Gutter Twins bring Dulli to hometown
Greg Dulli is on the phone from Portland, Ore., a month into his tour for his new project, the Gutter Twins. Dulli, never known as a politically correct kind of guy, is bemoaning he was booked in a nonsmoking hotel.
“They charge a $150 cleaning bill if they smell anything,” he says. “I’m going on an incense and Lysol search.”
It is typical Dulli, who has always had a gonzo, anti-hero rock reputation since the days the legendary Afghan Whigs came out of Cincinnati in the early ’90s earning an international cult following for its post-grunge, alt-rock sound.
Dulli, born and raised in Hamilton, a Ross High School grad, returns to the hometown area Tuesday for a Gutter Twins show at the Southgate House (smoking often permitted).
Dulli has hooked up with another ’90s post-grunge iconoclast, Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age), for one of alternative rock’s most anticipated releases of the year. “Saturnalia,” released last week, pairs the two lead singers doing what they always did best in their own bands – singing seductively of dark and murky metaphysical musings.
Dulli likes to call the project – where the two duet on almost every track – “The Satanic Everly Brothers.”
“I’m a sound bite king,” Dulli laughs when asked if the catchy slogan really describes the Gutter Twins. “I certainly see us as harmony singers forging our way through life’s rich pageant and it can get dark.”
The collaboration with Lanegan has been going on for at least 10 years. Lanegan has toured with Dulli in various configurations, including as an occasional member of Dulli’s Twilight Singers, a project that produced four albums the last eight years. Dulli said it was only natural they record – it just took a while to find the time.
“This all started with us singing on the back porch in California. It’s just an extension of our friendship,” he said. “He would come over and we’d play blues songs, Hank Williams songs, Jimmie Rodgers songs. We’d sit on the porch, smoke cigarettes and talk about wars.”
“Saturnalia” (the name taken from the ancient Roman festival where slaves trade places with their masters) already has received wide critical acclaim. The Gutter Twins concluded a sold-out European tour in February where the rock press proclaimed them an “alt-rock supergroup” and “two mammoth forces of sinfulness on the same stage, the same record.”
Dulli only lets out a wry chuckle when asked if he can live up to such “sinful” billing. Indeed, as their name implies both Gutter Twins (so-dubbed by Lanegan) bring a reputation of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll bacchanalia to the project.
True to form, the new CD is a swirl of dark, sinister images, seedy characters, mystical metaphors and muddy, droning guitars. Their songwriting is like the devilish kid who enjoys turning over those rocks to see what crawls out.
Dulli brings more cinematic, melodic writing; Lanegan is the rough folk blues perpetrator. Together they create magnificent unfulfilled crescendos; melodies and riffs are often left hanging as the duo mixes punky garage sounds, folk, blues, and occasional acid rock.
“All the songs encapsulate everything that we’ve always liked, sometimes within the same song,” Dulli said. “Sometimes the riff never changes, but the vocal melodies do. It was ride the riff – change the vocal. It wasn’t conscious. It was really nice to have that sort of organic process.”
Dulli, who has residences in New Orleans and Los Angeles, also draws on his Hamilton upbringing for his tune “Front Street,” a dark (what else?) opus.
“Front Street is in Hamilton, Ohio, in the Seventh Ward – where I was born at Mercy Hospital. My mother and father lived a block down from Mercy on Front Street. It is a literal song. I’m always from Hamilton – always.”
Dulli is clearly happy to talk about a current project instead of reliving the now defunct Afghan Whigs, although he was proud of the band’s 15-year retrospective released last year by Rhino Records. The Whigs remain a group often perceived as more seminal after they broke up in 2001. They emerged nationally on Seattle’s pioneer grunge label, Sub Pop. Dulli and Sub Pop alumnus Lanegan find themselves back on the label for the Gutter Twins’ release.