Mark Lanegan: Imitations is the sincerest form of flattery

From Screaming Trees to his current solo work, Mark Lanegan has proved himself to be the quintessential musical journeyman. His latest release is his second covers album ‘Imitations’. And this time it’s personal

Fri, Sep 6, 2013, 00:00

On the album, you revisit many of the country and pop records you heard as a kid growing up in Washington State . . .
“I just wanted to make a record that had the same feeling that a lot of those records had that I heard when I was younger, those Sixties pop styles.”

Did recording these songs bring back that feeling?
Well, I don’t know about that. But I did use a lot of the same guys that I made my last covers record with [1999’s I’ll Take Care of You], and I did it in the same studio. And some of these guys I hadn’t worked with in 12, 13 years, so I recaptured a lot of the feeling that I had the last time around, a lot of laughs, and conversations that started 15 years ago just continued on. So it was a good time.

Imitations is a modest title for the album – was that deliberate?
Yes. One of my very favourite poets was a Massachusetts poet named Robert Lowell. And he wrote a book called Imitations, which was his versions of well-known and obscure poems. So I sorta lifted the title from that.

Doing three songs by Andy Williams – brave or foolish?
Yeah, well, I guess Andy Williams would be considered by some to be schmaltzy, but to me he’s one of the greatest singers of all time. Just absolutely amazing. And if anyone doesn’t believe me, just YouTube him. He’s just one of a kind.

You cover a father and daughter – Frank Sinatra’s Pretty Colours and Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice, a great lost Bond theme . . .
Ironically, the first time I heard the song was when Australian punk band The Scientists did it as the b-side of a single in the early 1980s. Pretty Colours came off one of Frank Sinatra’s 70s records, Cycles, which was a great record.

The album opens with Flatlands, by new artist, Chelsea Wolfe . . .
She’s a current artist who is about to explode. I think she’s really really fantastic, and she’s on the cusp of becoming very well known. She’s awesome.

You also tackle
Deepest Shade, by your friend and fellow Gutter Twin, Greg Dulli . . .
That was a song that Greg first recorded for a Twilight Singers record, and then didn’t put it on the record. In the 1990s he gave me a CD of the song, and said, I think this song would be great with you singing it, and I thought so too.

He’s back on the road with Afghan Whigs, and Soundgarden have reformed. Is a Screaming Trees reunion on the cards?
No, I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Not interested. I was excited when the Afghan Whigs got back together. Soundgarden are good friends of mine. I totally get why they’d want to do it. It’s their music, it’s their band. It’s their right to do it. But it’s not something I’m interested in doing with Screaming Trees.

Your folky cover of Mack the Knife is so different to the swing band version we’re all familiar with . . .
Well, I pretty much copied my version note for note from a Dave Van Ronk version. Big fan of Dave Van Ronk, and the way he did that song, I thought, wow, there’s a sadness and a darkness to that song.

You do a song in French – Elégie Funèbre by Gérard Manset. Pourquoi?
I’ve been a big fan of Manset for a long time. I’m sort of obsessed with his records. And his people got a hold of me and asked me if I wanted to do a version of that song for his new record – he’s in his late 60s.

That song in particular was real fun, because it was so oddball for me to be singing in French. But all the songs on the record I chose because I loved them, and I thought it would be fun to sing them. And they were.

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