Dirty Tricks Campaign Dulli Interview
thedirtytrickscampaign.com: An Interview with The Twilight Singers’ Greg Dulli
Portions of this interview ran in the Tampa Bay edition of Creative Loafing
So is tonight the first night of the new tour, or tomorrow night?
That’s San Francisco, right?
You didn’t have a whole lot of time off between tours this time around.
Not much. Well, I guess we had six weeks, but it’s been a very busy season for Twilight Singers.
Do you still enjoy spending a lot of time on the road?
I do, I think for different reasons now. I have a really good gang around me, the crew and band are all very good friends of mine, so it’s kind of family-style.
No more getting into a four-way fight in the van halfway through the tour?
Halfway [laughs]? During the first show. Onstage.
I’ve always liked touring, I like looking around the world, it’s cool. And we’ve played some places this time we hadn’t either in a long while or ever, so that part’s cool, too. You don’t know what to expect sometimes, if you haven’t been there before, but for the most part it goes pretty good.
What was it like recording Powder Burns in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina?
When the power wasn’t going off and we didn’t have to charge the generators, it went great. When I didn’t have to write lyrics by candlelight, it was all right. It was just kind of – the surreality of the situation. New Orleans, a 24-hour town, curfewed and occupied by the National Guard, the destruction, the inspiration. But also the kind of milk of human kindness, the people – that was there, too. It was an overwhelming experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I hope I never have to see it again.
Were you conscious about letting the situation influence the record too much, turn it into a schmaltzy ode-to-the-city thing?
No, because I kind of abhor schmaltz [laughs], and if anything resembling sentiment creeps into my music or lyrics, I definitely give it the once-over, to make sure it’s not – [pause] – Hallmark-y.
I don’t think you’ll ever be accused of being Hallmark-y.
Thank you. Thank God.
When Powder Burns first came out, people were saying it was your most autobiographical record to date, but you’ve always been good at blurring the line between autobiography and character – is the album as directly personal as people have inferred?
I think they’re all – it’s like you said. Number one, no one person’s life is so interesting that it can’t use some license, and particularly the first syllable of ‘lie-cense,” to help you out. I think that I have a vivid imagination. Some say abundantly so, but those are usually girls I used to go out with. It’s certainly – any writer, of any medium, is going to plumb the depths of their own psyche, see what’s in there. Once you’ve decided to do something bigger than that, you’ve gotta let some observation in there, let some influence in there. I feel like a bird making a nest. I’m not making it of all my own stuff. I’m a magpie [laughs].
Is it as centered on the theme of getting clean as some critics have claimed?
My experiences with drugs allowed me to … I think for sure, without sounding too preposterous, I started noticing that my experience with drugs and my subsequent – [long pause] – I kinda got flattened by them. And I think New Orleans getting flattened and me sort of watching what was going down there, I started to notice parallels in my own life and the life of the city in that incarnation, and it began to point me in the direction I ultimately ended up going in.
The city has always been a big inspiration, and she became an even stronger one, based on her hardships.
I think a lot of people are reading into the title, too.
Well, it’s a double entendre. Hell, it’s a triple entendre, maybe.
Is there a protocol for recording a Twilight Singers album – songs first, collaborator list first?
No. It starts with me, becaue I’m the only one who’s been on all the albums. So I get together – I’ll write songs on and off, but until I’ve written, like, four that I really like, then it’s, ‘let me see if I can get them to hang together,’ bridging songs, writing a song to bridge from one to another. Along the way, my friends up here [in L.A.] – certainly sometimes it’s as easy as, ‘wow, Ani’s [DiFranco] upstairs cooking food, I’m gonna ask her to come down and sing, or ‘Joe Arthur’s been sleeping on my couch for two days.’ It’s sorta like that. Then in the case of Petra [Hayden], I’ve known her since she was a teenager. So, she was just somebody I thought would be perfect, and she was. Mark Lanegan’s been my friend for, Jesus, 20-plus years, so it’s never too hard to get him on the phone.
But the other guys, I have musicians here in L.A. and I have a group of musicians in New Orleans, and whichever town I’m in, they’re the guys I use. And sometimes they end up cross-pollinating, and that’s sort of what the band is now.
Does all this activity with Mark Lanegan mean the Gutter Twins project might see the light of day sometime soon?
I think we’re trying to give it – I think by doing this, him helping me out with this, it’s helping keep us in close proximity, we’ve been recording some more. Our goal is to actually go in and finish it, definitely finish it, in the winter. We’re close, we’re really close, I swear.
Isn’t that the same thing you said in ’03?
It’s like I tell people, man, it’s still, like, eight years ahead of the Chinese Democracy curve, so everybody can step off.
If someone were to listen to the Twilight Singers albums in succession, would it be right for them to assume you’re swinging back toward a sound that has more elements that are familiar to people from the Whigs?
I think on this record, yes. But I think that influence came from kind of a strange place. I joined an Italian band for a while, After Hours, and they’re a pretty Whigs-y, guitar sort of band. I produced their record and they asked me to join their band so I moved to Italy for four months. And I played guitar in that band, and I had such a blast playing loud electric guitar, so that more than anything influenced [Powder Burns]. But I also think I’ve reconciled the fact that I was in the Whigs, I wrote those songs, and if it kind of sounds like that, then OK.
And it took a while to get to that place?
Oh yeah, sure. That’s why the first Twilight album is a 180 from the Whigs. And the next one is kind of straddling that line. And [Twilight Singers covers collection] She Loves You was sort of like [Afghan Whigs covers collection] Uptown Avondale. And this one is what it is. I have no idea what the next one will be like, but it’ll be me and Mark, so if people like it, I’ll get half the credit, and if people hate it, I’ll blame it on him.
Have you finished the new songs for the Whigs anthology?
Was working on those songs different than the uncredited stuff you’ve done with those guys occasionally over the years? Was it heavier, emotionally?
No. I think enough time had gone by, and everybody is kind of cool with who they are. And it was just like, family picnic – we ate barbecue and got drunk and jammed. For the first two days, we just played cover sons and had a good old time. Then we got down to, ‘oh yeah, we’ve gotta do something.’ But it was very much a collaborative situation. I went in there with nothing, and just started picking little bits of their shit that I liked, like we always did.
Did the experience inch you any closer to a Whigs reunion? I know you’ve said many, many times that you’re not interested, that you’ve played those songs 2000 times and don’t want to go back.
If it did anything, it inched me away. It was fun. I have no desire to do that again.