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Garbage

January 28, 2013
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Garbage (left to right)—Steve Marker, Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson, and Butch Vig.
Not Your Kind of People
[Stunvolume] may be less hard-edged than some previous Garbage albums, but it is nevertheless chockfull of cool and often aggressive guitar tones. Duke Erikson and Steve Marker are the band’s official guitarists, but drummer Butch Vig also sometimes contributes guitar riffs and ideas. Guitars are often subject to slicing, dicing, and processing until they sound more like synthesizers—and Line 6 POD sounds abound—yet plenty of primal instrument- through-amp goodness still survives.

What have you been doing guitar-wise in the seven years since the last Garbage record?

Marker: I took the time to become a better guitarist. I did a lot of recording on my own, and tried to discover what created the sounds I like. I also experimented with building tube amps. I didn’t get good at it, but it helped me realize what makes a good amp. I eventually purchased a Mojave—a handmade Marshall-type amp. That led to recording some of the demos for songs that ended up on the latest Garbage record.

Erikson: I have just been writing for myself, usually using a Gibson J-45. But when I started writing for Garbage I tailored the songs to Shirley Manson’s voice.

You two have produced other people, as has Butch Vig. How do you deal with three producers working on the same record?

Marker: It is not a problem. Working on my own, I can go around and around on an idea. With the four of us in the room—Shirley has an equal say—there is always someone to instantly tell you if your idea sucks. We didn’t have as much time as usual, so we used an hourglass. We had to make an idea work before the sand ran through or we would move on. That resulted in more energy and stronger ideas.

How do you divide up the guitar chores?

Marker: There is no set way. If someone has an idea we try it. And if they are struggling with the execution, sometimes someone else will play it. There are no set “rhythm” and “lead” roles. Whomever can best get the job done takes it, and that may change when we play live.

Though very distorted, the guitar sounds on the album are tightly controlled and focused. How did you achieve that?

Marker: We don’t really go for metal sounds. Although the guitars are distorted, it is not that scooped-out, highoutput pickup sound. We go for more of a vintage guitar through a beat-up Silvertone amp tone. Our sound is inspired more by ’60s or early-’70s garage rock than metal.

How do you keep space for Shirley Mason’s vocal frequencies and still get such massive guitar sounds?

Marker: We use limiting on the guitars when tracking to Pro Tools, but even playing-wise we are subconsciously constructing parts that avoid conflict with the vocals. There is nothing more important than the vocal. Nobody is going to listen to the record because there is this one little awesome guitar part in the background.

Erikson: From the beginning, the whole idea of Garbage was to surround a voice with noise. We wanted to cram the records full of as much stuff as would fit in without getting in the way of the voice—and therefore the song.

On “Blood for Poppies” how did you get the distortion on the low bending lick?

Marker: That’s me into a POD, recorded onto my laptop. With that song and with “Man on the Wire,” when we got in the studio we couldn’t recreate the sound, so we just used the original POD parts.

How do you recreate the sound live?

Marker: You are never going to have the same guitar, amp, and signal path—but you get as close as you can. We are using only PODs live now so it is easier to dial things pretty close.

Do you remember how you got the vibrato effect on the clean tone in the verse section of “Blood for Poppies”?

Marker: That was Duke.

Do you remember, Duke?

Erikson: No [laughs]. I have trouble with guitar magazine interviews because I go through so many guitars in the course of recording an album, I can’t remember what I used on each song. We had so many guitars we would just stare at the wall and decide, “That one.”

On “Big Bright World” there is a cool glissando part. Is that a finger slide, a Whammy pedal, or slide guitar?

Marker: That is an actual slide part Marker so hard the sound swells up at the end.

“Control” has a great, slightly broken up guitar at the beginning. Those sounds are among the hardest to get. How did you do it?

Marker: That song always seemed Zeppelin- ish to me. I probably used a Silvertone amp that engineer Billy Bush had in his studio. We also got a lot of use out of this beat-up old Hagstrom that the Foo Fighters gave Butch when he did their album—it’s like a ten-dollar guitar from around 1966. There is no way you are going to get that sound other than using gear like that.

On “Not Your Kind of People” it sounds like a combination of tremolo and vibrato at the beginning, on the spaghetti western lick.

Marker: That was Butch trying to come up with “the saddest riff of all time.” I thought it would fit in this song. I ended up using the Line 6 M13 for a lot of the effects. We have boxes and boxes of pedals but it can get time consuming plugging them in and then unplugging them. Sometimes it is nice to have it all right there in one pedal. That tune has a tremolo, chorus, and echo on it, and possibly reverb. For the slide part I channeled David Gilmour, using two echoes on the M13.

How about the Beatle-esque backward guitar?

Erikson: I had that written in my head, and I just had to figure out how to play it backward. That kind of backward thing sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but when it does, it is great for drawing you in a little bit farther. I think, even though it is weird, there is something in the human psyche that makes sense of it. It is like looking in a mirror.

What is that great distortion sound on the “Felt” solo?

Marker: We used the Death By Audio Supersonic Fuzz Gun and an old Boss Fuzz pedal. Sometimes we were running two or three fuzz pedals into each other to get the sound we were looking for. At that point maintaining clarity can be a problem [laughs].

Live, do you do the effects and sound switching yourselves, or is it done offstage by techs, or by MIDI sequencing?

Erikson: There was talk early on about not even having pedalboards—having the effects triggered by MIDI. I wasn’t comfortable with that. I want to be able to do whatever I want, and not be tied to that. But it is programmed on one song, “Not Your Kind of People,” because I have to do a quick switch from keyboards to guitar. It is kind of a mind-f**k, because you are thinking you have to make the switch and it is already done.

Are there other sounds on the record that people might think are synthesizers but are really guitars?

Marker: On “Control” there are guitars chopped up in Pro Tools that sound like synths. There are also keyboards run through wahwah that sound like guitars, mixed with real wah guitar on “Blood for Poppies.” It takes a lot of mixing to get the blend right.

What guitars did you use in studio and live?

Marker: I’m using the Henman Mod guitar that I got around the same time as the Mojave amp. It inspired me to come up with some new ideas for the record and to become a better player in general. I have been using it as my main guitar on tour. It has a vintage, Gretsch Filter’Tron-like sound. I also use a Guild Bluesbird, which isn’t made anymore.

Erikson: I have a Guild Starfire III that I have been playing for a long time.

Do you have feedback issues with the Starfire, due to it being hollow?

Erikson: Of course—but we always manage to reign it in. We are using mostly in-ear monitors and no amps—just the POD HD Pro. But we have the side-fill monitors angled toward the front so the people right in front of the stage can hear, and that can create feedback. It is nice to have feedback problems in this day and age, though. Feedback is analog!

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