MARK LANEGAN Dishwasheresque

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“My number one love, really, is to travel and to go play music. No matter how many times I go some place, I always enjoy it. It’s one of the blessings of being able to play music and call it my job, even though it’s not.”

Mark Lanegan recently released his ninth solo LP, Phantom Radio. AUGUSTUS WELBY reports.

It’s logical to interpret a songwriter’s output as a reflection of their listening habits. However, an honest act of expression can’t always be steered in the direction one would ideally prefer.

Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, Mark Lanegan, has been making music for nearly 30 years. He recently released his ninth solo LP (and third credited to Mark Lanegan Band), Phantom Radio. Similar to 2012’s Blues Funeral, Phantom Radio draws on new wave influences and features synthesised instrumentation.

“I was trying to figure out a way to do it for a long time,” Lanegan says. “When I started making solo records in 1989, I was making quiet, acoustic-oriented records, and it was sort of a response against making loud guitar music and playing in a band where the guitar was aimed at my head every night. This is sort of a different way of doing that same thing.”

Not only does Phantom Radio move away from the rock band setting Lanegan’s most known for, but this time the guitars are almost entirely relegated to the back seat. Yet, despite sticking out as anomalies in his extensive catalogue, Lanegan says his latest two releases aptly represent his taste in music.

“I’ve always been somewhat of a neophyte when it comes to creating music; a caveman,” he explains. “I’m proud of all the records I’ve made, glad that they exist and all that, but in my old age it’s easier to make records that are more indicative of music that I enjoy listening to. I guess I’ve just gotten better at making the kind of records that I want to make.”

Plenty of musicians are reluctant to speak openly about their influences, and some even go so far as to claim the music of others has no concrete effect on their creative decisions. Lanegan, on the other hand, proudly admits to looking around for inspiration.

“I don’t only take cues, I take whole sections of songs,” he laughs. “I don’t create music in a vacuum, I create it with the whole history of music that I enjoy listening to – to draw on that and whatever happens in real life. The combination of those things is really what inspires me to write songs. So I openly borrow from stuff that I love and probably always will.”

Seeing as though Phantom Radio hits close to what tantalises Lanegan’s own palate, it makes sense he was taking tips from some lifelong favourites during the record’s construction.

“I’m a big Kraftwerk fanatic and a lot of the electronic elements are me trying to reference that, in my dishwasher-esque way. Joy Division, New Order – stuff that I’ve loved forever and stuff that I always go back to.”

It might’ve taken Lanegan nearly 30 years to sufficiently channel these influences, but it hasn’t prevented him from compiling an exceptionally varied discography. In addition to fronting Screaming Trees through the ‘90s, he’s been a regular Queens Of The Stone Age contributor, made three albums with former Belle & Sebastian member, Isobel Campbell, worked with The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli in The Gutter Twins and just last year teamed up with British solo artist Duke Garwood on the LP, Black Pudding.

“I love the electric guitar, don’t get me wrong,” he says, “But I also like hearing other instruments and I like having my voice in a different setting. Luckily, every record is an opportunity to do just whatever the fuck I please. So I have every chance to hear it in whatever setting I want.”

Lanegan’s gravelly vocal timbre means his presence is unmistakable, no matter the stylistic territory. Sitting alongside celestial synths and drum programming, as is frequently the case on Phantom Radio, Lanegan’s vocals take on an air of tragic romance. While he’s more than willing to experiment with various stylistic scenarios, the effect generated by his vocals isn’t closely regulated.

“I’m not clever enough to really think about things that deeply,” he says. “But, I realised that musically, Phantom Radio sounds a bit more positive.

“When I played Blues Funeral for my girlfriend before it came out, she heard a song called Grey Goes Black and said, ‘Wow I’ve never heard you do such a happy sounding song’. I said, ‘Did you not listen to the lyrics?’ and she said, ‘It’s just the way the music sounds’. I’m not unhappy that it might strike people like that – that sort of juxtaposition.”

Perhaps Lanegan’s output hasn’t always directly cohered with his listening habits, but the quality of his releases has been largely unwavering. His richly diverse catalogue will be on display during his forthcoming Australian tour. After nearly three decades of ceaseless activity, he still looks forward to voyaging beyond the comfort of his Los Angeles home.

“My number one love, really, is to travel and to go play music. No matter how many times I go some place, I always enjoy it. It’s one of the blessings of being able to play music and call it my job, even though it’s not.”

Despite this touch of incredulity, Lanegan doesn’t plan to throw in the towel any time soon.

“I’ve made some records that I think are okay, but have I made (Roxy Music’s) Country Life yet? No. So I’m going to keep trying.”