Greg Dulli is Plugged in, Ready to Rock

By GLENN GAMBOA
Newsday.com

Greg Dulli has a band again.

The former front man of ’90s alternative rock heroes The Afghan Whigs has always kept his current project The Twilight Singers as more of a loose collaboration, where members — who have included everyone from the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars and Screaming Trees ‘ Mark Lanegan to Joseph Arthur and Ani DiFranco — come and go as needed.

But for The Twilight Singers’ fifth studio album, “Dynamite Steps” (Sub Pop), Dulli ended up doing something different. “It wasn’t something that I consciously thought about,” says Dulli, calling from a tour stop in Helsinki , Finland . “It’s something that just happened. Doing it the old way, I would lay down a click track and play all the instruments, and sometimes I would not finish a song for months. I have nothing against doing it that way, but doing it this way, there’s more of an immediacy.”

California , here they come

Dulli says the bulk of the album, being hailed as one of the year’s best for its mix of layered storytelling and gripping rock backdrop, was written on a trip to Joshua Tree, Calif ., with much of the band now touring with him — including guitarist Dave Rosser and bassist Scott Ford.

“We went out there for a week, and songs were happening while we were sitting on the couch,” he says. “That kind of ‘right now’ feeling really informed the whole process of making the record.”

One of the album’s stand-out tracks — the starkly beautiful, wrenching revenge ballad “She Was Stolen” — arrived almost fully formed during that week.

“It’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written,” Dulli says. “It was written on guitar first. I was sitting in a chair at Dave Catching’s house in Joshua Tree and he was making dinner. We were all just laying around and I started playing guitar and Scott Ford asked me, ‘What’s that?’ and I said I didn’t know, and he said, ‘Let’s find out,’ and we started playing it.

“When I switched to piano, it all kind of clicked,” Dulli continues. “I started singing the melody right away. It was very immediate. Lyrically, I know what it’s about, but I won’t be disclosing that to anyone outside my own noggin. It really only has two parts, but it never stops striving. I read a review where someone calls it ‘exhausting,’ and they meant it as a compliment. I looked at it and thought that was good. It’s like a hard run around the track. It’s unrelenting. I don’t question where things come from, but that thing — it was a very beautiful moment, that song.”

“She Was Stolen” takes a bit of the alternative-folk instrumentals of James Blackshaw and Mark McGuire that Dulli admires and gives them his own twist. But what’s more evident on “Dynamite Steps” is Dulli’s love of Groove Armada ‘s dance album “Black Light,” not in club-loving tempo, but in dark lyrical content.

“My influences come from really strange places,” he says. “That Groove Armada record was just amazing. ‘Cards to Your Heart’ with Nick Littlemore — I don’t know that guy but he has had his heart broken — and you could feel it. That song isn’t depressing, it’s cathartic. It was cool to hear. Groove Armada are really great sonic architects. I really loved the whole record, and it was a soundtrack for me. I listened to it for three months straight.”

An intimate moment

Of course, Dulli is a pretty great sonic architect himself, which “Dynamite Steps” reflects, moving from broad, sweeping rockers to intimate little moments with almost cinematic effectiveness. That the album’s first single, “On the Corner,” is on the opposite side of the rock spectrum from “She Was Stolen” only goes to show how Dulli’s songwriting continues to improve.

“Of all the songs on the album, it’s the one that jumped up and said, ‘I’ll go out first,’ ” Dulli says of “On the Corner.” “It just presented itself, the alpha dog of the record. I really hadn’t done a hook like that since ‘1965.’ It was a very sexual song. There’s a swagger to it. And once it kicks in, it never takes the foot off the gas. We’ve even sped it up live a little bit.”

The speed might come from Dulli’s excitement from the current tour, which arrives at Webster Hall Friday, as a full-on rock band, following last year’s acoustic tour.

“As someone who never played acoustically during the front half of my life, it was a new experience, and I really liked that, too,” he says. “But I remembered that last acoustic show, thinking, ‘I can’t wait to plug back in.’ To me, playing in an electric rock band, is one of my favorite experiences as a human.”


— Thanks Natasha!

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