amazing! And it’s an incredible opportunity for young artists because we rarely hear musicians talk about their craft. So next to experiencing great talent you also hear people who live and breathe music every day of their life. That’s extraordinary.
You have to aim for the highest and somewhere you will be your own messy, imperfect self. But that’s equally valid for anyone else out there.
Reeperbahn Festival: You have three decades of experience under your belt. What’s your advice for young talent?
Shirley Manson: There’s a billion and one things. However, there is something I feel every young artist has to hear, which is: you already have everything you need. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Take what you have, make it the best it can be and you will find that if you keep employing that attitude, you yourself become a master at what you do – regardless of whether people buy it or don’t buy it, revere it or don’t revere it. You have to aim for the highest and somewhere you will be your own messy, imperfect self. But that’s equally valid for anyone else out there.
Reeperbahn Festival: In your opinion, what’s the secret of a great performance?
Shirley Manson: It’s about how it feels, not how it looks. I have seen very simple shows with very little lighting and no dancing and no costume changes and no fancy gimmicks, and they’ve stayed with me for the length of my entire life. I’ve also seen spectacles which have stayed with me, but ultimately the show is not about you showing off, the show has to be about how can you connect to another human being. When that happens ...that’s nirvana (laughs). And you try desperately to reach that in your own work. You’re chasing the dangling carrot.
Reeperbahn Festival: Do you think you’ll ever get the carrot?
Shirley Manson: I believe I don’t even want the carrot. You have to always grow as an artist. If you get the carrot you become a bore. (laughs)