The Devil’s Own
Rip It Up
by Scott McLennan
The annotated biological etching of a two-headed baby on the sleeve of The Gutter Twins’ debut album sums up with macabre humour the twisted bond at the heart of Saturnalia. The much-mooted project between former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan and The Twilight Singers’ musical mastermind Greg Dulli, Saturnalia finds the gifted reprobates unleashing an incredible collection of Gothic blues and haunted rock. Greg laughs when it’s suggested the dissected baby image is an apt depiction of the pair’s shared loves and demons.
“Mark’s a brother and everybody has individual demons – we rarely have demon talks,” Greg assures. “Usually he starts telling me those stories and I’m like, ‘I know – I was there dude, and it didn’t happen like that!’. He’s not a glamoriser, he’s a very plain spoken and truthful gentleman.”
Sitting in the band’s tour bus before a sold-out show in Austin, Texas, Greg Dulli sounds like after years of turmoil he is in a good place. Despite the dark subjects that linger in the shadows of Saturnalia, Greg suggests it’s faith, not a lack of it, that drives him.
“If I didn’t have faith I wouldn’t get up every day, man!” Greg laughs. “I’d just stay in bed and wait for rigor mortis. Life is nice. I have a lot of things to keep my life pretty good – I have three businesses that I own, I have two music groups that I play in and I have a girlfriend who loves me. My mother loves me, I have tonnes of friends and I’ve got season tickets to the Dodgers, so I’m doing alright.”
The three businesses mentioned by the former Afghan Whigs frontman are three bars, including The Short Stop opposite Dodger Stadium.
“Yeah, I have three. I have two in Los Angeles and one is in New Orleans. I was pulling beers at my New Orleans bar on Saturday night after my show. I played my show and then I went over to the bar and bartended until five in the morning.”
Is it good to get your hands dirty and mix with the common man after having rock god thoughts running through your head? “Oh, I am the epitome of the common man, Scottie!”
In the past Mark Lanegan has appeared as a guest on Twilight Singers albums including 2003’s impressive covers album She Loves You and the cocaine purges of 2005’s Powder Burns, but The Gutter Twins project is the first time Dulli’s pop smarts and Lanegan’s ominous blues have received equal billing. Greg notes that the friendship extends back two decades.
“We’ve been really good friends for around 10 years, but I met him 20 years ago. We were both in Afghan Whigs and Screaming Trees then, but we met at a party in Seattle in 1989. We’d run into each other occasionally on the road, but then when we both found ourselves living in California around 10 years ago that’s when we started to hang out.”
Thanks to years of illicit habits and a nicotine-inflicted death rattle in his voice, Mark conjures up a sense of danger whenever he steps up to the microphone. Greg remains in awe of his friend’s skills.
“That guy was just born to sing. Where it comes from, in my opinion, who gives a fuck? There it is, so that’s the way I’ve always treated Mark. He is a very unique individual and he’s a great singer, but where it comes from it doesn’t really matter me.”
What musical influences does Mark bring to The Gutter Twins that you’re not as attuned to?
“I don’t know, since we like a lot of the same things. We’re essentially the same age, so in the time that we’ve been hanging out I’ve found that he probably knows a little bit more about the blues than I do and I know more about pop music than he does, but that’s where the sensibilities lie. But I love the blues and he loves pop music. He’ll surprise me all the time with something that he likes, like ‘60s songs from The Bee Gees.”
With tour dates currently stretching through September and Greg guaranteeing an Australian visit around spring, both key exponents are presently showing a high level of commitment to The Gutter Twins.
“Yeah, and it’s something that we’ll do again. It’s not necessarily the next thing we’ll do, but the guy’s my best friend, man. We’ll probably do this until we’re old men.”
Despite the lengthy gestation, Greg suggests Saturnalia came together quite quickly.
“The exact time from the word getting on the street to its release was three years, nine months and 17 days. In that time we probably made the record in 40 days, it’s just that we had to sort out schedules. It went really quickly and I’m someone who likes to work quickly without sucking the soul out of things by playing them a million times. You get a good take, you overdub it, sing it and then move on – that’s how you make a song. “I sing with what I’ve got, you know?” Greg continues of his vocal style. “Doing things a million times sucks the soul out of it. Life is filled with mistakes, I just leave mine all over my records at all times.”
From the twisted rock poetry of The Afghan Whigs through to the redemption songs of The Twilight Singers, throughout his troubles with heroin, cocaine and other evils Greg Dulli has continued to make incredible music. Despite the dark and tempestuous themes on Saturnalia, Greg doesn’t find the lyrical purging leaves him emotionally drained.
“Any art is a catharsis, so taking it from internal and making it external, then sure… but no one person’s life is so interesting that they’re writing 100 percent autobiographically,” Greg concludes. “There’s some of me in there but there’s a lot of observation and influence in there too.”