Magnet Featured Artist
MAGNET Featured Artist: Greg Dulli
by Matt Ryan
From their humble beginnings as a grunge-era Sub Pop band to their eventual transformation into a critically acclaimed, soul-struck rock íní roll outfit, Cincinnatiís Afghan Whigs amassed a rabid underground following over 15 years and six records. When the band finally called it quits in February 2001, singer Greg Dulli began writing and recording his first solo record, only to shelve it a year later when his close friend, director Ted Demme, collapsed of a heart attack at a celebrity basketball tournament. Following Demmeís untimely death, a despondent Dulli immersed himself in the recording of Blackberry Belle, the darkly atmospheric sophomore album from his Twilight Singers. Now, four years later, Dulli has finally decided to release those previously shelved solo tracks on his own label, Infernal Recordings. The songs on Amber Headlights are exactly what you would expect from a post-Whigs Dulli, from rockers (ďSo TightĒ) to slinky, R&B-influenced jams (ďEarly TodayĒ). Next up for Dulli is Powder Burns, the new Twilights album, and the long-awaited Gutter Twins record, Dulliís collaboration with Mark Lanegan.
Whatís going on tonight?
Well, I had a little bar emergency. I had to let in the delivery people who are fucking very late.
Did you say for your bar?
Yeah. We were supposed to get the delivery today at 1:30 and Iím pretty sure this guyóheís a cool guy, but heís one of these guys thatís always talking about his wife and how much he loves her, so that means heís fucking around on her. Thatís why he was late. I could tell, man. He was all disheveled.
Yeah. I asked him about his wife a couple times and he got really uncomfortable. [Laughs] Thatís all I needed to know.
Thereís one for your next song.
No doubt. Can you hold on one second?
Sorry about that. New Orleans calling. There are a couple of dead cats.
I know you spent a lot of time in New Orleans. Did you actually have a place down there?
I sold my place down there. I lived there for two years, so Iíve got a lot of really good friends. That was a friend who hadnít been down there since the day before [the hurricane] hit. She had three cats, and one lived and two died.
Iím working with a lady that was a partial owner in a restaurant down there. It wasnít flooded, but sheís told it was totally destroyed by looters. She hasnít been down there to check out her house yet, but it was in a flooded area.
Ugh. Where are you?
Oh, right on. Modey Lemon.
There you go. Youíre familiar with those guys?
My friend Dave puts their records out. So yeah, Iíve met Ďem and hung out with Ďem. Theyíre awesome guys. Great band.
So I hear the Gutter Twins finally made an appearance recently.
We played our first show in Rome. We only played one original song. Everybodyís like, ďWhy did you do that?Ē Well, a) they paid us a lot of money; and b) the Italians are the most notorious bootleggers of all time. As soon as I walked out there, I saw a hundred cameras and god knows how many microphones sticking up in the air. I was like, ďFuck you people.Ē So we did one new one and we did it in a way that wonít be on the album. But it was great. It was cool to finally play a gig. Iíve spent a lot of time in Italy and it was the perfect place to do it. It was this beautiful, outdoor venue, so it was nice.
I keep hearing that the record is coming out. I interviewed Mark (Lanegan) about a year ago and he said it would be finished the next month.
[Laughs] I would have loved to have been there and heard him say that. I mean, we both got other shit going on. He plays in Queens Of The Stone Age and does his own thing and I do my own thing. I play in two bands, so we have to carve out time. Our next recording time is December. I think weíll probably get something done and ready to put out a year from now. Thatís probably the closest to the truth youíre going to get.
You say you play in two bands. Do you have something going besides the Twilight Singers?
I play in this Italian band called After Hours. They were the band that backed up the Gutter Twins. I did their record about a year and a half ago. It came out in April and then I joined their touring band, because theyíre fucking fabulous and they needed me because I co-wrote half the songs on their new album.
That must be a logistical challenge.
Actually, theyíre so popular, Iím flown over in style, so I can be there in a day. I usually stay for a month or five weeks and live like a pimp and then head on back with all my Lira.
What style of band is it? R&B?
No, no. Theyíre a rock íní roll band. Theyíre very much a rock íní roll band. I love their music and I love them as people, so itís kind of a no-brainer for me. The smallest crowd we played for last month was 3,000 people. The biggest crowd was 8,000.
A guitar-rock band?
Nah. Thereís violin, cello. Itís a big band. Itís very orchestral. Itís very eclectic rock íní roll. If I could compare them to anybody, Iíd compare them to the Afghan Whigs, actually.
Letís talk about the Amber Headlights disc. People seem to think that this was the missing segue between the Whigs and the Twilight Singers.
I would say thatís probably not far off the mark, because sequentially, thatís what it is. Itís the first real record I did after I broke up the Whigs. But itís an unfinished record. I put it out there for people who like me and wanted to hear it. Iím not ramming it down peoplesí throats. Itís not like my new record, but itís a record that I liked and didnít want it to fade into obscurity, just because I lost my friend and decided to change my horse midstream.
I know you put these songs on the shelf after Ted passed away. Is that whatís on the album, or did you work on them further?
I did nothing to it. I mastered it and I put it out. The sequence that I found it in is the sequence that it came out on. I got someone to do artwork for me and I mastered it and I put it out. Thatís it. I didnít touch anything.
Why the self-release?
Because I owned the masters and it was the first time that I had owned the masters since I was 21 years old. I figured I know whoís going to buy this record and I donít really need a record company to help me do it. Thereís various ways to do things now. I decided I would keep the profits myself.
Good thinking. The songs seem to stand on their own. Did you think they would only appeal to hard-core fans?
