by Jeffrey Barg
Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan rise from the ashes of the ’90s.
Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan are survivors. Few heavy alt–rock bands emerged standing after the ’90s—the Afghan Whigs and Screaming Trees included. But Dulli and Lanegan, those bands’ respective erstwhile frontmen, have combined forces in the Gutter Twins to salvage the loud guitars and melodic songwriting, while mixing in the doom and gloom of eight years’ worth of the Bush presidency.
”It’s a bit slower, a bit more theatrical, more cabaret–esque” than an Afghan Whigs show, says Dulli on the phone from New Orleans, his home and city of muse. ”It’s different enough”—both from the Whigs and from the Twilight Singers, Dulli’s other major post–Whigs project—”to deserve its own name and its own place in the canon.”
Screaming Trees, with their Washington state pedigree and prominence on the Singles soundtrack, were always equated with the era’s hallmark grunge and melancholy. The Afghan Whigs, meanwhile, seemed a little more dangerous, with Dulli’s songwriting taking on a more overt sexuality. It was driving guitars run through a filter of L.A. seediness and New Orleans gumbo, then painted over with a brush of old R&B. It was hot.
In the years since, the two’s respective solo projects—Dulli with the dark and brooding Twilight Singers, Lanegan with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Belle and Sebastian’s Isobel Campbell—paved the way to this year’s Saturnalia, the Gutter Twins’ macabre debut, and its mostly covers follow–up Adorata. The pair have been described as a satanic Everly Brothers.
”He’s got that voice,” Dulli says of Lanegan’s unmistakable rumbling baritone. ”I just think he’s one of the best singers I’ve ever heard. To me, he’s like Sinatra. Mark Lanegan doesn’t sing harmonies; he sings Lanegan.”
Though Dulli is the obvious magnetic force at the front of any Twilight Singers or Afghan Whigs show, in the Gutter Twins he largely cedes that role to Lanegan. ”He only has an A game, so you have to have an A game too,” Dulli says. ”I’m sure Josh Homme and Isobel Campbell would tell you the same thing.”
Onstage, ”I really don’t mind subsuming my enormous personality to fit the context,” Dulli adds, mostly joking.
Saturnalia, long in gestation before finally being released earlier this year, sounds little like previous projects of either Dulli or Lanegan—more discordant and symphonic than Lanegan’s previous work, and more chaotic and about–to–run–off–the–rails than Dulli’s. Late summer’s eight–track follow–up Adorata, with only two original Gutter Twins tunes, finds the duo even tighter, from their dark rendition of the traditional ”St. James Infirmary” to a blistering cover of José González’s ”Down the Line”—one of the Twins’ few all–out rockers. When they shout, ”Don’t let the darkness eat you up,” you get the sense that it’s already too late.
The music has a cinematic quality that’s landed Dulli’s work some prominent placement in Denis Leary’s scary–good FX drama Rescue Me—which in turn means new fans have found their way to Dulli and the Gutter Twins.
”They opened an episode where a bunch of children died in a fire, and they played the whole song ’The Lure Would Prove Too Much,’” an older outtake. ”It’s a long song and it takes a while to unfold, and they played the whole song. I’ve never seen that in modern television—old television either. It was pretty ballsy. And when I watched it, it just took my breath away.”
He isn’t the only one. ”The Lure” is the Twilight Singers’ second–most downloaded song on iTunes.
”I get much more out of television than I do out of films,” says Dulli, an avowed fan of The Wire, Rescue Me, Lost and, above all, Adult Swim’s Frisky Dingo.
”Frisky Dingo is the greatest show on television,” Dulli says of the ongoing animated superbattle between Killface and Awesome X. ”I define my life like this now: pre–Frisky Dingo and post–Frisky Dingo. Post– is much, much better. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”
This TLA show will be one of the last of the year for the Gutter Twins. Dulli is building a studio at his other home in Los Angeles, and plans to spend 2009 working on the next Twilight Singers record there—something he says he can’t do well while on tour.
”I’ve been playing music a lot lately just for my own enjoyment,” he says. ”We did some 90 shows last year, and honestly, people who say they write songs on the road—they must be 22.”
So it’s not exactly the ’90s anymore, is it?
”I’m more prolific now,” says Dulli. ”I was kind of lazy when I was younger. I was always off to the party. Now, after the show, the young guys all go out to a bar, and me and Lanegan go on the bus and watch sports.”
The Gutter Twins
Wed., Nov. 5, 8pm. $18. With Afterhours. TLA, 334 South St. 215.922.1011. www.livenation.com