Dulli MOKB Interview
MOKB: So, let’s start with the important stuff. Does Pete Rose belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
Greg Dulli: No.
MOKB: Any particular reason?
GD: He broke the rules. He knew the rules, and he broke them. He’s the hit king, and he’s one of the greatest players to ever play baseball. I think if he would have told the truth earlier, maybe…and then when he did, he just did it in sort of a scummy way. I know a lotta guys who grew up where Pete Rose grew up, and that’s the kind of dudes those guys are.
MOKB: Moving on to the new record, what does the title Dynamite Steps refer to?
GD: I came up with three titles 15 years ago that I wrote down and put in a drawer and waited for a record that deserved one of them. And finally, this one came along.
MOKB: I read an interview where you suggested that Dynamite Steps was the closest thing to a “band” record that The Twilight Singers has released. How has that impacted the final product?
GD: I liked having those guys around me. They’re my friends, they’re great musicians, they’re really honest with me, and I value their opinions greatly. To me, it’s special that they were around for 90% of the record.
MOKB: Are you planning a U.S. tour?
GD: That would depend on whether I decide to be a national treasure or a national embarrassment.
MOKB: [laughing] Thank you. I deserve that.
GD: I don’t understand what that means.
MOKB: I was going to get to that in a second.
GD: Well, let’s just go ahead and get to that.
MOKB: When I saw The Gutter Twins, the thing that occurred to me was that watching you and Lanegan up there, it was like witnessing the sacred and profane side-by-side…a little like the Heyókȟa in the Lakota culture… [reading] using extreme behaviors to mirror others, thereby forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses…provoking laughter in distressing situations of despair and provoking fear and chaos when people feel complacent…they serve an important role in shaping tribal codes. Heyókȟa’s don’t seem to care about taboos, rules, regulations, social norms, or boundaries…and by violating these norms and taboos that they help to define the accepted boundaries, rules, and societal guidelines for ethical and moral behavior.
[stops reading] When I listen to your music, that’s what I think of. An artist who holds a huge mirror up to society, forcing it to see good and bad.
GD: [A friend of mine] sent me [that tweet] last night, and I went and looked at my email, and realized, “I’m talking to that dude tomorrow!” [laughing] Honestly, I appreciate you explaining yourself as well as you did. Regardless, you can dig it or not dig it, it doesn’t matter to me whether you love it or hate it, I don’t care. The most important thing to me, since I was a child, has always been that I liked what I did. When I drew comic books as a kid, when I painted as a teenager, when I started taking pictures in my twenties, or any of my artistic pursuits. And sometimes you get smacked down. You really don’t know how good you are until you fuck up. I’ve developed pretty thick skin, but when I read that I was definitely like, “I wanna ask that guy what’s going on!” [laughing]
MOKB: [laughing] I’m very proud to be called out by Greg Dulli.
GD: There you go, man. Thank God you only have 50 followers.
GD: But I can answer your question now. Yes, there’s going to be an American tour starting in May.
MOKB: A song like Front Street [from The Gutter Twins’ Saturnalia], when I first heard it, I thought it was a pretty good song, but when I saw it performed live, it took on a whole other life. Are there songs that you put on a record and go, “You know, I’m not sure we got this exactly right, but live, this is going to kick ass?”
GD: I don’t know it at the time. Candy Cane Crawl turned into that song. If you compare Candy Cane Crawl on the record to the last time we performed it, it turned into a fucking Freddie Mercury song. Front Street is a very personal song for me. You can always tell how personal a song is to me by how animated I get when I perform it, because I’m reliving it. There are a couple songs on this new record that will be like that for me. One of them I don’t know that I even want to do [live]. Front Street was one of those weird songs that kinda wrote itself, because the riff is almost a sort of tone poem. Almost like Coconut (“Put de lime in de coconut, and drink ‘em both up”) by Harry Nilsson.
MOKB: [laughing] See, now you ruined it for me.
GD: Well, not to that extreme, of course. But because that record was recorded over such a long period of time, demo-itis set in, and when we started to re-track the thing [with the full band] we decided to keep the demo version of Front Street because we’d listened to it so many times.
MOKB: Speaking of Candy Cane Crawl, I’ve been listening to a live recording from 2006 where you start with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down [by The Band] and segue into Candy Cane Crawl. Then, a little later, you throw in a couple verses of Justin Timberlake’s Love Stoned. I love the way you use covers. What are you looking for in a cover, or is it more a jazz-like discovery, playing with the melody and seeing what it turns into?
