Twilight Press Release/Official Statement
“Twilight: a world between day and night… the space between love and hate…the grey area…be it in respect to your relationship with others or–more importantly–the relationship you have with yourself.”
That’s the C-O-N-C-E-P-T according to Greg Dulli, who’s stepped out from his role as frontman of rock ‘n’ soulboys The Afghan Whigs to croon and spoon with the swoon-inducing Twilight Singers, a collusion/collision with old friend Harold Chichester (Howlin’ Maggie), Steve Cobby & Dave McSherry (a.k.a. English dance-maestros Fila Brazillia), Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees), Shawn Smith (Brad, Satchel, Pigeonhed), along with a host of local New Orleans musicians.
Work on twilight as played by the twilight singers began back in 1997, when the Whigs took a year off coping with the degeneration of relations with their label at that time, for which they’d recorded the critically-acclaimed Gentlemen and Black Love LPs. The Cincinnati-spawned foursome initially achieved notoriety via the Seattle-based indie Sub Pop, for which they cut the increasingly R&B-influenced Up In It, Congregation and Uptown Avondale discs.)
Enlisting vocalists extraordinaire Chichester and Smith, Dulli lit out for New Orleans, armed with what would become the album’s respective opening and closing tracks: “Twilite Kid” and “Twilight.”
“Ever since we did Congregation, I’ve been loyal to the concept of an album,” says Dulli. “And most times I write the bookends first. Then I know what the record is going to be; I have to get from here to there. I like the songs to share certain things, whether it’s recalling a lyric or lifting a musical phrase. If you listen to this album on repeat, the last song bleeds into the first one. It’s a full circle trip.
“When I wrote ‘The Twilite Kid,’ I knew who I’d tell the tale through–a guy who has a few problems,” Dulli laughs. “I also knew these two songs just didn’t sound like Afghan Whigs songs. So I rented a place in the French Quarter and we started holding sessions at twilight, recording from dusk to dawn.
“I love New Orleans. It’s one of the greatest cities on the planet. Music is going on constantly. In fact, I wrote ‘King Only’ when I went to see [blind jazz pianist-vocalist/New Orleans native] Henry Butler play over at the Funky Butt on Rampart Street. I’d recently split up with a girl that I’d been with for three or four years and I was in a pretty sad kind of place and not a lot of people were there, but Henry began playing this Allen Toussaint song called ‘You Don’t Love Me No More’ and the weight of that song–and it’s sort of a jaunty song–just hit me. I wound up writing the words to ‘King Only’ on the back of a bar napkin while listening to Henry Butler sing that Allen Toussaint song.
“But ‘That’s Just How That Bird Sings’ and ‘Clyde’– which is a song about my cat and what a Mack Daddy he thinks he is–were the original blueprint for the Twilight Singers: three-part harmonies, a different singer for each verse, and a real late-night, lazy, stay in a mood kind of vibe.”
Having completed these recording sessions, the album was temporarily shelved as The Afghan Whigs finally severed all ties to their label, signed with Columbia Records, deciding it would be better to release a fresh group album than confuse fans with a side project. They wrote and recorded a new album, Greg taking the band back to New Orleans to record. The result was the highly regarded 1965 which was released in late ’98, followed by extensive worldwide touring through much of the following year.
When Dulli turned his attention back to The Twilight Singers a number of factors led him to reinvent a lot of the material. For one, the original session tapes began turning up in an alarming number of bootleg versions undermining the subtle mysteries behind the project. Then, through Dulli’s involvement in a film project he was introduced to Fila Brazillia.
“Before I went down to New Orleans, I was playing a hitman/drug dealer in Ted Demme’s film, ‘Monument Avenue,’ working with Denis Leary and Jason Barry, this Irish kid who wound up playing Leonardo DiCaprio’s sidekick in ‘Titanic,'” Dulli explains. (The Whigs themselves can be seen onscreen knocking out a bare-knuckled bar-band version of ’70s boudoir-soulman Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” in the 1996 movie ‘Beautiful Girls’).
“And after we’d shoot, we’d go back to Jason’s and he’d play me stuff I’d never heard before. And I’ll never forget the first thing he played me by Fila Brazillia; it’s called ‘Subtle Body’ and it’s just three notes played over and over, but you’re transported by the song.
“So when the Whigs got off the road after 1965, I decided to look up the guys in Fila Brazillia–they’d been doing remixes for Radiohead, the Orb, Busta Rhymes, and Moloko as well as making their own records since the early ’90s–and take The Twilight Singers in a little different direction; give it a little more snap, crackle, and pop.
“I went over to their studio in Hull, England–which is Mick Ronson’s home town; there’s a park named after him there with this big statue of him playing guitar–and I spent five weeks there, living in a room above the studio, working 14-hour days.”
Hull is a lot like Cincinnati, says Dulli, in that neither city has much of a social scene. “In Hull, there’s basically one bar where you can go and feel comfortable hanging out, but the great thing about a place with nothing to do is that you can work undistracted.”
Not that Dulli didn’t find recreational outlets. “I only went out about three nights during the whole time I was there,” he reflects. “But one of those nights I discovered that absinthe is legal in England. I’d had it once before in Spain and liked it, but this time I got so fascinated by the ritual of it all–they light it on fire and everything–that I just kept on drinking it and even though the guys in Fila warned me that I was perhaps going too far, by the end of the night they had to carry me out of the bar. I remember Steve telling me I’d been ‘absinthesized.’
“But mostly it was a lot of hard work, which led to some happy accidents. For instance, we were working on the new version of ‘Love’ and Steve was messing around, cutting up that naked piano riff and I said, ‘Hold it, man. I’ve got an idea.’ And an hour later, I sang the lyrics to ‘Annie-Mae’ straight though. Then I went in and made the choruses a little more Beatle-y, so it became like ‘Meet Dub Beatles,'” Dulli laughs.
“‘Railroad Lullaby’ grew out of a similar situation, but in reverse. I’d started playing that chord progress back when I was in L.A., sometime before Christmas. I was playing them again in Hull and the guys went, ‘Hey, what’s that?’ So off we set on my tribute to ’70s AM radio. It’s a memorized snapshot, right down to the triplets on the opening and the super-syrupy strings.
“So those two songs and ‘Last Temptation’–which I wrote after reading Nikos Kazantzakis’s ‘The Last Temptation Of Christ’; imagining I was with MC Jay-C and Tha Disciples–were written in Hull and took the place of two older songs that I loved, but just didn’t fit the overall vibe of the record…which is a record-as-aphrodisiac vibe like Chet Baker Sings, Roxy Music’s Avalon, or Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On. It’s like you put on any of those records and…well, you know what’s going to happen next. I wanted this record to be right up there in that pantheon.”