News OK: March, 2003
When it comes to touring with Queens of the Stone Age, singer Mark Lanegan likes to quote Robert Duvall's combat- loving lieutenant colonel in "Apocalypse Now."
"'Someday, this war's gonna end.'"
He recites the line with mock regret. It's midafternoon, and his low voice still sounds sleep- roughened during a phone interview from El Paso, Texas.
The band has been on the road, after all, since before the release in August of their smash album "Songs for the Deaf," with just enough time off for Lanegan, guitarist-singer Josh Homme and bassist-singer Nick Oliveri to record side projects.
The heavy, harmonic rocker "No One Knows" has taken up a lengthy residency at the top of the rock and alternative charts, and the current leg of the Queens' trek brings them to the Coca-Cola Bricktown Events Center on Saturday for a sold-out show and to Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa on Sunday, for which a few tickets were still available at press time.
Lanegan isn't sure where it all will end, saying, "I haven't even really looked, and I don't want to know. ... But I don't really want it to."
It all started in 1995, when Homme's Palm Desert, Calif., stoner-metal band Kyuss split, and the singer-guitarist moved to Seattle to tour with Lanegan's alt-rock assemblage, Screaming Trees.
This was a band already notorious for its drinking and in- fighting, having broken up and reformed a dozen times since it was founded by brothers Van and Gary Lee Conner and Lanegan in the small college town of Ellensburg, Wash., in the mid-'80s.
"You know what, we were young kids -- well, OK, I wasn't -- but a couple of them were," Lanegan recalls of the Trees. "And when we started, we were basically the only guys we knew in the small town where we came from that even listened to the kind of music that we did, and probably wouldn't have been pals otherwise."
Screaming Trees still managed to work their way up from the independent SST and Sub Pop labels to the Epic imprint by 1989, but when Homme finally entered the picture about seven years later, the Trees were already heading for their final fall.
"In effect, we were more like the dysfunctional family, in that a couple of the guys were indeed dysfunctional family members," Lanegan says. "So, it was a strange, long nightmare. No, I'm kidding. It was great, and I'm proud of the music that we made.
"And, well, you know, it (the fighting) wasn't 24-seven, it was just the threat of violence that always hung over the thing was what I loved about it, naturally."
When the Trees officially split in 2000, Homme went off to rejoin one of his original Kyuss partners, drummer Alfredo Hernandez, in what would eventually become Queens of the Stone Age. Ex- Kyuss bassist Oliveri would join a little later.
Lanegan, meanwhile, concentrated on his solo career, which has produced several critically-applauded albums including "Whiskey for the Holy Ghost," "Scraps at Midnight," "I'll Take Care of You" and "Field Songs." These works were mellower and more acoustic in tone than the psychedelic garage-rock of the Trees and certainly more laid- back than the complex metal monster Homme and Oliveri were hammering out in the desert of Southern California.
Yet, Lanegan turned up on the Queens' sophomore album, "Rated R," contributing backing vocals here and there and singing lead on "In the Fade," an ethereal and introspective track he co-wrote with Homme.
It was the first teasing hint of the new vocal harmony touches that now enhance and distinguish the Queens' crunching hard-rock riffs and rhythms.
Lanegan was asked to join the band full time and has held his own quite powerfully in a spotlight that already contained two very muscular lead- singing egos.
The resulting sound -- at least to older listeners -- is a dead-ringer for the dramatically distinct high-low harmonies of Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton in Cream.
This seems especially true on "Song for the Dead," "Song for the Deaf" and the hit single "No One Knows."
Lanegan, 38, is surprised by the comparison.
"I think that's what happens when you have a guy with a lower voice (Lanegan) and a guy with a higher voice (Homme) in together," he says. "I think Cream was kind of the prototype of that thing. We certainly did a lot of that in the Trees, and we were not the first guys to do that, either."
The younger fans don't think of Cream when they hear the Queens, as far as he's concerned.
"It's probably just guys in our age bracket who think of Cream in that way," he says.
Lanegan says he was a bit skeptical of the three-lead- singer configuration at first.
"It took me a while to understand it, and then Josh just said, 'It will take people a while to understand it and, Mark, because you're slow, it's going to take you an even longer time to understand it, but what are ya gonna do?'
"Now, I'm starting to appreciate it. It's great."
As for taking an equal footing with the Homme-Oliveri juggernaut in the songwriting department, Lanegan says, "To be honest with you, just between you and I -- or not -- I'm very lazy. I don't really care to do anything unless I'm forced to, basically, at this point.
"Nah, I'm kidding with ya. I enjoy collaborating, and we have written some songs together that may or may not ever see the light of day."
Some of those collaborations will show up on Lanegan's still-untitled new solo album; others may make the next Queens disc.
Ex-Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters frontman David Grohl, a longtime fan and vocal champion of the Queens who actually joined the band long enough to play drums on the "Songs for the Deaf" album, is back on the road with his other band, pushing his own record. It's uncertain whether he will rejoin the Queens for future live or studio performances.
"I think he's got a pretty good gig right now," Lanegan says.
Drummer Joey Castillo and guitarist/keyboardist Troy Van Leeuwen are rounding out the band for the current tour.
But Lanegan is in for the long haul.
"This band is the picture of mental health compared to the other band," he says. "There's a huge difference between this and any other situation that I've been in, in that we're all friends. We all like the tunes; we all hang out when we're not making music. ... We go to movies, we go out to eat, talk (stuff) about rock journalists and record company people.
"I couldn't have dreamt up a better scenario for myself. I enjoy the hell out of it. I get to travel the world with pretty much my best friends, and work hard 10 minutes a night, and that's it."
Who can blame him for not wanting all of that to