LIKE SOME KIND of rock ‘n’ roll St. Augustine, Greg Dulli’s lyrics always seems to cry out, “Lord, give me chastity and temperance — but not yet.” The mastermind of the Twilight Singers knows whereof he sings. His larger-than-life persona is built on 20 years of rock hedonism — including 15 as leader of alt-rock darlings the Afghan Whigs. Greg DulliAnd on his ownership of two hip L.A. bars. So temperance might threaten the bottom line.
But before he began recording the Twilight Singers’ latest, “Powder Burns” Dulli got clean from years of substance abuse. “I enjoyed being present for the entire making of the record,” said Dulli, “from writing the songs to being there. I sing better, though I play about the same. I can look back and say I played some crazy good stuff when I was [messed] up.”
Dulli always had a gift for writing lyrics that look addled on paper but seem like gospel when set to soaring, soulful, hyperbolic guitar anthems. Whoring, heartbreak and wanton drug cravings never sounded so glorious. But fixing his own damage proved good practice for a bigger disaster to come. “Powder Burns” was recorded in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The studio was powered by generators. Why stick it out?
“Honestly, it was spite,” Dulli said. “I was so disgusted by how the local and federal government handled that situation that I wanted to put my thumb to the opposition. It was the worst physical damage I have ever seen in my life. The trees drowned, there were no birds, no animals. The first week I just helped people move stuff out of destroyed homes and chainsawed downed trees. It was an extremely surreal situation.”
So longtime listeners probably shouldn’t expect sobriety to produce a happy, joyful noise from Dulli. “Outside of Stevie Wonder and De La Soul … and maybe Paul McCartney — the happy song market is tight. It’s true that it’s harder to write comedy than drama. Which does not speak well for the human condition. Raffi is pretty good too, I’m sure. But you know, offstage he’s probably this mean drunk. You’re not lying to me, Raffi,” Dulli laughed, “you’re lying to yourself.”