With a career spanning over thirty years Mark Lanegan is a serial-collaborator, solo artist extraordinaire and grunge legend all rolled into one – a living ode to the rasping, whisky-dipped ’80’s.
With close to fifty albums in his repertoire, this is a man who has navigated the music industry straight across the millennium hurdle and still hasn’t stopped, or even slightly slowed down.
“Thank you very much,” Lanegan growls into the mic as the last chords of ‘Death’s Head Tattoo’ die away and the crowd erupts. It’s Friday afternoon at Glastonbury and The Park is packed. Aging rockers rub shoulders with eager millennials – and there’s even a child on his dad’s shoulders. This is testimony to Lanegan’s smooth progression over the years, From Screaming Trees to Queens of the Stone Age and a barrage of high profile collaborations, gathering brand new followers as he goes.
“I wouldn’t look back [at my formative years as a musician] unless somebody asked me to,” he says as we catch up backstage before his performance. “It’s just a period of time when I was making music.” He is quiet and contemplative, but in spite of his reputation as an elusive interviewee, he drops smiles with enough of a nudge. “While it was happening “grunge” wasn’t really a thing,” he adds. “We didn’t see ourselves as a movement. It was a label put on the bands afterwards by the media.”
His tenth solo album, “Gargoyle”, dropped earlier this year and is peppered in metaphor and emotive lyrics, yet he refuses to put a finger on any particular song meanings. “I just tend to write lyrics by instinct, do whatever seems appropriate for any piece of music and then let the chips fall where they may. The songs I write have some basis in reality, they start with some level of unconscious thought – but not an actual set of events, because a song is not real life.”
His debut solo Glastonbury performance comes slap bang in the middle of a European tour which is seeing him work his way across the continent, backed by his trusty band and accompanied by long time collaborator Duke Garwood. But what about a trip to South Africa? “I am aware of Die Andwoord.” He stumbles a bit on the name and chuckles when I correct him. “I have thought about going down [to South Africa] a lot. It’s one of those places I would definitely like to play at some point. But for whatever reason it just hasn’t happened yet but I’m definitely open to it – for sure!” And there’s ample time.
This is a man who has worked with Kurt Cobain, Slash and Massive Attack. He has garnered a reputation as a collaborator who’s rasping vocals and gritty style have the ability to twist and adapt to any opportunity which comes his way. With very little downtime and an album hot off the press he hasn’t got any collaborations in the works as yet, however, but he’s got a number of hopefuls still on his bucket list.
“Pie in the sky situations – I would love to do something with Kraftwerk,” he says, referring to the German techno trailblazers who helped inspire the electro stylings in his work over the last five years. “I’d also love to do something with Brian Eno but that stuff’s probably not going to happen. Of course, if you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago if I had ever been on stage with Peter Hook, another one of my heroes, I would’ve said no, but that just happened.”
Ten solo albums in and a wealthy accumulation of secondary accolades under his belt, one might wonder how he keeps producing top notch albums. “Gargoyle” has been crowned a career high by The Guardian – but to be honest, almost every album he has released in recent years has been met with similar praise.
“I guess I’ve been a little bit surprised at the positive reactions pretty much across the board to this record,” he says humbly. “The response has been pretty overwhelming which is always gratifying because it means that I get a chance to make another one. I’m always waiting for the time when somebody says, “You’ve had enough”.”
Definitely something that’s not going to happen anytime soon, Mark.