In the span of a couple of years, Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs has gone from being just another scruffy little Sub Pop band to a fast-rising major label force (and we can remember seeing the group play Apollo’s in Columbus while we wolfed down gyros.)
We conned Scrawl’s Sue Harshe into talking to her old pal, John Curley (Whigsbassist), so she could pin him down on subjects such as fame, fortune, and network talk show food buffets.
John Curley: Hello?
Sue Harshe: John? It’s Sue. Are you ready for this?
J: Ready for what?
S: The interview!
J: Um… I guess so. How did you get roped into doing this? Is this some kind of bass player’s magazine?
S: No, they asked me…and I thought it would be fun.
J: All right. Let me turn the TV off.
S: This is a little weird talking to you like this, but just bear with me, okay?
J: I’ll try Sue.
S: I have to say that the last time I saw you guys play was in England, which was the best show I’ve seen you guys play.
S: Yeah, I mean, you were really consistent, and it was a kind of fruitation, in a way. Maybe it was because we were 5,000 miles away from home, and we were with friends, but it was just very, very good. Do you feel like your shows are really consistent now?
J: Um…kind of. The only time when we’re not is when we take a while off and them we start back up again. It takes a few nights to get back in sync.
S: Well, I know you were practicing last night…do you guys practice alot?
J: Actually, we weren’t practicing. We were trying to write some new songs. We never really practice. Playing live kind of becomes your practice.
S: That’s so reassuring to know, because we don’t really, either. It’s hard to practice songs you already know when you’re in a practice room. Are you writing new songs for something specific?
J: Yeah, for our next record.
S: Wow, already? When are you going to record it?
J: I don’t really know. Maybe in the fall.
S: Do you like how GENTLEMEN came out?
J: Yeah. Do you?
J: When it comes out, you’re sort of paranoid because you’ve just spent the last four months or whatever ripping this thing out of your soul, but once we decide it’s done, I’m pretty much happy with it.
S: The thing that I really like about GENTLEMEN — and I’m wondering how much of a conscious decision it was — is the little subtle production touches that you don’t really hear in a lot of bands today…like panning things from one side to another or hand claps…stuff like that.
J: That panning thing Greg (Dulli, Whigs frontman) and I worked up when we were demoing the song. It really was kind of a case of being in the studio for so long and just looking for something to do.
S: I love it. It’s very Who.
J: Ha! Yeah, it’s kind of theatrical in a way.
S: That brings up my next point…it just seems that there’s been sort of a shift in you guys, not only musically, but in your whole persona.
J: Real calculated and corporate?
S: No, no! That’s not what I mean. It’s been very natural.
J: I think we’re just naturally changing as people. As you get older, you learn more, you do more. You get tired of things that you thought were cool, and things you used to think were stupid are cool now. It’s just life.
S: Is that how you felt when you left Sub Pop? Did you feel you outgrew them?
J: We didn’t out grow Sub Pop musically — I think we could have recorded another few albums for them — it’s just that we didn’t think our records were getting distributed as well as they could have been. Plus, it was a case of all these record companies coming around and saying, “Hey, can we take you out to dinner?” We wouldn’t have moved labels just for the sake of being on a major label…that would be stupid.
S: It seems like a very natural move, because your music just seems to have progressed so much. GENTLEMEN just sounds a lot more layered than your earlier stuff.
J: We’re getting better at knowing what we want to sound like and how to to about getting that sound. Plus, we recorded in a great studio (Ardent studios, in Memphis.)
S: How was that? Did you feel Elvis?
J: Yeah, Greg and I just kind of went to Graceland one day just for the hell of it, but it’s just kind of a depressing thing. When you get right down to it, the whole Elvis thing is kind of sad. (phone clicks) Hang on one sec, Sue. (click) That was Rick (McCollum, Whigs lead guitarist.) He says hey.
S: Rick! Say hey to him for me.
J: Yeah, Memphis was really weird. If I was Joe Record-Company-Owner and had a band that was whacked out on drugs, I would send them to Memphis, because there’s absolutely nothing to do there but watch the river go by.
S: I know you have your own studio, Ultrasuede. Which aspect of the whole “band thing” do you like the best? Is it recording?
J: No, actually it’s the hanging out in the dressing rooms after the show.
S: Ha! I see.
J: If I had to record all the time, that would suck. If I had to tour all the time, I know that would suck.
S: Do you like recording other bands?
J: Yeah, I think I’m finally getting comfortable with it. I’m doing some stuff with this band down here, Schwa, with the Ass Ponys, and I engineered the Throneberry record — Greg produced it. I really want to record you guys sometime.
S: Hmm. Maybe. We have to do an EP sometime soon. You guys will probably be off touring Europe or something like that.
J: Well, maybe someday. I loved your BLOODSUCKER album.
S: Thanks. Oh, I wanted to ask how the Conan O’Brien Show was.
J: It was okay, but it was kind of a whirlwind. You have to show up at about 2:00 in the afternoon for soundcheck, and they make you play the song about 10 times so they get all their camera angles right. You’re so sick of the song you don’t even want to play it by the time you’re done.
S: But more importantly… how was the food?
J: We didn’t get any! Just some little mini-Coke bottles.
S: Damn. Well, that’s about it. We’re almost out of tape. Hope the rest of your tour goes well.
J: Thanks, Sue. Same to you guys.
S: Wait…I want to tell you something, but I want to turn this tape thing off fir–(tape ends.)