Screaming Trees was an American rock band formed in Ellensburg, Washington in 1985 by vocalist Mark Lanegan, guitarist Gary Lee Conner, bass player Van Conner and drummer Mark Pickerel. Pickerel had been replaced by Barrett Martin by the time the band reached its most successful period. Although widely associated with grunge, the band's sound incorporated hard rock and psychedelic elements. During Screaming Trees' existence the band released seven studio albums, five EPs, and three compilations.
Screaming Trees is known as one of the "Godfathers of Grunge" along with the Melvins, Mudhoney, U-Men, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, Green River, Cosmic Psychos, and Malfunkshun. Screaming Trees rose to fame as part of the grunge movement of the early 1990s, along with bands such as Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Soundgarden and was one of the most successful underground music acts of the 1990s. The band achieved one top ten single on the Modern Rock Tracks charts, but made it to no.1 in the UK in 1995. Screaming Trees were plagued by extended inactivity due to their problems with making a follow up to Dust. This led to their official breakup in 2000.
The Conner brothers formed Screaming Trees with Mark Lanegan and Mark Pickerel in 1985 in Ellensburg, Washington, a small town a little over 100 miles from Seattle. The band was drawn together in high school by an interest in punk, garage, and classic rock.
The band rehearsed at the Conner family's video rental store and recorded their demo tape Other Worlds in the summer of 1985 with Steve Fisk at Creative Fire recording studio in Ellensburg. The band talked the owner of the studio into releasing it as a cassette on the local indie label, Velvetone Records (the recording was re-released as a CD and vinyl EP by SST Records in 1988). In 1986, they released their debut album, Clairvoyance, also on the Velvetone label. Musically, the album is a combination of psychedelic rock and hard rock. With Fisk's help, the LP caught the attention of Greg Ginn, and the band were signed to SST Records.
In 1987, the band released their second LP, and their first for SST, Even If and Especially When. After the release of the album in 1987, the band began working the American indie circuit, playing shows across the US with other SST bands such as Firehose and Meat Puppets. Their next album, Invisible Lantern, was released in 1988. Buzz Factory, released in 1989, was the fourth full-length album by Screaming Trees and their last for SST Records.
In 1990 the band had signed a major-label contract with Epic Records. In 1991, the band released their fifth album, and first for a major label, Uncle Anesthesia. The album was produced by Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell and included the single "Bed of Roses", which gained considerable airtime on alternative rock radio stations and peaked at # 23 on the modern rock tracks. The single was the first Screaming Trees release to chart. Although Uncle Anesthesia sold better than their previous efforts, the band remained a cult act.
After the release of Uncle Anesthesia Van Conner went on hiatus from the band, choosing to tour as bass player for Dinosaur Jr. instead, with Donna Dresch filling in for him during Screaming Trees performances. Late in 1991, Nirvana's Nevermind became an unexpected commercial success, opening the gates for the rest of the Seattle scene. Where many of their peers were able to capitalize on that success, Screaming Trees had more difficulty gaining mainstream notice.
Barrett Martin replaced previous drummer Pickerel and the new line up recorded Sweet Oblivion in 1992. When Martin joined the band they had already finished the song "Nearly Lost You", which soon became a successful single. Sweet Oblivion was the band's breakout album and included the hit singles "Nearly Lost You", "Dollar Bill", and "Shadow of the Season". The two first singles gained considerable airtime on alternative rock radio stations, while the video for "Nearly Lost You" became an MTV and alternative radio hit in the fall of 1992, thanks to its inclusion in the soundtrack for the film Singles. "Nearly Lost You" peaked at No. 5 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 50 in the UK Singles Chart, making it the band's first single to chart outside the United States. Sweet Oblivion sold a total of 300,000 copies in the United States.
