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“It started pretty innocently,” Mark Lanegan claims of the genesis behind Saturnalia, the anticipated first album from The Gutter Twins, the collaboration forged by him and fellow maverick singer-songwriter Greg Dulli. Innocent, however, seems an odd word to lash to anything involving this near-mythic duo, comprised of what Pitchforkmedia.com proclaims are “two of alt-rock’s greatest frontmen.” And its darkest: Saturnalia, however, finds the axis Dulli nicknamed “the Satanic Everly Brothers” going even deeper into the shadows than ever before. Mystical, unpredictable, ultimately masterful, Saturnalia both embodies and defies any expectations suggested by the principals’ individual notoriety.

The clue to the Gutter Twins’ distinctively ominous, searching mood lies in the band’s visceral moniker. “It seemed appropriate, especially considering the shape we were in when we started,” Lanegan recalls. The pull towards the darkness isn’t surprising considering who’s involved. Lanegan rose to fame as singer for the Screaming Trees, one of the most beloved outfits to come out of the 20th century explosion of loud, strange bands from the Pacific Northwest that begat the likes of Nirvana and Mudhoney. Greg Dulli intersected with Lanegan first as the magnetic leader of the Afghan Whigs, another shining (black) light from the ‘90s rock renaissance. Both the Whigs and Screaming Trees had split by the end of the‘90s, yet on their own Lanegan and Dulli went on to achieve significant notice. Lanegan continued to put out successful solo albums, as well as create vivid partnerships with the likes of Belle & Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell (on the Mercury Prize-nominated 2005 album Ballad of the Broken Seas) and Queens of the Stone Age (whose leader Josh Homme had been Lanegan’s bandmate in the late-period Screaming Trees). Dulli, meanwhile, innovatively fused indie, soul and electronic sounds in his post-Whigs ensemble the Twilight Singers, who released their first album, Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers, in 2000; the most recent Twilight effort, 2006’s Powder Burns, proved a crowning achievement, landing on many year-end best lists. Along the way, the pair had become collaborators while gaining infamy as saviors of misbehavior. “We had to become the Gutter Twins, because that’s how we were perceived,” Dulli says with a laugh.

The Gutter Twins Biography


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Dulli, meanwhile, innovatively fused indie, soul and electronic sounds in his post-Whigs ensemble the Twilight Singers, who released their first album, Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers, in 2000; the most recent Twilight effort, 2006’s Powder Burns, proved a crowning achievement, landing on many year-end best lists. Along the way, the pair had become collaborators while gaining infamy as saviors of misbehavior. “We had to become the Gutter Twins, because that’s how we were perceived,” Dulli says with a laugh.

Saturnalia doesn’t revel in Dulli and Lanegan’s tendency towards the macabre so much as reflect on it, however. “I hate to say this, but there’s a more spiritual nature than usual,” Lanegan says. From the hauntingly intense folk-blues of opener “The Stations” to songs like “God’s Children” and “Who Will Lead Us?,” cosmic concerns of mortality, penance and salvation loom evocatively over the proceedings. “Thematic signposts reveal themselves, pointing you down certain roads,” Dulli explains. “I couldn’t tell you what Saturnalia’s theme is, but there’s a seeking of transcendence that’s new. I have never written songs like this before; it’s a different temple I’m visiting.” That feeling extends to the album’s title, taken from an ancient Roman festival which climaxes by having the slaves trade places with their masters. “That conclusion carried a lot of weight to us,” Dulli notes.

Saturnalia pointedly doesn’t rest on the sonic laurels of Lanegan and Dulli’s previous successes. Instead, Saturnalia proves rootsy but baroque, handmade yet modernist, teeming with siren melodies that don’t resolve. Produced by Dulli and Lanegan along with the band’s unofficial third member Mathias Schneeberger, Saturnalia’s eerie modal swirls trap the listener in each song’s atmosphere; simultaneously evoking everything from Indian sitars to Appalachian folk and Delta grit, the drones inadvertently create narcotic hooks. Spartan electronica indelibly collideswith spooky space blues on “Who Will Lead Us?”; “Idle Hands” fuses Middle Eastern exoticism with shocking guitar riffs that shoot AC/DC boogie into another fucking galaxy. On “All Misery,” meanwhile, Lanegan’s relentless vocal pulses with a new tribal syncopation, splitting the difference between KurtWeill’s whiskey bars, Eminem’s flow, and associative Dylanesque wordplay. The cumulative effect proves internal yet epic: the netherworld symphonics of Mogwai, Sigur Ros and Bohren und der Club of Gore are touchstones, alongside the sprawling emotions of Pink Floyd, the melodically catchy paranoia of the Beach Boys, the primal confessionals of John Lennon. Still, what Dulli and Lanegan achieve here ultimately feels like the determinedly individual product of two auteurs coming together. When Lanegan’s ghostly baritone fuses into Dulli’s world-weary rasp, the spine-tingling fusion proves unforgettably uncanny. “The album definitely has its own universe,” Lanegan says. “It’s totally different musically, but there’s always something about it that reminds me of There’s A Riot Goin’ On.” “It’s very intuitive and trancelike, changing when it wants to,” Dulli adds. “I tried to shake off any kind of Western song structure. We were comfortable riding the groove and letting it take us where it needed to go.” From its inception, Saturnalia was jointly intended as a leap into the unknown.“When we actually decided to make a record, we agreed that it should be different from anything we’ve done before,” Lanegan explains. “If something sounded like anything we’d ever done, it was rejected,” Dulli continues. “That forced us into making a new sound.”  

