February 21, 2023, a year ago

By Greg Prato

feature hard rock mark lanegan screaming trees queens of the stone age


In addition to issuing music with Screaming Trees and Queens Of The Stone Age (plus as a solo artist and with other projects), Mark Lanegan also assembled several books throughout his career – tops being his memoir, Sing Backwards and Weep. And while it was a can’t-put-down-until-it’s-finished type read, it cut off around 2002 – not touching upon his work with the Queens, nor what many consider to be one of the best recordings of his entire career, the 2004 Mark Lanegan Band offering, Bubblegum. Sadly, with Mark’s passing on February 22 of last year, there will be no chance for a follow-up.

To pay tribute to this exceptional singer and lyricist, I set out to assemble a book in which collaborators, musicians, and friends shared their memories (including Screaming Trees’ Gary Lee Conner, Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, ex-Queens of the Stone Age’s Nick Oliveri, Eagles Of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes, and TV/radio personality Matt Pinfield, among many others). The result is a book simply titled Lanegan, which covers all eras of his long and winding career. Below are several excerpts from the book, which touch upon various topics.

Seattle Spawns Legendary Singers

GARY LEE CONNER [Screaming Trees guitarist]: “I don’t know, but there sure were a lot of them. You had Layne, Chris, Kurt, Eddie Vedder…I don’t know, maybe it’s the weather? [Laughs] But that wouldn’t make sense for the Screaming Trees, because the weather in Ellensburg is different – it’s much drier and it’s half desert. Western Washington was much darker and dingy…and so was Seattle.”

“The thing is, nowadays, Seattle is this shining, gleaming tech cove. Well, back then, it was just kind of a grimy fishing city that had Boeing in it. Airplanes. I think that probably has something to do with it. And very isolated, too. I don’t know about the city, but at least the bands reflected that – that something was going on.”

Screaming Trees Cover Sabbath

JACK ENDINO [producer/mixer]: “For Sweet Oblivion, there was the need for some b-sides to go with the CD singles they were putting out. And they needed three b-sides – most people have not heard all of these b-sides. One of them was ‘(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley,’ which I think is a traditional tune, and one of them was a Black Sabbath cover, ‘Tomorrow’s Dream.’ I had to show Gary Lee Conner how to play the guitar part – because he was trying to do it in standard tuning, but you have to be in drop-D. And he didn’t do a lot of drop-D. I said, ‘No, no, no. Drop that E string down to D, and that riff is super-easy to do.’ Which of course, is true. So, that was amusing – hearing Mark Lanegan singing Ozzy. It’s very interesting because in the bridge of the song, Ozzy goes up an octave – he sings a very high part – and Mark goes down an octave, instead. It’s very ‘Lanegan,’ actually. I think it’s a lovely version.”

“And then the other one was a song called ‘Winter Song.’ There is a band version of it on Sweet Oblivion, and what we did was an acoustic version. I ended up playing slide guitar on it and they couldn’t credit me, because they’re on a major label, and they’re all musician union members…and I was not. Therefore, I could not be credited on the record. And I said, ‘Whatever, I don’t care. I’m credited as the producer in any case.’ We probably spent a day in total doing all three songs – it was very quick. It reminds me that I played bass on a Hole tune once, ‘Beautiful Son,’ and they couldn’t credit me for that, either – I think it was the same story. But that acoustic ‘Winter Song’ is pretty cool. Again, it has a great Mark Lanegan vocal in it.”

Screaming Trees Tour with Metallica and Soundgarden

KIM THAYIL [Soundgarden guitarist]: “In 1996, we did the Lollapalooza tour – with Metallica headlining. Metallica was approached to do Lollapalooza, and they were asked who else they would like on the bill, and they said, ‘Soundgarden.’ Which makes sense, because at that time, Metallica had more of a commercial/mainstream audience – as well as a metal audience. And Lollapalooza was more alternative, and we had some success in both the alternative and metal genres. They asked us to tour with them, and then we were asked by the promotors of Lollapalooza, ‘Who would you like to have on the bill?’ And we said, ‘Screaming Trees! The Ramones!’ So, they got the Ramones on the bill, and we really pushed for the Screaming Trees. That whole tour that summer was the Trees and us together. And Josh Homme was touring with the Trees. And some of our roadies that were working with us were friends of the Trees and their roadies – so there was a little inter-family ‘picnicking’ there on the Lollapalooza tour.”

Mark’s Time With Queens Of The Stone Age

NICK OLIVERI [ex-Queens of the Stone Age singer/bassist]: “Dave Grohl is a monster on the drums and a cool guy. Everybody got along really well on the tour. Mark and Dave were friendly with each other. They weren’t like, palling around late-night, walking the streets or anything – but they got along great. I loved Mark. Mark was my friend – I could tell him anything and he would listen to me. If I needed some words of advice or just a laugh, he was great. He had a way of calling me in the middle of the night, and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to take a walk?’ He liked to walk really fast, like he had somewhere to go. But we weren’t going anywhere – we were just outside, smoking cigarettes. We had some pretty funny talks on our late night walks.”

“I remember one time, there was an incident where I went out with some girl after a show, and I thought I’d sneak back into the hotel without anybody seeing me. As I’m getting out of the cab, I see two boots hiding behind a bush or something in the darkness. A cigarette hits the ground with sparks, and he says, ‘On your anniversary, you son of a bitch?!’ And he walks away really fast. I’m like, ‘Wait! Wait! It’s not my anniversary! What are you talking about?’ [Laughs] Also, when Troy Van Leeuwen joined the band, he called Mark ‘Laney-poo.’ And Mark goes, ‘Tell that new guy if he ever calls me ‘Laney-poo,’ I’m going to kill him.’ And me or Josh heard him, and said, ‘OK, Laney-poo.’”

Musical Diversity

MATT PINFIELD [friend, radio/TV personality]: “I thought the thing that was very interesting about Mark was just how diverse he was. He certainly lyrically and poetically had a thing that was uniquely Mark’s, but I felt that after Screaming Trees, he went and experimented in many different directions. ‘Experiment’ might not even be the right word, because I think he just saw all his different musical influences and he could branch out and go in so many different directions musically. If you were a Mark Lanegan fan, wherever he was going, you went with him.”

Mark’s Passing

JESSE HUGHES [Eagles of Death Metal singer/guitarist]: “I was a little aware of what was going on in his life. It’s not the first time I’ve seen when someone is on the ‘long slow goodbye’ – if you know what I mean. I was shocked…but it’s one of those things where, of course it’s initially surprising, but it wasn’t surprising at all. He seemed bound for it. And I think that’s a good term to describe Mark – the path that he was on he seemed ‘bound’ to. Unable to pull up and avoid the hills. But that’s what kamikazes never do.”

Mark Remembered

CHAD CHANNING [Nirvana drummer]: “A really solid singer-songwriter. Somebody who wrote really great music. I look upon him very fondly. I think of Mark as a very talented man and I would hope that’s what people remember him as. Everybody goes through hard times in their life, and it’s just kind of the way life is. But…always remember the good.”

Lanegan is available for purchase as paperback, hardcover, or Kindle versions (and soon, will be available as an audio version).

(Top photo - Steven J. Messina)

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