Former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan plays the Showbox next week in support of his latest album and has a book set for release later this month.
Mark Lanegan will step into the legendary Seattle club the Showbox on Thursday (Aug. 24), breathe in the air, and it will smell like home. “It’s my preferred venue,” he says of the club. “If it was up to me, I’d play every show there.”
Lanegan’s deep baritone is measured and soft during a long telephone chat on a day off from his latest concert tour. He discussed his long career, and a new book, “I Am the Wolf: Lyrics and Writings,” out next week from Da Capo. It collects lyrics since 1989, when he began his solo career. As a sign of how well respected Lanegan is, there are two introductions, one from John Cale of the Velvet Underground and one from Moby.
If an even bigger celebrity endorsement is required, Anthony Bourdain, a huge Lanegan fan, came to Seattle last month just to film Mark for his “Parts Unknown” program. “Yeah, I went to dinner with Tony,” Lanegan laughs.
Mark Lanegan Band
9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, Showbox, 1426 First Ave.; $27.50, door price $30 (206-628-3151 or showboxpresents.com).
When asked if it’s a strange cycle for a career that started with the Screaming Trees in Ellensburg in the mid-’80s, his dry humor kicks in. “I guess if you live long enough, anything can happen,” he says. “Nothing seems too weird to me anymore.”
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Lanegan moved here from Ellensburg in 1987 for the Trees’ career. “We really loved Seattle,” he says. He thinks the first show he saw at the Showbox was Devo, but the Trees played nearly every venue in town at some point on their way up.
Commercial success, though, was hard to find, despite acclaimed albums. The Trees biggest commercial hit came with the “Singles” soundtrack, which included “Nearly Lost You,” giving the band their only platinum record.
Not long after that, the Trees ran aground, in no small part because of Lanegan’s demons. There had always been darkness in his lyrical world, which is on display in “I Am the Wolf.” Addiction took him away from the world both metaphorically and physically.
The songs in “I Am the Wolf” touch on that hell. Each section starts with a narrative by Lanegan that serves as a mini bio, outlining sins and character defects. “Sold drugs, used drugs, tried to join the circus, tried to join the army, drank alcohol until blackout time after time, got into confrontations with strangers or real and imagined slights,” reads one part.
There is a lyrical bleakness, but a reason his craft has drawn so many admirers is how he connects his trials to the larger human condition. It’s literary songwriting — mix Raymond Carver with Grunge — amid a musical aesthetic that never varies.
“I walked by Harborview Hospital,” he writes in a song titled after that institution. “I heard the Agnus Dei / Oh, sister of mercy / I’ve been gone too long to say / and all around this place, I was a sad disgrace.”
He lived next to Harborview for 10 years. He moved away to Los Angeles in the late ’90s, found recovery and shifted.
Through it all he released solo albums every few years, including this year’s excellent “Gargoyle.” He says even bleak records can have the power to heal. Joy Division’s “Closer” was a “constant companion through some of the most depressed periods” of his life.
“It wasn’t music that brought me down,” Lanegan says. “It was music that brought me through.”
Putting together the lyric book has made him consider writing a “real” memoir, though the last rock book he read was “Papa,” John Phillips’ bio in the ’80s. Still, he has famous literary friends who are encouraging him.
“I’m open for anything these days,” he says. “I’m open to life.”
He’s excited that life brings his full band to Showbox Thursday, including local guitarist Jeff Fielder, who Lanegan calls the “MVP.” And though he lives in Los Angeles now, Seattle will always be special to Lanegan.
“Whether I live there again or not,” he says, “Seattle will always be my home.”