Mark Lanegan Explains His Classic Transformation for 'Imitations'

Mark Lanegan Explains His Classic Transformation for 'Imitations'
It's been a busy year for Mark Lanegan. He's released a collaboration with British acoustic blues guitarist Duke Garwood called Black Pudding, made his usual cameo appearance on a new Queens of the Stone Age album, contributed vocals to Moby's new record, and recorded the theme song for Anthony Bourdain's latest TV series. But with the release of the new covers record Imitations on Tuesday (September 17) via Vagrant, the focus is squarely back on Lanegan, and it's an album he's been waiting to record for a while.

"This album has been in the back of my mind for a long, long time," he tells Exclaim! "I tried a couple of these kinds of songs when I made [1999's I'll Take Care of You]. I recorded an Engelbert Humperdinck song and a Frank Sinatra song, but they didn't mesh with the rest of the record. I just set those aside and said one day I'll do a record that's fully committed to that kind of material, or at least that kind of sound. By that I mean that '60s pop sound, for lack of a better term; the kind of records Andy Williams made, with orchestration."

The covers collection follows a similar formula to I'll Take Care of You, but this time he takes on the role of '60s crooner with such unlikely choices as "Mack the Knife," the James Bond theme "You Only Live Twice" and French singer/songwriter Gerard Manset's "Elegie Funebre," all filtered through his unrivalled song interpretation skills. Also included are tracks written by Nick Cave, John Cale, and acclaimed young L.A. songstress Chelsea Wolfe. But with its tasteful string arrangements by Andrew Joslyn, Imitations is unlike anything Lanegan has done before.

It may be to hard to fathom one of the grunge scene's true survivors pulling out songs commonly found in most grandparents' record collections, but the former Screaming Trees frontman's great skill has always been finding soul in whatever he is singing. Since turning his life around after years of drug abuse, Lanegan's voice has gracefully matured without losing any of its edge.

"I've been feeling more comfortable as a human being in general," he says. "I guess that would lead to comfort in all of these other aspect of my life, singing being one of them. It's not nearly as hard as it was when I started. It was really difficult to sing, nobody showed me how to do it. I remember early Screaming Trees shows in the '80s, when I'd walk away with a pounding headache from trying to sing way out of my range. It took a long time to really learn how to sing in a natural way, but I've been there for quite a while now, luckily."

Lanegan will be touring in support of Imitations with a stripped-down acoustic band, including strings, but after only a handful of dates in major U.S. cities starting in October, he'll be spending most of the remainder of the year in Europe, where he can escape the grunge tag that follows him on this side of the Atlantic.

"To be honest, when I do interviews with North American press, it's usually a lot of questions about grunge music, Nirvana — 'How do you feel about the new Nirvana reissue?' — that kind of shit. So, you know, it's not much fun to discuss that stuff over and over again. That doesn't happen in Europe. I think a lot of people that listen to my music over there might not even be aware of the Screaming Trees. In fact, I know that's true. It's not like I'm ashamed of it, but it's like talking about that year of kindergarten over and over again. It was a learning experience, and that's about it."

Head here to see all Lanegan's upcoming tour dates.