Kerrang, July '98

Midnight Rambler by Kevan Roberts

In the past year, Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan had kicked hard drugs, quit Seattle and made his third solo LP - the first album in a decade he can actually remember recording. Even more remarkably, he insists that his bandmates have stopped hitting each other on a daily basis.

Mark Lanegan is lucky to be alive. He admits, with a helpless shrug of his shoulders and a matter-of-fact look on his face, that by rights he should be six feet under by now. And no one with even a cursory knowledge of the troubled, up-and-down career of the Screaming Trees' mercurial frontman would've been the least bit surprised if he'd joined the 'stupid club'.
"Sometimes I'm completely amazed that I made it through," Lanegan says of the past decade. Most of his favorite singer are dead - Tim Hardin, Tim Buckley. Most of his friends, too - Kurt Cobain, The Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce. he pauses, takes a deep nreath and a long chug on his coffee, and lights the first in a long line of non-filter cigarettes. "I'm just glad I survived, you know. I really am."
Those things will kill you.
He looks up, peers through narrow eyes and smiles wryly. Then he inhales deeply and chuckles. "I guess you're right," he grin, blowing smoke into the gloomy Seattle afternoon.
Up until nine moths ago, Mark's on-off relationship with heroin had taken him to hell and back. By most people's standards, he doesn't look too good today. Wrapping his arms around his body and curling up into his chair to escape the bite of the cold wind whipping through the city's Freemont neighborhood - he looks pale and drawn, his eyes are heavy from lack of sleep and his face sports two-days' growth, he looks like he could use a wash, a change of clothes and a good meal. But crucially, by his own past standards, he is the picture of health.
Lanegan's no longer a resident of Seattle and he's flown up from his new home in Pasadina, California - where he's been living since his last spell in rehab - to chat about his stunning new album Scraps At Midnight. Lanegan's third solo effort in nine years, after 1989's 'The Winding Sheet' and 1993's 'Whiskey For The Holy Ghost', it's a passionate, soul-searing collection which is notable for being the first record in a decade that he can actually remember making.
Kerrang!: How did making 'Scraps at Midnight' compare to previous albums you've done?
Mark Lanegan: "It's been a long time since I've made a record this way, completely clean and sober and it was a fuck of a lot easier to do, I can tell you. There's been times - too many, I guess - when to me making a record has been about as easy as having teeth pulled. And that's the result of being too loaded, fucked-up or whatever. Sometimes writing songs has been too much like hard work - like going to scholl or a job, two experiences I've never much cared for. But this was a good time with people that I care about, and people that care about me. It was fun. Well, kinda...
"It all came together really fast. I just had a short amount of time available when I could do it, and it was all written and recorded in less than two weeks. It was a very collaborative effort between myself and Mike Johnson (ex-Dinosaur Jr.). I didn't have any songs ready when we went into the studio, and Mike had just a couple ideas he was messing around with. As a result of that, the recording of this album was like no other I've ever done. Working with the Trees is always a lot more involved because there's essentially four songwriters in the band, so that has to be taken into consideration. On previous solo albums, I've always felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants to an extent. But this album was so relaxed and unstructured.
"The studio we used - Rancho De La Luna - is in joshua Tree national park, where there are no distractions whatspever. It's a really peaceful, beautiful place, and I think that helped influence the overall sound of the album."
K!: Do you find somgwriting a difficult process?
Mark: "It usually depends on my physical and mental state. This was actually my second attempt at a follow-up to 'Whiskey...'; I'd already recorded another album which just didn't work out so I scrapped it. And I'm already working on a new album. We originally went back to the studio to record some cover songs - a few old soul tracks - for British B-sides, but it went so well we started recording new material as well.
It ceratinly helps when you're working with someone as talented as Mike Johnson, or Keni Richards who also plays on the album, Mike pretty much wrote all the music on 'Scraps...'."
K!: How would you compare 'Scraps...' to 'The Winding Sheet' and 'Whiskey For The Holy Ghost'?