GD: Those are the best ones. Wolf Like Me [TV On The Radio] was like that. Something I was doing reminded me of something I was listening to and I start started finding a way to weave it in. I got a couple zingers for the next tour; some old, some new, and some, people won’t even know what they are. I love playing songs that the GP doesn’t know unless they read about it later. Telling me how much they love my song Too Tough To Die.
MOKB: So, today, how do the Afghan Whigs records sound to you?
GD: I don’t know. I really haven’t listened to them in forever.
MOKB: It just seems that band evolved so quickly, from Big Top Halloween to 1965, you can hardly believe it’s the same band.
GD: That’s nine years. Six records in nine years. And that’s not bad. Me, Rick [McCollum, guitarist] and John [Curley, bassist] started the band and I was the first drummer. The three of us were the Afghan Whigs for all intents and purposes. I didn’t really learn how to play guitar until I was 19. Since I was kinda the main songwriter, you were kinda watching me figure out how to play an instrument and what it could do for me. I taught myself how to play piano, too. I was a drummer who taught myself to play other instruments to become a songwriter, because I was frustrated trying to hum ideas to a guitar player. For better or for worse, I really needed to become my own person.
MOKB: So, last year before Lollapalooza, rumors of an Afghan Whigs reunion?
GD: I haven’t talked to Rick McCollum in two years, so, do the math. And who would play drums? I always say this: It’s going to take like a Saudi Arabian to put the Afghan Whigs back together.
MOKB: Like putting the Jayhawks back together.
GD: I actually saw the Jayhawks in Spain at their first reunion gig, and they were very good, and it looked like they were having fun. I’m not against people doing it. I’m just kinda against me doing it.
MOKB: I get it.
GD: But the joy it brings people. I read this quote from Steve Malkmus, of all people, talking about the Pavement reunion. He says, “The second time you listen to a song, it’s nostalgia.” That’s really true, but you can’t deny that they went around the world and made a lot of people happy. And what’s wrong with that, man? They probably have mortgages and kids. Now they got, you know, Pixies money, and I think that’s great. And I think it’s also great if you can turn it into what Dinosaur [Jr.] turned their thing back into. I went and saw them a couple years ago, and it was like they never stopped playing. Just a badassed band. As badassed as they were when I saw them when I was young. So, it can be done. And Bravo! to those who do it or choose to do it. I just really doubt that I’m that guy.
MOKB: So, why aren’t you more famous? Why, when I tell people I’m interviewing Greg Dulli, do I get a-
GD: A blank stare. [laughing]
GD: I don’t know. But I learned a long time ago to just be thankful for what I have. I mean, I went out and did an acoustic tour this past fall… I sold out all of my shows. I’m not playing enormo places or anything, but they’re big enough to feed the family and people were psyched. And I was psyched. That, for me, is immensely gratifying. I kinda stopped worrying about how big I was, or how not big I was, about 18 years ago. Sure, I’d love it if more people would come and be into it, that’d be great. But I’m not cursing my position in life. I feel enormously fortunate.
MOKB: Besides Perfume Genius’s Learning, any records from last year you’d recommend?
GD: Have you heard The Orb with David Gilmour, Metallic Spheres?
GD: Check that out. James Blackshaw’s record, All Is Falling. The newest Groove Armada record, Black Light. She Keeps Bees. They’re really good. Amazing singer. Have you heard the Mark McGuire record?
GD: It will break your fucking heart. What he does instrumentally, you would need a singer like Adele to get that point across. I’ve heard a pre-release of her record (21) by the way, and it’s a fucking masterpiece. I love her. Terence Blanchard put out a record, I’m not sure when, but obviously inspired by the events of Hurricane Katrina. It’s called A Tale Of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina). Rarely have I been so moved by a jazz record. It’s something you can put on while you’re making dinner, or walking around and writing. It’s beautiful. One of my favorite things I’ve heard in a very long time. I missed it completely when it came out, but there’s not expiration on music.
MOKB: So, it’s Saturday morning and you gotta clean the garage. What are you going to listen to?
GD: Definitely that Terrence Blanchard record or The Orb with David Gilmour. You’re on drugs without doing drugs. [laughing]