Mark Lanegan has one of those voices.
The deep, gravelly baritone is intimidating, reeks of authenticity and is instantly recognized by anyone who's ever heard it.
Equal parts late-night DJ and barroom prophet, Lanegan's whiskey-and-tobacco-soaked timbre helped guide Seattle grunge pioneers Screaming Trees through 15 years and seven albums.
Since then, he's released six solo records and been a primary contributor to varied collaborations with Isobel Campbell, Greg Dulli and Queens of the Stone Age.
His pairing with Soulsavers, a U.K. production team consisting of ex-DJs Rich Machin and Ian Glover, yielded the 2007 album It's Not How Far You Fall, It's the Way You Land. Their second effort together, Broken, came out in the U.K. on Aug. 17 and will be released in the U.S. in the fall.
Fresh off a European festival tour, the band is performing its electronica-infused country, gospel, rock and soul stateside until the end of September. Just don't expect it to sound exactly like the album.
“We're approximating, you know?” Lanegan tells CityBeat from Italy, between slow, steady drags of a cigarette at nearly 4 in the morning. “It's sort of like a demo version that's always just a little bit different every night. On our records, there's a fair amount of electronics going on, and we're playing with your standard rock set-up. It's not exact, but it's good nonetheless.”
Lanegan and Machin were introduced through a mutual friend, Heavenly Records founder Jeff Barrett. Machin asked Barrett to see if the singer might be interested in collaborating. Lanegan agreed, but he and Machin decided to stay in their respective countries. For each record, Lanegan says, “bare-bones” ideas were sent back and forth via Music Valet, both men adding to parts contributed by the other. Many times, the songs didn't reach completion until well after the vocals were added.
“There's all kinds of ways to write a song,” Lanegan says. “And that's just one of them. I've done it all, whether by myself or with The Gutter Twins and Queens when we're actually all writing together. I don't really have a preference for any of it. I just enjoy working on songs. I'm sort of weird that way.”
On Broken, Lanegan handles almost all of the vocals, but it also features contributions from Mike Patton, Spiritualized's Jason Pierce, Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes and Will Oldham. The first single—a bonus-track-only Oldham cover of the Lanegan tune “Sunrise”—was released a few weeks prior to the album. Lanegan returned the favor by covering Oldham's “You Will Miss Me When I Burn” (which did make the album). He was flattered by Oldham's initial tribute.
“I thought it was great,” Lanegan says. “I heard it quite a while ago, just after he did it. I didn't know that he was going to. He just had it sent to me one day. I'm a big fan of his, and think he's one of the really great, great songwriters and singers of his age. It was a thrill.”
Haunting songs and dark overtones populate both It's Not How Far You Fall…… and Broken. Death, longing, loneliness and resurrection take center stage, and even the instrumentals have a foreboding feel. Yet Lanegan has never seen it as an absolute.
“I don't know,” he says. “I guess I won't ever really look at it or delve that deeply into what the music is like at any given time. As far as all of the darkness goes, I think a lot of people find comfort in what other people might think is dark. I find hope in it, anyway.”
When the Soulsavers tour is over, the singer isn't exactly sure what he's going to do next. But he has no plans to stop writing music anytime soon.
“I've been blessed with a lot of these collaborations. It's all been stuff I didn't want to pass up, and it's kept me pretty busy. I needed to make time for it. But with that said, of course, I'm going to work out a new solo record at some point. I've always got songs I'm working on.”Soulsavers play with Jonneine Zapata and Red Ghost on Saturday, Sept. 12, at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/soulsavers. Would you like your online comment to be considered for publication in our print edition? Include your true full name and neighborhood of residence.