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
By DOUG ELFMAN
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
"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
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."