GARBAGE freshens its grunge sound

The Band Helps Kick Off The Season At Saturday's Hfstival

Summer Concert Preview

May 12, 2005|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

They were in need of redirection.

For a while, it seemed as if the passion that fueled the music of Garbage had completely burned out. So when producer-musician Steve Marker and his bandmates -- lead vocalist Shirley Manson, guitarist-drummer Butch Vig and guitarist-keyboardist Duke Erikson -- reconvened to record an album after a four-year hiatus, they wondered if it was all worth it.

"We ended up working on, like, 50 songs at once," says Marker, the punk-pop band's spokesman, who's calling from a tour stop in Chicago. "We couldn't agree on the direction. We weren't enjoying each other's company and wasting [a lot] of time. We took some time to assess whether we could do another album again."

After about four months away to breathe, live and refocus, Garbage, one of the groups headlining the HFStival on Saturday, came back to the studio, its members realizing that they "love doing the music and feel incredibly lucky to do it," Marker says. "When we took the time off from each other, we were able to find new energy."

And it's felt on the band's latest set, Bleed Like Me. It's the group's first album since 2001's Beautiful Garbage, a polished, stylistically diverse effort whose momentum was killed by the events surrounding 9 / 11. Shows and interviews were canceled, so the band couldn't promote the record very much. Subsequently, Garbage receded from the pop scene.

Returning with Bleed Like Me, the band apparently decided to go back to '90s grunge for musical inspiration: There's the gloom, the angst, the irony, the despair -- all simmering in loud, professional, heavily stylized productions. But the songs somehow never feel like retreads. Bleed Like Me, in a way, feels like a belated proper follow-up to the group's acclaimed 1995 self-titled debut. The electronic sheen and dense layers of Garbage's earlier work are gone, though, giving Bleed Like Me a more organic feel. The sound overall is still big. To help beef up the production, Dave Grohl was called in to pound the drums. "We were trying to get away from the studio album syndrome of overcooking things," says Marker, who with Vig and Erikson founded Garbage in 1993. "We were this constantly touring live band. And we wanted to get some of that live feel onto the vinyl, as we used to say. This was us trying to sound like a live rock band, which is what we are."

The reviews for Bleed Like Me, which hit stores last month, have been generally positive. Rolling Stone, for instance, was particularly glowing, calling the band's fourth CD the first Garbage album that sounds as if the members "truly know what they're writing, singing and raging about." "We got back to not being as picky as we were before," Marker says. "[The music] sounds more powerful with less overdubs on top of overdubs."

The new streamlined sound is much easier to translate to the band's stage show.

"Coming from that simplified approach, it was much easier to play live without having to duplicate or re-create overdubs and layers," Marker says. "When we started out in 1995, it was more like a studio project. I couldn't imagine playing the early stuff live. Over the years, though, the concert tours have become the focus."

And over the years, making the music has become more rewarding.

"It's been incredible, man," Marker says. "It's been amazing for us to find that our audience waited for us. Right now, we're having the most fun on the road that we ever had. I guess we saw how close we were to losing it all, to going back to working in a grocery store or something. The music is too important for us. It means too much."

HFStival 2005 takes place Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, 1101 Russell St. The all-day festival kicks off at 10 a.m. Tickets are $40-$65 and are available via Ticketmaster at 410-547-SEAT or www.ticketmaster.com.

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