Eye – Gleam On
Eye – Gleam On – 05.25.06
BY STUART BERMAN
It’s Greg Dulli’s birthday — “my 27th,” quips the 41-year-old — and he’s celebrating it as any normal Los Angeles resident would.
“I’m going to the LA gun club to do a little shooting,” he says excitedly. “I don’t actually own a gun, but I go down there and rent a few big ones to blow off any aggression I may have lingering inside of me.”
You’d think after two decades of spilling his guts on record, Dulli wouldn’t have to resort to firearms to get his point across.
Dulli may be a great guy to talk to — dude is like a Yacht Rock expert — but as his discography attests, he’s not always a great guy to be. For 14 years (1986-2000), he lorded over Cincinatti black ‘n’ blue-eyed rockers Afghan Whigs, a grunge-era anomaly that thought outside the fuzzbox and recognized that teenage angst has got nothing on the gritted-teeth intensity of Otis Redding. But beyond adhering to soul music’s standard of breathless three-hour concert revues, Dulli took the genre’s confessional nature to uncomfortable extremes, inhabiting a world of broken bottles, broken promises and broken relationships, and — most disturbingly — feeling right at home in it.
But with his current, LA-based project, The Twilight Singers, Dulli is exploring the same theme — dependency, of both the chemical and sexual varieties — with more muted shades of soul. The Twilights’ 2000 debut was a trip-hoppy collaboration with Brit producers Fila Brazilla; 2003’s Blackberry Belle was an elegiac, nocturnal song cycle; while 2004’s covers collection, She Loves You, reinterpreted songs written mostly from female perspectives (including those belonging to Björk and Hope Sandoval).
She Loves You didn’t actually feature a cover of the titular Beatles song; however, its familiar chorus is quoted on The Twilight Singers’ fiery new album, Powder Burns, in the track “Forty Dollars” — but rather than an expression of hormonal joy, it’s a sarcastic device that depicts Dulli bottoming out while in the company of a prostitute. In the one-sheet bio for the album, Dulli describes Powder Burns as “extremely biographical,” which raises the question: was he bullshitting us all this time?
“All I can say is all my albums are autobiographical,” he replies.
While Blackberry Belle was written in the wake of the death of Dulli’s close friend, director Ted Demme (Beautiful Girls), the conditions for Powder Burns were no sunnier: the album was completed in New Orleans weeks after Katrina hit.
“I got there Oct. 1,” Dulli recounts, “and the destruction was apocalyptic. The smell hit me as soon as I got off the airplane — there were only two airplanes coming in that day to Louis Armstrong [Airport], and that was shocking enough. It was like 28 Days Later — one morning I went for a walk and I was the only person in the French Quarter.”
But rather than wallowing in these bleak surroundings, Powder Burns is determined to rise above them. The album — which features guest appearances from Ani DiFranco, Joseph Arthur and Brian Wilson collaborator Scott Bennett — represents Dulli’s most swaggering set since the Whigs’ 1996’s rock-noir opus Black Love, and Powder Burns’ air of hard-won redemption reflects a certain contentment in Dulli’s life these days. Even if he has to lie about his age, Dulli no longer needs to justify himself to major-label bosses like he had to 10 years ago with the Whigs. By releasing records through UK indie One Little Indian and his own website, Dulli can now make music at his own (increasingly prolific) pace and, more importantly, on his own terms.
“I put out a record of outtakes last year [Amber Headlights], and I couldn’t believe how well I did,” Dulli says. “I got nine dollars a record, I sold three of the songs to television and I didn’t have to pay the record company any of that, because the master is mine.
“Anyone who signs a seven-record deal now is an idiot. I look at somebody like Jack White: he makes the records for 10 grand, keeps the publishing, has low overhead on his shows. That guy’s a fucking genius. It’s not unlike what Ani DiFranco did, and I’ve seldom seen a more well-adjusted and happy person. The last bunch of years, doing it on my own, I’m eminently more happy and more financially solvent.”
Why, all this optimism is almost enough to make you wonder if a trip to the gun club is really necessary.
“No, I’ve got to go shooting on my 27th birthday,” Dulli replies. “They have a plethora of Middle-Eastern-looking targets there, but I usually go for the Ted Kaczynski-looking guy. Not that I have anything against Ted Kaczynski, but he’s looking like he’s saying ‘fuck you’ to me, and I don’t appreciate that. I project what he’s projecting on me — and then it’s on.”