What inspired you to start playing music?
I played the violin at age eight and piano shortly thereafter, and I studied clarinet in high school and sang in the school choir. My mother was a big band singer, and my sisters and I listened to musical theater—The Sound of Music, Cabaret, Oklahoma, things like that. After discovering my mom’s record collection I began listening to Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Sarah Vaughan. And then the hormones hit, and I was hanging out with some older boys who introduced me to the Clash, Adam and the Ants, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. That’s when the idea of rebellious music really kicked in for me.
Garbage just celebrated its 20th anniversary. Does that seem crazy to you?
I didn’t think we would ever get to this point. This last year has almost been like the beginning of the band for me because I realize how fucking lucky we are. I’m among a handful of women who have been able to enjoy a career in alternative rock music. I played in two bands before joining Garbage and I remember thinking if I could just have one single on the radio that would be amazing. If I could just have a career like Echo and the Bunnymen that would be even more amazing. To sit back and look at the career that we’ve had is fucking surreal.
Was it hard for you being the only girl in the band?
It’s difficult sometimes to distinguish what is just a normal difficulty as a musician, because, make no mistake, to be a musician is challenging for a lot of reasons, not least of which because it’s competitive. You go up against the wall all day long, and it’s tough for everyone, men and women. But unfortunately there is an incredibly sexist patriarchal system in place in the industry. I’ve never really felt discriminated against by another musician, but I definitely have within the business, which has been difficult to stomach but not so difficult to counter. If you recognize it for what it is, you can fight it.
In light of Kesha’s recent lawsuit and the allegations against music publicist Heathcliff Berru, it seems as though women are speaking out more now, thanks in part to social media.
It’s a different climate now. The glorious thing that my peers and I enjoyed was that for a brief moment, alternative music ruled the roost. If you weren’t alternative, you weren’t getting played on radio. You weren’t getting on the front cover of magazines. It was us bitches who were. And women were taking the game to their male counterparts and expecting to be treated as equals. It was a different time, and that’s apparent when you look at all of these summer festivals—where are all the women on the bill? And it’s not because women aren’t making music. It’s not because there aren’t great bands out there. It’s because they are not being given the opportunity. In the ’90s, if anyone asked female musicians if we were feminists, we’d be like, “Yeah, we’re fucking feminists!” We all had different styles, but we were all very vocal and we pushed.
Was your generation’s feminism more aggressive?
There is a problem in equating feminism with aggression, and I think a lot of young girls as a result wanted to distance themselves from being mistaken for being man-hating women. The most important message we can impart is that feminism is about equality—nothing more and nothing less. It has nothing to do with how you interact with other women. It has nothing to do with how you interact with men. All it means is that you believe in the idea of equality between men and women. I really hope that young women understand that. It’s important for all of us to stand together and galvanize and demand equality, because without that, we’re never going to secure it.
What can young girls do now?
They should believe that they are as worthy as anybody else—they’re as smart, brilliant, creative, resourceful, and they have everything they need. I think a lot of women grow up feeling like they don’t have what they need to flourish. They’re scared to fail. And yes, you will fail. So what? You stand back up and fail again and keep trying until you get the job or the life you need. Failure is a part of life, and without it you’ll never succeed. You build your arsenal by experience, by standing back up to take another hit. I wish I had known that more in my own life. Instead, I just sat there looking at everybody else—she’s this, she’s that, she comes from money, she’s beautiful, she’s a great athlete. Eventually I did make whatever small gifts I have work for me, but I think most women feel that they are not good enough, and my point is you are. Just fucking go work it.
What advice do you have for young female musicians?
I’m wary of giving advice to other musicians because the choices I make might be right for me but aren’t necessarily right for everybody—but ultimately I believe that you have to be prepared to stand by your guns and be your messy, flawed, fucked-up authentic self. It’s taken me 20 years to figure out that the best version of myself is just me. It sounds incredibly simplistic, but it’s not. I would also tell them to have something to say. Don’t just stand up there and look pretty. It’s not enough. The media will tell you that it’s enough, but being pretty means fuck all long-term. You have to be prepared to work hard, sacrifice, be competitive, and be ambitious. There are millions of people wanting to do what we do, and somehow you have to find a way to stand out. The best way to do that is to be your authentic self, because that’s what makes you unique.
Who do you think is doing a good job of that right now?
The one who comes right to mind is Grimes. She, to me, is the greatest example of a new generation doing something that none of my peers did. I look at her and really believe that she’s a bona fide original. She writes and produces all of her own material. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s not just standing up there looking cute, or knowing the right people. There’s a lot of that right now, particularly on social media. There’s a lot of posturing and “Look at my cool lifestyle!” and “Look how beautiful I am” and “Look how outrageous I am!” And that’s all very well and good, honey, but where’s your music? Produce something. Do the work.
Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?
Social media has put a pressure on women that my generation did not have to endure. So much is made of your appearance, of your popularity, and I feel really passionate about being a voice out there that is the opposite of what we’re being told by the media—that taking our clothes off on social media is empowering. By no means is that an empowering act. Now I’m not saying that you cannot enjoy your naked body—you absolutely should! And if you want to put yourself on social media in the nude, so be it. But be aware that there will be consequences. Doors will not open for you like they have for the celebrities who’ve done it. It’s sad. I wish women could walk down the street naked and never be under threat, but it’s highly unlikely that will ever happen. A woman’s sexuality is really powerful. There’s a reason why the patriarchal system tries to manipulate that power, and right now, they’re winning. Women are objectifying themselves—they’re turning themselves into objects and believing they are empowered because they get a million likes. It’s like, of course another man or woman wants to look at a beautiful woman’s naked body. So fucking what? You’re not an object, but if society sees you as an object, they will treat you as an object.
Are you active on social media?
My management is always encouraging me to do so because they think if you don’t, you’ll drown in the deluge. I do a limited amount, which, to be honest, I find quite pleasurable. I’m a real Instagram whore. I love how you can see these incredible pieces in the Tate or in the atelier of some incredible designer. Instagram, I love. I tried Snapchat once and it’s not for me. There has to be some playground for the youth where adults don’t come in and pretend they’re super cool and spew all over it. If I was young and I saw adults using Snapchat I would be like, “I am so done with Snapchat.” [Laughs]
What were you listening to while making the new album?
We listened to a lot of old records, actually. There is a dearth of rock bands in the world right now and it’s very hard to find those “dark shadow sounds” we like. Our culture has gotten very shiny and bright. You switch on the radio and it’s happy and pop-oriented, but we’re lovers of sadness, darkness, and melancholia. We wanted to make a dark, guitar-driven record. If you’re looking to cheer yourself up with some shiny pop music, don’t come knocking on our door. But if you want to hear what it’s like to struggle as a human being in this very weird, chaotic world we’re all living in now, then you’ll hear it in our record. We always find solace in sadness.