When Garbage premiered on MTV in 1995 with snarling guitars, an electronic undercurrent, and a kitten-with-claws-out frontwoman in Shirley Manson, it was the proud antithesis of the masculine grunge and alt-rock that constituted the bulk of rock radio.
“I wanted to make something sonically different than the records I’d produced with Nirvana or Sonic Youth or Smashing Pumpkins,” says drummer Butch Vig, who produced many ’90s alt-rock classics before he started Garbage. “Steve (Marker) and I fell in love with Public Enemy and they used samplers. Even Shirley’s vocals went through samplers so we could chop them up. We wanted to make something different at the time.”
For Kristin Kontrol, who opens for Garbage Saturday at the Fillmore, Garbage, and Manson in particular, were a revelation.
“She was maybe my first true icon,” says Kontrol (a.k.a. Kristin Welchez, former leader of indie girl group throwback Dum Dum Girls). “She was my first concert. My dad took me. It was ’95. It was a really big deal. We drove an hour to get there. I took my best friend. He let us go to the front of the stage.”
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She doesn’t remember a lot of details except the end of the show.
“There was a moment where Shirley put on a guitar and everybody except Butch came up and made a line at the front of the stage. To 12-year-old me it was the most powerful thing,” she recalls.
Garbage’s signature roaring guitar parts, rippling beats, and Manson’s presence remain 21 years later, yet the group is still doing its own thing even if that means breaking out of said thing.
The group’s sixth album, “Strange Little Birds,” is a brooding slow burner that - although it definitely sounds like Garbage – is different than previous albums.
“We tried to capture the freeform headspace we made our debut album with,” says Vig of the self-titled 1995 album that included hits “Only Happy When It Rains” and “Queer.” “We made that album with no expectations. We weren’t going to tour, had no long-term plans. We tried to capture that again with ‘Strange Little Birds.’”
The subdued sound wasn’t exactly what they expected.
“We realized we were making a really dark album. We took out more of the rock n’ roll (elements) and relied on cinematic sounds and vintage synthesizers,” explains Vig.
Restraint wasn’t necessarily easy.
“(Guitarist) Duke (Erikson) and Steve and I like to become lab rats and try different keyboards and loops. We wanted to leave the arrangements more spare and open in some sections (this time),” Vig continues. “For some reason that’s harder for us to do. We like to paint all these layers of sounds in the music. We forced ourselves not to do that and that’s one of the reasons the record sounds the way it does.”
Garbage’s is on its second act having taken an extended absence before 2012’s “Not Your Kind of People.” The group may not sell as many records as it did in 1995, but won’t knock evolution.
Kristin Kontrol is the result of similar growth on Welchez’s part.
Since 2008 Welchez helmed indie favorite Dum Dum Girls under the guise of Dee Dee Dum Dum. When her songwriting started to outgrow the perceived style of the black-clad all-girl ’60s rock throwback, it became evident she’d become trapped by her own creation.
“I was still on the trajectory I’ve always been on, trying to improve as a songwriter and trying to consistently expand the sound. I reached this point with my last record I where I realized Dum Dum Girls had become an archetype that I was no longer steering or defining,” she explains.
She worried the eclectic record she’d written with its electronic pop, reggae-tinged rock, and new wave goth, would only be heard through DDG’s sonic lens.
“If I put this record out as Dum Dum Girls it wouldn’t be viewed on its own merits. It wouldn’t be listened to objectively. I felt like I no longer had the power to say, ‘This is a Dum Dum Girls’ record and this is what I want it to sound like,’” says Welchez, who even changed her look.
Dee Dee’s face was shielded behind dark glasses and heavy bangs. Welchez face is entirely visible for the first time on “X-Communicate,” her Kristin Kontrol debut.
“Opening up the sound is as exciting as opening up the visual. The archetype and template was really strong musically and aesthetically. That started feeling one dimensional to some degree,” she says. “But I’m still going to be wearing all black if you see me walking down the street.”
It’s a path the fiery Manson would undoubtedly approve of. Welchez is hoping to learn a few things from her pre-teen idol on the road.
“Something she exuded then and still has is a sharpness and intellect that you don’t see very often,” Welchez says. “It’s a really particular thing.”
“I was wallflower, I had a lot of self-esteem and self-confidence issues,” she reflects on her starry-eyed 12-year-old self. “She was a bad ass and she still is. I feel like this tour is like going to school.”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Fillmore, 1000 NC Music Factory Blvd.