Chicago Twilight Singers Preview
Illinois Entertainer – Steve Forstneger
Before coming to Chicago for the first time in nearly three years, ex-Afghan Whig/current Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli agreed to a chat.
IE: I don’t know if you follow them, but your Cincinnatti Reds are flirting with first place.
Greg Dulli: Of course I know, dude. I got ‘em on fucking TV out here [in Los Angeles]. I got the package. Of any sports team, the Reds I follow completely. The four games they play here, I go to all four. I go back home to see them every year.
IE: You can never tell with you rock ‘n’ roll kids who associates sports with jocks, or who’s all about it.
GD: I played organized baseball for 10 years.
IE: Were you ever in a minor-league situation?
GD: Noooooo. No no no. I couldn’t hit a curveball. I was fine up until 9th grade, and then I had to face the stone-cold fact there were people way better than me. I was good there for about eight years.
IE: People always told me I had a good swing, but it never translated to connecting with the ball.
GD: I started out as like a two-hole hitter, and by the time I got to 9th and 10th grade I was hitting eighth. That’s just ego destroying.
IE: Do After Hours [Italian band he has produced and is currently touring with] know you’re not Italian yet?
GD: They know I’m not Italian, but the Italians think I’m Italian. And there’s no need to go busting bubbles. They’re from Milan. The Italians like the Greeks. It’s same face, same race. I forget how they say it, something facca, something racca. You know, the Italians and the Greeks both got the cradle of civilization bonding going on.
IE: Is there anything inherently Italian about After Hours’ music, or are they just a pop band?
GD: Well, they’re definitely a rock band. They’re a very eclectic band, pulling influences from all over. They’re definitely pulling Italian influences. And they do old Italian, gypsy music sometimes. They have a violin player in the group. I would say inherently, no. But in the margins, all over the place.
IE: Did any of them play on Powder Burns?
IE: But everyone else you know did.
GD: Everyone else I know did. I tend to lately, I’d say there’s like an 11-person pool that I draft from and everyone got drafted.
IE: Ani DiFranco is a surprise.
GD: Yeah, I’m getting that [from people].
IE: I don’t doubt she’s cool, but it seems to me Susan B. Anthony playing with Andrew Dice Clay.
GD: [Laughs.] I think she had some initial reservations based on my reputation. I will say this: It was her idea to do the first harmony. She heard a song and heard a harmony and asked if she could do it. I said “yes,” and she asked if I would leave the room while she did it. I said, “O.K.” And I came back and it was perfect.
IE: She seems so prolific, like she wouldn’t have time to do something else.
GD: Well, she lives in New Orleans and she’s the girlfriend of Mike [Napoltiano], my producer. So she was around and she was recording her record while I was recording mine. We saw each other every day. Ate lunch and dinner together every day for probably two months. We are officially friends.
IE: What about [former Afghan Whigs bassist] John Curley? Are you still close, or is this a reconnection?
GD: No, John Curley’s my brother. We talk every week. Every week without fail. We are very close and in very close contact at all times.
IE: This represents a flurry of activity for you with She Loves You, Amber Headlights, and now Powder Burns. Is this an emptying of the vaults, or are you back in action?
GD: I’m back in action. This stuff, Powder Burns, is very new. Amber Headlights is “emptying the vaults.” Amber Headlights was outtakes and a big enough group of people wanted to hear it, so I put it out. This is the all-new jam. But it’s cool because I like a lot of those Amber Headlights songs and now I have five records to pull from in the shows.
IE: When you were younger and in the Whigs, did it feel like you were developing as a songwriter in front of people?
GD: I’ve been criticized since I was a kid just for being me. That’s cool beecause I got a tough skin early on. I would say since I’ve been putting out albums since I’ve was 21 and I’m 40 now, I would say that I’ve done my development quite publicly.
IE: Would you say there’s a lot less pressure now, or do you keep pressure on yourself?
GD: I always keep pressure on myself. I take making records very seriously. I’m not gonna put my name on something unless I believe in it. That’s pressure enough I think.
IE: Powder Burns, was it conceived? Did you have the material in mind before you had the album? Or was it finished, and you picked tracks that seemed to be brothers?
GD: I, like any record I do, I get a group of songs that can hang together. Usually if I get four that I get excited about, and I start to explore conceptual ideas and how to tie the record together in a cohesive manner, and I’ll react to different songs – there’s a bunch of great songs that I wrote this time that did not make the record because they didn’t fit the vibe. But they’re not, they’re no less important songs for me and they’ll come out some day. But this collection, I fooled around with it until I got something that had an abstract, yet linear feel for me.
IE: It reminds me mostly of Black Love, almost in that it’s a very back-against-the-wall kind of thing. It’s not as loose as your last two or three albums.
GD: It’s kind of back-against-the-wall; I’ll go with that.
IE: What else is the title supposed to mean besides what a gun leaves on your hands after you fire it?
GD: I don’t know.
IE: That’s for us to find out?
GD: There are entendres everywhere if you look for them.
IE: Last time we talked was before Katrina hit. Knowing how much you love New Orleans: did the hurricane destroy the city, or do you think it adds to the haunt?
GD: It’s changed it forever. I think what it has destroyed, to a certain amount, is the cultural diversity. The reaction by the government seemed to have ensured the minorities were fucked. In a city that was 70 percent black? I don’t know you’ll see it that way again. Maybe ever.
IE: When’s the first time you went back?
GD: I was back there probably a month after the levies broke. I got there at the beginning of October. I helped my friends get whatever they could out of their houses that were destroyed. Anything that was on high enough ground – which basically had to be 10 feet off the ground. I helped some people with tree removal. The first week I was there was doing manual labor.
IE: How soon to recording?
GD: We started probably five days after we got there. We had to get the studio together and air out the place. The first few days there were rolling blackouts so we’d have to fire up generators. But there was a curfew in place, so for all intents and purposes martial law. You had to be in your dwelling by 2 a.m. and you were not allowed out of it until 6 a.m. Since I work mostly at night, it helped keep me focused.
IE: Inadvertently the government helped you out?
IE: Was it hard not to make this album about either your feelings about the government’s role or just an ode to the city itself?
GD: No, because I think there was a parallel correlation between myself and New Orleans that I was feeling and I was able to write a lot from first person. There’s . . . I hear a destruction and rebirth theme running through the record, so I sort of felt a kinship to the city outside, but within what happened because it was mirroring a personal time within my life also.
IE: What are we to expect for your new live set?
GD: I have five albums to pull from now, and this one might be the best band I’ve ever had.
IE: It’s the Greg Dulli Revue?
GD: No, but I ain’t shy up there, babe. You’ll know I was there.