"I feel like I write lyrics instinctively," says Mark Lanegan, founding frontman of Screaming Trees, occasional member of Queens Of The Stone Age and legendary solo artist in his own right.
Today he's talking to MusicRadar about the albums that most impacted his life – though before we get to that, the Seattle-born/LA-based singer has some insight to share on his own creative processes…
"Usually I let the melody come first and then it tells me what the words are going to be and from there I'll write whatever feels appropriate," he admits, when asked about the method behind the soulful confessions that have won him admirers all around the world. Much like his music, there's a sense of poetry to how the man explains things…
"That said, I'm also influenced by everything I'm into. I don't usually like to talk about what a song means to me; I prefer that the people who connect with a song do so with their own interpretation.
"It never crossed my mind what Neil Young meant by After The Gold Rush, only the personal movie it created in my head. My entire life, all the music that I've connected to has drawn me in like that. Joy Division, Nick Drake, Son House, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Gun Club – all the music that meant the most to me, the music that saved my life, was the music that told my own story back to me..."
Of his latest solo release Somebody's Knocking – which in places fuse his baritone howl against more synthetic instruments than what he's been known for in the past – he highlights the sense of nostalgia re-familiarising himself with the very sounds that made him fall in love with music in the first place. He even goes as far as saying the bulk of what he listens to these days would be considered electronic…
"I've always been into that kind of music, ever since I was a kid," he shrugs. "I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my own songs is that my tastes have changed as I've grown older. [Producer/collaborator] Alain Johannes and I had actually written the song Penthouse High for my last album, Gargoyle, but it didn't really fit on that record.
"I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song."
Here the alternative rock hero dissects the 9 albums that changed his life…
1. The Gun Club - Fire Of Love
"As a teenager I sometimes took a greyhound bus 120 miles from my small, rural eastern Washington hometown of Ellensburg to Seattle and would walk around town to different record shops looking for new, exciting music that was impossible to find where I was from.
"On one of these trips I was looking through the racks and came across this record. On the strength of mystery the band name invoked in my imagination and the weird artwork alone I bought it…
"Once home, I put it on and was immediately captivated by the swampy, punkish music and especially the unhinged howling intensity of singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce's vocals and scary, pursued by hellhound-ish ghost lyrics.
"Lyrics that when I listened closely, sometimes made me very uncomfortable with their subject matter and his choice of some of the words he used in his descriptive storytelling.
"Nonetheless, I was completely hooked on what I described to my friends as 'serial killer music' and this was the first record I ever heard that made me think to myself, this is what I want to do with my life. Be a singer in a band."
2. Joy Division - Closer
"In the particularly brutal eastern Washington winter of 1980-81, I was in a serious state of what I know now as clinical depression. I was working at a job cutting the exposed roots off trees in an apple orchard, work that required a 50 mile drive both ways to be alone all day on my hands and knees in the snow using a tool much like bolt cutters to dig under the snow, toil to cut through the thick, heavy roots, move on to the next tree and repeat.
"I had recently quit drinking and drugging, been left by my girlfriend for her boss at a pizza place and spent a large portion of my day driving to and from work, chain-smoking and brooding the entire way. At some point I came across a cassette of Closer, put it in my car's cassette player and it immediately got stuck there.
"Unable to eject it, I spent the entire winter listening to nothing else. Its icy tones and poetically personal lyrics of pain and alienation seemed to mirror my own story. I suddenly felt like there was someone out there who felt like me – and Ian Curtis's voice, Peter Hook's bass lines and Bernard Sumner's guitar became the soundtrack to my life.
"If any record ever truly saved me, it was this one. Still today one of the greatest records ever made and still my companion on a regular basis."
3. The 13th Floor Elevators - Easter Everywhere
"The first time I heard Roky Erickson's voice it sent an instant chill up my spine and raised the hairs on the back of my neck. That song was You're Gonna Miss Me from the first Elevators record. I listened to it endlessly, completely taken with his uniquely intense, on the verge of hysteria voice. Then I heard Easter Everywhere and it blew my mind.
"Starting with the 8 minutes-plus Slip Inside This House, it goes on a rampage of great tune after great tune, from Slide Machine – a love song to the syringe – and She Lives (In A Time Of Her Own) to Nobody To Love, written by genius guitarist Stacy Sutherland, and the stellar, haunting version of Bob Dylan's It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.
"It's just sheer brilliance. Roky's voice on Earthquake and I've Got Levitation has a way of going straight through you. It's like a best-of record, except it would be the only best-of album in history with an electric jug as a main instrument! It's full of weirdly fucked-up hits from another dimension. Serious, strange power and absolutely essential."
4. Roxy Music - Country Life
"One of the rare good things the guitarist in my first band did for me was turn me on to this record. It is, in my opinion, from start to finish one of the greatest records of all-time.
