No Gods No Masters

“This is our seventh record, the significant numerology of which affected the DNA of its content: the seven virtues, the seven sorrows, and the seven deadly sins,” says Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson of the band’s ferocious new album No Gods No Masters and its twists and turns from capitalism and lust to loss and grief. “It was our way of trying to make sense of how fucking nuts the world is and the astounding chaos we find ourselves in. It’s the record we felt that we had to make at this time.”

Since releasing their eponymous debut album in 1995, Garbage has blazed a unique sonic trail, garnering critical acclaim and amassing a passel of hits as well as seven Grammy nominations along the way to 17 million albums sold.

No Gods No Masters is a big, bold and indignant record – overtly political and socially charged in a way that the band has not been before. Its songs touch on themes ranging from global unrest and encroaching climate change (“The Men Who Rule the World”) to the Black Lives Matter movement (“Waiting For God”), to the Me Too movement, sexism and misogyny.

“These were times I felt that, as a human being, we had to really pay attention,” says Manson, a singular artist whose skill and outspokenness have made her a true force in music since she first began recording over three decades ago as well as an icon who continues to influence today’s newest generation of musicians. “We had been touring the world and I’d started to see this frightening rise of racism and fascism. And, of course, I was acutely aware of what was going on in Britain with Brexit and in America with Trump. So, I was on high alert, and I felt that had

to somehow make its way into the record. We couldn’t just sit there and make a party record at this time in our lives.”

Her bandmates Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig were in complete agreement. “We’ve never been a political band at least as far as our music goes,” says Erikson. “But this whole situation in the last four years had become so intense and so all-consuming, it was just hard to ignore it.”

What resulted is the perfect soundtrack for this fraught moment from a band that has been making its unique mark for nearly 30 years – a record that could only have come from the intimate relationship between musicians who have matured and grown together over the course of their careers. Like the writers of the Lost Generation, they’ve taken to art to make sense of a world in turmoil.

Ask the four members of Garbage what the secret to their longevity is and you’ll get four different answers. But common themes thread the members’ various theories: love, humor, kindness, the space to be themselves and, as Marker quips, “Lots of wine.”

The root of the group’s organizing principle, however, is evident in every fiercely felt second of No Gods No Masters: alchemy. No one makes music like these four people when they get together, and they need each other to do it.

“I pinch myself every time we start a record because I feel Garbage has always been such a great creative palette for all of us,” says Vig, who first melded musical minds with fellow Midwesterners Erikson and Marker in the ‘80s before they invited Scotswoman Manson to join the circus in 1994. “We have a sound I can’t even articulate, but it’s a pretty wide horizon—electronica, punk rock, orchestral music, pop songs and fuzzy guitar riffs. We’ve blended all those things together, so we’ve never been a one-dimensional sounding band.”

That expansiveness of musical vision continues on No Gods No Masters which radiates with a burning sense of purpose both lyrically and musically. The 11-track collection is by turns brutal and beautiful, a celebration of the sonic maelstrom and a triumph of silence —sometimes within the space of a single song.

It is sorrowful lamentations (“Waiting For God”) and fidgety confessions (“Uncomfortably Me”), romantic vengeance (“A Woman Destroyed”) and the firm planting of tongue in cheek (“Godhead”). It features some of the most nuanced melodies and piercing vocals Manson has ever committed to tape, swirling around and atop some of most intricate and enticing layers of architectural soundscapes ever constructed by the band. In short, it is Garbage, continuing to practice its brand of magic in which the meeting of four minds from two continents manifests a singular sensibility that, since 1995, has become both iconic and inimitable.

The seeds were planted in summer 2018 in the desert in Palm Springs. The quartet convened at a home belonging to one of Marker’s relatives and sketched out the skeleton of the album over two weeks, jamming, experimenting and feeling the songs out. They then took those demos and went their separate ways to tinker a bit before reconvening in the Los Angeles studio of engineer (and Manson’s husband) Billy Bush. “We finished our last day of proper recording together as a band March 15, 2020, right before we went into lockdown,” says Vig.

Almost eerily, he notes, certain lyrics seem to presage the pandemic or comment on the social unrest of 2020, even though the songs were written prior to both. “When I was listening to the record as we were mixing it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is sort of about right now,’” says Vig, still a bit incredulous at the band’s prescience.

