Mark Lanegan interviewed about DARK MARK vs. SKELETON JOE

Photo by Olivia-Jaffe

DARK MARK vs. SKELETON JOE is a new experimental electronic project from Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) and Joe Cardamone (The Icarus Line). Their newly-released self-titled album clocks in at over an hour and presents a pretty varied selection of tracks. Some are driven by dance beats and have a somewhat industrial edge, while others are slower with more of a haunting ambient feel. Lanegan’s lyrics and vocals provide the perfect match for Cardamone’s music; their sound is unusual without completely veering away from traditional song structure. In a phone interview, Lanegan discussed the project.
(Sadly, Lanegan passed away on February 22, 2022. The “Hiraeth” video embedded below features the last filmed footage of him.)

How did this collaboration come about?

Mark Lanegan: Well, I’ve known Joe for a number of years, and he just sent me some tracks and asked me if I wanted to sing on it, make a record, and I said, sure.

What appealed to you about it, to make you decide to get involved?

Mark Lanegan: I’ve always been a big fan of Joe’s music. I mean, I was a big fan of Icarus Line and Joe’s solo stuff. Back in 2004, Icarus Line opened for my band on my Bubblegum tour, and then three or four years ago, Joe opened for me as a solo act. I’ve always really dug his music, and he’s a good friend of mine, so that’s where the appeal lay.

What was the working process like?

Mark Lanegan: He would send me the skeleton of a song, then I would do a vocal, and then he would finish off the track.

Did he send song skeletons and give you a choice of what you felt you wanted to sing on?

Mark Lanegan: We didn’t leave much behind. Sometimes you get some music, and at least with me, I can’t do it. I can’t magically sing to just anything. But then there are some times when I meet up with somebody and everything they send me I find pretty easy to make up singing parts and write words to. That was how it was with Joe. And he also had a good idea of what he wanted and what was suitable.

It was an ongoing process. Honestly, I would do my parts fairly quickly and then he would hand me another piece of music, and while I was working on that, he would be finishing the one before.

Did you have an overall sense as to how you wanted the album to sound? Did you discuss the direction you wanted to take it, and did it change or evolve at all along the way?

Mark Lanegan: We never discussed anything at all. The way I write to any piece of music is sort of just by instinct. One line tells me what the next one will be, and I think it was the same working with Joe. He had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do. Whenever we got together in the studio, we were just discussing world events as they evolved and the situation in Los Angeles. Because we were recording this at the outset of the pandemic and things were getting a little crazy there. But we didn’t talk too much about the record. We just threw caution to the wind and just went about our work.

You’ve done a variety of music over the years. Has electronic music always been an interest?

Mark Lanegan: I’ve done a record with Alessio Natalizia (Not Waving.) I’ve done two or three UNKLE records, a couple of Moby records, so electronic music is not outside of my box. I just dug the tunes and really my process is the same no matter what instrument is making the music. I’ve always been interested in it. One of my very first favorite records as a kid was Autobahn by Kraftwerk, which my father gave me when I was really young. So I’ve always listened to a wide range of music, but electronic music is probably what I listen to more than anything else. I like a lot of ambient music and extreme noise and just that whole spectrum when I’m listening to music for my personal enjoyment. I kind of lean that way.

You mentioned the pandemic. What effect did it have on the making of the album?

Mark Lanegan: We were recording while the pandemic was coming into full swing. We didn’t start until it was already on, so yeah, it had an effect. When I heard the record back sequenced and mixed a couple of weeks ago, it kind of took me right back to Los Angeles. That’s where I feel like when I hear the record. More than a lot of stuff I’ve worked on, it has the stamp of where it was made. It’s in the forefront of my mind when I hear it.

Back in the early years, when you were in The Screaming Trees, did you feel limited at all by the rock format? Did you have musical ideas that didn’t fit into the style of music you were doing then?

Mark Lanegan: Well, I kind of fell into it. I didn’t really plan on being a rock musician. I sort of learned it publicly. We made our first record probably two months after I first started singing, so it was a process for me. For a long time, I just did what I was able to do, and then I eventually started to learn how to write songs myself. Then I eventually learned how to write songs that I actually enjoyed.

Were you completely focused on DARK MARK VS SKELETON JOE when you made this album, or were you working on other things at the same time?

Mark Lanegan: I’m always doing a number of things; something’s always coming up. Probably I’d say once every three weeks I’m doing something for somebody. I work on the projects as they come along, and I specifically work on whatever it is that’s in front of me, and then at the same time, I’m usually writing for myself and setting those aside.

Do you see this as primarily a studio project, or would you like to perform this material live?

Mark Lanegan: Well, when I started making this record, my last solo record had just come out and I was unable to play that live. I had to cancel everything for the last year and a half, so that just depends on the world. If the opportunity arises, I’m sure we’d play it live. Everyone would love to be able to play live music right now.

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