"I have, on more than a few occasions, literally spent almost an entire day with The Thrill Of It All playing non-stop on repeat while I cleaned the house, did the dishes or just hung out with my dogs.
"The entire record is filled with the evocative, emotional and smooth crooning of Bryan Ferry, a persona of sheer style and eminent cool. Every song is amazing with a lot of different styles, tempos and moods, all held together by the amazing musicianship of the band and, of course, the singing of Ferry.
"Three And Nine, Out Of The Blue, Casanova, and the aforementioned Thrill Of It All being personal favourites, it remains a record that I could still listen to everyday and be happy."
5. David Bowie - Blackstar
"I could make my favorites list of nothing but Bowie records. There are so many I have loved that have been part of my life forever but this one is quite obviously very special. My friend and producer Alain Johannes sent me a text saying 'Dude, this new Bowie record is insane!' I immediately bought it and was instantly, totally captured by the dark and beautiful intensity of it.
"The addition of the jazz elements combined with some of his greatest singing and songs ever, along with some of his most cryptic lyrics grabbed me by the heart in a way very few other records had. I quickly became obsessed with it and listened to it around the clock for an entire week, at the end of which came the announcement of his death.
"I suddenly understood why it had been so completely strangely compelling and why it had possessed me in such a weird way. It was his goodbye statement and I felt as though I'd been run over by a train.
"What an incredible human being and otherworldly artist. He had spent his final months crafting this one last gift to the world. And what a gift it is."
6. Gerard Manset - La Mort D'Orion
"I came across this record in an internet blog shortly after I first got a computer and then searched until I was finally able to find a vinyl copy. Released in1970 when Manset was just 25 years old, this masterpiece of French symphonic pop/prog/psychedelia is ultimately unclassifiable.
"I became hooked on its sublime, mysterious and breathtaking beauty and after doing some research found out that he had never once played live, refused to give interviews and just allowed his music to speak for itself.
"A true maverick outsider who had painstakingly produced this work of undeniable genius and then just disappeared into his next project.
"With his haunting voice and unique, indescribable phrasing, I did not need to understand the French language to recognize the Everest-sized achievement of this record. Its allure and magic stays with me to this day and I consider Manset to be one of the truest all-time greats."
7. The Leather Nun - Force of Habit
"This record is a US release of a compilation of songs taken from this great Swedish band's output overseas. I came across it in a used record bin somewhere in the 90s and it immediately became my favorite record. The commanding voice of singer Jonas Almquist, singing in English with a somewhat heavy Swedish accent was something I found irresistible.
"The music has great power, with elements of raw and heavy droning rock, industrial, punk and even primitive dance music. It became a bible to me and the lyrics veer from snarling and aggressive to personal and painful, and, for that time and place, politically pointed.
"There was also quite a bit of humour in the lyrics yet the songs are never 'funny' – something I personally nearly always detest in music unless done exceptionally well with some pain and reality mixed in.
"The addition of a cover of Abba's Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight) is a masterstroke, probably the best cover version of anyone I've ever heard. It remains a record I have continuously 'borrowed' from since the day I first heard it and almost every one of my records since then has a nod, homage or flat-out ripoff from this album."
8. Kraftwerk - Radio-Activity
"Released in 1975, this is a record I have always loved and continue to return to. At times so minimal as to become totally silent for several seconds, the contrary and peculiar nature of it hooked me from first listen. After the catchy and 'commercial' sound of Autobahn, which I had also loved, this record was for me a revelation. At times confounding, soothing and still perplexing…
"As a youngster I imagined I became a member of some arcane cult because of my affection for it. Not one of my friends could stand hearing it and one close friend would groan in misery, saying 'Please no, not this shit again!' if I'd put it on in his presence.
"The inexplicable bleeps and sounds, pulsing from what source I hadn't a clue, became what I would play as I got into bed each night for a long time. I would stare out my bedroom window into the darkness and let this album take me to some far away place. Where, I did not know or care…"
9. Iggy Pop - The Idiot
"Like Bowie, I could fill my entire list with Iggy records. Lust For Life, Soldier, Party and most especially the criminally underrated classics Zombie Birdhouse and New Values being particular personal favorites. But to me, The Idiot rules them all.
"The catchiness and variation of the tunes, I still find irresistible. Sister Midnight, Nightclubbing, Funtime, China Girl and Dum Dum Boys all should have been hits in a perfect world and of course, Bowie did just that when he released his own version of China Girl.
"After having raised myself on the Stooges, The Idiot was an unexpected but completely welcome surprise. The fact that he had not only fronted the greatest rock band of all time but he could also make something this amazing and nuanced, catchy, danceable and fun makes him one of the greatest performers ever in my eyes…"