The Original Sin of the Gutter Twins
by Ezra Ace Caraeff
It’s dirty. The idea of combining the heavily tattooed, sullen skulk of Mark Lanegan—he of ex-Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age fame—alongside the glutinous howl of Greg Dulli—he of Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers fame—is just plain wrong. But, thankfully, there is no law against bringing together these two mammoth forces of sinfulness on the same stage, the same record, and the same band.
Say hello to the Gutter Twins.
The super group—an alt-rock Traveling Wilburys sans the baggage of a Jeff Lynne to weigh them down—came together in print long before they came together on record. Lanegan titled the project and talked about the collaboration in an interview before consulting Dulli, who occasionally toured with as the looming backup singer for the Twilight Singers—thus, throwing down the gauntlet. Dulli accepted the challenge, and the result is the sinister Saturnalia, freshly released on their old label Sub Pop. Given the deviant nature of the two partners behind the project, Saturnalia is not as dirty, or decadent, as expected. Instead, it’s a powerful recording, with a bit of spiritual haze to offset the smoky mumble of Lanegan and the soulful moans of Dulli.
There are times on Saturnalia where the pair of voices gorgeously meshes together to form a natural, if not seamless, extension of each other’s vocal strengths. Says Dulli, “It’s very crooner-y. I told [Lanegan] he sounded like Andy Williams—which he loved.”
That interaction between the dual frontmen, who are both far from their days of being the fresh meat atop the post-grunge stockpile, succeeds because they never try to be something they’re not. The Gutter Twins don’t bother pandering to a younger demographic, and with the exception of a few electronic beats that pepper the album, their sound is consistently nestled in the comfort of ’90s alternative rock.
Says Dulli, “I think that we both like a lot of the same music. I mean, it wasn’t two unlikely guys coming together doing something totally different—’Let’s make a reggae album!’—so it was an outgrowth of our mutual admiration for styles of music that we had learned that we both liked through the course of our friendship.”
Part of maintaining this friendship is knowing their respective roles, especially when lead singer egos might clash within the close confines of a single stage, tour bus, or over the contents of the backstage deli tray. “We came to grips a long time ago, and certainly on tour, that we are two remarkably different personalities, at least on stage,” explains Dulli. “We’re just going to stay fire and ice, and you can decide who is who.”
With the relative ease of the Gutter Twins’ formation, will there be more singers joining the group (like their very own modern-day Highwaymen)? “I think the two egos involved right now more than fill the room,” says Dulli. “Letting anybody else in is going to be tough.”
What about a tell-all book? It’s safe to say that the backstage (and onstage) antics of this pair could out-dirt Mötley Crüe’s The Dirt. Dulli squashes that rumor as well. “Oh, I could not deal with the sheer legality of that. All the names I’d have to change, plus all the shit I don’t want anyone to know about. So, probably not.”