Mark Lanegan: ‘They say that turning 50 is the new turning 49...’

editorial image
1
Have your say

There’s an audible sigh and a pause on the other end of the phone line.

The Guide is speaking to alternative-rock icon Mark Lanegan at his home in Los Angeles.

There are lots of pauses in conversations with Lanegan, who has been known in the past to be a reluctant interviewee, although there’s a tinder dry humour to his conversation.

‘Aw man, remind me to watch what I say next time I’m doing a bio,’ he drawls.

The press release sent out announcing Lanegan’s new album, Phantom Radio (the cover is pictured on the right), makes great play of how his ‘chief compositional tool’ had been a mobile phone app called Funk Box. It seems he has been asked about this a lot. But as Lanegan explains: ‘I basically used it to put a drum part on a couple of demos that I did at home, that’s all.

‘I didn’t use it in the making of the record or anything.

‘And no, I’m not really a technology guy, or I wouldn’t be using a phone app to make demos. I just use the path of least resistance, really.’

A friend and peer of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Lanegan first tasted success as the frontman of the Seattle-based Screaming Trees, who were one of the many bands that got hoovered up by a major label during the grunge boom of the early ’90s.

By the time the Trees ground to a halt in 2000 Lanegan had already released three solo albums.

Alongside his own work, he has loaned his distinctive gravelly baritone to a dizzying array of projects, working with everyone from Queens of the Stone Age to UNKLE, Isobel Campbell, Moby, Slash, Duke Garwood, Massive Attack and many more.

But Mark says he doesn’t seek out these collaborations: ‘If I’m playing on someone else’s record, it’s not because I suggested it,’ he give a big laugh at the apparent absurdity, ‘it’s because somebody asked me. If it’s one of my records, then I’m obviously doing the asking, or in the case of The Gutter twins, it’s a 50/50 thing, and me and Duke it’s 50/50.’

Phantom Radio takes the subtle electronica Lanegan introduced into his musical palette on Blues Funeral and adds elements of Krautrock and ’80s new wave. As he says: ‘Those are elements and tools that people have used forever, I’ve not really reinvented the wheel or anything. Basically when I want to make records, I’m looking for an opportunity to enjoy myself, and that’s what I’m doing now.’

One person he’s worked with regularly is Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli, as part of The Twilight Singers, and as equal partners in The Gutter Twins. Greg recently described Phantom Radio as ‘one of the greatest albums Mark’s ever made.’

When asked what he thinks about how it compares with his other albums, he says: ‘I don’t really think about it in those terms, I think about it in terms of the last one.

‘And it seems like a natural progression from Blues Funeral. You know I like it – I’m going to enjoy playing these songs live. But where it sits, I dunno, that’s for guys like you to figure out.’

For fans of The Gutter Twins’ sole 2008 album Saturnalia, there is good news though: ‘We do plan on making another record, I don’t know when that’s going to happen, but that’s something that’s in the works.’

Anyone who’s seen Lanegan live will know he is an intense presence on stage – often singing with his eyes closed and clinging tightly to his microphone stand.

Describing performing live, he says: ‘It’s something I’ve grown to enjoy –15 years ago I wasn’t as excited with it, but I’ve gotten more comfortable with it over time.

‘I’m 50 years old, I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I think that’s long enough to get used to it.’

Lanegan hit the landmark birthday a few days before talking to The Guide. Has it changed his outlook on the world at all?

‘They say it’s the new 49, so...’ and he gives a dry chuckle.

At a couple of the shows on his forthcoming UK tour, which hits The Pyramids on January 29, Mark will be joined by London-based multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood, who he recorded the Black Pudding album with in 2013. The pair struck up a rapport when they performed on the same bill – Lanegan was with gothic electronica act Soulsavers, Garwood with the band Tenebrous Liar. Garwood also wrote the music for Phantom Radio standout I Am The Wolf, and there could be more on the horizon.

‘I assume we’ll probably do stuff together,’ says Lanegan, ‘I’m a big fan of what he does, and I really like the music we make together.’

While Lanegan has amassed his own substantial body of work, there is still interest in his days with Screaming Trees, and in 2011 Last Words, their final recordings, were released on the label of the band’s former drummer Barrett Martin

‘It wasn’t the follow-up to (Trees’ last album) Dust, it was a couple of sessions that we did,’ says Mark.

‘I thought the way they did it was nice, I thought the mixes were good – I actually have played a couple of those songs with my band on recent tours, so I’m pleased that they got out there.’

But in these times when grunge is again fashionable, don’t hold your breath for them to reform.

‘I think the last time I heard an offer to do something was in the early 2000s and I said at the time that I’m not interested in hearing any more offers.

‘It’s just not something I’m interested in, and I don’t think it’s something the others are interested in either – they’ve got real lives.’

The Mark Lanegan Band are at The Pyramids Centre in Southsea on Thursday, January 29. Tickets cost £19.25 and doors open at 7.30pm. Go to pyramids-live.co.uk or call the box office on (023) 9279 9977.

Back to the top of the page