For both Dulli and Lanegan, collaboration remains a crucial aspect. Lanegan’s history of alliances defies genre categories—he’s worked with everyone from PJ Harvey, Kurt Cobain and electronic producers Soulsavers to Guns ‘N Roses’ Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin. “Collaborating for me is what keeps me interested in music,” says Lanegan. Dulli as well has an large string of collaborations to his credit. In 2007 alone, Dulli performed onstage with Lucinda Williams and contributed the title track to Intramural’s debut album, This Is A Landslide, the acclaimed indie-electronic projectspearheaded by Denver Dalley (Desperacidos/Statistics). Dulli also conceived the Twilight Singers as a shifting collective able to encompass disparate musical souls ranging from U.K. downtempo mavens Fila Brazilia to former Prince protégée Apollonia. As such, Saturnalia’s guest contributions end up indelibly crucial, featuring loyal bandmates from their respective bands(Twilight’s guitar virtuoso Dave Rosser co-produced “Seven Stories Underground”) as well as new friends. Longtime associates like Troy Van Leeuwen (QOTSA, A Perfect Circle, Failure), madcap troubadour Joseph Arthur, and “Desert Sessions” regular Dave Catching make appearances alongside fresh faces like iconoclastic New Orleans music legend Quintron and Fountains of Wayne drummer Brian Young. As well, master duo Alain Johannes and Natasha Schneider (Eleven, QOTSA) make a memorable appearance on “Each To Each.” “Working with Alain and Natasha was especially exciting,” Dulli says. Equally memorable was a session with legendary desert stoner-rock icon Mario Lalli (Fatso Jetson/QOTSA). “Having Mario come in and play was a real thrill,” Lanegan says. “When Mario was playing his part, we were staring through the window jumping up and down like little boys,” Dulli adds. Martina Topley-Bird also had a transformative impact with her spectral vocal contribution to “The Body.” “If you took Martina’s phrasing out,” Dulli explains, “it would be a completely different song.”

Initiallly, the Gutter Twins started as a little more than a rumor. “In 2003, I got a call from an Italian journalist asking me about the Gutter Twins,” Dulli recalls. “I said, ‘What’s that?’ ‘A group with you and Mark Lanegan,’ he replied. I told him I hadn’t heard about it, but it sounded interesting.” In fact, Lanegan himself had spread this story: “I called him and he said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re gonna make a record, and it’s going to be called Gutter Twins.’” Lanegan and Dulli didn’t record together until late 2002, when Lanegan sang on “Number Nine,” the intense album closer on the Twilight Singers’ 2003 album Blackberry Belle. After that, Dulli returned the favor, hitting the road with Lanegan’s band as piano player and performing on two songs off his much-praised 2004 solo album Bubblegum. Afterwards Lanegan grew increasingly visible both as a touring and recording member of the Twilight Singers, peaking with his jaw-dropping performance on a cover of Massive Attack’s “Live With Me” off the band’s Stitch In Time e.p. The Gutter Twins would go on to make their live debut at a Rome concert on September 11, 2005; however, it was in the studio that these two fiercely individual, personal songwriters collaborated like never before. “For most of the record we wrote the lyrics together, and that was pretty unique,” Lanegan says. “I’d only ever done that with Josh [Homme].” “My songwriting changed largely because of Mark’s presence,” Dulli adds. “He’s more minimalist and I’m more maximalist, and both tendencies are present throughout the record.”

The Gutter Twins’ mutual chemistry was cemented by the evolution of “Front Street,” Saturnalia’s trenchant closing epic that’s one of Dulli’s most intimately raw, confessional performances. The pair came together on that song following a Twilight Singers appearance on the legendary radio show “Morning Becomes Eclectic” on L.A. radio station KCRW, repairing afterwards to Dulli’s house for an impromptu recording session. “I’d never written a song that complete, or that personal, in front of someone ever before,” Dulli recalls. “We finished it in less than an hour. At the end, he said, ‘The song is great as is, but I’ve come up with two more verses.’ The words he’d written were phenomenal; then he taught me how to sing it. Mark’s a very giving performer: he’s there for the song, not for him.” Finding such kinship in a collaborator provided the bedrock that made Saturnalia’s compelling catharsis possible for both parties. “Everybody has their own demons,” Dulli explains. “But when two people form a common thread, it merges two disparate personalities into one. That we were able to do so collectively made it unique to both of us: as such, this album truthfully captures where we started, and where we’ve ended up.”