Eye of the Storm
Montreal Mirror : Music : Twilight Singers
Eye of the storm
From earthquakes to hurricanes, the Twilight Singers weather it all
by JOHNSON CUMMINS
Cincinnati, Ohio’s Afghan Whigs started out during the grunge revolution of the ’90s, but soon drifted away from the fuzzbox-stomping masses, integrating soul music and lyrics that weren’t exactly your standard punk-rock fare. Their chief songwriter, Greg Dulli, became known for his poison pen, littering his lyrics with desperate characters and hitting especially hard when he wrote what may be the ultimate break-up album, Gentlemen, in 1993.
By 2001, after another two records, the band had run off the rails and chose to break up before any fraying of friendships could occur. Dulli, however, had already sown the seeds of his new project, the Twilight Singers. The band’s 2000 debut was an unlikely mixture of dark New Orleans strut, Dulli’s signature brooding grandiosity and the production flair of the U.K.’s Fila Brazilia. The band is now on its fourth record, Powder Burns, recorded in New Orleans, and with songs like “There’s Been an Accident,” “Forty Dollars” and “Candy Cane Crawl,” Dulli proves he hasn’t gone soft over the years. The Mirror talked with Dulli while he was babysitting former Whigs bassist John Curley’s kids in Cincinnati.
Mirror: After the Whigs broke up, you became a bar owner in L.A. and were thinking of just giving up on music.
Greg Dulli: Well, I am still a bar owner, in fact—I just bought a second bar. I really wasn’t clear at that point if I was going to play music again—the Whigs were doing something like 200 shows a year, and I had been on tour ever since I was 17, so I really wanted a normal life. When you break up a band you’ve been in for 14 years, it’s not unlike breaking up a marriage or a relationship you have been in for 14 years, so it still hurt. I hadn’t picked up a guitar in about a year, and we had an earthquake. The first thing I checked to see if it was okay was my guitar, which was still sitting against the wall. I picked it up and it was actually still in tune. I started playing a couple of chords and after about half an hour, I had written a song. So that’s how I kind of got back into it.
M: When you were recording Powder Burns, you started two weeks before Katrina hit, and then finished the record two weeks after it hit. Did the devastation influence the songs?
GD: Definitely. When I listen to songs like “Underneath the Waves,” “The Conversation,” “Powder Burns” and “I Wish I Was,” it takes me right back to that time. After it hit, I was on the first commercial flight out there. When I just got there, the first thing I noticed was this really musty type of smell in the airport, and then when I was walking around, the first thing I noticed was just the complete absence of the sound of animals. It would be impossible as an artist not to be influenced by it.
M: You have always had a great talent for fleshing out desperate characters in your songs, and Powder Burns is no exception. How do you get into the psyche of these characters?
GD: Well, I’m a desperate man (laughs). I guess I’ve always had a keen eye on the human condition.