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'He sure can sing the shit out of a song.'

-Fred Neil

Now here's a man who's searching for the lost throne of Tom Waits. Or maybe it's the throne of Harry Nilsson. Or Paul Simon. Or Elliott Smith. Or Kurt Cobain. Or maybe he's building his own. No matter how you look at it, Mark Lanegan is one of the (many) overshadowed kings of Seattle, and by God this man makes damn good music. Lanegan was born in 1964 in Ellensburg, Washington (about 90 miles from Seattle). In 1985 he joined the Screaming Trees (named after a guitar distortion pedal), and a few months later, they recorded their first demo, Other Worlds. Although the band was initially influenced heavily by punk rock, they eventually grew into a more psychedelic rock sound, more subdued and with thicker sounds and conceptual lyrics.

In 1989 the band was one of the first of the Seattle movement to "leave the nest" of SubPop records, signing a deal with Epic. They never reached the level of fame of others in the Seattle scene, like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, but the Trees influence on these bands is marked. Fans of Nirvana will note that the cover of Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night" that appears on Nirvana's unplugged album was in fact originally recorded by Cobain and Lanegan on Mark's first solo album The Winding Sheet, which was released in 1990. The Winding Sheet featured Cobain and Nirvana bassist Krist Novacelic, as well as Trees drummer Mike Pickerel, Dinosaur, Jr.'s Mike Johnson on guitar, and producer/engineer/Skin Yard guitarist supreme Jack Endino on bass. Jack Endino is the sometimes-dubbed "Godfather of Grunge," the man singlehandedly (well, okay, not singlehandedly, but he was the engineer) responsible for almost every recording to come out of SubPop records until 1995.

On January 1 of 1991, the band released three different albums on three different labels, Anthology: The SST years, a sort of pre-emptive “best-of” record, on SST records, Change Has Come on SubPop, and Uncle Anesthesia on Epic. The only one available on the standard market these days is the Epic release, which you pretty much have to find on-line. The Trees then released Sweet Oblivion in 1992, before going on a hiatus that would last almost three years.

Lanegan's second album, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, written in collaboration with Mike Johnson, and very Nick Cave-like in sound and pained spirituality, was released in 1994 to high acclaim and increased sales over The Winding Sheet. Lanegan began exploring the wonderfully gritty low end of his vocal range, a sound for which he became well known in a world of high-end screamers like Chris Cornell. In 1995, Lanegan participated in the Mad Season project, which featured Layne Staley of Alice in Chains on vocals, Pearl Jam's Mike McCready on guitar, and fellow former Screaming Trees member Barrett Martin on drums. Lanegan co-wrote the song “Long Gone Day” with Staley. This is a song to cry to.

In 1996, the Screaming Trees released their final album, Dust, then went on what wound up being a permanent break. Lanegan also participated in the Twisted WIllie project, a tribute to Willie Nelson, in which Lanegan sang Nelson’s “She’s Not For You.” In 1998, Lanegan released Scraps at Midnight, and now that the Trees were out of the picture, the follow up came quickly on Scraps’ heels. I’ll Take Care of You was released in 1999, consisting mostly of covers, drawing on Lanegan’s increasing interest in roots music.

In 2000, Lanegan became involved with Queens of the Stone Age, singing and co-authoring three songs on the band’s R (Rated R) album. He also participated in Sing a Song for You, a tribute to Tim Buckley. In 2001, Lanegan teamed up with QOTSA and others again to produce Rekrods Rekords’ Desert Sessions 7 & 8. The lineup consisted of Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, and Chris Goss of QOTSA, as well as Brendon McNichol, Fred Drake, Samantha Maloney, Porkchop, and engineer, producer and play-anything musician Alain Johannes. He also released his solo album Field Songs. In 2002, Lanegan and Homme’s relationship was cemented with Lanegan’s official membership in QOTSA’s Songs for the Deaf album and subsequent tour. He co-wrote several songs, including the hit “No One Knows,” and “Song for the Dead,” arguably the band’s magnum opus.

Immediately following the tour, Lanegan began recording as a guest vocalist with a number of other bands and artists, including Mondo Generator, Isobel Campbell, Burning Brides, and Twilight Singers, before returning to the solo mindset, releasing the EP Here Comes that Weird Chill, and the follow-up LP Bubblegum, in which he shows the depth and range of his vocal and musical capabilities to their fullest extent yet. In 2005, he once again joined up with QOTSA (now without bassist Oliveri), to work with Josh Homme and a whole slew of fantastic musicians, including Alain Johannes, Troy Van Leeuwen, Shirley Manson, Billy Gibbons (yes, ZZTop’s Billy Gibbons), and Jack Black (who actually only does stomp-clapping on one song, but still, that’s pretty cool...) on the band’s newest album, Lullabies to Paralyze.


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