It's been 20 years since Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan growled his way into music consciousness with the hit "Nearly Lost You." Lanegan's spent much of those last two decades trying to undo the damage.
If that meant jumping on with buddy Josh Homme and Queens of the Stone Age for a few years, fine. If it meant joining friend and former Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli in a two-man show for a while, that's great, too.
Mostly, it just means that Lanegan can go eight years without making a solo record, as he did between 2004's Bubblegum, and 2012's Blues Funeral, and not have anyone get too angry about it.
Much of Lanegan's recent work provided him a great excuse to hang out with friends. Very little of it has been as labor-intensive as his grunge-era stint as frontman for Screaming Trees, the band he put together back in '85.
"As I started doing those solo records, it was sort of a reaction against stuff I was doing with the Trees, which was noisier and louder," says Lanegan, who's also recorded with both Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley. "When I started making solo records, it was quieter music. And now, for the last several years, I've sort of reconciled the two sides, and it's more just things I enjoy."
The last time Lanegan let others control his music and career, kids were raiding attics for their parents' old Pendleton flannels and taping his band's songs off the radio — all a far cry from more atmospheric post-Trees projects like his three recent albums with Belle and Sebastian's Isobel Campbell.
It's a life lived almost solely in the present, with little credence given to relics of the past or overarching plans for the future. Lanegan's live performances usually don't include his work from early Screaming Trees recordings like Other Worlds and Clairvoyance. As he learned many years ago, you should never put a song on a record unless you're prepared to hear it again for a good long time.
"The songs I play are the songs that I enjoy still, and that's really all I'm ever going to do," Lanegan says. "I'm aware and grateful that there are people there to see it, but I've just always tried to please myself and I'm too self-centered to really give a damn about what anyone else wants to hear; I play the ones I want to play."
The singer's own listening habits these days are largely devoid of vocals. Long stretches on the road are filled with instrumental, ambient music by his friend Dylan Carlson's seminal Seattle-based drone metal band Earth, psychedelic San Francisco outfit Barn Owl, and German electronic project Gas.
"I'm singing songs every day and, to a large extent, the same 20 to 30 songs every day," Lanegan says. "When I'm traveling, I'm usually seeing the world go by out a window, and music without singing seems like a fitting soundtrack to those visuals and a way to cleanse myself of the poisoning I'm doing to my mind listening to the same songs every day."