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. Although widely associated with grunge music, the band's sound incorporates hard rock and psychedelic elements. Since its formation, Screaming Trees has released seven studio albums, five EPs and three compilations.
Screaming Trees are known as one of the "Godfathers of Grunge" along with the Melvins, U-Men, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, Green River, 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. It 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.
Screaming Trees had been plagued by extended inactivity due to their problems with making a follow up to Dust. This led to their official breakup in 2000.
1985-1990: Formation and early releases
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.
Lanegan, Pickerel and the Conner brothers were drawn to punk, new wave, garage and classic rock in high school. This musical taste would form their friendship.
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 Velvetone recording studio in Ellensburg. They talked the owner of the studio into releasing it as a cassette on the local indie label, Velvetone Records (re-released on 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 music 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. 1989's Buzz Factory was the fourth full length album by Screaming Trees and their final SST record release.
1990-1995: Major Label Debut
By the end of 1990, the band had signed a major-label contract with Epic Records. In 1991, the band released their fifth effort, and their first for a major label. Uncle Anesthesia was released in 1991 and was produced by famous Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell. Uncle Anesthesia included the single "Bed of Roses", which gained considerable airtime on alternative rock radio stations. The song "Bed of Roses" peaked at 23 on the modern rock tracks and was the first Screaming Trees release to chart. Although it sold better than their previous efforts, the band remained a cult act.
After the release of Uncle Anesthesia Van Conner was on hiatus from the band, choosing to tour as bass player for Dinosaur Jr. instead, with Donna Dresch filling in for him during concerts. 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 suffered more setbacks than the rest because of it.
Barrett Martin replaced previous drummer Pickerel and the new line up recorded Sweet Oblivion in 1992. When Martin had join the band they had finished "Nearly Lost You". 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 the momentum of the Singles soundtrack. "Nearly Lost You" peaked at 5 on the Modern Rock Tracks and 50 in the United Kingdom and was the 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 it had been growing tension between the members. After the tour was finished, the group decided to take 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, Martin was featured in Layne Staley and Mike McCready side project Mad Season. Lanegan guested and sang vocals on two songs, both of which he received a writing credit for. Mad Season would only release one album because of Staley's deteriorating health issues.
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 still-born attempt at the album, the band hired George Drakoulias, who had previously worked with the Black Crowes and the Jayhawks, as producer. The resulting album, Dust, was released in the summer of 1996, nearly four years after its predecessor. Dust was greeted with positive reviews, and the album spawned several singles, including "All I Know", and "Dying Days". Dust peaked at 134 on the Billboard 200, 32 in Britain and 39 on the Canadian album chart which was 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, became the rhythm guitarist in Screaming Trees.
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 nobody 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.
Mark 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. Lanegan recorded two albums as one of QOTSA's three vocalists before leaving the group in late 2005. His sixth solo album Bubblegum was released in 2004 and is his best-selling album and first solo album to chart. He has since gone onto work with Greg Dulli in the Gutter Twins and the Twilight Singers. Lanegan also received critical acclaim for his work with Isobel Campbell recording two albums one of which, Ballad of the Broken Seas, was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Music Prize.
Gary Lee Conner started the band The Purple Outside and Amanita Caterpillar where he is the vocalist. Lee Conner has also done much session work with other musicians. In 1999 he released a EP under the name which featured Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age.
Van Conner initially turned his efforts to his side-projects Solomon Grundy, Gardener and later VALIS. He has also contributed to the Mark Lanegan album Field Songs in 2001. He was also a touring member of Dinosaur Jr. for some time.
Barrett Martin has been a touring member for many famous bands after the Screaming Trees' breakup. He has worked with Stone Temple Pilots and R.E.M., and he has released two solo albums with limited success. He has later contributed to Lanegan's solo album I'll Take Care of You and Queens of the Stone Age's Rated R. 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 Soto tradition, through the Detroit Street Zen Center in Los Angeles. As of 2005, he is pursuing a doctorate in anthropology and music at the University of New Mexico.
Mark Lanegan - vocals, guitar
Gary Lee Conner - guitar, backing vocals
Van Conner - bass, backing vocals
Barrett Martin - drums, backing vocals (1991-2000)
Mark Pickerel - drums (1985-1991)
Josh Homme - rhythm guitar (1996-1998)
Donna Dresch - bass (1988, 1991)
Sean Hollister - drums (1991)
Dan Peters - drums (1991)