Drowned in Sound, http://drownedinsound.com/in_depth/2963996-from-down-in-the-dark--the-gutter-twins-step-into-the-light
22 February, 2008
From down in the dark: The Gutter Twins step into the light
By: Dave Kerr
Are you just up?
“Nah, I’ve been up for a while.”
DiS fills another agonising silence by suggesting Mark Lanegan’s
monosyllabic reticence might be down to something other than an indifferent
disposition. Consciously or not, his distance puts the kibosh on the zillionth
attempt to demystify some small part of his growling, gothic lexicon.
The ‘Fire and Ice’ analogy torn straight out of a James Ellroy
novel by Lanegan's tag team buddy Greg Dulli to describe the bluesy duo's
yin-yang leaves nobody guessing who’s who. One of their chests audibly
heaves with copious chuckling as he doles out more tales per breath than
a Jackanory special, while the other was once quoted as deadpanning: “Comedy
is for pussies.”
It may come as some surprise then, to learn that the origin of the duo’s
new band lies with a prank executed by Lanegan four years ago. The man
Dulli takes up the story…
Dulli: My first recollection is of an Italian journalist
calling to ask me about the Gutter Twins and I replied with "What’s
the Gutter Twins?" He told me that it was me and Mark Lanegan and
I was like "Well, sounds interesting." I called Mark later and
he tells me, "Oh yeah, we’re forming a band." I said "Okay,
let me know when we’re gonna do that."
Lanegan: I was kidding around, but it became serious. We’re just
really good friends who have similar musical tastes. We’d worked
on each others records before, played in each other’s bands, so
it seemed like a logical thing.
When did your friendship spark up?
Dulli: We first met around 19 years ago, but I’d say we’ve
been close friends for the last nine or ten. It sparked up when we ran
into each other in Los Angeles where we were both living at the time.
We got together, had lunch and I think I showed him my house. We both
have extensive record collections so we started looking through ‘em,
playing some, then we picked up the guitar. When we started singing together
it was probably ‘99 and it was like that style of porch singing,
y’know, sitting on the porch, smoking cigarettes, drinking ice tea
and trying it out. That was just for fun; we were really just passing
the time. When I wrote the song [‘Number Nine’] for Mark to
sing, I think that was the first time we recorded together. That was Blackberry
Belle, we did that sometime in 2003 and by the end of that year we were
doing songs that are on the Gutter Twins record. ‘All Misery’is
the first one we did.
This collaboration makes for a fairly attractive proposition on paper,
but in the past you’ve both expressed that you’re principally
solitary songwriters, Greg even went so far as to say "I make most
of my records rather selfishly; they’re done for me by me. That
someone else would like it is just a bonus,” the last time we talked…
Dulli: Hahaha, did I say that?
You did, sir…
Did that mentality make co-writing at all difficult, or territorial?
Dulli: It had to be that way, in the respect that along the way I would
tell Mark that I’d heard him do that before, or he’d tell
me "You’ve done this already." We kept each other honest
as far as returning to a comfort zone and pulling out an old trick goes,
it became a left brain / right brain kind of thing.
Looking back at your collective repertoire – Gentlemen, 1965, Blackberry
Belle, Dust, Scraps At Midnight, Songs for the Deaf, we could be here
all day – you could probably both have laid claim to a certain Midas
touch in your writing at times. Was there any sense of pressure in combining
those songwriting strengths, or was this just a loose situation where
two mates made a record?
Lanegan: Songwriting is sort of intuitive between us. The only pressure
we imposed on ourselves was that we wanted to separate it from anything
we’ve done before. I think we’ve achieved that.
So where did you turn to in order to find the musical and lyrical impetus
to create something that sounded original to the pair of you?
Dulli: We turned to each other. In respect to Mark, some of the people
that he’s worked with in the past would be - off the top of my head
– Mike Johnson, the Conner brothers, Josh Homme, Rich from Soulsavers,
Isobel [Campbell]. He’s played and written with a lot of talented
So have you, though… [Thurston Moore, Mike Mills and Muggs spring
to mind, for starters]
Dulli: I became his foil in this respect. But these people I mention are
all disparate to one another, and the common connector to all of them
is Mark. So we each brought our own experience and individuality to the
project, but it was most definitively collaborative.
You mention Mike Johnson [one time Dinosaur Jr. bassist and longtime Lanegan
guitarist], was there any desire to bring in a familiar player of that
calibre to embellish the sound?
Dulli: I think if Mike had lived in the United States, he’d be on
this record. We would have loved to have had him but it was rendered geographically
impossible at the time. But I’ll bet you if anything we’ll
play with him in the future.
Did you tap the skills of any of those past associates?
Dulli: It’s kind of like…whoever’s around, for instance
with the early songs Mark brought in Troy Van Leeuwen from the Queens,
he was the logical guitar player to go to at that moment. Later on, we
were in New Orleans and brought in Dave Rosser [Twilight Singers guitarist],
who lives there. I guess it was dictated by geography, necessity and availability.
