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The Village Voice,
11 March, 2008
Gutter Twins Unite
By: Michael D. Ayers
There were a few phrases I promised myself I wouldn't utter
when sitting three feet from Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan, two of '90s
alt-rock's most worshipped frontmen. Alt-rock, for example. Flannel shirts.
I succeeded in avoiding those first three. But in a fit of stammering,
passive-aggressive non-rage, I let it slip: "With everyone hopping
on the reunion bandwagon, you guys seem to keep pushing forward."
Lanegan, who was the life of the consistently ignored garage/grunge Seattle
act Screaming Trees, just starts shaking his head, back and forth, back
and forth. Before he can breathe any sort of fire toward me, Dulli, who
led the guitar-sleazy Afghan Whigs, chimes in as if he's been waiting
for this moment. "We've both been asked numerous times to re-form,
and have been thrown large sums of money to do so, but I'm of the opinion
that bands have a finite lifespan," he says. Thick clouds of cigarette
smoke exhale from both their mouths. "If you stay a band forever,
great. If the end comes, then it came for a reason. It's like any relationship—it
has done what it needed to do."
Lanegan is much more direct, though he's looking off in the distance.
"I have absolutely zero interest," he declares in his low, gravelly
voice. (He looks and sounds more like Tom Waits by the day.) "I want
to stay in here, now."
The place and time he speaks of has been a productive time for them both.
Lanegan's been a touring member of Queens of the Stone Age, while cutting
several solo albums of brooding, moody lo-fi rock and a duets-style record
with Isobel Campbell. Dulli's been mostly consumed with his swamp-rock
soul band the Twilight Singers. Both command dedicated cult followings,
while other grunge-era artists have simply drifted off to the bargain
bins and county fairs, content with regurgitating that song, whatever
it might be, for those who still wish to remember.
Their respective successes aside, this is an odd pairing. Dulli is vivacious
and chatty; Lanegan is reserved, introspective, and intimidating. Dulli
wants to chat about current bands like Yeasayer and MGMT; Lanegan stays
solemn. Recent press tends to revel in their prior drug habits and petty
skirmishes with the law, mythologizing them to a certain extent, relegating
them to that Singles part of our collective memory. But they've moved
on. Trust me.
They just move slowly. A little over four years ago, Dulli and Lanegan
began work on Saturnalia, their debut as the Gutter Twins. It's finally
done. And the result's a bit grungy, sure—but there's also an undercurrent
of dark, sinister country and blues that suggests they're not just rehashing
old times. String arrangements pop up here and there. As do mandolins.
Loss, death, religion, and faith are recurring themes, swiftly dealt with.
The first track they cut together, "All Misery/Flowers," has
Lanegan and Dulli singing softly in unison, while Dulli plays with some
eerie high-pitched wailing sounds over a prominent drumbeat. Most of the
album is like this: Lanegan's deep voice hovering over Dulli's controlled
whine as they toy around with various mood enhancers, aural and otherwise.
"I was happy with it," Lanegan allows cautiously. "Proud
of the way it turned out. Which is saying a lot." Dulli, naturally,
is much more excited, praising the record's eclecticism, but Lanegans's
growl takes hold. "Obviously, there are elements of what people have
done before—because to make something completely different, we'd
have to make a classical record or something," he says, half-snarling.
Dulli lightens the mood: "Or a reggae album, which we discussed."
In a rare outburst, Lanegan chuckles for a brief moment before retreating
back down below.
The Village Voice, http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/archives/2008/03/interview_the_g.php?page=1
12 March, 2008
Interview: Gutter Twins (the Extended Ying-Yang Remix)
By: Michael D. Ayers
A few minutes before heading to this interview, I was told
by a colleague that Mark Lanegan had once told him he was illiterate,
and was learning to read on tour. Just to fuck with him. "So, good
luck," were his final parting words.
We did the interview at the Bowery Ballroom for the print version of this
fine here publication, as they were prepping what would be their first
proper gig under the Gutter Twins with a full set of material. Greg Dulli
offered me some chocolate. (It was Valentine's Day.) I declined. Mark
seemed generally disinterested in my presence, or at least weary. We sat
in the balcony, where they usually have curtains drawn to section off
a little piece of the room for VIPs, bands, and such.
Honestly, I was a bit scared. Mark and all his tattoos were inches away
from me, and Greg seemed like he could have been annoyed that I dissed
his chocolate offerings. But I was probably being paranoid for nothing;
about midway, I said something very self-deprecating that made Mark and
Greg both laugh, a feat that made me secretly proud. From that point on,
things rolled, and they were both very gracious. The only time Mark really
looked me in the eye was when we were done; he shook my hand, thanking
me for doing this. No problem, dude.
Tonight is your first proper show? I read that you did something in Italy
at some point?
GD: We did that one just for the money.
When was the genesis of this project, when did you start hunkering down
GD: December 2003 was the first time. We had talked about it for years.
[Lanegan's phone goes off]
GD: One second.
ML: It's fucked up. The number only comes up right before it shuts off.
GD: Why don't you take it in?
ML: It just started yesterday.
GD: So he had sung on a Twilight record; we actually were going to do
the record, but he got asked to join Queens of the Stone Age. Queens were
playing a show in L.A., and he came over before soundcheck and sung this
song called "Number 9." Later that night I went to the Queens
show later that night, blah blah blah. He put out an EP called "Here
Comes That Weird Chill" and I joined his touring band for that run.
