Cheese on Toast Interview

Cheese on Toast
by Matthew Crawley

On the 11 th of January, Auckland will be treated to a historic first: Greg Dulli – formerly of soul-ternative cult group the Afghan Whigs – and his latest gang of misfits The Twilight Singers are coming to town. With a lineup that features Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age…), this is sure to be a holy occasion.

The Afghan Whigs never made it to New Zealand, why come now?

“I don’t really like to fly, Matthew, every time it’s come up I’ve said no – Lanegan convinced me to do it…”

With four albums as Twilight Singers and a number of tours, have you grown comfortable with your new skin?

“It’s to the point now where we don’t play Whigs songs, we play current music. We just did 110 shows… there’s occasionally the drunk person yelling for Whigs, but that’s no different to some drunk person yelling for Freebird or something… It’s as simple as this – look at the poster, look at the ticket – that’s what you get…”

Do you see what you’re doing now as a natural progression from the Whigs or do you feel you’ve taken yourself out of a comfort zone with the Twilight Singers?

It’s a combo of the two feelings. After the Whigs, I think I was just looking for a wider amount of freedom. If I have a particular musician in mind, I can just go and ask them to collaborate. If you’re in a band, going and asking another musician to play a part is like asking your wife if you can screw this other lady. I think I wanted to be more musically promiscuous, so now I have this series of ongoing affairs. As I continue to change locale and collaborators, that keeps me out of my comfort zone.

So is the Twilight Singers lineup now final, or ever changing?

It’s final for now; I love the band I have at the moment. I mean, essentially I’m the Twlight Singers. The main reason why I ended the Whigs was that we were all living different places, and getting together became a chore. I move around a fair bit, so I had the idea to have a band ready where I went. So I have people in New York, New Orleans, L.A… The band I have now is people from each city. So now when I want to record something I record it then and there.

Everyone here was surprised to hear you covered a Fat Freddy’s Drop song. How on earth did that come about?!

I heard the song on the radio in LA, but the DJ didn’t back-announce it, so I called them up and asked what the song had been. They weren’t sure so I sang it to them, then I drove straight to a record store and bought it. I don’t think I’ve done that since I was a teenager.

We interpret music constantly; even more than interpretation, it’s appropriation.

Covers are how I learned how to play music… I have to feel like I can sit in that car and feel it’s my car. No disrespect to the original composer, have to imbue it with my personality first. I’m not about to get up and do a karaoke version of a song.

With that [Fat Freddy’s] song, I was immediately conscious of the words, so I played it for Lanegan, he liked it… and we recorded it while we were in Finland.”

A lot of my faves have been interpreters, Nina Simone first and foremost, what a masterful performer. I’ve done it my whole life, I’ll do it til the day I die – but if I feel like doing something of someone else’s it’ll have my own spin on it, I’m just as proud as a cover as I am of my own stuff. A typical Twilight Singers show will feature around five or six songs by other people.”

How was the recent Afghan Whigs reunion? Is it to be an ongoing thing?

We did what we did, and that’s done. We’re not making a new album; we recorded two new songs for a compilation we’re releasing. They’re good songs; we wouldn’t put anything out just to put something out. We’re still good friends, but the four of us knew the deal – one week out of our lives and that was it.”

Tell us about recording “Powder Burns” in New Orleans…

Well, albums number one, two, three and four were recorded in New Orleans. I was in New Orleans before the hurricane, but while I was on tour the hurricane happened. So of course when I came back the landscape had changed considerably. I think I stayed there out of spite. I was so pissed off at how the government had reacted to the situation down there; I really wanted to finish the album there. The city was on its knees – it would have felt sort of like bailing out on a friend in their hour of need if I left. My house was ok, so I stayed to help out my friends. I actually think the record was better for it; I wrote four or five new songs while I was there. New Orleans is a very special place, a special environment, and I feel very loyal to it. I’m going back as soon as I can.

The Twlight Singers play live at the Studio, K Road, 11 th January 2007

p.s. keep an eye out this year for Greg’s new project: The Gutter Twins, aka Greg Dulli & Mark Lanegan. Featuring guest vocals from Martina Topley Bird & more.

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