Screaming Trees Call It Quits

Singer Mark Lanegan says Sunday's hometown performance was Seattle group's last.

SEATTLE — Grunge rockers the Screaming Trees performed their final show together Sunday in Seattle, according to singer Mark Lanegan.

Despite reports from the band earlier this year that they were preparing to record the follow-up to 1996's Dust, Lanegan said they broke up several months ago but were offered enough money to re-form for an opening weekend concert celebrating Seattle's Experience Music Project interactive rock museum.

"The other guys have families and other projects to work on," Lanegan said, referring to his former bandmates — guitarist Gary Lee Conner, bassist Van Conner and drummer Barrett Martin. "And I'm working on my fifth solo record. We've only played, like, five shows in the last three years."

Onstage at Memorial Stadium, where the Trees were the premier attraction on a bill featuring other local talent such as Heart's Ann Wilson, Built to Spill and Queensrÿche, the group appeared notably dispassionate, not communicating with each other or the lively crowd.

Lanegan, who is known for his introverted stage presence, kept his hands on the microphone and his eyes on the floor for most of the band's flawless set, which featured "Shadow of the Season" and "Dollar Bill" from their landmark Sweet Oblivion album. The singer offered one "thank you" to the crowd, along with a poignant version of the band's biggest hit, "Nearly Lost You" (RealAudio excerpt), which was included on the popular "Singles" soundtrack.

Kurt Page, 33, who maintains Sweet Oblivion, a Screaming Trees fan site, said he was not surprised by Lanegan's decision and that they will be missed.

"The Screaming Trees had integrity," Page said. "They never sold out or even came close to it. Only a few known bands can say that. They probably could have dressed, looked and acted in a manner that would have caught on in the mainstream if they had chosen to. They could have written really bad catchy songs and added filler to the rest of their CDs. I'm just glad they didn't. I've always considered them the best band around."

Breakup May Not Be Permanent

The band's manager, Brian Klein, said Monday that the Screaming Trees' status may not be as final as Lanegan made it sound.

"It doesn't look like it's an active band at the moment, but you never know," Klein said, adding that the group has several projects in the works.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the Trees will release their first new song in four years, "One Way Conversation," as a free download on the music Web site musicblitz.com, Klein said. Additionally, the band is looking into putting out a compilation that will feature a mix of live and old studio tracks as well as some new songs.

Earlier this year, the Trees sent demos featuring several new songs to labels in hopes of sealing a record deal, but none of the majors bit.

"It's going to take a certain amount of time and money to put together a great record," Klein said. "We just didn't have the resources."

Klein said the group members' other activities had consumed time usually reserved for Screaming Trees. Aside from Lanegan's solo project, Martin plays in R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck's side band, Tuatara, Gary Lee Conner is taking classes and Van Conner is an active producer and has worked in the tech field.

They also live in different parts of the country, which Van Conner said in February further complicated plans for making a record. Van Conner lives in Seattle, Gary Lee Conner lives in New York, Lanegan lives in Los Angeles and Martin divides his time between Los Angeles and Seattle.

Since forming in 1983, the Trees have split at several points in their career, with the blame falling on their notorious drinking and fighting. The band was inactive for more than a year following a short tour in the fall of 1998.

"We never broke up," Gary Lee Conner said.

"Yeah, we never officially said, 'We're not doing this anymore,' " Van Conner said. "We were all just doing our own stuff."

Overlooked Grunge Co-Founders

Although the Screaming Trees never sold as many records as their grunge contemporaries Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, they are considered one of the founding bands of the genre, which fused '60s psychedelia and garage rock with '80s punk rock.

The band, named after a guitar distortion petal, recorded its first album, Clairvoyance, in 1986 with original drummer Mark Pickerel. After stints on Sub Pop and SST Records, the Trees signed with major label Epic Records in 1990 and released the Chris Cornell/Terry Date-produced Uncle Anesthesia. It was 1992's Sweet Oblivion, however, that lifted the band from cult status.

Lanegan released his first solo album, The Winding Sheet, featuring Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, in 1990. All of the singer's solo projects were critically acclaimed, though Lanegan never talked of leaving the band for a solo career.

Before Sunday's show, Lanegan said his next album would include other Seattle musicians but would not give names because the record still was in an early stage.