Article in WOM Magazine 08/04
The Power of Two Hearts
by Sonja Müller
Mark Lanegan is torn. Torn between noisy rock and quiet songwriting, between
drugs and withdrawal, between the occupation in rock bands and solo albums.
With the aid of his psychiatrist and a bit self-irony the ex singer of
the Screaming Trees finally found himself - and recorded his best album
Mark Lanegan is a man full of contradictories. He doesn't like to be in
the spotlight but he was the front man and the figurehead of the grunge
band Screaming Trees. He doesn't think a great deal of his voice although
he sings like no one else in the current music scene. And he once claimed
it was boring to sing about one's own life although many of his songs
sound like a therapy. But seeing it as a whole every single facet of Lanegan
makes sense in the personality of the eccentric artist. For he had to
rethink at the very beginning of his musical career.
"Actually I was the drummer of the Screaming Trees", he remembers in the
interview with WOM Magazine.
"But I was way to bad. The actual singer was better than me so we changed
parts." Hard to believe even singing appeared difficult to the singular
"I had to learn every single note of every song of the band.", he groans.
"At the beginning they had to sing every song to me. And wenn I hear old
recordings I think my voice sounds atrocious. Mercifully I became a bit
better..." And this is no coquetry. Lanegan sees himself as someone who
has to work hard for every bit, as a driven person.: "I'm driven by the
search for the perfect balance between noise and silence.", he explains.
Indeed his musical world was turning around these two points since the
beginning of his career 21 years ago. The noisy part of his work is signified
by his collaboration with rock bands: After the Screaming Trees broke
up in 2000 he rocked nearly three years with the Queens of the Stone Age
on the stages of the world. At the same time he lives out his quiet, reflective
and pensive side on his new solo album Bubblegum.
"It was important to me to take a little time-out for Bubblegum because
otherwise I wouldn't have had the time to concentrate completely on my
own album. I have a wonderful role at the Queens and I am always just
as much involved as I want to. It's a blessing because I love this band
and I am very proud to be a small part of it but I also have other things
to do. I'm going to be 40 years this year and I think you have to do everything
in life you want to do."
When the Queens asked him the first time in 1997 to join them he rejected
them. At that time the switches in his life were on "quiet". His aim was
to create the perfect silent album, one like Field Songs.
"I shouldn't have done this album", he remembers. "I realized that I had
to do something completely different thereafter."
The Queens offered the congenial antithesis but Lanegan learned that real
free development was only gainable as a solo artist.
"I don't write every song for the Queens and I don't sing every song when
I'm with the Queens. I'm just a member of the band. For my ambition to
gain perfection I have my own albums."
Horrortrips as every day experiences. This hasn't changed much to date.
His intention for Bubblegum was clearly formulated:
"I wanted to create a totally personal album that could also rock."
The symbiosis of noise and silence on a single album was his purpose.
To achieve this Lanegan had to use a bag of tricks.First he had to trick
himself to break from the old formula to separate noise and silence. Due
to that not only his name is printed on the booklet but also the addition
"Band" what makes the songwriter to a rocker.
"Most of the time I'm quite good at fooling myself", Lanegan says. "When
I was writing songs in the past which were reflecting a lot of my personality
I always convinced myself that it was just a story about somebody else.
And that was what I said sulkily in interviews. No one ought to have the
idea I would present my inner life on a silver plate. It was boring to
write about one's own life after all, at least I thought so."
These blinders worked especially good in combination with alcohol and
heroin. Nearly twenty years Lanegan could fight his demons and blind out
his fears only with drugs. But nowadays he hopes to have overcome them:
"By this time I have learned to reflect my thoughts. I don't have a problem
anymore with admitting that Bubblegum is about my own life."
For example the dreadful, recurring nightmares in which he committed horrible
crimes. At one point Lanegan got frightened.
"I went totally hysterical to my therapist and told him about it."
His therapist only said that such dreams and nightmares were important
and right, and that they kept us off from becoming a criminal in real
"This realization calmed me", he says today.
He digested it in his song One Hundred Days, which says that nightmares
are no horrortrips but normal, every day experiences. When you learn to
handle them you can draw a positive peace out of them. maybe it's because
of this peace and self-assurance that Bubblegum became his best album.
He is directing every single song till a brilliant play of noise and silence,
of pain and hope, of frustration and lust for life arises.
No flaunt with famous names: With somnambulistic assurance he invited
several guest musicians: PJ Harvey, Dean Ween, Greg Dulli, Chris Goss,
Duff McKagan, Nick Oliveri and Josh Homme ennoble this masterpiece with
the sticky title.
"An advantage of being a part of the music biz is that I met a lot of
friends. I didn't want to flaunt with these known names, I rather tried
to use the talent of every single one for the suitable song. Without these
people many songs wouldn't be half as good as they are now."
The result is complex and homogeneous at the same time. Finally Mark Lanegan
succeeded to combine noise and silence, distance and intimacy, tradition
and progress, dazing and hope. That this masterpiece is named "Bubblegum"
is nearly an affront and was appalling some of his fans months ahead of
the release. In internet forums and chatrooms they expressed their fear
the title might be an omen and the rock singer who was dealt as the next
Kurt Cobain in the nineties could record sticky pop music from now on.
But of course the singer from Washington didn't even think of making a
cheerful pink album:
"Did you see the cover?", he asks and laughs. "I think it's damn funny."
A man full of contradictories, but he doesn't let a good joke pass.