CityPaper – Dulli Noted
On leave from the Afghan Whigs, Greg Dulli gets down with The Twilight Singers.
by M.J. Fine
The first thing you notice about Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers (out this week on Columbia), the new album from Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli, is the beats. Sure, it begins with piano as twinkly as anything on the Whigsí Black Love; the midsection could be aggressive foreplay to Gentlemenís main act; and itís laced with the same Catholic guilt that pervades Congregation. But itís those beats that give Twilight its identity, and itís those beats that make it a tougher listen than anything in the Afghan Whigsí catalog.
A side project in every sense, Greg Dulliís Twilight Singers started as a bedroom-tapes session during a 1997 breather from his day job with the Whigs. “Iíd been in a band for over 10 years, and I think I wanted to have a musical affair with other people,” Dulli says in a telephone interview. During a time he characterizes as “bleak,” saddled with the side effects of buying into his own persona as an affable asshole, Dulli brought in collaborators Harold Chichester and Shawn Smith, whose minimal roles belie the groupís decidedly plural name. Coming out of the darkness amid the Whigsí flight from Elektra to Columbia, Dulli shelved the Twilight Singers project for a couple years while recording and promoting the Whigsí celebratory 1965. By the time he was ready to work on it again, demos had been leaked and were circulating among fans and critics. “The bootlegging was troubling,” Dulli says. “If something goes out unfinished, you sort of feel violated.”
Thatís where those beats come in.
“It led me to Fila.”
Determined to finish his sketches, he took the tracks to Fila Brazillia. The British duo gave Twilight its atmosphere, and its beats. “I sort of had the beats in mind all along, but it was when I hooked up with Fila in EnglandÖ I knew theyíd be most sympathetic to my cause,” Dulli says. “I can honestly say that I considered the beats three years ago, but I didnít have the technical know-how to do it, so I needed to get with some people who do that for a living.”
Once you get past its distractions, Twilight gives its share of pleasure. For Dulli, one of the benefits of moving away from rock was that it puts less of a strain on his voice. “I can sing in a register thatís more like my speaking voice. Thatís a wall of guitars you gotta sing over in the Whigs,” he says. “If it doesnít start out screaming, you soon get there. And thatís great, and I love that, but with Twilight stuff, it was more focused on actually singing.” That accounts for the albumís R&B frame: “Itís always in my back pocket,” Dulli says of the 1960s and í70s sound that he keeps coming back to. “I know enough about it that I can whip it out and put my own spin on it.”
The albumís “King Only” and “Clyde” work on several levels, and “Love” suffers only if youíre already smitten with the stripped-down incarnation that appears in Monument Ave., one of Dulliís flirtations with film. “Thatís Just How That Bird Sings,” with Dulli, Smith and Chichester sharing lead vocals, hints at how a collaboration of equals might have turned out. As a come-on, “Verti-Marte” probably serves its purpose: seducing the woman whose voice is sampled. For the rest of us, itís more like five minutes of downtime to recharge and reach for a fresh condom between the slow-grinding “Annie Mae” and guilt-defying “Last Temptation,” inspired by The Last Temptation of Christ.
“I was really moved by the [Nikos] Kazantzakis book because he humanized the folk hero,” says Dulli, himself a lapsed altar boy. “He was like, ĎWow, Jesus wants to get laid, too!í”
Weary from the lengthy 1965 tour which brought the Whigs to the TLA twice, Dulli plans a much shorter trek to promote Twilight. “The thought of going out and touring for six or eight months ó I wonít do it,” he says. Nonetheless, Dulli and Chichester plan to play Philly in the fall. (Smithís not in the touring band.)
In addition to Twilight songs and new material, Dulli promises some surprises. “Iím a big fan of the cover song. Iíve worked up a couple doozies,” he says. You have to expect anything from Dulli, a guy whoís brought his own thing to Holeís “Miss World,” South Parkís “Uncle Fucka,” TLCís “Creep” and Jesus Christ Superstarís “Gethsemane.”
Work continues in Cincinnati on the next Afghan Whigs album, and Dulli says he intends to work with Fila Brazillia in December on more Twilight Singers stuff. So far, heís worked up about 10 new songs, but hasnít committed them to either outlet. “Writing songs for myself is something that I havenít done since I was a teenager. Iím getting back in touch with my inner teenager,” says the guy with a bottomless id. “If they please me, Iíll decide which vehicle they ride in.”