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Wisconsin band Garbage coming home to the Rave

Steve Marker (from left), Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig make up Garbage.

Steve Marker (from left), Shirley Manson, Duke Erikson and Butch Vig make up Garbage.

After long hiatus, alternative rock quartet on tour with new CD

If it had to rain during a band's homecoming performance, it might as well have happened to Garbage. After all, the Madison-born alternative rock quartet's most famous song is called "Only Happy When It Rains."

"It was unfortunate," guitarist Steve Marker said of the weather during the group's outdoor performance last August in Madison, Garbage's first hometown show since going on hiatus in 2005.

"But it was amazing, overwhelming. Seeing a couple hundred people we haven't seen in a while, who are or used to be good friends, it was like a family reunion in a way."

Garbage began touring around the world last year behind "Not Your Kind of People," its fifth studio album and first since 2005. The band was even in Siberia this year. But Garbage had yet to return to Milwaukee, which at one point was practically a second home for Marker, drummer Butch Vig and bassist Duke Erikson, the only band member who still lives in Madison.

"I spent almost 15 years (before Garbage) driving around in a (expletive) van, and Duke and Butch had bands that played in Milwaukee probably once a month for years and years," said the Colorado-based Marker.

Now, after nearly eight years, Garbage is returning to Milwaukee on Saturday to perform at the Eagles Ballroom at the Rave.

"Milwaukee has always been totally exciting for us to play," Marker said. "We always get busloads of people from Madison and have lots of family in Milwaukee. My wife's family is there. It's like coming home."

A Smart Studios move

By the time Garbage had formed in 1994, Vig was already established. Before Garbage, the Viroqua native had played drums with Erikson in his bands Spooner and Fire Town in the '70s and '80s, and in 1983, Vig and Marker opened their own recording facility, Smart Studios, in Madison.

Less than a decade later, Vig was one of the hottest producers in the world, thanks to his work on two seminal alternative rock albums of the '90s: the Smashing Pumpkins' "Gish" and Nirvana's "Nevermind."

"At that time, labels were crazy about the idea of remixes of singles, and because Butch's profile had been raised up so high, we had all this work in the studio remixing U2 and Nine Inch Nails and Robert Plant," Marker said. "It was so much fun, and from that grew the idea of, 'Why don't we do this with our own artists?' We needed a singer to do that, and we virtually lucked into finding someone."

That someone was Shirley Manson, a Scottish musician whom Vig, Marker and Erikson knew from the band Angelfish. The band recorded its self-titled debut album at Smart and played its second show Nov. 6, 1995, at Shank Hall in Milwaukee.

"It was kind of a train wreck," Marker recalled. "We spent a year in the studio making the album, but (for the live show) there was a lot of technology we didn't have a handle on yet."

But Garbage was onto something with its mix of gritty grunge elements with electronic gloss and big pop hooks, and the album ended up going double platinum in the United States alone.

Flash forward to 2005, and Garbage had sold more than 13 million albums, earned a Grammy nod for album of the year for 1997's "Version 2.0" and recorded the theme song for a James Bond movie.

But after four albums and four tours, everyone in the band was "just exhausted," Vig recalled.

"Part of it was from being in each other's faces every day, and it . . . felt like nobody cared, and there was a lot of negativity floating around."

Garbage abruptly pulled the plug on a European tour, and Vig thought Garbage would take a break for two years. But two years became several, during which time Vig started raising a family and producing full time.

Funeral for a young friend

In 2009, Garbage began to take shape again from tragedy: the death of Pablo Castelaz, the 6-year-old son of Milwaukee native (and recently appointed Elektra Records president) Jeff Castelaz, from a rare form of cancer.

"Jeff is a good friend of ours. He lives five blocks from my house" in Los Angeles, Vig said. "At (Pablo's) funeral, Shirley sang a Bowie song, and it was unbelievably heartbreaking. Shirley and I and other friends were sitting around talking, and it felt like we had some unfinished business, and we realized how precious life is and how important music has been in our lives.

"We said, 'Maybe we should call Duke and Steve and come together and write some songs.' A week later we were in the studio recording in L.A."

"I remember the first day I showed up to record, not knowing whether it would work or not," Erikson recalled. "I remember walking up the stairs to a lounge, and they all looked up at me, and I looked at them, and we all started laughing. We sat down, drank a couple bottles of wine, reminisced, laughed a lot and wrote (the 'Not Your Kind of People') track 'Battle in Me' that day. We were pretty sure at that point we were going to be OK."

Some things were different, though. Aside from some of Erikson's parts, the band didn't record at Smart Studios, which closed in 2010.

"Initially, I was really bummed," Vig said. "But looking back, I can't feel that bad. The future is upon us."

"It felt the same way it did on the first record," Erikson added. "We didn't really know what we were doing and didn't really care. We just went for it, and that sense of being open to any possibility is very liberating."

Things are going so well that the band plans to make another album. And no matter where Garbage goes from here, the band will continue to appreciate where it came from.

"One thing about Wisconsin is it was always so supportive and totally noncynical, and people were just happy for you and really happy for your success," Marker said.

"That whole atmosphere let us all take the time to figure out what it is we wanted to do and grow and have some success. It would not have happened anywhere else."


Who: Garbage with Io Echo

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Eagles Ballroom, the Rave, 2401 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Tickets: $30 to $120 at the box office, (414) 342-7283 and

© 2013, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.

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