Synthesis (http://www.synthesis.net), Februaury 2004
Mark Lanegan - No Time To Slow Down
Around the time crunchy distortion, power chords and flannel shirts warmed the hearts of America’s disaffected youth, the Screaming Trees began to gain some notoriety thanks to a song (“Nearly Lost You”) on the soundtrack for the movie Singles; loose and intoxicating guitar riffs; and the smoke-and-whiskey, early morning rasp of lead vocalist Mark Lanegan. The band had been around since the mid-‘80s before finding some success with Sweet Oblivion (1992) and Dust (1996), but played their last show in 2000.
Lanegan, however, has never had a problem keeping himself occupied — in fact, as the Synthesis conducted our interview, Lanegan tackled a number of tasks, including ordering food at an In-N-Out drive thru, lighting cigarettes, driving and shouting at other motorists. “I’m about to get hit by a car here trying to light a cigarette,” Lanegan jokes after getting his meal. “This new phone I got is a piece of shit. I can’t hold it between my head and shoulder, y’know, like my old one… A girlfriend of mine gave me one of those headphones yesterday, but I look like Sammy Hagar with it on, so I’m embarrassed to wear it while the sun’s up.”
But Lanegan has proven adept at juggling many things at once. During his tenure fronting the Screaming Trees, Lanegan was also at work creating his own solo albums. The first of which, The Winding Sheet, was released in 1990. After the Trees went their separate ways, Lanegan continued working on his songwriting for his own solo career and ended up falling in with hedonistic desert rockers Joshua Homme, Nick Oliveri and Queens of the Stone Age. Lanegan’s involvement with the group began on a part-time basis, but he recently enlisted as a full-time member.
Working with Homme and Oliveri, both of whom are involved with projects other than QOTSA, has provided Lanegan with even more avenues for musical expression. Usually making guest appearances on each other’s albums, 2003 has been a busy year for QOTSA’s three frontmen, landing a spot on the reincarnated Lollapalooza tour and recording new material for projects like Desert Sessions vol. 9 & 10 and Mondo Generator’s A Drug Problem That Never Existed. “We’re pretty manic about [our music],” Lanegan says of his group’s recent productivity. “We all have a pretty strong work ethic, believe it or not. We love recording, we love touring, we love writing. We have a really great working relationship. That’s why we always end up on each other’s records, because it’s all the same game, but the records are all completely different from one another.”
This sort of environment has proven especially fertile for Lanegan. Despite working on a variety of different projects and guest appearances, Lanegan says he still finds the time to work on his own material, though he does admit all the band member swapping proves to be a problem when it comes time to tour.
“If we’re all going out on the road, we’re fighting over the same guys, always,” laughs Lanegan. “Josh [on tour with The Eagles of Death Metal] wanted Troy [Van Leeuwen, guitar] originally, but I got him first. Nick’s band [Mondo Generator] was my first choice, because they did most of my record — Molly Maguire [bass in Mondo Generator] and Dave Catching [guitar in Mondo Generator and QOTSA]. We kinda have to get our bids in early.”
December 9th, 2003, saw the release of Lanegan’s latest solo effort Here Comes That Weird Chill (Methamphetamines Blues, Extras & Oddities), an EP precursor to his forthcoming full-length album, Bubblegum, due out spring 2004. According to Lanegan, the impetus to release the EP sprung from the wealth of material he had written for Bubblegum.
“I just wanted to get all [the songs] out there, man, because I liked them all. When [the record company, Beggars Banquet] said ‘single,’ I said, ‘look, can I make it an EP?’ They said, ‘sure,’ and I said, ‘okay, here’s seven B-sides,’” he explains with a laugh.
A lot of prominent names make their way on to Here Comes That Weird Chill, including Lanegan’s QOTSA bandmates Homme and Oliveri, Dean Ween and Afghan Whigs/Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli. “I’ve always been really blessed to have a lot of talented friends; they’ve blessed me with a lot more talent than my material deserves,” Lanegan says. “This time was the same. Those guys are real musicians, whereas I’m not. It definitely makes me work harder.” Working harder doesn’t seem to bother Lanegan, though. The artist seems to be constantly creating for a variety of different projects — writing at home, on the road and even while putting the finishing touches on his recordings.
“I recorded an awful lot of songs [for Bubblegum], a lot of them while I was supposed to be mixing, much to the chagrin of a lot of people working on the album,” says Lanegan of “Lexington Slow Down,” a song on the EP inspired by a haunting piano melody written by another talented friend, drummer and collaborator Kenny Richards. “I pissed off the engineer by getting him to record that [“Lexington Slow Down”] at the 13th hour, as they say. I was glad I did. The words I made up there on the spot…I like it. I’m not sure what it means, but I like it.”