Mark Lanegan And The Longevity Of Grunge

It is understandable that today we often forget how immediate the influence of grunge is in current music culture. Due to the death of Kurt Cobain in 1994, it’s easy to look at the grunge era with nostalgia and in memoriam. This constructs the myth that the movement’s popularity, to some extent, started and ended with Nirvana. However, the roots of grunge started before Nirvana, with bands such as Pixies and the impact of grunge continues to this day. By looking at the progression of Mark Lanegan, singer and songwriter for Godfather grunge band the Screaming Trees, one can access the poignancy of the Seattle movement.

The Screaming Trees formed in 1985 with brothers Van Corner (bass) and Gary Lee Corner (guitar) with the addition of their friend Mark Lanegan (vocals) and Mark Pickerel (drummer, replaced by Barrett Martin in 1992). Their first ep Other Words was released on cassette in 1985 through indie label Sub Pop. This early sound amalgamates an abrasive punk sound with the initial breakthrough of distorted 60’s psychedelia, grounded in Lanegan’s rich folk reminiscent baritone. The Screaming Trees were the first of their Seattle based contemporaries to be signed by a big record label, Epic Records in 1989. Lanegan started a modest solo career expressing his more thoughtful and lyrical talents. In his 1990 solo album The Winding Sheet he breathes outside of the energetic scene of grunge whilst still carrying a visceral exploration of anguish. His friend and mutual inspiratory collaborator Cobain offered vocals on ‘Down in the Dark’, vocals and guitar on the iconic folk song ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’, which Nirvana subsequently covered on their album Unplugged in 1993. This marriage of a heavy rock and soulful folk sound lives through Lanegan on every collaboration and project he contributes to from this time on.

After the Screaming Trees disbanded in 2000 Lanegan went on to collaborate with Queens of the Stone Age. This collaborative relationship developed when the band (who were pioneers of the stoner rock genre under the name Kyuss) toured with The Screaming Trees in 1995. On the bands breakthrough album Rated R Lanegan offered lead vocals on ‘In The Fade’ and backing vocals on tracks ‘Leg of Lamb’ and ‘Auto Pilot’. Also collaborating on this album is fellow grunge musician Dave Grohl (ex-drummer for Nirvana and front man for the Foo Fighters). The diverse alternative rock sound of Queens of the Stone Age welcomes and relishes in the rich influence of grunge. Rated R was subsequently the first of their albums to chart, and Lanegan became an official member of Queens of the Stone Age joining them on tour for, arguably their most successful album, Songs For the Deaf (2002). His last album with the band was Lullabies to Paralyse (2005). His relationship with the band continued to flourish as they influence each other’s sound, inspiring rich and earthy vocals. In 2013 Lanegan collaborated on their fourth album …Like Clockwork co-writing ‘Fairweather Friends’ the track has a lyrical and soft vocal, distorted rock guitar and a piano part contributed by Sir Elton John. The song displays a mass of influences which can still be anchored to the gravel of the Seattle movement.

Whilst collaborating with the Queens of the Stone Age seemed to express the rock components of Lanegan, he also collaborated on three albums with Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell. This served as an outlet for his deep folk vocals. The melodic idiosyncrasy of the popular indie folk duo Belle and Sebastian makes any other collaborations of the artists seem almost blasphemous. Yet Campbell and Lanegan fuse together a strange combination of airy whimsy with profound rooted heart. Their first album together Ballad of the Broken Seas (2006) explores a melancholia extracting a soulfulness from Lanegan reminiscent of The Winding Sheet, with a more stripped back instrumental offering a cleaner sound. The duo feels smoothest in their most recent album Hawk (2010) the harmonies contrast and complement each other. This expresses a mournful yet uplifting, delicate yet opulent, juxtaposing union of folk. The whispering vocals of Campbell in ‘You Won’t let me Down Again’ support the depth in Lanegan’s baritone resulting in a touching bluesy sound. This folksy side of Lanegan exposed him to a new indie audience. He is currently touring with the multi-dimensional alternative rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on the west coast of America.

Through following some of the musical projects of grunge veteran Mark Lanegan it is clear that the lasting impression of the Seattle movement has seeped into many genres of alternative music. The fuzzy guitar tones found in modern rock, and a lyrical apathy which can be found in most alternative genres shows how influences leak and combine. Moreover, Lanegan’s continual connection with former grunge artists such as Grohl shows the comradery and lasting impact of grunge.

Katie Smart

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