The band supported Sweet Oblivion with a year-long tour, during which tension developed among the members. After the tour was finished, the group took an extended hiatus. During that time, Lanegan recorded his second solo album, Whiskey for the Holy Ghost, which was released in 1994. The following year, Lanegan was featured as a guest vocalist in the Layne Staley and Mike McCready side project Mad Season. Lanegan co-wrote and sang on two songs. Mad Season would only release one album because of Staley's deteriorating health and the 1999 death of bassist John Baker Saunders.
In early 1995, Screaming Trees toured Australia for the only time as part of the Big Day Out festival, before beginning work on their follow-up to Sweet Oblivion. Following one stillborn attempt at the album, the band hired producer George Drakoulias, who had previously worked with the Black Crowes and the Jayhawks. The resulting album, Dust, was released in 1996, nearly four years after its predecessor. Dust spawned the singles "All I Know", "Sworn and Broken" and "Dying Days". The album peaked at No. 134 on the Billboard 200, No. 32 in the UK Albums Chart, and No. 39 on the Canadian album chart, making it the first Screaming Trees album to chart outside the United States. Despite favorable reviews, the album did not match the sales of Sweet Oblivion. After the release of the album, Josh Homme, formerly from Kyuss, was hired briefly as rhythm guitarist.
Following the Dust tour in the United States, Screaming Trees took another hiatus for Lanegan to begin his work on his third solo album, Scraps At Midnight, which was released in 1998. The band headed back into the studio in 1999 and recorded several demos including the song "Ash Grey Sunday" and shopped them around to labels, but no label was interested. The band played a few surprise shows in early 2000 to try to gain a label's attention but they were unsuccessful. They did however release the song "One Way Conversation" on the Musicblitz Records internet label. In 2000 after a concert to celebrate the opening of Seattle's Experience Music Project, the band announced their official breakup.
Lanegan released a solo album in May 2001 entitled Field Songs. Also in that year, he became a member of the hard rock group Queens of the Stone Age with Josh Homme. Lanegan recorded two albums as one of the group's three vocalists before leaving the group in late 2005. His sixth solo album Bubblegum was released in 2004 and became his best-selling album and his first solo album to chart. He has since gone on to work with Greg Dulli in the Gutter Twins and the Twilight Singers. Lanegan also received critical acclaim for his albums with Isobel Campbell, one of which, Ballad of the Broken Seas, was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Music Prize.
Gary Lee Conner started the bands The Purple Outside and Microdot Gnome in which he is the vocalist. Lee Conner has also done session work with other musicians. In 1999 he released the EP Grasshopper's Daydream/Behind The Smile, which featured Josh Homme.
Van Conner initially turned his efforts to his side-projects Gardener with Aaron Stauffer (formerly of Seaweed (band), and later VALIS. He also contributed to the Mark Lanegan album Field Songs in 2001. Van has produced and contributed to several other projects over the years, including Kitty Kitty, VALIS, Gardener, and Gary Lee's SubPop single Grasshopper's Daydream. Van's band VALIS has released several recordings, including:
Barrett Martin has been a touring member for several bands after the breakup of Screaming Trees, including Stone Temple Pilots and R.E.M., and has released two solo albums with limited success. He later contributed to Lanegan's solo album I'll Take Care of You and the album Rated R by Queens of the Stone Age. He is currently the drummer in Tuatara and drummer/vocalist in The Minus 5. He also studies different music cultures, mostly from Africa. In 2000, Martin was ordained as a Zen priest in the Sōtō tradition, through the Detroit Street Zen Center in Los Angeles. As of 2005, he was pursuing a doctorate in anthropology and music at the University of New Mexico.
Martin contributed playing drums on two albums by Nando Reis a Brazilian musician: Para Quando O Arco Irís Encontrar O Pote de Ouro (2000) together with Peter Buck from R.E.M. and A Letra A (2003).
On June 22, 2011, it was announced that an unreleased album that the band recorded in 1998 and 1999 would finally see the light of day. Mixed by Jack Endino and the Trees' own Barrett Martin, Last Words: The Final Recordings was released on August 2, 2011 digitally with CD and vinyl versions to come in the following months.
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