Beat Magazine Interview (www.beat.com.au)
I remember the first time I spoke to Mark Lanegan. It was 1989 and I was planning the big first overseas holiday. Screaming Trees had already been around for a number of years by then, but were still new for me. I'd rung up their record company in the States hoping I could find out any of the band's live dates and co-ordinate my trip accordingly. The guy on the phone, Chris Takino, went one further and actually got their vocalist Mark (hitherto a blurry form on the record sleeves) on a party line. I was stoked. I said I worked in a record shop in Melbourne, and Mark told me his girlfriend liked Painters and Dockers, and other small talk. He was nice. Really nice. He seemed genuinely gratified, if a little mystified that someone in Australia not only knew of the band, but cared enough to search them out. Because of that conversation not only did I get to see the Trees play live (at Soundgarden's Seattle album launch gig with Tad also on the bill), but Lanegan had earned a career-long fan. (Takino, by the way, went onto work closely with Lanegan throughout his solo career).
Fast forward to now. There's been a lot of water and various other substances under metaphoric bridges. I have seen him stagger out of his room with Courtney Love and Ministry's Al Jourgensen holding an arm each, barely keeping him (or themselves) upright. I have him on the phone again, under different circumstances. He has his fifth solo album to promote, the beautifully melancholy Field Songs, and is doing the publicity rounds. He's not very talkative at first, then warms up displaying the wry humour and charm that, perhaps surprisingly, still resides in him below the serious countenance. He still has me captivated.
How you doin'.
(I gush a bunch of gibberish about how wonderful he is, sounding no doubt like a psychotic fan. I don't expect him to remember me, and am not surprised when he doesn't.)
Is this a legitimate interview for somebody?
(I explain my bona fides.)
(He sounds convinced, sort of.) What are the other Trees up to at the moment?
Van (Connor) the bass player has a new band called Valis. Besides that I'm not sure. I'm sure they have great jobs.
Do you have a great job?
I've been making records and trying to make a living from that
I recall an interview you did before the last (Screaming Trees) tour, where you said something along the lines that the main creative stimuli on the band's songwriting were boredom, psychosis and gin. (Sounds like a legal firm.) Has this changed?
What? (laughs) Probably not. I'm pretty much a one-trick pony. I don't remember saying that but it sounds good.
One time I saw you in the 'States and I was impressed by what you were reading at the time. Do you get a lot of inspiration or impetus or input from literature and books?
Do I? I don't know. Y'know, I'm sure I am influenced by any sort of stimulus I put into what's left of my mind, so that could be true.
You've worked on a few tribute albums - Twisted Willie (Willie Nelson), Oar & More (Skip Spence), and you have at some stage been quite vocal and passionate about Nick Drake's music. In your press kit the expression 'beautiful loser role models' is used somewhere when describing your music. Is this a fair comment?
I'm sure I wouldn't use that term. That's tough to say. I did the tribute stuff because somebody asked me and I thought it would be fun. As far as my music goes… ummm…. what was the question? Beautiful losers. There's a real mystique, a real romance to that character the doomed star that brightly burns then slips away somehow. Skip Spence is a really good example of that, someone who has real beauty to his work but was so fragile as well. There are some real magic moments on (his album) Oar. I was listening to it a lot last year; it just seemed to slot in to the way I was feeling at the time. I heard that Oar record a long time ago and was really taken with it, so when I was asked to do that I said sure. I just think it's one of the best records.
I told friend who has a lot to do with American bands that I was interviewing Mark Lanegan He said 'ask if he ever got any royalties from SST'.
(laughs) The cheque's in the mail I'm sure.
Your vocals have a very important effect on the way songs are interpreted, as a songwriter and as a singer, but also when you're working with other people's material. It's the quality of your voice that lifts a great song and makes it (excuse me gushing here) fabulous. The timbre has really changed compared to, say Barriers, probably first Screaming Trees song I heard with you singing, it's just so SO different that you probably wouldn't pick it as the same singer. And other Trees stuff where you're really belting it out and screaming. It's like a development, a maturing. Do you see your voice will change again during the course of your lifetime?
No, I've finally reached puberty. It's been like this for a long time. Barriers I did when I was 19 or 20 and had never sung before and was singing somebody else's thing. They literally had to tell me how to sing line by line because that's the way it was then. I wasn't really a singer, just a friend of these guys. I remember (guitarist) Lee Connor standing there singing the lines to me one at a time, I was just laughing because I could not sing. I would hate to hear it now, but I'm sure it does sound like another guy, probably sounds like a little kid. Which is what I was.
Thank goodness you persevered!
Through the years playing live with those guys my voice did change, through whatever made it do that, and I think I can sort of sing now.
I picked up an album by a guy named Mike Johnson, didn't know anything about it, but thought 'this kind of reminds me of what I like about Mark Lanegan's voice', so I bought it, and then did some further investigation and found you worked together.
Yeah that's interesting. Mike's working on a new record, which is a good thing.
Are you still chewing tobacco? No, I gave that up a few years ago… finally. That's something you'd never ever see or hear about in Australia so it would be a total novelty.
Where I come from it's pretty common, but yeah, thank god, finally got rid of that one.
Now what everyone in Australia wants to know. Are you planning on coming back, doing a tour? Hopefully the Big Day Out tour didn't put you off. (Some idiot in the Melbourne crowd threw a coin at Lanegan who jumped into the crowd to thump the bozo, breaking a leg in the process.)
Oh yeah, I'd love to. I just haven't been able to get it together and do that yet, but hopefully… No, it didn't put me off at all, I enjoyed myself when I was there before. I thought Big Day Out was a lot of fun.
Well, I've exhausted my list of questions.
Good talking to ya.
Please come out soon.
Alright, Take it easy