Sub Pop have turned twenty, this year, and what better way to mark its vicennial than with the return of two of its prodigal sons?
Greg Dulli, of The Afghan Whigs and The Twilight Singers, and Mark Lanegan, most notably of Screaming Trees, and Queens Of The Stone Age (plus too many other solo and joint projects to list) return to the place where it all began for them, with the release of their collaborative project, The Gutter Twins.
“I’ve had a Messianic complex since I was eight”
Greg quickly dismisses any air of sentimentality of this occasion, by informing Clash that their choice of label was merely a case of “Better the devil you know – We already knew the people we were going to be working with. It was just the way it panned out: we were talking to four labels, but Sub Pop said the right things and did the right things.”
Greg is unmistakably the more vocal of the two, describing himself as having a “Messianic complex since I was eight,” whilst Mark has been remarkably withdrawn and quiet on the two occasions we’ve met. Clearly, neither of them is particularly comfortable with talking to the press, however.
Eager to uncover the roots of their recent union I asked about how Greg and Mark originally met: “1989. A Party in Seattle.” Greg says, as a knee-jerk reflex and with an air of finality. After some coaxing, he continues, “We kinda became friends and started hanging out in ’99. That’s when we started playing music together in a relaxed way. By 2001 we were starting to play seriously.”
‘What made you start writing together?’ I ask them.
“I think it’s like anything when you meet somebody and you like the same music, or you exchange musical ideas, or you listen to music together. Obviously, We wore our influences on our sleeves, so there was not a whole lot of talking that needed to go on: I knew who he was and what he did, so it wasn’t hard to see that we were gonna get along.”
Greg and Mark played together casually like this for a some time before The Gutter Twins were born of it: Greg, notably, only found out that he and Mark’s project had gone pro when Mark told a journalist about it during an interview and the said journalist called Greg to, ostensibly, inform him of the partnership. “It was just an extension of something we’d already talked about. I was surprised. I didn’t know the name, so that was the most surprising part to me, but it wasn’t a surprise that we were going to work together.” Says Greg. Mark, who has remained silent until this point, dryly, in his trademark low, gravely voice adds, “It wasn’t the kind of surprise that Abraham Lincoln got though.”
When asked where he alone conjured the band name from, Mark says, “It was just something I was asked by a journalist - it came off the top of my head. I didn’t actually expect it to stick.”
Mark and Greg have been conscious not to draw too much from their previous work, scrapping material that they deem to be too similar in style to either of their previous bands, “It’s unique because of the personalities involved,” Greg says, “we wrote the music together, we wrote the lyrics together, and we conceived it together. It’s a combined vision.”
This is one of Mark’s manifold side projects, however, having already worked with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, Josh Homme, PJ Harvey, and ex-Belle and Sebastian cellist and vocalist, Isobel Campbell, amongst many others. Impressed by his prolific and varied output, I manage to raise the first smile I’ve seen from Mark, by asking if he considers himself a workaholic, “[laughs] No, I don’t think anyone else would consider me to be one!”
For a brief, shining moment in the early to mid ‘90s, there was a spirit of DIY, punk, musical freedom that Greg and Mark were an integral part of. Grunge’s transformation of mainstream music’s landscape has had far reaching effects and encouraged blossoming underground musical talent to take things into their own hands. Now, more than ever, the major labels are losing their vice-like grip on the music industry, “Music’s easier to make now. Anyone can do it in their bedroom. Anyone can make a record all by themselves. If you’re not hearing what you want to hear, then make what you want to hear. That’s what founded the punk ethos... of any decade. I don’t think there’s ever not been underground music.” Says Greg.
"You can’t stop it. If you try to stop it, you’re Prince and you look like a dick"
The Gutter Twins’ musical background well pre-dates the era of file sharing and MP3, though, and I wonder if they are as embracing of all technology that encourages new music, particularly online distribution. I point out that I have already listened to tracks from their debut album, Saturnalia, on Myspace, prior to it’s release, and have seen them playing live together on YouTube, and ask if they think that’s a good thing for fans and musicians, alike.
“You can’t stop it. If you try to stop it, you’re Prince and you look like a dick. I’m not going to worry about something that I can’t stop. In a way, it’s flattering that someone gives a fuck enough, at the same time, part of last night I was like, ‘look at you people filming us with your cell phones – we’re here right now. Why don’t you just watch it now instead of’ –“, Mark finishes his sentence: “listening to some shitty recording”.
Greg continues: “’You’re missing the point of why you’re here.’ I know lots people who dig bootleg live albums. Most of them sound like shit. I go to a show for the experience - same reason I go to a movie, same reason I go to a sporting event: because I’m in the here and now and I want to be entertained now.”
It’s true that when you’re standing behind someone who’s filming the experience on their mobile phone, it’s pretty fucking irritating. I wonder why anyone would want to mar the live experience by spending the whole gig holding a phone aloft, worrying about keeping it steady and in focus, and viewing the show they’re actually attending through its crappy little screen - making it a second hand experience for themselves. “You just said it exactly.” Greg agrees, “It’s a second hand experience that you put on yourself, in order to be the guy that has your name up on - your little [credit] on YouTube. Good for you. If that’s what you’re into: cool. But I would never do that.”
As little as I can wheedle from them about their creative process, I am, however, assured that we can expect more material in the future from Messrs Lanegan and Dulli, Mark telling me: “I’m sure that we’ll make another one [album]. We enjoy the process. We enjoy each other’s company. We enjoy the final outcome of it. I can’t say the next thing we’ll do will be another Gutter Twins record, but I’m sure there’ll be another one at some point.”