For a couple of guys best known for dark, intensely brooding rock, Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan certainly do a lot of joking around.
In fact, their new band The Gutter Twins began as a joke.
“We had worked together before - played on each other’s records, played in each other’s bands,” explains Lanegan, staring down at his hands. “It was an offhand comment to an Italian journalist that sort of took on a life of its own, so we were forced into doing it.”
Dulli adds quickly, “Once he invented it, I invented histories for it and I lied like a (expletive) until we were finally like, `We should really put up or shut up now.’”
They decided to put up. And after more than three years of writing songs off-and-on and a string of recording sessions around the country over several months, The Gutter Twins and their debut album “Saturnalia” (Sub Pop) were born.
The album, out this month, is a mix of the sonic styles Lanegan and Dulli helped pioneer - with their bands, Screaming Trees and Afghan Whigs, respectively - and the Americana styles and life-and-death imagery that Lanegan, in his solo work, and Dulli, in Twilight Singers, have examined in recent years.
The band itself takes it all to another level entirely.
At the Gutter Twins’ concert debut, fittingly on Valentine’s Day at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom, the crowd seemed mesmerized by the band, even though - as Dulli joked with them, “Are you ready for more songs you don’t know?” - “Saturnalia” had not even been leaked on the Internet.
The excitement spiked noticeably when the band played its hard-driving first single “Idle Hands” and the cover of Massive Attack’s “Live With Me” that Dulli and Lanegan had done with Twilight Singers. But those reactions paled to the ovation after the band unveiled “Front Street,” a sprawling epic that builds from an acoustic guitar and haunting harmonies to an all-out stadium-rock showstopper.
For the Gutter Twins, whom Dulli has also dubbed “the satanic Everly Brothers,” it turns out two frontmen are much better than one. That’s a different setup for Lanegan, who, in recent years, would walk onstage to do a few songs with his collaborators - the Queens of the Stone Age or Dulli’s Twilight Singers, for example - and then walk off.
“I got spoiled by it,” Lanegan says, adding that the Queens’ Josh Homme had to talk him into it.
Pointing at Dulli, Lanegan says, “Now he makes me stay onstage.”
“Yeah, you gotta stay for the whole time, dude, it’s better that way,” Dulli says. “That was one of the more unique concert experiences I’ve ever had last night and I had no idea it was going to be that way, even after rehearsals. He’s one of my favorite singers and he’s also one of my best friends. It’s a refreshing situation and we’re just getting started to see what it can be. You really are truly blessed if you’re doing what you want to do with people you want to do it with.”
Both Dulli and Lanegan say they hope “Saturnalia” is the first of many Gutter Twins’ projects they can fit in between working on their own music separately. They also hope to prove that a band really can have two frontmen without imploding. “Sam and Dave did it,” Lanegan says.
“Captain and Tennille,” adds Dulli, “well, he wasn’t really a frontman. Bad example. Porter and Dolly did it. George and Tammy. Sure, it’s possible ... We’ve been surprisingly ego-free in our collaboration.”