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Dulli Finds Some Peace

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Remember Greg Dulli, the boozing, brawling, libidinous frontman of Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs?

He’s a changed man.

“I’m definitely very peaceful within myself right now,” he says, settling back at Ultrasuede Studios in Northside, the facility co-owned by Whigs bassist John Curley. He’s awaiting this week’s release of his solo project, Twilight as Played By the Twilight Singers. “Even though there’s constant turmoil around me, I feel that rather than being the hurricane, now I am the eye.”

[photo] Greg Dulli
(Columbia Records photo)
It’s been more than a decade since the Whigs stormed Corryville, heading a fertile, fractious underground scene that included the Thangs, the Wolverton Brothers, Dock Ellis, Lazy, Schwah, the Ass Ponys, Throneberry and Liquid Hippos.

In 1990, the Whigs signed with Seattle’s Sub Pop, the label that midwifed grunge with Nirvana and Soundgarden. In 1994 the Whigs joined Elektra for a couple of albums. In 1998 the band, newly signed to Columbia, released 1965.

It was a wild ride, earning Mr. Dulli a reputation as a rock ‘n’ roll party animal.

“A lot of the stories are apocryphal at this point,” he says. “But we were out of-control young kids — lots of drinkin’, lots of drugs, lots of fights, lots of power struggles, mostly between me and Curley.

“But I don’t think I have a better friend on earth than John Curley. When you can go through that kind of stuff with someone and everyone’s left standing . . . I love him as if he was my own brother.”

Insight from injury

Surprisingly, Mr. Dulli attributes much of his newfound tranquility to the fractured skull he suffered while touring to promote 1965. In December 1998 a fight with a stagehand at a Whigs show in Austin, Texas, left the singer comatose in critical condition. It took him months of physical therapy to recover.

“I gathered some insight to myself there. I feel much more present in the moment. The past is the past; the future ain’t here yet.”

With the Whigs on a performing hiatus, the Twilight Singers are his most immediate future. The project began in 1997 in his home in Seattle (he is relocating to Los Angeles). There, he began recording music infused with a classic pop sound far removed from the Whigs’ turbulent rock.

“It didn’t sound like a rock ‘n’ roll band. I was looking for a little “Ziggy Stardust’ escape, create a new person and inhabit him.”

His solo album was delayed for a couple of years by the Whigs’ label hassles. When Columbia signed the band, all agreed that the first release under the new deal should be a Whigs album, rather than a Dulli side project.

Meanwhile, the Twilight Singers evolved from a trio with Harold “Happy” Chichester (of Columbus’ Howlin’ Maggie) and Satchel’s Shawn Smith into primarily a solo effort. Mr. Chichester remains an important part of the Twilight Singers, but songs were added and British remixing duo Fila Brazillia enlisted.

The biggest change was Mr. Dulli.

“I started singing better and I realized that I was singing instead of screaming,” he says. “There were no electric guitars or crashing cymbals that I had to get over the top of.”

Tour in the works

A five-week Twilight Singers tour of America and Europe is planned, but no Cincinnati date has been set.

It’s an all-Ohio touring band, with Mr. Dulli on vocals, guitars and keyboards. Mr. Chichester is on vocals and various instruments. Whigs drummer Michael Horrigan plays bass. Howlin’ Maggie drummer Carlton Smith and guitarist Lance Ellison fill those roles in the Twilight Singers.

But Mr. Dulli is already looking forward to the tour’s end and plans to visit Asia and South America as a civilian, not a rocker.

The Whigs remain active, recording material at Ultrasuede for a new Columbia CD tentatively set for next year. But after an estimated 1,250 shows in 14 years, no Whigs concerts are planned.

“If I learned anything from my injury it’s that you better carpe diem,” he says, reflectively. “This (tour) is gonna be fun and I’m really gonna look forward to it. But then I’m gonna disappear for a little while.”

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