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It’s Twilight time

NOW Magazine – Music in Toronto, MAY 25 – 31, 2006

Could Greg Dulli possibly be the sexiest man in indie rock?

The TWILiGHT SINGERS play with AFTER HOURS and JEFF KLEIN at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Saturday (May 27), 9 pm doors. $16. 416-870-8000.

It’s not until i tell my roommate I’m set to interview Twilight Singers leader Greg Dulli (she coos and gushes about how amazingly sexified the man is) that I get the impression I may be interviewing the closest thing indie rock has to a Don Juan.

And seconds after that interview begins (he’s in his bathtub in Los Angeles, no less), the mystery behind Dulli’s fanatic-forming sex appeal starts to clear up.

“I’m not the best-looking guy in the world, so I think it comes down to candour and honesty. I’ve stumbled upon a few simple truths over the years and been able to put a groove behind them. Whenever a song makes me feel not alone, I feel like I have a bond with that songwriter. There are few things more powerful than a sexual bond.”

That bond, whether it’s sexual or emotional, is awfully strong for fans of Dulli’s past and present work, including in the often under-appreciated Afghan Whigs. How, after so long in the biz, does he still rev up the old charm machine and keep his live shows exciting?

“I like to put on a show. The singers of bygone days knew how to work a stage, and I was practising in front of a mirror when I was 10 years old. All that effort did not let me down. I can’t remember who once said it’s 20 per cent what you say and 80 per cent how you say it.”

This is the first time in eight years that Dulli has come to Toronto, but he’s been exceptionally busy. In between recording four albums, including the brand new Powder Burns (One Little Indian), he’s opened and managed two bars.

“It pays the bills, bro, and rock doesn’t.”

But Dulli began to miss the rock lifestyle he’d been accustomed to, and began work on the follow-up to 2004’s She Loves You, an unusual and beautiful collection of covers.

While recording the disc, out this week, Dulli strengthened his bond with his second home, Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, and channelled all the grief and destruction around him into his music.

Smack dab in the middle of all the chaos and suffering, the smoky-voiced singer set up shop in a studio that often needed a backup generator to power the gear.

Lyrically and conceptually, Powder Burns is about personal rebirth and the rebirth of New Orleans.

“The northeast (of New Orleans) was the apocalypse. It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Houses were completely submerged, trees drowned, and there were no birds or animal life. Sometimes you don’t notice when you hear birds singing, but you notice when they’re not.”

Surprisingly, for all the misery he witnessed, Dulli isn’t quick to blame politicians or politicking for what happened to his city, nor has he let politics influence his music. That has something to do with what he see as a lack of subtlety in most political jams we hear.

“I’m not an intensely political person. I vote. I’ve marched a few times. But I find it a necessary evil. Politics is a despicable profession, and I don’t think I’ve ever written anything political. I rarely find political music compelling; usually it ends up getting preachy. The best protest song I ever heard was Imagine: that’s how you crystallize a good message. You don’t beat people over the head with rhetoric.”

Dulli has found a far more personal connection to his fans through his autobiographical lyrics, which are often passionate and sombre and always oozing sensuality characteristics that also conjure up one of Canada’s favourite musician/poets.

When I ask Dulli if he thinks he’s on his way to becoming the next Leonard Cohen, he laughs before telling me that recently in L.A. he actually had the chance to meet Cohen, who, from the admiration in Dulli’s voice, may just be his new role model..

“He was everything I wanted him to be.”

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