All four members are itching to return to the stage to test drive No Gods No Masters, although, in true Garbage form, they piled so many layers and textures into the songs they’re not sure how they’re going to recreate it live. “I’m glad it’s coming out now because I do feel like that the album is very much about the world that we live in at this moment,” says Vig. “I wish we could start touring right when the record drops.”

Ultimately, the band members feel revitalized by No Gods No Masters. “This is a record I was supposed to make,” says Manson. “And I can’t say I’ve always felt that about every record we’ve ever made. I really was clear in my intent and my purpose. And I’m really proud of that. It’s a complex record. Lord only knows what the fans will think, but for me, personally, it’s immensely satisfying.”

Cut by Cut

The Men Who Rule the World

“We knew that that had to be the lead off track,” says Vig of the dynamic opener that kicks off all textured keyboard edges and hard guitar angles before pivoting to woozy grooves. “There are other songs on the record that are probably hookier, maybe more radio friendly, but this just set the tone. Shirley’s not stepping back, man. She’s throwing punches.” Indeed, Manson excoriates greed and those who commit crimes against nature and humanity while envisioning a sort of dystopian Biblical tale. “One of my guests on my podcast was George Clinton,” says Manson of part of the song’s surprising inspiration. “I had just come from speaking with him and I was thinking more about the Mothership, and how that represented for me at this time in our culture of Noah’s Ark, wanting to save everything that’s beautiful and worth saving and destroying anything that’s not. It’s a plea for a different way of thinking and treating each other. This is as close as I’d ever get to a protest song.”

The Creeps

“This really did happen to me,” says Manson of the story recounted in the skittering, frenetic track about a drive she took in Los Angeles over a decade ago. “I was at a very, very low point in my career. We had just been dropped by Interscope Records and I felt like a piece of shit. I was 40 years old, and thought, ‘There is no way in hell I’m going to be able to get up from this. This is a death blow. For a woman in a very competitive industry, I’m fucked.’ I was driving along Los Feliz Blvd. and I looked to my right, and there was a life-sized poster of me being sold on a garage sale, for something like 15 bucks. It was just so humiliating. It’s literally a sign,” she says with a chuckle. The lyrics lay dormant for 12 years until finally finding a home here. “I’ve always wanted to use them, because it really signifies a moment in my life when I really dug deep and realized, ‘You know what? Fuck this shit. I’m coming back up. I will not be told that I have to leave the room like I used to be when I was a small child. I will do what I want to do. And I want to make music, and I want to be an artist, and I want to fight.’”

Uncomfortably Me

Manson calls this deceptively tranquil paean to outsiderdom “probably one of the more vulnerable songs that we’ve ever recorded, and it was born out of a jam session in Palm Springs. We were drinking these cocktails our engineer, my husband, would make for us, which were nicknamed Mind Erasers. I drank around three of them —which is really ill-advised— by the time we finished writing the song. It’s my most unguarded self.” Her bandmates can relate to her misfit self-perception. “That’s how I feel most of the time still,” says Marker. “If I’m getting a coffee in Silver Lake somewhere I’m usually like ‘I’m not cool enough to be in here. I should’ve just gone to Starbucks.’”


With a clatter and strum and fuzz for days, this track, a defiant apology of sorts, is one the band is looking forward to playing live. “This song reminds me of my younger self, when there were two sides to my personality,” says Manson recalling the old folklore tale about dueling inner wolves. “I hurt so many people in my life, both knowingly and unknowingly, I’m sure. But when you’re young and in self-survival mode, much like a baby rattlesnake, you have no idea how strong your venom is. But it has the power to kill. You’re just out there having fun. This song is an ode to that idea of: Who are you going to be? Are you going to be a cunt, or are you going to be a good force in the world? This is the pop song off the record.”

Waiting For God

The emotional centerpiece of the album features some of Manson’s most stunning vocals and a palette of sounds that mirror the song’s claustrophobic melancholia. “This is the most important song on the entire record by a mile,” says Manson of the track that acknowledges police killings and racism. “I cried when I recorded it, I cry whenever I play it for anybody. It’s talking about something that nobody wants to talk about. It stuns me that white people are not engaged enough in the struggle for black, brown, indigenous people, disabled people, trans people.” The track, Manson says, “was written almost completely within about five minutes up in Palm Springs, and it’s self-explanatory, of course, in protest of ongoing, unchecked racism. And I couldn’t in good conscious not write about the black struggle on this record. At this time, it would be, for me, obscene.”


