For someone who has seen as much life and spent as much time behind the curtain of the music industry as grunge icon, Mark Lanegan, one might think there wouldn’t be a lot of new ground for the artist to explore. As has been detailed, Lanegan, who rose to fame with his band, Screaming Trees, in the mid-90s in Seattle, experienced drug addiction and the loss of prominent friends and collaborators. He’s also a platinum-selling front man. Yet, some 25 years since rising to notoriety, Lanegan continues to seek out new creative territory, as evidenced on his forthcoming record, Straight Songs Of Sorrow, set for release May 8 (pre-order it here).
“There are a lot of firsts on this new record,” Lanegan says. “My wife helped make some of it. I engineered quite a bit of it. This is also the first record in 35 years of making records where I actually played almost every instrument on some of the songs myself.”
But the 15-track LP didn’t come to Lanegan out of the blue. Lanegan, who released a book of his song lyrics in 2017, had been pushed after that by friends to write a serious memoir. After thinking the idea over and attempting one grueling chapter, Lanegan decided to give the book a try. He didn’t want to just skim the surface, however. If he was going to dive into the truth, he was going to do a cannonball into the deep end.
“There wasn’t one story I was fucking eager to tell,” Lanegan says. “It’s not pretty and I’m definitely not the hero of the story. In fact, I’m far from it. In the book, I’m basically talking about the worst shit that I’ve done in my life.”
In writing the memoir, Sing Backwards and Weep, set for an April 28th release (order for digital or hardback), Lanegan said he “blindly” walked into the process of delving into his past. At first he thought it might be relatively easy to write the book. Then it got very hard. Remembering and writing felt “soul crushing,” he says. But nevertheless, Lanegan got through the process. In the end, he wasn’t changed in any remarkable way, per se. But the experience did push him to write new music and, eventfully, to finish a new record.
One of the album’s standout songs, “Internal Hourglass Discussion,” features electric production that feels more Radiohead than fuzzy guitar-driven garage rock. The track describes the day Lanegan, a Northwest mainstay, decided that he had to leave Seattle. Another track, “Ketamine,” talks about the affects of the dreary narcotic. Straight Songs Of Sorrow concludes with the song, “Eden Lost And Found,” which offers a sense of hope, a bit of sunshine. The song begins with the lyric, “Daylight is coming!” sung over a rickety organ. “Everybody wants to be free,” Lanegan croons in signature growl-hum.
Lanegan, who was born in rural Ellensburg, Washington, first stumbled on music at 14-years-old. He walked into a local comic book shop that happened to sell punk rock vinyls. Lanegan had been struck by an Iggy Pop album cover. Suddenly, a universe opened up before him. For a while, he was the only one his age who knew anything about this type of music. Or so he thought. Soon, through a stint in detention, Lanegan met the members who would form Screaming Trees. He became the band’s singer. His life changed forever.
Today, Lanegan continues to produce work. It’s practically an obsession for the artist. And while he won’t go as far as to say producing music is therapeutic, in many ways, it’s safe to assume that it might be. Lanegan wakes up thinking about music. He’s constantly collaborating with artists like The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli or Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, both of whom make guest appearances on Straight Songs Of Sorrow. His drive has pushed him to great heights.
“I’m always working on some project or another,” says Lanegan. “I’ve always got a record of my own or a collaboration going at the same time. When I don’t, I’m just writing songs and recording them.”
Lanegan has made a home studio from his garage. His wife and he have a joint musical project together and she’s a whiz on Pro Tools. It’s a convenient and conducive setup. As a result, Lanegan has the space he needs to take the proverbial flashlight and explore the previously untouched quarries of his memory. Straight Songs Of Sorrow, therefore, is a clear look in.
“I’m proud of this record,” Lanegan says. “It’s probably the most honest record I’ve ever made. By that I mean – songs aren’t real life. They start some place in reality but they don’t stay there. But these new songs I could clearly link to the book and to my life. That is what I mean by honest.”