Las Vegas Review-Journal , February '03

Living Through It

Mark Lanegan has survived the Seattle death scene to flourish with Queens of the Stone Age

During the Age of Nirvana, Mark Lanegan sang lead in the alternative rock band Screaming Trees. All that seems like ancient history just a few years later. Mostly because some of Lanegan's friends and influential peers in the Seattle circle disappeared because of drugs or depression, from Kurt Cobain of Nirvana to Layne Staley of Alice in Chains.

"All the guys who were my close friends are dead," Lanegan says. "It's a shame that most of my friends died when they were young."

"I've got plenty of friends left," he says, but "I wish I could hear Layne Staley sing again. I wish I could hang out with him. I wish I could hang out with Kurt and listen to records. But there's lots of other friends that I don't have anymore, either, who didn't have anything to do with music, and I miss them as well."

Lanegan survived Seattle. Now he's in Queens of the Stone Age, performing Saturday at the Hard Rock. He has relocated to California and goes back to Seattle only when he's touring.

"There never really was a scene as far as we were concerned. You know, that's sort of, like, an imaginary scene. While the eyes of the world were on Seattle, we were out on tour. It just happened to be a small, provincial city where a lot of popular bands came from at one given time, which was weird," he says. "It's a small town, but it's not like we all got together and high-fived, like on the cover of a Pearl Jam record or something."

On Queens of the Stone Age's new album, "Songs for the Deaf," Lanegan worked with another friend from Nirvana, Dave Grohl, who sat in as drummer for Queens. After Cobain's death, Grohl has famously gone on to lead the Foo Fighters as the band's chief singer-songwriter.

Grohl is a long-time fan of Queens. And Lanegan has toured with Queens for a few years; he sings four songs on "Songs for the Deaf."

In concert, Lanegan sometimes appears mid-concert, sings his songs, then disappears. A few reviewers have noted that less-informed Queens fans find that to be a bizarre stage bit.

"That's the way it's intended, like, 'Who's this vampire?' " Lanegan says.

A year ago, Queens of the Stone Age was a pretty obscure band, enjoyed by fans, and by some rock critics, but unknown to the masses. The band's first, recent hit, "No One Knows," put the nonradio group of big, hairy dudes on the radio, and even on MTV's heavy rotation.

"It's kind of funny. We've all been around the block. We've been doing this for a while," Lanegan says. "All of a sudden, you have a No. 1 rock song. We said to each other, 'Does this mean we suck?' I think it's cool. I hate to sound pompous, but it's a great (rock) band. It's nice to see, every now and then: a really great rock band can be popular."

Lanegan feels that he's getting better as a musician, in the same way that good novelists -- but not "rock 'n' roll writers" -- improve with age, he says. But he can't be sure. It's difficult for him to be objective about his own work.

"I used to be, like -- a kid would come up and say, 'I love such and such record,' and I'd be, like, 'God, are you out of your mind?' Then I realized that had something to do with my own self-image, and maybe I shouldn't react like that. Nowadays, I'm like, 'Thank you, man. I do, too.' "

The Queens of the Stone Age played as teenagers in the early 1990s around Palm Desert, Calif., under the name, Kyuss, which toured Las Vegas a good deal. Kyuss' and the subsequent Queens' musicianship-plus-heavy rock has been a long favorite of many musicians.

"When these guys were kids in Kyuss, they were influencing guys who were having hit records," Lanegan says. "We look on the side of the stage and see other musicians there. But it's also a fans' band."

Some band members have said they named the band "Queens" to scare away "meatheads" who are into heavy music. Lanegan isn't sure about that, either.

"I think it's more or less the perverse sense of humor of the guys in the band, envisioning kids telling their parents, 'I'm gonna see Queens of the Stone Age today.' ... 'What?' "

But the word, "Queens," also plays off the wild appearance of the large, gruff, bearded band, he says.

"Just the fact that it's five, big, scary-looking guys," he says and chuckles. "When we walk into a place, pretty much, all eyes turn the other way."