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Interview
Mark Lanegan

Mark Lanegan

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
date
Wednesday 29th February, 2012 1:15PM

Mark Lanegan began his career in the mid-to-late eighties as a member of seminal grunge band Screaming Trees and has gone on to collaborate with the likes of Josh Homme and Isobel Campbell and release a huge body of critically acclaimed solo work. Lanegan released his latest solo album, Blues Funeral, a couple of weeks back and has announced a one-off New Zealand tour date to support it. UTR caught up with man-of-few-words Lanegan, to discuss his solo approach, some of his collaborative work and what it was like way back when he was starting out.

Hey Mark, how are you?

I’m good thanks.

Where are you at the moment?

I’m just at home in Los Angeles.

Are you looking forward to touring the new album?

Yeah I’m going to start next week and I’m really looking forward to it.

Let’s start by talking about the new album, Blues Funeral. Tell me about the writing and recording process.

Well, when I started I didn’t have any songs but I knew it was time to start making a record because I didn’t have anything else going on. I had some free time so I just recorded the songs and while it was being finished I wrote another one, so it all came together really quickly.

Was there anything you wanted to explore, sonically, lyrically or otherwise, on this album?

I just wanted to do the same thing I always do which is make a record that had a beginning, middle and end and was meaningful.

What kind of emotional response do you think the album evokes?

That’s up to the listener to decide. I just do ‘em and I don’t really have any specific aim when I’m doing it. I just sort of do whatever seems appropriate for any given piece of music and that one might tell me what the next one is supposed to sound like and so on and so forth. I’m not really that philosophical about it.

Given that it's finished and you can reflect on it as a full body of work, how would you compare it to your earlier solo albums?

I would view it as my latest record with different songs on it which therefore makes it different from the previous ones. But these are really things that somebody else should be answering - they're not for me to say.

So you prefer to just put it out in the world and leave listeners and fans to reach their own conclusions about it?

Absolutely, for me to tell people what it’s about defeats the purpose. The joy of making it for me is that it belongs to somebody else from the beginning.

Before this album you were on a hiatus from solo work and were doing a lot of collaborations. Tell me about your work with Isobel Campbell.

Well, it came about in 2004 she contacted me and asked if I wanted to sing on a song. So I wrote some words for a song of hers and sang on it and then after that we met and got along really well and we started talking about music and decided it might be cool to make an entire record so we did that. One thing led to another and we did a lot of touring and made a couple more records. It ended up being a lot more fruitful-a-relationship than I had anticipated.

What do you enjoy about your collaborative experiences with Isobel Campbell.

What I enjoyed was singing songs that she wrote and doing things that I wouldn’t normally do. It's great to explore different kinds of songs and different kinds of songwriting and all of that.

You collaborate with a lot of other musicians on other projects as well. Is the collaborative experience an important thing for you? What do you enjoy about it compared to working in a solo environment?

Well even when I’m working in a solo environment it’s collaborative unless I was playing everything myself - you have all these other people playing on each track. The difference being that when I’m doing something else sometimes I’m just there to support someone else's vision and sometimes it’s a shared vision. If it’s one of my records then they’re supporting my vision. Like I said about working with Isobel - and it’s also true of the other collaborations - it gives me an opportunity to see things through somebody else's eyes and learn something and perhaps do something differently, so yeah it is important to me.

Do you have any particular collaborative experiences that stand out?

No I wouldn’t separate one from another - it’s all just part of the body of work. I just feel lucky to have the opportunity to work with the people I’ve worked with and be on the records I’ve been on.

Before you were a solo artist you were in seminal band Screaming Trees. Reflecting back, what drew you to the scene in the beginning?

Well it’s like anybody, I was a fan of music and listening to records. I enjoyed playing my own music and eventually I came into contact with some guys who actually had a band and it sort of went from there. But it definitely started because I was a fan of music.

Tell me about being part of what seems, from the outside, a really tight knit environment and subculture.

Well for one thing I never felt part of a community. I had some close friends who were also in bands and there were a lot of bands from a realy small city who became really popular and that was weird. But I was on the road for a lot of that time you know it’s not like everyone got together and barbequed or anything.

Did it ever feel like any of you guys had a shared vision of any kind?

No. I mean like I said I had friends who were in bands and occasionally we would play on each other’s records but it’s just the same as it is now.

Reflecting on how the industry has changed, what have you noticed as the most monumental shift throughout your career?

Well I’ve never been able to pay attention to the industry or business. I think one of the great things about being around now is that anybody can make a record and anybody can put it out. When I started in the mid-eighties it wasn’t so easy to do that but now there are a lot of avenues for expression which I think is really great. As far as the industry, I can’t really tell you.

As a creative, how has your approach to songwriting and what you explore in your work changed throughout your career?

Well there’s no difference to my approach. The approach I mentioned at the start of the interview is what it’s always been.

So, are you looking forward to coming to New Zealand?

Absolutely.

What else does your tour involve this year?

We’ve got six weeks in Europe and then I’m going to Mexico and South America, New Zealand and back in the States.

And who plays with you these days when you’re on the road?

My band is my friend and three other Belgium guys.