The Gutter Twins - Biography
It's the kind of partnership that grunge-obsessed teenagers might fantasize about, as if it could never actually happen. But alas, the Gutter Twins are a “real band” in every sense of the phrase. Where Chris Cornell's output since Soundgarden has ranged from not always terrible (Audioslave) to terrible (his latest collaborations with Timbaland) and Dave Grohl's post-Nirvana band, Foo Fighters, have walked a tightrope of mediocrity of late, at least two titans of the grunge era are not only refusing to shy away from the darkness of their pasts, but are embracing it outright. In retrospect, the formation of the Gutter Twins, led by Greg Dulli (of the Afghan Whigs) and Mark Lanegan (of Screaming Trees), was both surprising and inevitable. Dulli and Lanegan had been friends as well as collaborators for a while, showing up on the other's individual projects. Word got out that they were recording an album together under the name the Gutter Twins and expectations were simultaneously high and low. When a group is formed by musicians from past bands who have had success, their new band is labeled a supergroup, and these groups are usually novelties that don't last longer than a couple of albums (Audioslave, Velvet Revolver, A Perfect Circle). But by treating their new band as little more than a pet project, the Gutter Twins were able to have their first album, Saturnalia, taken seriously. Also, it didn't hurt that it was made up of genuinely dark, solid songs.
Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan met at a party in 1989, but did not become involved in a musical sense until well after that. Though neither of their bands were part of grunge's big three, involving Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, they were barely a tier below them, with both frontmen earning their own share of success. The Afghan Whigs became the first non-Pacific Northwestern band to sign to Sub Pop, fronted by Dulli's snarling, scratching vocals. Dulli's oft-misunderstood lyrical embodiment of a sex-crazed misogynist made him one of the most compelling frontmen of the nineties, and the Whigs have achieved a cult status that very few bands can hold a candle to. Lanegan, meanwhile, was singing for Screaming Trees, another cult band from the early nineties alternative era that might have risen to fame, had it not been for the internal fighting that made it hard for them to be as prolific as their contemporaries. However, Lanegan made a few critically-acclaimed solo albums throughout the nineties and soon became an in-demand collaborator to his peers.
While Lanegan divided his time in the new millennium between working on albums by Queens of the Stone Age, Isobell Campbell, and himself, Dulli was putting out records with his post-Afghan Whigs band, The Twilight Singers. Their first, Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers, was released in 2000, and their most recent, Powder Burns, came out in 2006. Somewhere in between, the pair occasionally met up and helped each other out. Lanegan sang vocals on “Number Nine,” the closing song on the Twilight Singer's Blackberry Belle, released in 2003. Before Dulli could even return the favor, he received a phone call from a journalist asking him about his new band, the Gutter Twins, a group Dulli had never heard of. He came to discover that the name was made up by Lanegan, who had told the press that he and Dulli were writing material under that moniker. Before that could become a reality, Dulli signed on as piano player in Lanegan's touring band and showed up on a few tracks off his 2004 solo album, Bubblegum. Soon enough, the time was right for the both of them to fully concentrate on their new project.
The Gutter Twins had their premier at a September 11th concert in Rome in 2005. Lanegan then became, more or less, a touring member of the Twilight Singers, and appeared on their Stitch In Time EP. When the duo were finally ready to record the material they'd written together, they signed to Sub Pop and set to work. The sessions were a highly collaborative process, and many guests were present throughout. Alain Johannes and the late Natasha Schneider of Eleven and Queens of the Stone Age helped with the song “Each to Each.” Other guests on the LP include Troy Van Leeuwen (Queens of the Stone Age, A Perfect Circle), Dave Catching (Desert Sessions), and Brian Young (Fountains of Wayne). The finished product, Saturnalia (named for an ancient Roman festival where, at the conclusion of its week-long duration, slaves act as the masters and their masters act as slaves) was released on Sub Pop on March 4th, 2008. Gloomy metaphors and themes dealing with sin and redemption of the spirit are all over this debut, with Lanegan and Dulli reaching into the dark recesses of their pasts and presents, letting demons run free in the lyrics they wrote together. And most of the brooding arrangements, whether they rock as hard as “Idle Hands” or groove like the apocalyptic “Seven Stories Underground,” bring little levity. The album was met with rave reviews upon its release. It is very similar in tone to the albums The Twilight Singers had been releasing, but Lanegan's added growl and personal touch in the writing of it make it sound like something different and perhaps something more; more than just a one-off project and certainly better than any alternative supergroup. The Gutter Twins are a band, and hopefully will be for quite a while.
Later in 2008, the band hinted at a follow-up to their debut by releasing an Internet-only EP, Adorata. A portion of the proceeds from the EP were donated to the Natasha Schneider memorial fund. The EP contained eight songs, most of them covers, from “Down the Line” by Jose Gonzalez, to “Flow Like a River” by Schneider's old band, Eleven. They also covered Scott Walker, Primal Scream, Vetiver, and did a version of the traditional “St. James Infirmary.” Two new original songs also made it onto the release, “Spanish Doors” and “We Have Met Before.” Dulli is currently working on a solo album, and Lanegan is set to release another album with Isobell Campbell, but another Gutter Twins release seems, thankfully, inevitable.