Brightest Young Things,
7 November, 2008
Interview Redux: The Gutter Twins
The Gutter Twins are in town today. It should be amazing.
Once Upon time (see March this year) we got to be one of the first interviews
Mark Lanegan gave prior to “Saturnalia” release. Peter did
it and was very excited he got to do it. For him and everyone else, we’re
re running it. (for a redux of a live show review, since we were very
meticulous about covering all our basis back then,click here)-Svetlana
Mark Lanegan is not known for being demonstrative. In fact the gravel-voiced
former lead singer of the Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age
sometimes gets so bored in interviews that he flippantly tells journalists
that he’s forming bands with his friends before they even know it.
This is what happened with ex-Afgan Whigs singer Greg Dulli and their
new band the Gutter Twins, and the resulting album (Saturnalia) is one
of the wildest and most out-there projects he’s ever been involved
with, full of big sweeping dramatic songs that swing between gospelly
Suede and an analog Nine Inch Nails.
So when I spoke to Mark on the phone I was aware that he was often a bit
stand-offish with the press. Maybe it was my goofy questions, or the fact
that I am such a big fan of his that I kept making terrible jokes, but
he was even more laconic than anticipated. Clearly he has little use for
the gossipy, snarky elements of the entertainment industry. Maybe that’s
partly what’s kept him from slipping into mediocrity over many years—either
that or the fact that he’s lived as hard a life as any country or
blues singer. Both he and Dulli have been spotted on the Dark Side a few
times, but returning to sing about it is the best defense against both
becoming a harmless rock-and-roll relic and succumbing utterly to your
worst impulses. Saturnalia, for all its melodrama and dark industrial
touches, is at heart a wisdom-soaked blues record along the lines of Hooker
and Heat, or Electric Mud.
Lanegan says enough in his songs to more than make up for any lack of
publicity-seeking. “With my idle hands /there’s nothing I
can do / but be the devil’s plaything, baby / and know that I’ve
been used.” Not far from: “Nightlife Nightlife Nightlife /
ain’t no good ain’t no good for me…”
BYT: So where is the tour today?
Mark Lanegan: Newport Kentucky, near Cincinnati.
BYT: Is that where the show is, in Cinncinatti?
ML: No, it’s in Newport.
BYT: Aha. So you’re about a month into the tour, right? Are you
sick of Greg yet?
ML: Nope. I’ve been touring with him for pretty much a year…year
and a half. I don’t get tried of him. I must be a glutton for punishment.
BYT: Are you doing older songs as well as stuff off the new record? Like
from your solo records?
ML: Yeah, we’re doing both.
BYT: Have you adapted them for the two-singer format?
ML: We’re both singing on just about every song.
BYT: I saw you play with Soulsavers last year, and while I liked it, the
music was pretty static, not a lot of rocking out. With this band is there
more room for unplanned moments on stage?
ML: Sure. There’s always room for that stuff to happen. It’s
what makes playing live an enjoyable experience.
BYT: So was this record made all at once in a few weeks or was it as spread
out as the writing? I know you all have been playing these songs together
for a while…
ML: Well we first got together a long time ago, for a few days in late
December. We came in with absolutely no songs and left with two. We didn’t
do anything for another year, came in, got two more done, then we didn’t
do anything for two years. Then we got together in the spring of 2007
and started really finishing it. But we only wrote for the record from
when we were together forwards, so in all that off-time we were doing
other stuff, writing and recording for other projects. So the total amount
of time spent was maybe thirty days, over four years.
BYT: The last project you were involved in, the Soulsavers, was a kind
of gospel record, while this one, from the name to the scary album cover,
seems a bit demonic. Was there a deliberate though process to that, like
that’s the “good” record, and this is the “evil”
ML: Nah, man I don’t really question the way a record goes. It sort
of takes shape naturally and I just go with it.
BYT: So there was no summoning of evil forces?
ML: Not that I’m aware of.
BYT: Greg must have been doing that behind your back.
ML: He might have been.
BYT: You’ve done so many different projects with such a disparate
range of people, are there any that you’ve turned down because they
just wouldn’t work?
ML: You know, those times have been really rare. I’m usually approached
to do stuff where they think it might be interesting to me, where I can
see my part in it, or some people that I really like so. The times that
I haven’t been able to do stuff is usually due to timing.
BYT: Yeah, because then you have to go on tour with them for while. You’ve
toured with so many different bands all over the place, do you have a
routine that keeps you sane on the road, or is that just impossible?
ML: I basically just try to enjoy wherever I’m at, enjoy the travel.
I look forward to it…it’s just something that I do.
BYT: “This is the business that we have chosen,” huh?
ML: [crickets chirping]
BYT: Haha. Um, so these days with Myspace and the online hype-machine
it seems like a band can get popular before they’ve done any touring
or even played a single show. Is it too easy to be a rock and roll musician
ML: I can’t really say. I don’t think any of that stuff is
a bad thing. Anything that allows someone to get their music out there,
I guess that’s why most people do it, not only to please themselves,
but to put something out into the world. I think anything that allows
someone an outlet to do that is great.
BYT: Listening to this record, it seems like your co-writing has influenced
the way you sing, as if you’re adopting each others styles…
ML: No, again it’s just trying to go where the song takes you. I
don’t really question it, I just went with it.
BYT: This album is concerned with a lot of the same lyrical themes that
your solo records are…sin, redemption, that whole thing. Is this
something you consciously or unconsciously return to on every record?
M: I must be, if that’s the way they come out. I don’t really
look too closely at it, I just sort of do what comes naturally.
BYT: A lot of younger musicians look up to you as someone who’s
managed to stay relevant over a long career, are there people you look
up to as role models for being a rock-and-roller, the anti-jaggers maybe?
ML: Sure. Neil Young comes to mind, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave. I’m
sure there’s a million of them, that continue to do what they want
to do, and don’t really give a fuck what anybody thinks. Those are
the kind of people that…you hope to follow their example.
BYT: Is that the key, not following whatever flashy musical trend comes
ML: Well, sure, I make music to please myself. If somebody likes it then
that’s great, but you can’t please everybody at all times.
BYT: Finally since you started this band by telling a journalist that
you and Greg were going to work together, is there anyone you want to
call out now to start a band you in this interview?
ML: God. There’s an opportunity for something really funny here
but… [long pause]
BYT: You want me to just say you’ve been working with Kanye West?
ML: [sardonic chuckle] No, man.
BYT: Well I appreciate your time Mark, thanks for talking to me.
ML: My pleasure.