Under the Influence: Shirley Manson

Garbage's ever-outspoken frontwoman presents a personal guide to ten essential albums by her favourite female vocalists

Feature by Dave Kerr | 29 Jun 2012

1. Siouxsie and the Banshees – The Scream (1978)

The first female artist that really blew me out the water was Siouxsie Sioux. I used to hang out with two other girls and we hung out with older boys who came from a different school than us. These boys were basically responsible for introducing us to a whole load of incredibly cool records like London Calling by The Clash at the same time as Dirk Wears White Sox by early Adam and the Ants and then The Scream by Siouxsie and the Banshees. I just fell insanely in love with that band – Siouxsie Sioux has remained a touchstone for me throughout my career and is still inspiring to me. I loved everything about the fact that she was in a band, she was a writer, that she sang completely differently from everybody else, that she was rebellious and intelligent and incredibly articulate. I still think The Scream holds up as a fantastic example of post-punk fury. I’ve met her and was invited to write the foreword to their biography; that was a huge honour. I’m in complete awe of her.

2. Patti Smith Group – Wave (1979)

I was in a band myself by the point I heard this – an Edinburgh band called Goodbye Mr McKenzie. I used to date Martin Metcalfe, who was the lead singer of that band. He basically gave me my musical education; he introduced me to Patti Smith and this record. I’d never heard anything quite like it before, it felt sort of androgynous to me in a way. I found it intriguing, mysterious…she’s another person whose been my lifelong inspiration. When I met her I burst into tears! She’s an incredibly serene individual; she’s very powerful. She’s never really compromised herself in any way, shape or form. As a result, she’s very pure. She still holds a lot of mystery, in a way, as an artist. I love the fact that she doesn’t just make music – she takes photographs; she makes films; she writes books; she writes poetry – she just won’t be confined by anybody’s expectations, criticisms or observations. She just does whatever the fuck she wants. I find that inspiring.

3. The Cocteau Twins – Head Over Heels (1983)

Martin Metcalfe introduced me to the Cocteaus too, around about the same time; one of my all-time favourite bands and I probably want them played at my funeral, y’know, to see me out of the world. Again, they’ve stayed with me. The fact that they were Scottish too really had a big impact on me. For some reason I thought ‘if they can make music, so can I’ and ‘if she can sing, so can I.’ They are unique, timeless and they make incredibly beautiful music. Liz Fraser’s one of the greatest, most inventive singers I’ve ever heard in any genre. Her fragility is what I find so mesmerizing. Head Over Heels was the first album I became obsessed with, but their first five are exquisite.  

4. PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love (1995)

Well then, after a few years of being introduced to music by different forces, I started religiously buying NME, Melody Maker and Sounds – I was obsessed by music papers. It’s all I ever read, I poured over them and I discovered the incomparable PJ Harvey through those three music papers. She was my first discovery on my own, so to speak. I just have immense respect for her; she was somehow incredibly sexual at the same time as being untouchable and impenetrable. I loved the fact that she embodied a sort of threatening, powerful sexuality that I’d never seen before, and had this incredible voice and was this great guitar player. She was the whole thing. I was incredibly jealous of her and still am. I think she’s a genius. I'd just started touring America at the point To Bring You My Love came out and had it on continual play, so I associate this album with getting out into the world and making music. She and Flood – his production style and her talent, her voice and all the instrumentation on that record – they managed to paint something almost like a Cormac McCarthy novel, that’s what it felt like to me. I don’t think you can really fail with any of her records. I don’t think she’s made a bad one – ever.

5.  Hole – Live Through This (1994)

This will be an unpopular choice, probably. It’s the voice of complete rage and rebellion – female rebellion. To me that’s a touchstone record for any girl that’s interested in starting a band and kicking against the pricks. It’s a perfect record. I know she's a very polarizing figure and gets a lot of flack, Courtney, but at her height there’s never been a greater female rock star ever – as threatening, challenging and provocative. She'll be the last one standing.

6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever To Tell (2003)

My favourite contemporary female rock star would be Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I’d also suggest that any girl looking to start a band check out this record. Joe Levy and Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone in the US had said to me ‘Oh, we’ve heard this band, you’re gonna love them, you’re gonna die!’ They sent me a copy of that first EP that had Bang, Mystery Girl and Art Star on it through the post; I put it on the car stereo and just went away into some weird other world. I became obsessed with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and obsessed by her. She’s just an incredible rock star. In any other given age – if she’d come out in the 1960s she’d be treated like a precious artefact. She’s just incredible at what she does; she’s inspiring, energizing, she has great taste – she makes great records.  

7. Björk – Debut (1993)

I loved The Sugarcubes and still have all these original singles of theirs on vinyl; I think Birthday was the first time I ever heard Björk sing. But then when she released Debut, that was quite amazing. It was incredibly sophisticated; to me, she was the first artist that managed to create a new and exciting sound out of new wave and post-punk using a lot of the sort of beats that were coming out of the dance world at the time. It’s a very modern sounding record, still to this day. Debut was exquisite, just a perfectly curated record with incredible visuals – all her videos were perfect. She’s a master at what she does.

8. Peaches – Fatherfucker (2003)

The record I'd pick is Fatherfucker, but when Peaches first came out with The Teaches of Peaches, she really caught everybody off-guard and has since probably influenced every hip-hop artist in America. All these highbrow producers who are making records for lesser artists than she have ripped her off for the last decade and she's gotten no kudos for it whatsoever. You can hear her influence on so many records; she is a bonafide original and I really admire her. I think she’s brave, curious and irreverent – I can’t say enough good things about her. As an artist and as a person, she’s an amazing girl. Without dragging any names through the muck, everybody else has taken what she did with those two records, watered them down and made insane amounts of money off her ideas.

9. Sinéad O'ConnorI Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990)

This is a perfect record from start to finish. Sinéad is another original; there’s no one like her – there never will be. Her newest record was also incredible, but she’s come out at a time where nobody’s interested in hearing from anyone who isn’t under the age of 20, who isn’t making nursery rhymes fit for radio. I don’t know what’s going on with her, but she struggles, clearly – she’s fragile. Unfortunately the music industry, as it is right now, does not have any time for anyone who is fragile. She’s rarely given any radio play, but her voice is still perfect, beautiful, soulful… I think she’s a jewel but we’ve trampled all over her because she’s a hot mess. But she makes amazing records, and this one – her second – is an incredible display of modern folk music. Great storytelling; exquisite voice, and she looked and sounded like an angel.

10. Marianne Faithfull Broken English (1979)

I could finish with Broken English by Marianne Faithfull for a million different reasons; there's some great songwriting on there. To me, a song like Why D’Ya Do It is similar to 212 by Azealia Banks – it’s just that they came out at a different time. It’s the same venom, the same irreverence, the same determination to turn the tables upside down. There’s some classic songs on that record, and you forget that songs like that and the title track were her songs.

Garbage play Barrowlands, Glasgow on 4 July http://www.garbage.com