Mark: "I have no idea, as I don't think I've listened to those albums since I recorded them. Nor any of the Trees stuff either. It's just a mental ass-beating to do so. Not so much because I end up picking faults or hearing things that I could have done better, but just by the time you're through with an album you've heard it so often that you don't really need to listen to it again. Not that I don't like the records either, it's just not that interesting for me to hear myself. I'd rather ilisten to something I haven't already heard.
"I really don't remember too much at all about the making of 'The Winding Sheet', except that (famed grunge producer) Jack Endino thought it would be a good idea. I thought it was a pretty whacky idea, to tell the truth. That the record was ever made is a testament to jack; it was only with much prodding and persuasion that he managed to keep me in the studio for the four days it took to do. With 'Whiskey...' it was completely different: that album seemed to take years to get made and I was completely out of my mind on it. We tried a million different studios and a million different guys."
K!: Are you planning to tour in support of 'Scraps...'?
Mark: "I'm just glad the album is done and that it's coming out. Although I'm sure my record company (SubPop) really won't want ot hear it, I don't think anything I ever lend my name to is going to sell millions - though obviously it'd be nice if it did! I just want to make good records. Ones that I'd want to listen to - if I could bear to hear myself, that is. I was supposed to be playing a few live dates with (REM guitarist's side band) Tuatara but that's been cancelled, so my first shows may well be in the UK and Europe later in the summer. I've got a couple of festival dates in Europe pencilled in for August and I'm hoping to play a few smaller shows before that in the UK."
K!: Have you ever had pressure put on you to write a 'hit'?
Mark: "I've had people tell me they didn't hear a single on a Trees record and I've just thought, 'Every one of those songs is a single in my world, so f**k you!'."
K!: There was considerable speculation that the 'Dust' tour would be Screaming Trees last. What does the future hold for the band?
Mark: "Well, we just left Epic (punches the air in triumph) and we all want to do another record, so it will happen. We're talking to some labels at the moment, and once that's been sorted out we can take the time to get together and start work. I'm also doing this other solo album and some stuff with Tuatara, and then there's the Disinformation (formerly Mad Season) album as well, so I'm pretty busy - and for all the right reasons, for once! We're going to get the Trees back together again for a show at the Bumbershoot here in Seattle in August, which should be fun as it'll have been quite a while since we've played by then. I wouldn't say we'll always be together, but for as long as we all want to, then, yes, there'll be a Screaming trees.
"It's harder now; Gary Lee (Conner, guitarist) has lived on the east coast for the past few years and I'm in California, so we really don't see each other that often. But we're no longer in each other's pockets, so the tension that causes isn't really there anymore."
K!: The popular image of the Screaming Trees is of an all-drinking, all-fighting, four-man time bomb. Discuss.
Mark: "We have fought a lot in the past, but we're all getting older now so it's not as frequent as it once was. But yes, we have been known to rumble..."
K!: Are these physical or verbal rumbles?
Mark: "Well. we certainly never give warnings before we crack each other. We just strike and - BOOM! - it all goes off. There have been several times where we've all gotten into it and it's not anything I'd recommend - though it would make for a pretty good pay-per-view event! When the serious stuff blows up it usually doesn't involve me - in the physical fighting, at least. It's most likely to be instigated by one of the brothers (Gary Lee and bassist Van Conner) and man, I'd have to be stupid to get into it with one of the big guys. Or even try to break them up - they'd probably break my back!
"The best fight I remember from recent history would have been during the 'Dust' album sessions. I wasn't in the room for it, but it was Barrett (martin, drums) and one of the brothers against the other. I just heard stuff falling over. I think they even managed to break a fridge as they were grappling - they just hammered into it and knocked it flying."
K!: And how would you describe Mark Lanegan today?
Mark: "I'm doing great, I really am. I moved to Pasadena, which is a strange place to live ater spending so much time in Seattle, but it's good for me. It's always sunny!"

He finishes his coffee, shakes hands, and marches off around the corner. And you could swear there's a spring in his step as he goes.