“This song speaks to the frustration women, trans women and non-binary people feel about the male ego always being centered by society,” says Manson. “It’s tongue in cheek but it is definitely examining how the male self is centered in everything—starting even with religion.”

Anonymous XXX

“We originally wanted to write a song inspired by Roxy Music,” says Manson of the vibey, trip-hop inflected track about, well, anonymous sex. “As we worked on it, we were trying to incorporate some Roxy, like there’s the sax and some of the keyboard sounds,” adds Vig. “Steve kept doing these guitar riffs, which to me sounded like Talking Heads and so I started thinking about records like Remain in Light that just have these amazing grooves. We’re channeling a lot of different influences, but I think it still sounds like Garbage.”

A Woman Destroyed

“I’m so delighted by this song, because for the first time in my life, I woke up, and I had dreamed a song,” says Manson of this deliciously sinister revenge tale in which the narrator warns her target to lock the doors, get a guard dog and leave the lights on ‘cause she is coming for him. “It was the first day of recording and everybody was milling around the studio and I was like, ‘I have a song… but it’s all in my head.’ And they looked at me like I was mad. ‘So I’m going to have to describe it, and you’re going to paint it for me.’” And that’s exactly what happened. Manson detailed each element, from menacing string sounds to the various grooves, until her cohorts had sculpted her mood. “It was something that came to me unconsciously. But then when we were finished with the song, I realized it was inspired by hurt, by my never abating desire for revenge and the Persian film A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night by Ana Lilly Amirpour. It’s beautiful, and it really left an impression on me.”

Flipping the Bird

“I have been doing a podcast and I left the studio one afternoon to go interview Liz Phair,” recalls Manson of the inspiration for this cathartic rocker. “We just connected really deeply, and I went back to the studio, and the band were working on this track. And I just was like, ‘I’ve got an idea.’ And I went in and I tried to take Liz’s approach, whilst writing. I deliberately lowered my voice so that it was barely within my range. I didn’t really think about it. I was just trying to evoke Liz Phair, and this song popped out, and I fucking love it.”

No Gods No Masters

“I tried to make sense of the world,” says Manson of the title track. “I was trying to make sense of left and right, literally. Like why do some people vote right? Why do some people vote left? And all of that comes from a concern for ourselves, for our friends, for our families, ultimately, for our babies. I was really inspired by going to Chile. I went to Santiago during the protests there, which were profoundly moving. We were driving down the street, and the whole city was covered in graffiti, like all the old museums and palaces. And I was shocked. The beautiful people that I was with said, ‘But why are you so shocked? We’re protesting human lives and you’re more shocked that property and buildings and monuments have been hurt here. And, in fact, human beings are being hurt, and this is what you must focus on.’ That was like a slap in the face.” Manson tied that awakening to the confederate statues being toppled in the U.S. and how the hand-wringing overshadowed the real struggles of the marginalized in society. “All these people, they have more value than a monument to slave traders, but they don’t have more value in the consciousness of society, and I think it’s devilish and obscene, and I want power to be dismantled, and a society re-imagined. So, this song is about re-imagining our society for the future, for our children and not making the same mistakes over and over again and allowing greed to corrupt our thinking.”

This City Will Kill You

“This is probably one of the most sort of ambitious songs that we’ve done just from an arrangement standpoint because there’s no verse-chorus structure to the song,” says Vig of the album’s gauzy, slow-motion closer. “The sections flow into each other. There are a few lines that Shirl repeats throughout the song, but sometimes even when she repeats them, the music has changed completely.”

While Manson had thought she was writing “a beautiful love song to Los Angeles,” she says that “it took a very dark turn somewhere.” “It’s such a triumph for me of songwriting. It’s the most sophisticated piece of music I think we’ve ever written. It feels very cinematic and I’m always surprised by what comes next. It’s not really directly about anything specific other than the things that destroy us as human beings. It’s just about loss and survival.” In other words, a song perfect for this moment.

For more information, please contact Krista Williams, Colin Lodewick or Carla Sacks 212.741.1000 at Sacks & Co.