I donít know. The reason I didnít want to go widescreen with it is because I know Iím going to put out the new Twilight record in March or April and I donít want to be confusing people with a whole bunch of stuff. Trying to explain a record thatís almost four years old to people who donít know who the fuck you are was going to be more trouble than it was worth. The people who want to get it will get it. Iíll have some on the road when I tour and Iíll be playing some of the songs in the shows.
So the new Twilights is already in progress.
Yeah. Itís almost halfway done. I should have been working on it two weeks ago, but New Orleans got flooded, so Iíve got to finish it in New York City now.
You were working on the record in New Orleans?
Yeah. I did it up until I left for Italy. I left for Italy and it fucking got flooded. Mike Napolitano, the guys whoís producing it, had to run through a bunch of barricades and National Guard people to get the hard drive.
Itís fortunate that you were able to recover it.
I had a copy, but the main drive was still in New Orleans, because everyone thought they were coming back. I donít think anybody truly realized how intense that thing was going to be. I did, because I lived in New Orleans through two hurricanes and they were Category 2s, so I canít imagine a Category 4, bro. I cannot.
Iím not a big fan of Rolling Stone, but they have an issue with some pretty powerful reporting from the scene.
Iíve read some fucking horror stories, but Iíve also read a bunch of false stuff. Like what they said was going on in the Superdome. I couldnít believe that. I really think that was Baton Rouge and Washington, D.C., spin-cycle shit. You know what I mean? Like the anarchy going on down there. I donít think it was as bad as people were saying it was. Itís inherently racist what has happened down there.
No doubt about it, but that lady I mentioned, sheís been in touch with some of the people who were in the Superdome, and theyíve told her some horror stories.
I donít doubt that some bad shit went down there, but Iíve read some National Guard reports. Címon, theyíre the National Guard. Theyíre weekend warriors. They canít cover everybodyís stories. They literally said that out of everybody there, there were three people who died of natural causes, three overdoses and one suicide. That is seven deaths out of 15,000 people that were in there. I donít think thatís so bad. There was a lot of drug use. I mean, thatís a drug town. Itís a fuckiní port city. There are more drugs in New Orleans than Iíve ever seen anywhere, because itís so easy to get in. Up through South America, into the Carribean and take them up the Mississipi. So Iím not surprised there was all that drug shit going on, but as far as the looting goes, Iím sorry for your friend, but if Iím hungry or thirsty and I know that thereís food in a place that ainít going to open for six more weeks, Iím going to go in and take that food.
Well, I do agree with your comment about racism. If this had been a bunch of white, middle-class people, it would have turned out differently.
I gotta believe that there wouldnít be motherfuckers sitting on their roofs, or cooking on an interstate off ramp without cover or water. People dying of dehydration. You shouldnít die of dehydration in America. I mean, Galveston, theyíre pumping that motherfucker right now. Itís Texas. Itís (Bushís) place. There was incompetence on a bunch of levels, but cutting the funding for the Army Corps of Engineering and knowing that these levees couldnít take a Category 4 and with global warming the hurricanes are going to get worse and worse the rest of our lives…
All true, but Bush is Teflon man. None of this will stick to him.
Itís not a presidency anymore. Heís the fuckiní CEO of the biggest corporation in the world. Thatís why I think there was a lot of disinformation put out there, because he is an evasive motherfucker. The best analogy I heard of what happened in New Orleans was, letís say youíre the president, Matt. You knew that on September 9, that in two days, planes were going to fly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And you didnít do anything. Youíd be charged with treason and hung from a tree in front of the White House. Thatís what he did. He was fucking gladhanding in Phoenix and San Diego and then went back to his house and hung out. Finally, he was like, ďHey, whoa, weíve got a problem.Ē No shit. You had a problem 48 hours before the problem hit.
Youíre preaching to the converted, dude.
Yeah. Yeah. So anyway.
Letís get back to the music.
I love it.
What can we expect from the new Twilights?
The new Twilight record is more live than in the past. Before, when I was still figuring a lot of the stuff out, I was using click tracks. This stuff, Iíve actually been able to rehearse and play with live musicians and change the tempos. So itís kind of a little more live, a little harder, a little more rock íní roll, although there are ethereal pieces on it, but itís very grown up and very muscular. Laneganís on it. Joseph Arthur sings on it. Ani DiFranco sings on it. The rest is me and my cadre of compadres.
You clearly have a love affair with soul and R&B. Have you ever considered seeking out legends in that genre to collaborate with?
The one thing Iíve always wanted to doóand Lanegan and I have talked about thisóis to work with Willie Mitchell, who was the architect of the Stax sound. Heís done the last two Al Green records and heís definitely working again. Teenie Hodges and all the musicians that he used in Memphis are still alive and playing, so Lanegan and I have talked about contacting him and going down. It would be the Memphis people that Iíd be most drawn to. If we could get Willie Mitchell to produce something and get Isaac Hayes to do our string section for us, it would be fucking twisted.
Jack White did his Loretta Lynn collaboration. I could see Greg Dulli and Etta James.
Wow. I would love to do that. Right now, with the Twilights record and the Gutter Twins record and working with After Hours, Iíve barely got time to watch a baseball game. Iíve gotta get shit done before I think about stuff like that, but believe me man, Etta James, címon, thatíd be great. Iíd go crazy working with her.
I find it funny that people think Janis Joplin was a singular voice.
I tell you what, man. You can bet your ass Janis heard Etta James. Thatís where she got it from.
Janis covered ďTell Mama,Ē so there you go.
Well, I better let you go. Iíll be looking forward to the new Twilights.
It should be out sometime next year.
And Iíll look forward to the Gutter Twins in three or four years.
[Laughs] Fuck you, Matt.