SANTA MONICA, California — So what do you think about Lindsay Lohan's record?
"I like her breasts, but ..." Shirley Manson started to answer before breaking out in laughter.
This exchange happened after the Garbage singer complained mid-interview about the complicated questions. "This is MTV, aren't you supposed to be asking us our favorite color and everything? This is making me sweat."
The complicated questions, however, begged to be asked. That's because Garbage, a seemingly constant force in alternative rock since forming in 1995, broke up — or nearly broke up, depending on who you ask (see "Garbage Breakup Ends With New LP — If They Did Actually Break Up") — during the making of Bleed Like Me, released Tuesday.
So MTV wanted to know: Were there fights? Over what? Who instigated them? Who resolved them? How much did you pay your psychiatrist?
"It's difficult to describe because we work in a very strange way as a band and we weren't really communicating very well together," Manson said. "After you've been together for that long, it's not like we fight with each other or have great battles, it was all very of passive-aggressive. After a while you can't work together and be creative because nobody really feels great about each other."
"There is a certain unspoken thing that goes on between us, and I think sometimes that creates sort of this paranoid feeling," drummer Butch Vig added. "Steve [Marker, bassist/guitarist] would bring in something and play it and there wouldn't be much of a response, so I'm sure he was like, 'Nobody likes what I'm doing,' when we actually did, but we never told him. Or I would bring something in or Shirley would have some lyrics and there was sort of a lack of encouragement. And I think there was a point when we kind of felt afraid to express our opinions because of that, and at least sometimes it was passive-aggressive, and other days we would have blowouts in the studio and these kind of weird dark periods."
The sessions for Bleed Like Me actually started on a positive note. On their first day in the studio, the band wrote most of "Right Between the Eyes" in 30 minutes.
"We were jazzed 'cause we thought, 'We're gonna get this record done in six months,' and then it took a slow spiral downhill, then we hit the trail for a while and we wallowed around then we sort of dug our way eventually back up," Vig recalled. "We really didn't get that much time off. We ended the [Beautiful Garbage] tour in December of 2002, and we actually played a show in February , the MusiCares benefit that Bono was the honoree at, then we went into the studio right after that. ... We always say we wanna take a break, but we never do take a break."
Eventually, Garbage did take a break, agreeing later to reconvene under the guidance of their first outside producer, Dust Brothers' John King.
"We felt we needed sort of a guidance counselor in a way," Manson said. "He's an amazing producer, but we got in with him and we weren't really speaking to each other, so John wasn't able to get much work out of us. I think that's when we realized, 'This isn't gonna work. We really need to start getting our sh-- together.' That was really the catalyst to us getting back together and working in a harmonious fashion."
Their new approach was to write fast and not overthink their material. Within a few months, they had pieces of 50 tracks. Most of it was heavy, which they liked.
"I think we wanted to capture the sound of the band live," Manson said. "I mean, everybody that comes to see us live comes away going, 'Oh my God, it doesn't sound anything like the records; you're really a loud rock band.' And I think we just decided that we wanted to try that — 'cause we had really never done that before — and try and capture that energy. I think that was probably the main motivation."
Manson also found motivation — at least for one of the album's standout tracks, "Sex Is Not the Enemy" — in a certain celebrity's breast. And no, it wasn't Lindsay Lohan's.
"It is obviously dealing with sexual politics, and I think we were all horrified about what went on with poor Janet Jackson's breast at the Super Bowl," Manson said of the song, which begins with her singing "No evolution/ Sometimes it depresses me/ The same old same/ Oh we keep repeating history" over a guitar lick similar to the Breeders' "Cannonball."
"We really don't understand why there was such a fuss over something so gorgeous and innocuous as a woman's breast," Manson continued. "I can think of a lot worse things to have your children see on TV that parents are happily plopping their kids down in front of. Ice hockey, for a start, is brutal. ... I just thought it was insane, so the song is sort of dealing with that and dealing with the idea that this administration is really clamping down on reproductive rights and stuff like that. So it's sort of heavy, but it's coated in this really anthemic, upbeat party song."
Garbage just kicked off a headlining tour to promote Bleed Like Me