1965 – Pulse!
PICKS: AFGHAN WHIGS– GREG DULLY REGAINS HIS LUST FOR LIFE WITH “1965”.
With an unusual amount of rasp-cackled glee, Greg Dulli is recounting a recent commuter-flight run-in with a snippy, sarcastic steward who wouldn’t give him a pillow. It takes the irascible Afghan Whigs frontman a good 10 minutes to tell the hilarious tale, which begins with cursing the uppity attendant on takeoff and ends, at touchdown, with a near-fisticuff confrontation. “He gets in my face at the door and says ‘Sir, you swore at me!’ snickers Dulli, no stranger to danger. “And I said ‘Fuck you! There– I just swore at you again!’ And his mouth just pinched up like a little butthole like, ‘Well, I never!” and I’m like, ‘I bet!'”
Not exactly status quo– that’s Dulli. “I take a lot of shit for being me,” swears the singer. “Not that I care. People have this image that I’m trying to be some kind of stud or something, but really, I’m just trying to have a good time. And I think that some people just can’t stand to see a motherfucker have a good time.”
Dulli does just that on “1965,” the Ohio outfit’s sultry, sexually-suggestive new soul fest for Columbia. Recorded in late-night New Orleans (where Dulli regularly partook of “parties I can only describe as Caligulan”), the disc practically has steam rising from its molten grooves, courtesy of Rick McCollum’s slinky guitar riffs and Dulli’s velvet, coaxing murmur. It playfully opens with a match being struck on the pelvis-pulsing bedroom romp “Something Hot” and features — among such decidedly carnal cuts as “66,” “Uptown Again” and a nearly X-rated “John the Baptist” — a 22-second snipped dubbed “Sweet Son of a Bitch,” which appears to be a soundbite of a woman nearing a particularly moving orgasm.
The new album’s sultry grooves, produced by George Drakoulias (Black Crows, Jayhawks), are a far cry from the band’s awkward ’88 debut, “Big Top Halloween,” which helped land Dulli and crew on grunge-defining Sub Pop Records. Ultimately, they shook the flannel yoke and — by ’93’s dense-textured “Gentlemen” (their first for Elektra) — developed a unique Whigs sound that simultaneously nodded to coliseum rock, safety-pin punk and tuxedo-attired Motown. The approach is further honed on “1965” with stomping barrel-house piano, pert melody-lifting horns and an occasional gospel-strength backing chorus. “Halfway through it,” Dulli says, “the album felt like a milestone.”
Which, for Dulli, it was. Following the last emotionally-draining Afghan Whigs effort, “Black Love” for Elektra, Dulli had called a year-long hiatus for the group and was diagnosed with depression. “I’ve really disliked people in my time– I got to the point where I just stayed away from everybody because I was so disgusted,” says Dulli. “I went in the hospital for a little while, and I had to look at myself, look at why certain relationships of mine had failed, in actual ways that I could apply to my life.”
Dulli has since relocated to Seattle and ventured into acting. In the new Ted Demme flick, “Monument Avenue,” he co-stars along rapid-fire comic Denis Leary as “a drug dealer/local enforcer of an Irish gang in Boston– I got to carry a gun and play a really bad guy for three weeks.”
“I definitely like to dive in, probably more than I should,” says Dulli of his penchant for excess. “And a long time ago, I stopped worrying about what other people thought. But I have gone too far– as David Lee Roth once said, ‘I’ve stood at the edge, stood and looked down.'” And the Whig’s Big Easy residency, he adds, “did get a bit excessive. But it was fascinating and really, really fun, and exciting and seductive, and erotic and amazing. And I think the Catholic in me, years ago, would’ve been like ‘I’m having too much fun! This is wrong!’ And finally I was like, ‘You know what? This isn’t wrong, man!’ And I felt like I finally began to explore my sexuality down in New Orleans in a ‘lust for life’ kinda way. It really opened me up as a person.”
At 33, Duli says he’s begun “looking for more knowledge, for more understanding of myself and everyone.” And who knows? Along the way, he may even discover the art of self-restraint. “There are some times where I’ve gotta learn that maybe keepin’ my fuckin’ mouth shut is best,” he admits. “And believe me, man, that’s not something that dawned on me until recently, ’cause I’ve always got something to say about something.” — Tom Lanham