At the end of that run, we went into the studio and recorded "Misery"
and that was Christmas day 2003.
So it wasn't that long ago...so in between everything that you were doing,
you just kinda worked on this?
GD: Mostly Christmas's. We did the next song in January 2004, the next
song Christmas 2004. Then a song, I think, in 2005. Nothing in 2006, and
we did the rest of the songs between February and September of 2007.
So the bulk of the record was doing in 2007.
Is there certain sounds you're going for when writing? Or for something
like this, are you aiming to sound like something?
ML: I think the only stipulation is we wanted it to be its own thing,
otherwise there's no point in doing it. We just wanted to make it a fully
GD: I'm going to put my sunglasses on now; not to be cool, but there is
a blinding light.
You know what I like about you guys--with this decade, with everyone hopping
on the reunion bandwagon, you guys seem to be pushing forward, with your
bands, and now this. It seems like you're looking to move forward. Is
GD: We've both been asked numerous times to reform, and have been thrown
large sums of money to do so, but I'm of the opinion that bands have a
finite lifespan. If you stay a band forever, great. If the end comes,
then it came for a reason. It's like any relationship. It has done what
it needed to do. I don't mind playing songs from my past. But as far as
getting together for a nostalgia trip, I don't begrudge anyone who has
done that; that's an individual decision. For me, there's other things
I'd rather do.
ML: I have absolutely zero interest. I want to stay in here, now.
For me, the music I have gravitated to much more on this are the slower
tunes, like "Body" "Seven Stories" and "Lead
Us." I don't know why, but it just seems to me that even though they
are slow, there is still a lot going on there. But that's just me, so,
oh well. What do you guys think is the most compelling about the record
when you listen to it?
ML: In getting ready for these shows, I was listening to it, and I was
surprised at how complete it seems. How fully realized it seems, especially
given the amount of time between the first recording session and the last
mixing session. But during the last parts of it, I completely lost perspective
on it, having lived with it for so long.
GD: I sort of kept a closer watch on it, as time went by. As we began
the final push, like any album I've made, and I'm sure Mark is the same
way--you have songs that stick out and you know where they're going to
go. And you write songs around those- support songs to get to the next
place and, the thing I like most about it is while it is cohesive, its
wildly varied and different styles from song to song. Kind of ...
Bowery worker: Did you hear that? Manager is saying to put out the cigarettes.
So while it's cohesive, it's still....
GD: I think we have a lot of influences that are similar to each other,
and I think we visited many of them, and sometimes with in the same song.
There seems like there's all this dark imagery going on. This cover, "The
Gutter Twins" name...the sound...
GD: That cover is my friend Frank Relle; he's a New Orleans photographer
who takes eight minute exposure's of night time spots in New Orleans.
That one was taken right after the storm. And that's how he found it.
The songs that were co-written--could you guys talk about the co-writing
aspects, where it was musically, lyrically....
ML: We did it all different ways. We wrote some music together, lyrics
together. Lyrics for songs that the other guy had written.
You guys have known each other for a long time. Does that make it easier,
or more challenging?
GD: I think that we were friends first, before we started working together.
We played songs that weren't ours first together; just singing songs that
we liked on the couch or on the back porch or whatever. When you get to
know a person, and you just play songs for each other, you share your
record collection or records that you like, that helped me get to know
him better, and helped me realize that we were more similar than different.
So when we did start writing songs together, I wrote "Number 9"
for him to sing and uh, when I joined his band, he gave me parts to sing.
Those two experiences led us to, when we went into the studio, we had
nothing. I didn't have anything and he didn't bring anything to my knowledge.
We had a blank sheet of paper, and the first song that we wrote and played
in its entirety was "All Misery" and that song did not exist
until we did it. It's one of my favorite songs on the record; it's one
of my favorite songs period. That was an auspicious beginning in the song
writing partnership in my opinion.
Have you guys been rehearsing pretty hard for the tour coming up?
GD: We've ran the set like ten times. So it won't be for trying. This
particular band plays on how many songs--three?
I noticed that Petra Haden is on here, and I started listening to her
recently, specifically to the album with Bill Frisell.
GD: Amazingly talented; I've known Petra for thirteen years and she's
played live with me; she played on the first song we did for Blackberry
Belle. She and I and Jeff Klein did a show together up in Seattle, where
we did acoustic versions of songs.
She seems like she's living here now.
GD: She stays here a lot.
Oh, here's a good standard journalist question. You guys ready?
So you guys have been doing this forever; so what drives you both still
to have people to tell you to put out cigarettes, to go on tours, go do
the I'm Not There thing [The Dylan concert last fall at the Beacon Theater
where Mark sang]. You know, going through the efforts. It's a lot of work.
ML: Well, what else you going to do? We enjoy music, and I feel lucky
that someone wants me to show up someplace and place music. Or at least
have the opportunity to do it, even if they don't want me to. It's a blessing.
GD: I don't know what else I'd do. I mean, I have other businesses - certainly
businesses that are more lucrative than rock and roll. But I've wanted
to be a musician since I was ten years old, and I wake up everyday feeling
like the luckiest person in the world. Success in itself is relative,
and as long as I'm playing what I want to play and who I want to play
with, I'm the luckiest guy in the world.
Are you guys working on other stuff--Twilight Singers or your [Mark Lanegan]
ML: You know...there's always something up the road...that you're gathering
GD: I write songs all the time; I have a stash at home; I don't know what
it'll be for.