Cult bands are an interesting phenomena. Seems like they are around forever but never manage a major breakthrough. They are always on the peripheral hanging out, appealing to a particular taste but rarely do so consistently. Fans put up with extended periods of inactivity and internal disputes just to feel a special bond. Who can argue with that?
From a commercial standpoint being a cult band is death because cults are never that big.
Screaming Trees was a Seattle band around before Grunge and actually survived the genre's demise, barely. They even managed to profit from the hype, if only marginally.
The story begins in Ellensburg, WA, some 90 miles east of Seattle, with brothers Van Conner (bass) and Gary Lee Conner (guitar) and Mark Lanegan (vocals). The trio were the only people in their high school who listened to Punk, Garage Rock, and independent music. Not surprising they were alone in their tastes since E-burg (residents tag for their town) is in the heart of the state's agriculture belt and known for a conservative bent. The first iteration of the group in the early '80s didn't last long - not even through high school - and it would still be a couple years before Screaming Trees (a name of a guitar distortion pedal) really got going.
Combining a mixed bag of '60s psychedelia, Garage Rock and Punk, the re-grouped Screaming Trees recorded for the legendary SST and Sub Pop before becoming the first Seattle group to sign with a major label, Epic, in '89. If not for their erratic work schedule, reckless drinking and fighting, who knows how big they might have become. But all this endeared them to the faithful few.
Their Epic debut "Uncle Anesthesia" appeared in early '91 but not before Lanegan launched a solo recording career. After the album's release, Van Conner chose to tour as Dinosaur Jr.'s bassist. When they began work on a follow-up effort, drummer Mark Pickerel left and was replaced by Barrett Martin. That's just when the group's fortunes turned. They finished "Nearly Lost You," their contribution to the "Singles" soundtrack. "Nearly Lost You" became an MTV and alternative radio hit and also appeared on the group's '92 album "Sweet Oblivion," which sold over 300,000 copies. After a moderately successful tour, the group went on a extended hiatus. Lanegan made another solo album while Martin worked with Layne Staley (Alice in Chains) and Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) on Mad Season.
After a false start, it wasn't until '96 that Screaming Trees finally got around to releasing a follow-up to "Sweet Oblivion." Even though "Dust" contained a decent hit in "All I Know" it failed to generate much in the way of sales. A slot on that year's Lollapalooza failed to alter the album's fortunes (or lack thereof). Lanegan went off on another solo adventure and the group seemed no longer a factor. But it wasn't until '00, following a concert celebrating the opening of the Experience Music Project in Seattle, that the group officially announced their breakup. Lanegan, of course, went on to front Queens Of The Stone Age.
1987 Even If And Especially When
1988 Invisible Lantern
1989 Buzz Factory
1991 Uncle Anesthesia
1992 Sweet Oblivion
2011 Last Words: The Final Recordings
When the Screaming Trees went into the studio they usually emerged with excellent results. But lacking the pained anguish of Nirvana or the sonic density of Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees must have got lost in the shuffle. Too bad.
"Sweet Oblivion" is a great album and not just because it has "Nearly Lost You." The album's other tracks are as strong as the hit. "Dust," while not at "Sweet Oblivion's" level, is still an impressive set.
The 21 track "Anthology" is a good collection though it lacks "Nearly Lost You." A better choice is "Oceans Of Confusion: The Songs Of The Screaming Trees 1990-1996."