Greg Dulli Comes Full Circle
by Steve Baltin
Filed under: Spinner Interview
Greg Dulli has experienced indie hero worship before — most famously when the Afghan Whigs’ brilliant 1993 release ‘Gentlemen’ garnered the band both remarkable reviews and a major cult audience. But now 15 years older, Dulli is savoring the success of his current project, the Gutter Twins. A partnership with fellow indie stalwart Mark Lanegan, the album brought Dulli back to play on ‘David Letterman’ for the first time in a dozen years and earned the pair a spot at this summer’s Lollapalooza.
The always outspoken and entertaining Dulli spoke with Spinner about working with Lanegan, returning to Sub Pop (his first home), upcoming projects, celebrity in the Internet age, and why classic-rock icons Lindsey Buckingham and Don Henley are lucky they didn’t earn fame today.
How has working with another person accustomed to being a frontman affected you?
It’s not as hard as you might think. Mark toured with the Twilight Singers, he did a hundred shows with us, so it wasn’t like I didn’t know how to do that. And, actually, we both discussed how it’s a little easier when you’re sharing the singing. You can breathe better, you don’t get worn out as fast; all in all, it’s a pretty positive experience. I’m sure that we’ll both go back to doing our own thing and then we’ll both come back to doing this again. In the best possible world, it’s something we can do at a whim and probably for the rest of our lives.
Does the success of the project change your approach at all?
Our plan was to do this and then go back and do our own thing, and that is what we’ll do. But will we come back and do another Gutter Twins record? Sure. I don’t know when that will be. It may be 2012 or 2015 or 2020, but I know that we both want to do our own records next. And he’s doing another Soul Savers record. Mark’s much more busy than I am as far as with bands. He has, like, five; I only have two.
But you always have stuff going on.
Yeah, I’m building a studio in my house right now in California and I’m going to make a Twilight record there. So that’s my next project: to finish the studio — and I’m working on an instrumental record with Mathias Schneeberger.
For someone like you who always has a variety of projects going on, how liberating is it to have all these different avenues of releasing your music?
It’s very liberating. I recorded a live record in Seattle last year of this acoustic show that I did and I’m gonna put that out online in a couple of months. So the ability to get things right to people as soon as you do them is incredibly liberating and I think it’s been done rather creatively and successfully by some people.
Who are those people who have done it well in your eyes?
I think the two best cases I know are the Radiohead and the Saul Williams record, and to varying degrees of success. On one end, you have an extremely known quantity. On the other hand, you had Saul Williams, who’s great and had the backing of Trent Reznor, who is certainly no shrinking violet himself. I’m guessing that Trent Reznor put out a bunch of records online, too, in a similar kind of plan. They have incredibly dedicated and large fan bases, and bypassing traditional distribution is a smart move for people like that. For people who aren’t as well known, or not known at all, you’re going to meet with varying degrees of success. I would probably place myself somewhere in between those two extremes as always.
Well, let’s talk then for a second about the success of this project. When you and Mark appeared on ‘Letterman,’ it was the first time you’d been in more than a decade, right?
It was the first time in 12 years.
With that, given you started this record as just a fun project with a friend, how gratifying has the level of interest been?
Anytime you do a record you’d like it to be listened to by as many people as possible. There’s a lot of stuff out there. I’m still incredibly grateful for my position in life — that I get to make records with who I want to make them with and go play shows with the people that I want to play with. And it breaks down to that simple fact, certainly. I get to do what I wanted to do when I was a kid and I get to do it for a living. And it’s opened up other doors for me that have allowed me to do other things in my life to fulfill myself. So we can talk about all kinds of things, but I just want to put that out there, that every day I wake up I’m f—ing psyched to be me.
When did you know you wanted to do this?
It’s probably the first time I wrote a song and I first wrote a song when I was 12. It was terrible, but it was fun and I couldn’t wait to learn how to play instruments after that. But yeah it’s all I ever wanted to do and I knew it.
Tell me about this live album.
I played a benefit show in Seattle. It’s the only time I’ve done it [played acoustic] and they wanted me to do it alone and I was like, “No f—ing way, dude.” At first I was gonna bring Petra Haden up to play violin with me; she ended up coming. Then I added Jeff Klein on the second guitar, then I added a cellist once I got up there. And then I added Shawn Smith, so I ended up having a full band by the time I got up there. But we all did play acoustic instruments. There’s mostly Twilight stuff, a Gutter Twins song, an Afghan Whigs song, and there are a couple of covers.
You played Lolla recently. Do you hang out or take off?
Dude, I’m playing f—ing 10 festivals this summer. I don’t hang out. Maybe if there are a couple of bands playing in the vicinity of when I’m playing, that’s who I’ll check out.
I was talking with Lindsey Buckingham and Don Henley, who come from an era right before yours, about success in the Internet age. I’d be curious to get your thoughts on what artists today face.
I’ll tell you this first of all: If Don Henley and Lindsey Buckingham would’ve come up in the f—ing Internet age, they’d both be in jail right now. That is a fact and they both know what I’m talking about. As far as what’s going on now, the persistence of paparazzi and media people, if I was a big celebrity I would walk around with a can of mace and a can of spray paint in either hand, and if you didn’t get one you’d get the other or you’d get both. Mother f—ers up in my s—, taking my picture, following me around, taking pictures of my family — that’s insane.
Care to elaborate on the Henley and Buckingham comment?
You know what I mean. Everybody knows what I mean. Google “Don Henley,” dude, and go past the first five pages. Lindsey Buckingham, watch the f—ing Fleetwood Mac ‘Behind the Music.’ It’s fantastic. Let it be known that I love Fleetwood Mac.
I wasn’t a big Eagles fan, but Henley is actually a cool guy at this point.
I’m sure John Mayer’s a nice guy, and I’m not a fan of his.
I had this exact conversation with Poe recently, and she feels the same way about him.
I’m sure he is a nice person, I have no doubt about that, but his music is abominable. I’ve never heard a good one. He’s great when he’s playing guitar on ‘Dave Chappelle’ and playing ‘Less Love’ and s— like that — that’s fantastic. But I’m not going to go sit in an amphitheater and watch it.
What are you digging lately?
I really love that new CSS record, man. That’s what I’m listening to right now. It’s exciting. That’s my jam right now. I think that No Age record is good. I’m really kind of out of it right now. I like that song ‘Rich Girls,’ by the Virgins. But I think that came out a while ago. I do think it’s extremely catchy.
You’ve done a lot of recording of late in New Orleans. What will having your studio in L.A. bring to the process?
I’ll probably still record some stuff in New Orleans, ’cause I always do. But I have wanted my own real studio for a while, and the time has come. And I want to be able to work on it all day long and not have to go anywhere and not change my clothes.
How’d the Sub Pop 20th anniversary go?
Like high school reunion, bro.
When you re-signed with Sub Pop, was it a feeling of coming full circle?
There can’t not be. It was my first label, it is my current label. So with lots of water under the bridge, it couldn’t have worked out better; they’re my friends, they care about me as a person, I think. And they’ve been really, really supportive and done the best job they could, which is all you can ask of anyone. The one band that I made sure I saw was the Fluid, and they were phenomenal. I saw their entire set, I hung out with them all after their gig. And then I had to split to go back and get ready to sound-check back in town. And then Tad Doyle was our support at the ShoBox gig; Tad is one of my favorite human beings, period, let alone in rock ‘n’ roll. And I would say hanging out with Tad and the Fluid were the highlights of my weekend.
Going back 20 years, did you ever imagine Sub Pop would have this history?
As far as forward thinking goes, I don’t even know what I’m gonna do in an hour, so I don’t think that far ahead.