Ten Commandos, a supergroup involving members of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age and Off!, won’t release their eponymous debut album until year’s end. But on Friday, the group unveiled their first single “Staring Down the Dust,” featuring guest vocalist Mark Lanegan (formerly of fellow grunge act Screaming Trees). Ten Commandos features Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron, Soundgarden bassist Ben Shepherd, contributing Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Alain Johannes and Off! guitarist Dimitri Coats.
In interviews leading up to the arrival of Ten Commandos, the group teased a sound that would hit all the trademarks of Nineties grunge – “really heavy and doomy” – and “Staring Down the Dust” delivers on that promise. Sporting an angular Badmotorfinger-like riff, a lurking bassline and dense, sometimes dubby reverb, Lanegan cuts through the gloom with his scorched, smoky warble. “Staring down the dust / Kissing the angel of death / Praying your will isn’t crushed / Singing it under your breath,” the Screaming Trees singer croons.
“This was the first song we recorded and we finished the rhythm track very quickly,” Cameron tells Rolling Stone. “We all liked the sound and feel of the song, but once we heard Mark Lanegan’s vocals on it, he took it to another level completely.”
“So much music that influenced me came from Seattle,” adds Coats. “The riffs Ben came up with for this one are heavy and twisted; not an obvious pocket for a singer to jump into.”
The seeds of the supergroup came together following a memorial concert for Natasha Shneider, Johannes’ wife and bandmate in the alternative rock group Eleven who passed away in 2008. Cameron, Johannes and Shepherd began writing the album later that year, but the side project wasn’t able to record together until spring 2014, at which point Ten Commandos were joined by Coats at Seattle’s Studio Litho. Ten Commandos put the finishing touches on their debut LP at Johannes’ Studio 11AD in Los Angeles.
Johannes, Cameron, Coats and Shepherd all contributed to the writing of the album, which features guests Lanegan, guitarist Peter Frampton (“Sketch 9”) and singer Nikka Costa (“Come”). “Staring Down the Dust” itself features music by Shepherd and Johannes, while Lanegan penned the lyrics.
Each member of Ten Commandos have collaborated with one another in some capacity throughout the past few decades. Cameron and Shepherd are both members of Soundgarden and their side project Hater, while Cameron (as well as one-time Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons) briefly drummed for Johannes’ Eleven project.
Lanegan is also a thread that ties the supergroup together: Coats and Johannes both appeared on Lanegan’s 2004 LP Bubblegum, while Johannes played a large role on Lanegan’s 2012 album Blues Funeral. Shepherd also contributed to a Lanegan album, performing multiple instruments and co-writing “Blues for D” on Lanegan’s 2001 album Field Songs. Additionally, Lanegan and Johannes are fixtures in Josh Homme’s Queens of the Stone Age as well as, with Shepherd, Homme’s The Desert Sessions.
“We’re all fans of a broad spectrum of music,” Coats told Billboard of Ten Commandos in June 2014. “It’s a little bit more laid-back than I would’ve thought, but in a good way. There’s some kind of heavy, bluesy moments and then there’s some really beautiful stuff, too. It’s a little bit like Superunknown, that kind of era of Soundgarden, mixed with Alain’s kind of Stevie Wonder vibe. And they call me the secret weapon; I’m a little bit rough around the edges, but I have a lot of good ideas.”