Ask A Gay Icon: Glass Battles Gets Career Advice From Shirley Manson

Glass Battles and Shirley Manson
Battles: Seng Vongphrachanh. Manson: Joseph Cultice.

Glass Battles and Shirley Manson

This Pride Month, Billboard connected queer artists with some of their musical heroes and biggest influences

How can you help LGBTQ people succeed in the music industry? One easy step: Share your networks and make introductions. So for Pride Month, Billboard is connecting queer artists with some of their musical heroes — who also happen to be major allies to the community — to get career advice.

Here, “spook-pop” singer Sean Augustine — who writes, produces and engineers music under the name Glass Battles —  gets a pep talk from Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, whose band has been working on the follow-up to 2016’s Strange Little Birds.

In music, there's often a notion that you have to sound or look a certain way in order to be well-liked. How do you keep your head above water and not fall prey to following every trend?

I don’t think of music — or the presentation of it and the self — in those terms. I don’t ascribe to the idea that if you look or even sound a certain way that people will necessarily like you. I think music tends to override selectivity. Instead, it touches the part of a human soul that responds reflexively. If you make something that you value yourself, then it might possibly be of value to someone else. There is enormous value in standing out in a crowd. The more you sound and look different from everybody else, the more unique you are. Quite honestly, it’s a no brainer. As Madonna herself once so wisely said, just express yourself. Respect yourself.

Sometimes being in this business can be really overwhelming. I often look back and wish I could shake myself and tell myself to relax. Do you have any tips for maintaining perspective and not sweating the small stuff?

If I knew how to manage anxiety, I would have discovered the holy grail. Anxiety is often a big part of being an artist, but the same could be said of being a human being in general. Once you accept that anxiety is part and parcel of life and just a trick your brain likes to play on you, then it makes handling the anxiety a whole lot easier.

My sister once gave me a really good piece of advice, which was to ask myself when experiencing a bout of anxiety whether I believed I would be worrying about whatever I was worrying about in three months. If the answer was no, then I could afford not to worry about it in general. This sounds like moronic advice, but I have utilized this logic more times than I can count, and it works every time. As for maintaining perspective, that requires humility. Some people have it, others do not.

I'm in an industry that can be significantly more challenging for those who aren't white men. Are there ways I can use my privilege to make sure I'm not adding to the problem and instead uplifting the women and other marginalized groups around me who have been so important to my development as an artist and an adult?

This is such an important question and one unfortunately I am not educated enough to answer adequately. Despite the fact that I am not a white man in a white patriarchal industry, I am still a white cis woman and therefore privileged beyond measure. There are so many people in our society, never mind specifically the music industry, who are marginalized, penalized and discriminated against. I think we need to spend more time asking this kind of question of those who are marginalized by the industry and society in general. They are the experts. They have the answers. It is them we should be listening to and their advice we should be following. So I guess to your question, I’d say we must try our best to give a platform to those who struggle to find one. We need to take our cue from them on how best we do that. Meanwhile, donate to their work, buy their work, amplify their work, support their work.

What are some authors that have inspired you and your work the way JT LeRoy has? Do you have any recommendations?

Janice Galloway, Michael Ondaatje, Philip Roth, Michael Chabon, Yoko Ono, James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, Azar Nafisi, Ocean Vuong and Anne Sexton.

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