GD Loose Lips Interview

Loose Lips Sink Ships magazine

Words: Stevie Chick
Illustration: Tom Genowar

�Gentlemen accurately described my complete and utter confusion as a human� It probably saved my life�

“I had a transcendental moment,” he smiles, within seconds of sitting down. “An out of body experience. Drug free, too” he adds, because he knows you�ll be wondering.

“At one point, the audience disappeared, the band disappeared, the perimeter disappeared. And then I disappeared. From that point on, I could see everyone and everything, but I was not ‘of’ it. I could see myself. I could see the band and I liked what I saw. My pants were creased real nice and we put on a real great show”

This is the closest rock’n’roll can boast to an old Southern gentleman, a man of barrel chest and easy countenance, generous of insight and riotous of punch line.

Greg Dulli’s been close to death. He’s bitten down upon the fruits of life, until hitting the rind. He knows the lessons both experiences offer, but his insight’s all his own.

Delivered with so much rogue-ish magnetism, so much ease, he could start a charm school.
“I felt ecstatic,” he smiles, removing the barb of smugness from these following words through the honesty of gratitude, “because it’s great being me.”

He looked exactly like Billie Holliday, caught in that ineffable ecstasy, mid song. His Twilight Singers rocking out, with passion and decorum beside him, lights colouring the cigarette smoke coiling like garlands around him, the set-list littered with treasured covers for sharing and cherished originals that haven�t dulled with time.

Yes, you sense, it’s great being Greg Dulli.

That this has not always been the case has been at the core of some of Dulli�s greatest music, however. The Afghan Whigs thrived upon Dulli�s bitter honesty, his gallows soul-songs dark and wretched enough to belong on one of Dave Godin�s legendary �Deep Soul� compilations, music for those questions asked after midnight, the answers that don�t come easy or assuage on arrival. For their most acclaimed albums � Congregation, Gentlemen, Black Love, check �em out if you�re unfamiliar � Dulli grabbed the thorniest of all nettles, the complex honey-trap that is the male sexual id and tore into tiny, biliously-digestible shreds, holding a mirror to the uglier excesses of ego and desire, while still making records as emotionally nutritional, as erotic as Marvin Gaye�s finest.

Always torn between the angel and the devil, Dulli had a dick for a brain and he was gonna sell his ass to you. It�s amazing, given his lyrical honesty, his songs, blared like belisha beacons warning women away from this totemic golem of toxic bacheloricity, that he ever got laid at all.

�You know what? My Mom said the same thing� he laughs. �But I don�t k now if you noticed the other night, the audience was at least 50% women. There�s really no other way for me to go but strip naked every time I step in front of the microphone. And as much as I�d say I was singing about someone else, that it was �just a song�, I was lying. I can say that now, because I�m 35 and I don�t give a fuck. Honesty is beautiful and ugly at the same time, believe me. The picture I painted of myself on those albums was not a pretty picture. I was probably harder on myself than I was on anyone else I lashed out upon�

Gentlemen was preceded by the Uptown Avondale EP, a suite of soul covers which keyed up the psychotic quotient already lingering in the lyrics; to hear Dulli railing through Freda Payne�s �Band of Gold� was to hear a song of brave ailing resilience recast as a raging, spitting death howl, a little too intimate for comfort.

�That�s where I learned how to twist the knife,� he muses, �by making the music more sympathetic to the lyrics; that set me free as a writer. It�s slightly manipulative, but I�ll never apologise for that. Gentlemen was me examining my selfishness and the fact that I was obscured from reality. I had to pull back the sheets and take a look. And it was a harrowing look. Add drugs and alcohol in there too, and you have a motherfuckin� mess.�

The most harrowing song on Gentlemen, �My Curse� didn�t feature Dulli�s vocal, but that of Marcy Mays of fellow Ohioans, Scrawl. Dissecting a venomous mess of domestic and emotional violence with dolorous, almost erotic weariness, it was the bitterest chill on a most Wintry album.

�I tried to sing it, but it was kinda really impossible for me to do,� remembers Dulli �it was too close to the bone. Basically I chickened out. I�ve sung it since, but I really needed Marcy, my friend. At that point on the album, I wanted to offer respite, to have the woman answer after all that shit. After that, �Now You Know� plays out like a sucker punch at the end. I think it described my complete and utter confusion as a person. Not even as a man or boy or whatever, but as a human. It probably saved my life, allowing me to move on as a person, because I was clearly fucked up. But beautifully so.�

Dulli revisited the emotional environs one last time for Black Love, which he doesn�t remember fondly.
�I had been kind of chuffed by people paying attention to me� he smiles, with sanguine and apt deployment of Brit slang. �I went for some grand statement and � There�re some great songs on it, but I should have been reigned in. I went megalomaniacal, started believing the Yes Men. I was back on drugs, so any kind of clarity was erased. John Curley, who is probably the most sane of all of us Whigs, says it�s his favourite album. He told me it was like watching a fucking car wreck, he hated watching it but he couldn�t take his eyes off of it.

�I was living on somebody else�s dime, playing with the house money, receiving daily massages of my ego. I can look back on it now and it�s a bit naff. But, again, everything happens for a reason. When the album didn�t do as well as its predecessor � lesson learned, man. I deserved the whipping I got and I took it like a man. It forced me to grow up; it was probably the beginning of my adulthood. I was around 29, 30 years old. I had been diagnosed as a depressive and I took strides to get better.
In my late thirties I�m actually feeling comfortable in my own skin, and I like myself and even when I don�t like myself, I try and understand , and fix it. I�m lucky that I�m in a medium where I can explore that, put a beat behind it and nod my head to it.�

There was one last swansong for Afghan Whigs, the celebratory 1965, whose up-beat, salutary soul-rock saw them tour with Aerosmith (�Joe Perry told me it was the first Afghan Whigs record he really dug�), but having grown apart musically and geographically, they knew it was over. Dulli ran to his Twilight Singers project, originally begun with Shawn Smith of Brad/ Pigeonhead, and then completed with the guys of Fila Brazillia, which has since morphed into a more organic, traditional band- for now.

Obviously comfortable with his new found maturity, Dulli would rather not limit the possibilities for his Twilight Singers. They just completed �She Loves You�, his latest and superb covers project, and are talking of collaborating with Van Dye Parks for the next album. And that�s not to mention The Gutter Twins�

“Kurt Cobain first introduced me to Mark Lanegan in 1989. He’s always been a quiet guy, like Clint Eastwood. I call him Dirty Harry sometimes. He can be silent and menacing, but when you get to know him he is very sweet, incredibly funny, one of the most intelligent people I know.”

He talks of the aborted Gutter Twins sessions, shortly before Mark joined Queens of The Stone Age, booked at the Hi studios in Memphis, with Teeny Hodges on Guitar. “The man wrote the riff to ‘Love and Happiness’, god-damn,” he spits- but more so, he talks of an album they are finishing, and, perhaps more excitedly, a revue style tour planned to coincide. “Lanegan singing ‘My Curse”, me singing ‘Dollar Bill?” It’s gonna happen and it’s gonna be great.”

He flashes one of those warm beams that lights you up from the inside and you have to confess that, yes, it must be great being Greg Dulli. Fucked up, but beautifully so.

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