An exclusive interview with Garbage guitarist and producer Steve Marker

By: Sarah L. Myers

Do you feel Garbage was ahead of its time with your use of looping, sampling, and remixing?

We did absolutely nothing ahead of our time with those things. There was nothing new about using loops at that time when we came out. Obscure more than now, definitely. Maybe because we had this one crude sampler (an Akai S-1000) and we naively thought that people like the Clash would let us sample them (Joe Strummer told us years later that he was okay with it. At the time Tom Verlaine told us no), and we recorded Shirley’s first Garbage vocals in my crappy basement. And, we wanted to make the records sound different from what was on the radio at the time. A really strong desire. We got there with Vow, less so later. For me, the idea was to take the power and energy of a Public Enemy production, based on samples, and take it to a rock guitar place, which is what we are, instead of a hip hop place, which we obviously aren’t, with melodies that hopefully you want to hear again. My Bloody Valentine was big for us at the time. I went to see a Public Enemy/ Sonic Youth show in Chicago, and the implied threat of a white person/black person conflict thing scared the Chicago police into the worst police over-reaction riot I had ever seen, and it was the greatest night out. Garbage never achieved that level of chaos, but that is what I was hoping for at the time.

How do you think Garbage's production influenced other artists?

I don’t think we influenced anybody, really. I would like to be able to say that we inspired some strong female-fronted bands to get together, be successful, and keep going, but that didn’t happen. The men that run the music that you listen to (and it is literally 99.9 per cent men who make the decisions) have no interest in a women singer whom they cannot tell what to do. What you hear on the radio today has absolutely nothing to do with a good song or a good band or a good singer - it has to do with what a beyond middle-aged record executive wants to market to you. You are a target.

Butch Vig has said he comes from a pop background, which influenced his production methods. What has been most influential to your work as a producer?

I just get bored very easily, and I can’t understand why, given the chance to make a recording that others might possibly listen to, that you wouldn’t try and make it sound awesome - different from everybody else’s recordings. It’s not that everything worthwhile has to be ground breaking, but at least try - show some ambition. Things are sounding really same-y now - you have to have a piano and a falsetto, or be doing horrible corporate r & b. Coldgwen. When we started out, Butch and I would listen to The Dave Clark Five next to Black Flag next to Television, and it made perfect sense, so I guess that’s our “pop background.” When Elvis Costello put a piano part on his record “Oliver’s Army” (imperialism - hello today) that referenced “Dancing Queen”, that was a very big moment for me. Punk didn’t have to exclude pop. Whoa, mindbending.* Nothing wrong with a little ABBA now and then, then.

*Sorry, listeners of today, this may not make sense. There was a time in the very distant past when if you had a guitar but couldn’t play “Tales From Topographic Oceans”, you sucked. The Ramones, and the Stooges and all the rest before them changed this. For Elvis Costello to reference ABBA, maybe the purest pop band ever, and to cover “My Funny Valentine”, was for me, mind bending. Then again, this was about two hundred years ago, so who knows.

What are some projects you're currently working on? Both at the Smart Studios and with your own music?

I’m not really working at the studio at all right now. I moved to Colorado and I’m working on writing songs and some other stuff, just in my basement. Music for a public art space in DC, some film, doing my own internet release maybe, some songs for Garbage or other people to do in the future, riding my mountain bike, that sort of thing. Having a family, which is next to impossible when you’re on the road. Positive things.

Garbage has a greatest hits album scheduled for release this spring. Any plans to tour with that record?

We’re working on a couple of new songs right now for the singles compilation (“hits” is a huge misnomer), and hope to get them recorded soon. We’ll be getting together in a studio somewhere in February and we’ll see if it works or not. I hope it does - I get the feeling we’re all itching to play live again - that’s really just about the most fun thing I can think of. That record will come out when we’re done doing what needs to be done to make it right. Garbage is incredibly slow at deciding anything, like what the artwork should look like. We’re playing an acoustic set in LA at the end of January for a benefit (see, which is intimidating since we haven’t played together for a year now, and I find it harder to play quietly on an acoustic guitar in front of an audience than I do when I have all the technology that we usually use. It’s so naked. Anyway, it will be a lot of fun. I hope. It’s for a dear friend of ours who was the drummer in one of the first ever bands to record at Smart Studios, called Sometimes Y. This is in the eighties. The singer Dave, who we still see sometimes, booked unknown acts like the Replacements, The Suburbs, X, REM, and U2 into a place that I worked at as a bouncer called Merlin’s in Madison, WI. But that’s another story. Anyway, it’s a benefit for Wally who was in Sometimes Y and was good enough to move to the West coast to play drums with a lot of really cool people. And, like most musicians, he has no health insurance, because that ain’t the way we roll in the U.S.A. As a nation we’re so far behind in taking care of our people’s health, it’s disgusting. Some of the Pixies are playing too, the Martinis, Freedy Johnston, and Bonnie Raitt, and others.

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