A few minutes before heading to this interview, I was told by a colleague that Mark Lanegan had once told him he was illiterate, and was learning to read on tour. Just to fuck with him. “So, good luck,” were his final parting words.
We did the interview at the Bowery Ballroom for the print version of this fine here publication, as they were prepping what would be their first proper gig under the Gutter Twins with a full set of material. Greg Dulli offered me some chocolate. (It was Valentine’s Day.) I declined. Mark seemed generally disinterested in my presence, or at least weary. We sat in the balcony, where they usually have curtains drawn to section off a little piece of the room for VIPs, bands, and such.
Honestly, I was a bit scared. Mark and all his tattoos were inches away from me, and Greg seemed like he could have been annoyed that I dissed his chocolate offerings. But I was probably being paranoid for nothing; about midway, I said something very self-deprecating that made Mark and Greg both laugh, a feat that made me secretly proud. From that point on, things rolled, and they were both very gracious. The only time Mark really looked me in the eye was when we were done; he shook my hand, thanking me for doing this. No problem, dude.
Tonight is your first proper show? I read that you did something in Italy at some point?
GD: We did that one just for the money.
When was the genesis of this project, when did you start hunkering down on this?
GD: December 2003 was the first time. We had talked about it for years.
[Lanegan’s phone goes off]
GD: One second.
ML: It’s fucked up. The number only comes up right before it shuts off.
GD: Why don’t you take it in?
ML: It just started yesterday.
GD: So he had sung on a Twilight record; we actually were going to do the record, but he got asked to join Queens of the Stone Age. Queens were playing a show in L.A., and he came over before soundcheck and sung this song called “Number 9.” Later that night I went to the Queens show later that night, blah blah blah. He put out an EP called “Here Comes That Weird Chill” and I joined his touring band for that run. At the end of that run, we went into the studio and recorded “Misery” and that was Christmas day 2003.
So it wasn’t that long ago…so in between everything that you were doing, you just kinda worked on this?
GD: Mostly Christmas’s. We did the next song in January 2004, the next song Christmas 2004. Then a song, I think, in 2005. Nothing in 2006, and we did the rest of the songs between February and September of 2007.
So the bulk of the record was doing in 2007.
Is there certain sounds you’re going for when writing? Or for something like this, are you aiming to sound like something?
ML: I think the only stipulation is we wanted it to be its own thing, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. We just wanted to make it a fully realized thing.
GD: I’m going to put my sunglasses on now; not to be cool, but there is a blinding light.
You know what I like about you guys–with this decade, with everyone hopping on the reunion bandwagon, you guys seem to be pushing forward, with your bands, and now this. It seems like you’re looking to move forward. Is that accurate?
GD: We’ve both been asked numerous times to reform, and have been thrown large sums of money to do so, but I’m of the opinion that bands have a finite lifespan. If you stay a band forever, great. If the end comes, then it came for a reason. It’s like any relationship. It has done what it needed to do. I don’t mind playing songs from my past. But as far as getting together for a nostalgia trip, I don’t begrudge anyone who has done that; that’s an individual decision. For me, there’s other things I’d rather do.
ML: I have absolutely zero interest. I want to stay in here, now.
For me, the music I have gravitated to much more on this are the slower tunes, like “Body” “Seven Stories” and “Lead Us.” I don’t know why, but it just seems to me that even though they are slow, there is still a lot going on there. But that’s just me, so, oh well. What do you guys think is the most compelling about the record when you listen to it?
ML: In getting ready for these shows, I was listening to it, and I was surprised at how complete it seems. How fully realized it seems, especially given the amount of time between the first recording session and the last mixing session. But during the last parts of it, I completely lost perspective on it, having lived with it for so long.
GD: I sort of kept a closer watch on it, as time went by. As we began the final push, like any album I’ve made, and I’m sure Mark is the same way–you have songs that stick out and you know where they’re going to go. And you write songs around those- support songs to get to the next place and, the thing I like most about it is while it is cohesive, its wildly varied and different styles from song to song. Kind of …
Bowery worker: Did you hear that? Manager is saying to put out the cigarettes.
So while it’s cohesive, it’s still….
GD: I think we have a lot of influences that are similar to each other, and I think we visited many of them, and sometimes with in the same song.
There seems like there’s all this dark imagery going on. This cover, “The Gutter Twins” name…the sound…
GD: That cover is my friend Frank Relle; he’s a New Orleans photographer who takes eight minute exposure’s of night time spots in New Orleans. That one was taken right after the storm. And that’s how he found it.
The songs that were co-written–could you guys talk about the co-writing aspects, where it was musically, lyrically….
ML: We did it all different ways. We wrote some music together, lyrics together. Lyrics for songs that the other guy had written.
You guys have known each other for a long time. Does that make it easier, or more challenging?
GD: I think that we were friends first, before we started working together. We played songs that weren’t ours first together; just singing songs that we liked on the couch or on the back porch or whatever. When you get to know a person, and you just play songs for each other, you share your record collection or records that you like, that helped me get to know him better, and helped me realize that we were more similar than different. So when we did start writing songs together, I wrote “Number 9” for him to sing and uh, when I joined his band, he gave me parts to sing. Those two experiences led us to, when we went into the studio, we had nothing. I didn’t have anything and he didn’t bring anything to my knowledge. We had a blank sheet of paper, and the first song that we wrote and played in its entirety was “All Misery” and that song did not exist until we did it. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record; it’s one of my favorite songs period. That was an auspicious beginning in the song writing partnership in my opinion.
Have you guys been rehearsing pretty hard for the tour coming up?
GD: We’ve ran the set like ten times. So it won’t be for trying. This particular band plays on how many songs–three?
I noticed that Petra Haden is on here, and I started listening to her recently, specifically to the album with Bill Frisell.
GD: Amazingly talented; I’ve known Petra for thirteen years and she’s played live with me; she played on the first song we did for Blackberry Belle. She and I and Jeff Klein did a show together up in Seattle, where we did acoustic versions of songs.
She seems like she’s living here now.
GD: She stays here a lot.
Oh, here’s a good standard journalist question. You guys ready?
So you guys have been doing this forever; so what drives you both still to have people to tell you to put out cigarettes, to go on tours, go do the I’m Not There thing [The Dylan concert last fall at the Beacon Theater where Mark sang]. You know, going through the efforts. It’s a lot of work.
ML: Well, what else you going to do? We enjoy music, and I feel lucky that someone wants me to show up someplace and place music. Or at least have the opportunity to do it, even if they don’t want me to. It’s a blessing.
GD: I don’t know what else I’d do. I mean, I have other businesses – certainly businesses that are more lucrative than rock and roll. But I’ve wanted to be a musician since I was ten years old, and I wake up everyday feeling like the luckiest person in the world. Success in itself is relative, and as long as I’m playing what I want to play and who I want to play with, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.
Are you guys working on other stuff–Twilight Singers or your [Mark Lanegan] Band?
ML: You know…there’s always something up the road…that you’re gathering material for.
GD: I write songs all the time; I have a stash at home; I don’t know what it’ll be for.