Mark Lanegan - Biography
Mark Lanegan's solo efforts, though never finding chart success, are documents of the soulful, introspective underbelly of grunge. Where lyrics found in Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and certainly Screaming Trees (Lanegan's not so steady day job) did have depth, a casual listener could easily ignore them due to the overbearing nature of the music itself. Such an ignorance is difficult to bring to a Lanegan album, as his stories of regret, longing, and abuse are right up front for all to hear. When Screaming Trees finally fizzled out in the mid to late 90's, Lanegan was able to make his solo career his primary focus. However, he seems more content to not have any one focus, and today he is something of a professional collaborator. Different friends of his appear on each one of his albums. He's done cameos on albums by the Twilight Singers and Queens of the Stone Age. He's released two full-lengths with Isobell Campbell of Belle and Sebastian. And, perhaps most satisfyingly, he has returned to his dark, grungy roots, recording an album with Afghan Whigs/Twilight Singers front-man Greg Dulli as The Gutter Twins.
Lanegan, born in Ellensburg, Washington, in 1964, was a bad kid. Throughout his teenage years, he was in and out of jail on charges of theft and drug use (Lanegan soon became a full-fledged crack and heroin addict). He befriended the Connor brothers, Gary Lee and Van. They formed the Screaming Trees in 1985 with drummer Mark Pickerel, but even before their first record release, Lanegan wanted out. He'd planned to move to Las Vegas and get work, but fate stepped in under the guise of a tractor, which ran over Lanegan's legs and put him in the hospital before he could move to sin city. After his recovery, he stuck with the Trees, recording and touring with them into the 1990's.
His first solo album was meant to be recorded in its entirety with his friends, Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. The idea did not pan out, however, and the album was finished with the help of guitarist Mike Johnson (who would later play bass for J Mascis in Dinosaur Jr.), bassist/producer Jack Endino, and Pickerel. The Winding Sheet was released in 1990 on Screaming Trees' label, Sub Pop. The mostly acoustic set featured a cover of Leadbelly's “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?,” which was redone again by Cobain and company for Nirvana's 1993 appearance on MTV Unplugged. Lanegan put out two albums with Screaming Trees before recording the follow-up to his solo debut, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost (1994, Sub Pop), possibly his strongest set of solo recordings. Then, he returned to Screaming Trees once more in 1996 for their final album, Dust.
A third solo effort surfaced in 1998, the not-surprisingly dark Scraps at Midnight (Sub Pop). Lanegan's albums shared a common thread of quiet torment, and the artist would stick with this style, as it was clearly working for him. Now that Screaming Trees were no more, Lanegan didn't need to take a four-year break from his solo career. He quickly got back into the studio and recorded I'll Take Care of You (1999, Sub Pop) a relaxed album full of little-known covers. In 2001, he released Field Songs, a return to the usual Lanegan fare that was recorded with Soundgarden's Ben Sheperd, Bill Reiflin of KMFDM and Ministry, and Duff McKagen of Guns N'Roses. These three musicians also comprised Lanegan's touring band at the time.
Lanegan had worked on and off with ex-Kyuss member Josh Homme since the latter toured with Screaming Trees in 1996 as a guitarist. Homme soon started his own band, Queens of the Stone Age, and brought Lanegan in to do vocals on a few tracks for their second album, 2000's Rated R. For that album's 2003 follow-up, Songs for the Deaf, Lanegan became way more involved, not only lending lead vocals to a few cuts on a the acclaimed hard rock album, but also touring with the band in support of it. Lanegan got back to his solo career, releasing an EP in 2003 called Here Comes That Weird Chill: Methamphetamine Blues, Extras, and Oddities. This was a teaser for the full-length, Bubblegum (2004, Beggars Banquet). Although the EP and the album are both credited to Mark Lanegan Band, there really is no tangible band on the proceedings, only a long list of impressive guests. There are guest spots from PJ Harvey, Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri of QOTSA, Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin of Guns N'Roses, and Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs.
Lanegan appeared on the next QOTSA album, 2005's Lullabies to Paralyze, before recording with Isobel Campbell of Belle and Sebastian. The pair made the understated Ballad of the Broken Seas for a 2006 release, and were nominated for a Mercury Prize that year. He also recorded with the Soulsavers on the album, It's Not How Far You Fall, It's the Way You Land. For some time now, Lanegan had enjoyed working on a couple projects with longtime friend Greg Dulli, appearing in the latter's long-running post-Whigs project, The Twilight Singers. Dulli also played piano on a tour with Mark Lanegan Band. These two friends have proven themselves to be not only survivors of grunge (as many torchbearers of the era have faded into obscurity), but survivors in general, and in a way, they have each other to thank. Dulli's excessive cocaine use came to a head earlier in the decade, and when he decided enough was enough, he called on Lanegan for help. Lanegan, too, had been through hell with his crack and heroin addictions, and has credited Dulli with helping him through those times. The dark pasts that haunt these two musicians now provide them with a very productive present, and the most thrilling artifact of their musical association came in 2007. As the Gutter Twins, Dulli and Lanegan released Satunalia, an album that bears all the soul of the latter's solo efforts with a little more intimidation and muscle.
While the Gutter Twins was not intended to be a one-off project, it obviously didn't provide Lanegan with a new mainstay. By 2008, he was back with Isobell Campbell, singing the songs she composed for their new album, Sunday at Devil Dirt, which was released in May. A new Gutter Twins EP followed in September, called Adorata. Lanegan released Blues Funeral in 2012.