We originally ran this interview October 14, 2013. Lanegan will be back in NYC this Saturday, November 8 at Webster Hall and in D.C. this Sunday, November 9 for a performance at U Hall. -ed.
Mark Lanegan, former lead singer of the Screaming Trees, sometime collaborator with Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell (formerly of Belle and Sebastian) and member of The Gutter Twins with Greg Dulli (The Afghan Whigs) sounds like a man who has seen it all. His new record, “Imitations,” features the singer covering 12 songs from performers like Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. And it makes sense.
Brightest Young Things: How did you go about choosing the songs for this project?
Mark Lanegan: I had the idea for making this record for a long time in the back of my mind. In the 90s, I tried a couple of these kind of songs, at that time they didn’t really go with the rest of the material, but I thought, someday, I’m going to make a record that’s sort of full and committed to this kind of song.
BYT: The press release mentions you grew up hearing and singing these sad songs of Sinatra and Andy Williams and it’s really difficult to imagine you as a 6-year-old boy.
ML: Well, believe it or not, it happened once.
BYT: What kind of child were you?
ML: Well, I was just troublesome, mischievous, would get in trouble a lot, did stuff I wasn’t supposed to do.
BYT: How much do you think growing up in Washington (state) shaped the type of music you listen to or the type of music you ended up producing and making?
ML: That’s a good question, I don’t know, it’s really, because of where I grew up, it’s a miracle that I even heard any music really.
I started off looking for punk rock records, and I finally met some guys after years and years, I was a senior in high school and I finally met a guy. He was three or four years younger than me and ended up being the bass player in my first band, my band that I had for fifteen years (Screaming Trees). Without meeting him I’d just be listening the worst of AM radio.
BYT: Well, no offense to this record, but you seem to have covered a lot of the songs that might be considered the worst of AM radio.
ML: Well, good point, a lot of people might consider Andy Williams kind of a joke, but technically, singing-wise, I haven’t sung for a while, and I much a appreciate a great great singer. He is one of the all time greatest, one of the songs I covered, I covered three songs on this record that I heard off the Andy Williams record so that’s how big an influence he was on it. I saw a YouTube clip of him singing “Solitaire” live and it’s so incredible. I found out he was 48-years-old (in the clip), which is the age I am right now. It just made me so ashamed of myself, that I call myself a singer. This performance is so badass and incredible.
BYT: You’re compared to people our readers love: Tom Waits and Nick Cave. Would you rather be compared to Andy Williams or do you see yourself more in line with modern guys like yourself?
Of course, I’d rather people get compared to me, but that doesn’t seem to be happening, So I think the Tom Waits thing is just a matter of our voices. Although I appreciate him as a great artist, I don’t see that I have a lot in common with him, except the way our voices sound. Nick Cave, I have a little more in common with, but you know at the end of the day when you’re the guy that people know that least, people will compare you to others.
BYT: Do you drink alcohol? Do you smoke cigarettes? It sounds like you do. You sound badass, but it’s sounds like something you can’t fake.
ML: Well I haven’t done either of those things for quite a some years, which is probably why I’m still talking to you.
BYT: Exactly, so it’s just a perception thing, It’s not like you actually are this hard drinking, hard smoking man, you just happen to sound like you are.
ML: Yeah, well at one time I was, but I’m not proud of it or anything and I’m sure it had some bearing on the way my voice sounds. Although my father has a voice that sounds incredibly similar to mine. I’ve never head him sing, but I’ve heard him talk a lot, sounds just like me so I think it’s genetics.
BYT: Do you do any vocal warm-ups or exercises? How do you practice, other than just rehearsing a set?
ML: That’s it. I do a fair amount of singing while I’m writing songs. I don’t really sing until I’m on the road. I’m singing everyday and it becomes something I have to pay some attention to. When you’re in Slovakia in the middle of winter time and you’re down twenty shows already and you’ve done five in a row. It’s wet, you’re cold, and hot. Then you put on a scarf on or something. Really, that’s about it.
BYT: Would you still be working at a hardware store if you didn’t have Screaming Trees?
ML: Well it wasn’t a hardware store per se, it was a store that sold appliances but it sold a little of everything else, but they sold appliances as well. I don’t even know if those kinds of stores exist anymore.
BYT: Yeah, I don’t think so. Well, better question, would you have left Washington?
ML: Yeah, I would’ve left Washington, in fact, the band actually kept me in Washington for years longer than I intended.
BYT: Where are you residing these days?
ML: Los Angeles.
BYT: And you’re enjoying it?
ML: I’m enjoying it immensely. The weather suits me. I look out my back window and I see palm trees and it just can’t be beat.
BYT: Yeah. Do you want to talk about your new video?
BYT: It’s gorgeous and it’s really depressing. What are you’re thoughts on Vegas?
ML: When I was younger and I drank, I would go there on vacation and make an ass of myself trying to win money. I almost missed my plane home once because I (got) a jackpot at the dollar slots at the Vegas airport. Ultimately, you know it’s it’s a lot of fun, a place where I wouldn’t care to go now.
BYT: Let me be honest with you, It’s really intimidating to speak with you, there’s a handful of guys that have always just scared the hell out of me. You’re one of them, and one of them is your band mate or your former band mate, whatever you want to call it, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. I think I’m intimidated by slow speaking men that obviously think before they talk and make good music and don’t seem to take shit from anybody. Is that a fair summation of your career?
ML: My career?
BYT: Or as a person?
ML: I’m a slow talking person.
BYT: Well, I feel like you’re always ready to fight, and I know that can’t be true, but you kind of sound like you are in a great way.
ML: Yeah.. You know..
BYT: See, that’s the perfect response.
ML: It’s all perception, man.
BYT: How do you prefer people listen to this record? I don’t have the vinyl yet, I have it in a digital file, but earlier today, I was listening to it on Spotify and an ad for the new Jackass movie came on. Is that weird for the artist?
ML: Well it’s weird for me. When I’m online, I’m looking at basketball blogs, which is basically what I do all day.
BYT: Wait, what’s your team?
ML: The Clippers, dude.
BYT: Did you completely give up on the (Seattle) Sonics?
ML: Well I had to. First, I left the city before they ever did (The Seattle SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008). When I first started going to Clippers games, it was to see the Sonics when they came to town.
BYT: Makes sense.
ML: But when the events stopped happening, I still had to go see basketball games, and I went to those Clippers games when they had really horrible seasons, like fifteen wins. So it’s a good time for us now, but yeah I can’t get excited about Oklahoma City, man. It’s a bummer.
BYT: Yeah, but every single year, there’s talk that Seattle might get another team and they should.
ML: Yeah but, fuck that. It’s the (Sacrament0) Kings.
BYT: So what? The Cleveland Browns became the Ravens and then they won two Super Bowls within the last twenty years. What’s the problem?
ML: You know if that does come to pass, then I’d be the happiest guy. I’d go to Seattle more often. But who wants the fucking Kings anyways, shittiest team in the league. I don’t want DeMarcus Cousins on my team. Sorry.