Most everything about the Afghan Whigs is uniquely contorted. They’re a loud, rebellious voice from the middle of America that refuses to be silenced. If it weren’t for rock ‘n’ roll, vocalist/guitarist Greg Dulli and company would doubtless be in a tower with an automatic rifle, taking pot shots at passers-by.
In Cincinnati, where these boys call home, troublemakers are put in their place, so the disaffected usually keep to themselves. Not the Afghan Whigs though. They thrive on torment, deriving pleasure from confrontation. They’re not satisfied being individuals in a world of conformists, they want to rub their individuality in the face of anyone within striking distance.
Even their inception reeks of lawlessness. Appropriately enough, the Afghan Whigs formed in an Ohio prison on Halloween, 1986. After an evening of heavy partying, Dulli was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. While in jail, he ran into guitarist Rick McCollum, busted that same night for urinating in public. The two hit it off immediately. The only thing left to do was form a band. They set about the task by recruiting bassist John Curley, who used to sell Dulli marijuana, and drummer Steven Earle, who met Dulli after his motorcycle hit Dulli’s car. By 1989, the band had released their first album Big Top Halloween on their own Ultrasuede label. Although few people actually heard the record, Seattle band The Fluid got hold of a copy of it on tour, and brought it back to SubPop headquarters. Next thing the Afghan Whigs knew, they were signed.
Their first SubPop release, Up In It, was a lethaly engaging grungeathon, which struck a chord somewhere between the contained fury of Dinosaur Jr. and the hedonistic cry of Mudhoney, making the band one of the label’s top priorities.
Congregation, their new album, features plenty of guitar bite, and tormented as ever lyrics. But this time, there’s actual melody and diversity between the waves of blackened noise. Dulli even goes so far as to call it soul music (soul searing, for sure), citing numerous “points of reference” that were “straight out stolen” from various Motown acts.
“On this one I’ve been more true to myself and the music I love,” says Dulli. “Also, I’m not that totally angry, violent person I was. I got that out of my system. That’s not to say I don’t still get pissed off a lot, I just deal with my problems a little more honestly now.”
How did Dulli used to deal with his problems? Well, there was the time he kicked the teeth in of a Seattle heckler who poured beer in his distortion pedal. Then in Washington DC, he trashed Jesus Jones’ drum kit, because they didn’t leave Afghan Whigs enough room to set up. “Imagine my surprise when I found out they have the number one album six months later.”