Mark Lanegan is a Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, best known as one of the founding members and frontman of renowned Seattle-based grunge rock pioneers Screaming Trees, and as a solo artist who has collaborated with an incredibly diverse array of artists and bands throughout his lengthy career including Nirvana‘s Kurt Cobain on an unreleased Lead Belly cover/tribute album recorded before the release of Nevermind. Along with that Lanegan is also known for being a member of the grunge rock, All-Star supergroup/side project Mad Season with Alice in Chains‘ Layne Staley and Pearl Jam‘s Mike McCready and for joining Queens of the Stone Age after the breakup of Screaming Trees, contributing on five of the band’s albums — 2000’s Rated R, 2002’s Songs for the Deaf, 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze, 2007’s Era Vulgaris and 2013’s . . . Like Clockwork. Lanegan has also collaborated with The Afghan Whigs‘ Greg Dulli in The Gutter Twins and has collaborated with former Belle and Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell on three albums. Additionally, he has contributed or guested on albums by Melisa Auf der Maur, Martina Topley-Bird, Creature with the Atom Brain, Moby, Bomb the Bass, Soulsavers, Greg Dulli’s The Twilight Singers, UNKLE and others. As a solo artist, Lanegan has released 10 studio albums that have been critically applauded and have seen a fair amount of commercial success.
Lanegan’s 10th and most recent album Gargoyle was released this past summer through Heavenly Recordings. And interestingly enough, the Ellensburg, WA, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter can take the origins of the album’s overall sound and aesthetic back to early last year. As the story goes, the grunge rock legend was working on ideas for what could be a new, solo album, when he received an email from his friend and collaborator, British-based musician Rob Marshall, who he met several years before when Marshall’s former band Exit Calm had supported Soulsavers, a band that Lanegan had been fronting. Marshall’s email thanked Lanegan for his participation on a Humanist album — and in the email, Marshall offered to write music for Lanegan, if he needed it to return the favor. As Lanegan recalled in press notes, his response was along the lines of “Hey man, I’m getting ready to make a record, if you’ve got anything? Three days later he sent me 10 things… !”
Interestingly, the music Marshall had written had managed to fit perfectly with the direction Lanegan had been thinking of for some time — an expansion of the Krautrock-inspired electronic sounds and textures of his previous two albums Blues Funeral and Phantom Radio. Eventually Marshall wound up co-writing six of the album’s 10 songs with the remainder of the album being written and produced by Lanegan’s longtime collaborator Alain Johannes at 11AD Studios in West Hollywood. Gargoyle‘s second single “Beehive” pairs Lanegan’s imitable boozy, growling baritone vocals with a bluesy and swaggering production featuring shimmering guitar chords and enormous tweeter and woofer rattling beats, essentially pushing Lanegan’s recent forays into the blues into the 21st Century; but in a way that feels both warmly familiar and yet new.
Gargoyle’s latest single “Emperor” finds Lanegan and his backing band pairing Lanegan’s imitable, boozy and growling baritone with the sort of old-timey, bar room blues that brings to mind Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” complete with jangling and shimmering guitars and a propulsive backbeat; but much like its predecessor, the song possesses a weary and existential weariness just underneath the surface.
The recently released video continues a string of cinematic yet surreal visuals — in this case, the viewer is thrown into a vaguely Russian styled dictatorship, full of state sanction violence upon innocent people while also nodding at Julius Caesar. While being fictional, the video manages to evoke our dangerously strange and uncertain times.