Saturnalia sees a return to the Sub Pop label where you released quite
pivotal recordings early on in your respective careers [Dulli with the
Afghan Whigs’ ‘Retarded’ single and Lanegan with the
Screaming Trees’ Change Has Come EP]. Was there something poetic
about going back there?
Lanegan: We looked at a couple of different labels, but Sub Pop made the
Dulli: I think, in retrospect, it was the only place we could do it. I’m
really proud to see what they’ve done in recent years; like a great
band does, they’ve reinvented themselves. I couldn’t be happier
to be working with them again, Megan [Jasper, who famously duped the New
York Times with 'Grunge Slang' that transpired to be a load of cobblers]
and Jonathan [Poneman, Sub Pop co-founder] who were there when we were
still there, that was the poetic part.
Do you feel any more productive now than you did in those days?
Dulli:I do. I’ve made more records in the last five years than I
did in the first ten. I don’t know what happened…
Would you blame any of it on your past excesses?
Dulli: I’ll start by saying that I regret nothing and I’ll
say that sowing my wild oats probably got in the way of productivity.
But it was fun! I think what happened with the Whigs was that by the third
record we had scattered to the four winds. When you’re a democracy,
trying to get four guys in the same place for any length of time becomes
more of a challenge and it actually began to hinder the creative and productive
process. By the time we tried to mount it again it was just strange and
unnatural. Something that had been like waking up in the morning and drinking
a glass of water had become like algebra. That was when it was time for
me to leave. We all left as friends and we still are. Then I worked on
the first Twilight Record and laid low for a while, that’s when
I bought my first bar. So I was running that and enjoying leading a structured
life for the first time. For almost two years I was kind of afraid to
write songs because writing songs would eventually mean I’d have
to go on tour and I really didn’t want to. Mark?
Lanegan: Nah, I don’t have any regrets, man.
Greg, you recently reconvened the Whigs to put a retrospective compilation
together, how did that go? Was there a need to bookend things there?
Dulli: Yeah and it was fun, but it was really done with the knowledge
that was that. We were doing a favour for our friend who works at Rhino,
he especially asked us to do two new songs. One of those songs was an
older tune that we just fixed; it was from the aborted final album sessions.
But we did one from the ground up and it was good fun. They’re like
my family, so we got together for one week and in that one week we whipped
up the tunes, played them, got drunk a couple of times, played cards and
then got on four different planes and went to four different places. It
was vintage Whigs.
Also vintage are the styles that you've often both incorporated
into your records throughout the years - be it the blues, soul, psychedelia
or whatever. Saturnalia appears no different in that respect. But I’m
interested to know what your take is on more contemporary music. Has anything
blown you away lately? I don’t suppose you’re much for new
rave and that?
Dulli: I like the Black Lips. I also like the new Edwyn Collins record
a lot…I’ve been a fan of his since Orange Juice and was shocked
to see what happened to him but really psyched to hear him flip off his
situation and make a great record. Other than 'A Girl Like You he’s
not known [in America], I don’t think he ever really toured over
here, but I’ve always dug him. He’s a feisty fucker and I
like people like that. I’m looking forward to hearing the new Martina
[Topley Bird] record too, she’s one of my favourite singers.
Lanegan: I like Animal Collective, Band of Horses, Battles, you know,
there’s a lot of stuff I really enjoy, liked the last Caribou record,
the Grizzly Bear record and the new Six Organs of Admittance record. I
like Teenage Fanclub and also - fuck - Mogwai, quite a bit. I was way
into Belle and Sebastian too…
So was it a nice surprise when Isobel Campbell asked you to record a few
songs with her?
Lanegan: Yeah, I was a fan, and I was into what Isobel did outside of
the band, I liked those Gentle Waves records… so it was a pleasant
surprise. I have another record with Isobel coming out in the spring.
And what’s next for Greg?
Dulli: Taking the Twins out on the road and seeing what that can do. My
favourite part of touring is watching the songs evolve and stretch out,
watching the new arrivals come in…the songs that haven’t been
Last time we talked you were working on a graphic novel too, Domino and
Jimmy’s reason to Live Lounge. What became of that?
Dulli: Still workin’ on it! Me and my friend Charles - AKA Jimmy
- we’re talking to another friend of ours to see if we can animate
it. It’ll probably be a short at first, but the scope of the book
could certainly fit a movie. Since I’ve been out of commission Charles
has really picked up the slack. He sent me some things a week ago that
blew my mind, I’m very excited. Jesse Garron - Elvis’s stillborn
twin - features heavily in the latest stuff. It’s fuckin’
twisted - a twisted, crazy thing.
I’d expect nothing less, I'll look forward to seeing it some day,
Gutter Twins live too... all the best with the album and tour.
Lanegan: Right on man, cheers. Dulli: Nice talking
to you Dave, bye.