Album of the Year

Afghan Whigs: 1965
Portrait Magazine

Gritty, rambunctious takes on the boy meets girl, boy seduces girl, boy deals with consequences theme covers the face value style of Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli.

Lines such as “ I got a dick for a brain/ and my brain is going to sell my ass to you” from “Be Sweet” (from the 93 LP Gentlemen) could definitely lead one to believe that Dulli’s compositions are intended to be gutter mouthed thrill suites.

Mr. Thang’s songs have attitude and swagger to spare, but his cocksure demeanor is also tempered with a dare I say reflective side that produced the surreal, nocturnal number “Night By Candlelight” (from the criminally overlooked 96 LP Black Love).A semi- duet with Satchel’s Shawn Smith, the sonnet’s chorus poses the questions “Am I vain?/Have I shame?/Are my thoughts of a man who can call himself sane?”

Wrapping up a catalog of songs that touch on love, betrayal, lust, more lust, a pinch of hedonism,loss of faith, asking for faith & forgiveness and a multitude of like minded subjects is difficult. .

When we spoke recently Dulli wasn’t hesitant to offer up the roots of his musical genesis. “My music listening period started when I was five years old. The 1970’s were pretty rich musical era. On the radio you would hear rock and soul right next to each other. It’s nothing like that today. The time when I was formative (musically) was a very different time. It was just after he 60’s and they would play Sly Stone on the radio and then Led Zeppelin. That just doesn’t happen today. It was all just music to me. I didn’t really differentiate between white and black. It all sounded like it was coming from the same place.”

To coin a phrase first associated with The Who, the open ended musical exposure inspired what was to be their “maximum r&b.” Up from a working class Cincinnati club scene, the troupe formed as a successor to Greg & bassist John Curley’s punk act The Black Republicans.

After the acquisition of guitarist Rick Mc McCollum (the quartet is rounded out by drummer Michael Horrigan), the band set out on a survival test course that included playing house band at a lesbian lounge.

In the now, here’s the rest of our chat…

The new album is the shit… the old stuff is the shit… does it get to you that other less inspired bands move millions of units and you haven’t reached that commercial point yet?

Honestly and truthfully, no. I get to do what I want for a living. I get to do it with who I want and I’m pretty much my own boss. Anytime that I have ever seen bitterness in anyone, whether it’s an insurance salesman or restaurant worker or a bartender or whoever it’ wasn’t a attractive quality. I’ve managed to steer clear of it thankfully.

Was 1965 crafted intentionally to be tighter, more concise than the past couple of records?

It sure was. This one I wanted the songs to be able to stand on their own. I never really tried to write a concise pop song before. It was a challenge to see if I could do it in my own freaky little way.I’d never written a song under three minutes before. I did it the first time out this time. It was fun for me. Lyrically it took a lot of pressure off me.

Frankly, the last couple of records were really dark experiences for the listener and you bet your ass for the writer as well. As a writer I had nothing more to say on that subject. The last thing that you want to do is become a self parody. It was time for me to try something else.

Well Black Love is a soundtrack for a self destructive path…

The joke that we’ve have about it now is like a Spinal Tap joke. How much blacker can it be?

So is my observation correct about the new set being sort of the light at the end of the tunnel?

Sure, or you could call it a rebirth, the second chapter two or three in our case. We just played a couple of weeks over in Europe and I can tell you it’s an interesting set list now. You mix these songs in with the old songs and it’s a nice juxtaposition of a set. It’s like a roller coaster really.

I get the feeling that you probably flash back to where you were when you wrote the song on stage.

I cannot sing a song on stage without thinking of the events that brought me to writing that song. I’m not that good an actor. While I’m singing the song, I’m there. That’s another reason why I’m trying to write less darker material. Those shows got a little tough after awhile. By the end you are emotionally drained as well as physically drained.

Ok, devil’s advocate time. Say you break huge, can you see yourself on the cover of Teen Beat?

Are you kidding Adrian? I’ll be a natural. I’m ready for my close up Mr. Deville!…

Well, a 14 or 15 year old gal in Idaho may get scared if she digs through your prior catalog.

She’s not gonna understand it probably. She could probably understand “66” (from the new album) I don’t think that she’d understand “Be Sweet.” If she can touch it then man she’s already a full grown adult.

And then some, I see 1965 as maybe sort of like a Led Zeppelin III to IV thing in that Black Love was necessary to get to this stage of the game. People didn’t dig III until they saw it in hindsight. Is it the same thing here?

I love Led Zeppelin III that’s more up my alley than … well I can’t say IV but it’s definitely more up my alley than II. Frankly, there couldn’t have been IV without III because they needed to explore that softer side. I’m not sure that people will ever be able to go back and understand what lead up to this. Sometimes I really wonder if people care that much anymore.

Here’s a left field one. I’ve always thought that you guys could do Isaac Hayes’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” justice.

Oh man, his version is so definitive that because it’s so perfect ( I wouldn’t want to bother it). Have you ever heard Glen Campbell’s version?

No

It’s very beautiful also. Jimmy Webb wrote that song and he’s just a really great, great songwriter. As far as Isaac, I don’t think that I’d have the confidence to touch anything on Hot Buttered Soul. I think I’d rather do “Lay You Do Down By the Yule Logs” that Chef sings on the Mr. Hanky episode of South Park.

I stumbled on that idea one day when I unintentionally listened to Gentlemen and Hot Buttered Soul back to back.

Oh you know what, I ran into Isaac Hayes in Memphis when I was making Gentlemen.. He was staying at this place called the Oakwood. It’s one of those long term apartments/ hotel type of things. I was there for about two months and I ran into Isaac in the lobby of this place. Nothing would come out of my mouth. He smiled at me and said `hello’ and I just stood there. He kind of laughed because I couldn’t say anything. When he finally left I was able to say “hi Isaac.”

He’s doing cartoons and Rick James is on Geraldo, certainly signs of the apocalypse.

Oh man there are so many. The biggest sign to me is that Tom Arnold is a movie star.

“The Vampire Lanois”, is it really a instrumental track inspired by the paranormal?

It’s an instrumental for a reason. I don’t want to say that much on it. We made the record in New Orleans. We were living down there. Actually, I just moved back to Seattle. At this point in my life I’ve been just about everywhere in the world and that’s the one place that I quite can’t put my finger on. New Orleans is part of our country but it doesn’t seem like it is. It’s got it’s own little world. I’ve been going there for ten years I lived there for a year and I still can’t put my finger on what it is.

You know, with the track words could not explain what I was trying to do. So I said to Rick ` you have never let rip with a three minute guitar solo I think that now is the time. that you did.’ That was all that we had to say there. That’s sort of how most of he record worked

And it works like a mutherfucker. If these songs were people, “Somethin Hot” would be a making the ends meet hooker fixated with gospel, smoky bars, velvet paintings and bourbon. “Crazy”, her stoned slow poke brother that drags out every syllable of every word. “Sweet Son Of A Bitch” might just be those quickies that she snuck in during those teenage babysitting gigs. “66” very possibly could be the soundtrack to her customer’s thoughts. “Citi Soleil” , a urban street hustler that trades a eclectic tales of the city for vice money. “John The Baptist”, the bastard that receives forgiven transgressions by using the wine, flowers and music trick.

Mind you these are just personal observations on a little over half of a album that just like previous efforts, has the shit to entertain the grandest fantasy or fill the simplest need. Just like the rich musical culture of the 70’s…

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