In 1983, more than 100 miles from Seattle in the Eastern Washington town of Ellensburg, a group of high school students started a band and named it Screaming Trees. The four members didn’t have much in common, other than the fact that they all liked obscure music and went to the same school. Their mutual passion for the music led to them playing on the indie rock circuit. Opening for Dinosaur Jr., Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth and Soundgarden. Introduced to SST by Soundgarden, Greg Ginn from the label saw them live and signed them. Making Screaming Trees one of the first groups of the grunge era to be signed to a major label.
There was tension in this band. Personalities clashed often, especially between the two brothers in the band Gary Lee Conner and Van Conner. The brothers were famous for fighting onstage. Hitting each other hard and actually meaning it. This gritty feel made its way into the music. And, along with distinctive deep-voiced singer Mark Lanegan, helped the group stand out from the other rock groups of the time.
In 1992, drummer Mark Pickerel quit the band, and was replaced by (former Skinyard drummer) Barrett Martin. Also in ’92, Screaming Trees put “Nearly Lost You” on the movie Singles soundtrack. This new song got them international exposure and made the album the song was on, Sweet Oblivion, their best-selling record.
Like many of the groups coming out of Seattle in the late 80s and through the 90s, Screaming Trees were branded with the label “Grunge” even though the group were more classic rock with psychedelic influences. But they were definitely a big part of the scene. Screaming Trees would release one more album in 1996 but played together less and less, finally breaking up in 2000.
Barrett Martin would go on to play with Tuatara and Mad Season and travel the world as a graduate student in ethnomusicology and anthropology. He now teaches at Antioch University and his Barrett Martin Project is dropping a Brazilian Rock record later this year. Mark Pickerel now fronts his own band Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands. Mark Lanegan has put out several solo releases and has sung with many bands (including Queens of the Stone Age) and joined the bands Gutter Twins (with Afghan Whigs Greg Dulli) and Soulsavers. Mark Lanegan plays a solo show June 17 at the Neptune.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers with assistance from John Felthous, Tiffany Grobelski, Mary Janisch and Executive Producer Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.