Twilight Singers front man talks movies
By Ryan McNally
Atlanta Movies Examiner
For the past 20-plus years, Greg Dulli has been crafting unforgettable songs, first as the lead vocalist for The Afghan Whigs and more recently as the front man for The Twilight Singers, who released the excellent Dynamite Steps album earlier this year.
Combining moody, atmospheric music and vivid lyrics, many of Dulli’s best songs have a cinematic feel to them, and Dulli himself recently observed in a Spin article that “[my] songs sound like a movie.” (Read Dulli’s picks for his all-time favorite films.)
A few days before The Twilight Singers hit Atlanta for their May 5 concert at the Masquerade, I had the chance to interview Dulli about his passion for film, how his interest in cinema translates to his songwriting, and his thoughts on the best use of his music in a movie or TV show, as well as touching on Dynamite Steps and his approach to live performances. Here’s what he had to say:
Ryan McNally, Atlanta Movies Examiner: Have movies ever impacted or inspired your songwriting?
Greg Dulli, The Twilight Singers: Movies and television and books and poetry and photographs and art and everyday conversations are all part of the nest that I build—not to go out on the metaphorical superhighway. When I was growing up there were some birds that lived in my yard, and I remember watching them build a nest, and it took a long time. You don’t totally build a nest in a day, you know what I mean?
I would climb up and look in the nest when the momma bird was gone to see if there were eggs in it yet. And there was straw and pieces of broom and string and yarn and paper and all kinds of things that went into that nest, and I think it kind of dawned on me then that that was how you made something that would hold you. And I think I kind of learned patience back then too—not that I employed it until much, much later in my life.
So when I became interested in music—I became interested in music at a very early age and followed it studiously and my friends and I loved reading liner notes. There was no Internet when I was a kid so I got Creem magazine, I read Rolling Stone, I read Trouser Press and Hit Parader and all kinds of things.
And I’ve loved movies all my life—when I was a teenager I got an 8mm movie camera. Me and a couple friends in the neighborhood would make our own movies. Usually they were of the slasher variety because of fake blood, and it’s very visual. And having a crazed killer go through the neighborhood, you can stack up the body count pretty well, especially if someone changes their shirt and agrees to die again.
So when I went to college I started to make movies there, and at the same time I was playing in a band. The two just kind of went hand in hand for me. Through studying film you learn how to create an arc and fulfill a narrative. With a lot of my favorite music, whether it was punk rock or what’s now called classic rock, I saw similar thematic content in those things and my favorite records—whether it was Led Zeppelin IV or The Damned’s Black Album—they had the opening and then the moods changed, and it was not unlike cinema to me or epic poetry or a series of paintings, a triptych that artists would do.
RM: Is there a song or album of yours that you feel is molded in that [cinematic] way?
Greg Dulli: Yeah, I think there’s—on a lot of my records when I get the bookends, when I get the first song and the last song and I know that they’re gonna be the first song and the last song, to me when I go back and look at them, the first songs and the last songs, it’s the opening scene and the closing scene of the movie. As complex as you want the opening scene to be, you build it that way. An album like Powder Burns, where “I’m Ready” was the first song, it’s a very violent beginning. On Dynamite Steps (“Last Night in Town”), it eases in and then it begins to turn the crank.
“Last Night in Town” for me was very visual, and we’ve opened almost every show with that song. To me it kind of sets the mood of the show. There’s a very abstract narrative running through it. What it means to me, that’s mine; what it means to you, that’s yours. That’s what I’ve always loved about it—the collision between audio and visual.
RM: To your point, in terms of bookends “Dynamite Steps” is an epic closer that builds slowly, pulls back and then builds again to this big climactic ending.
Greg Dulli: We haven’t played that one live yet. The last two records that we’ve done, the last song—on Powder Burns it was “I Wish I Was”—they’re very produced. It took a week to mix the song “Dynamite Steps.” We would do it in sections.
A lot of people keep asking me about it, when we’re going to play it live, and I think it can be played live, but I just don’t know how to do it yet (laughs). “I Wish I Was,” the last song on Powder Burns, we tried to do it once and—I employed that 10cc “I’m Not in Love” vocal technique on it, and there was no way to reproduce that live, it was like you were climbing straight up a hill with no shoes on, and it wasn’t going to work.
For me, writing a set list is not unlike sequencing a record, because you’re trying to give yourself a ride, and then give the audience a ride through you. I look at the set list in the same way as I look at sequencing a record. I want to create an experience for the audience and for myself and for the rest of the band.
RM: With all the different movies and TV shows that your music has been featured in, what is your favorite use of one of your songs in either a movie or a TV show?
Greg Dulli: I would say, right off the top of my head, the use of “The Lure Would Prove Too Much” in Season 4 of Rescue Me. It’s the opening scene, it’s a big fire, and they used almost the whole song, and that is a long song. I was incredibly moved by that and actually maybe even temporarily forgot that I had anything to do with it.
I was just in awe of what it looked like and what it sounded like and how they just kind of let the song play and there was really no dialogue, it just kind of happened. Rare is the person who gets a chance to do that, and I’ll give it up to Denis [Leary] and Peter [Tolan] for doing that. It was pretty ballsy.