Not Necessarily Pop
By Elizabeth Sokol
This column appeared in a longer form in Amplifier nbr. 21 | 2000
“I think I made a great record and I’m looking for fans who like great music.” Not the words of a man lacking in confidence. And anyone familiar with the music of The Afghan Whigs would hardly be surprised hearing them uttered by frontman Greg Dulli — a man whose self-assurance has been rather explicitly detailed throughout the Whigs’ discography. However, they might be surprised to hear the album Dulli is referencing — twilight as played by the twilight singers from Dulli’s newest project, The Twilight Singers.
“It got started in my house about 3 years ago,” explains Dulli. “I was mostly looking just to entertain myself and I decided to create a persona a la Sgt. Pepper who I could inhabit and I came up with the Twilight Singers. Twilight is a very beautiful time of day — a very brief time of day — and I thought that to illuminate such a brief time of day would be a challenge and probably a really good time. I was looking to do something outside of a rock band because I found myself in a rock band for about 12 years at that point and I wanted to do something different. So that’s how it started — in my bedroom. And people would drop by and so I moved it up to my living room. And more people would drop by and then it started to have a life of its own.”
Taking on a life of its own also meant taking it on the road. “When I moved down to New Orleans — that’s when it became kind of full blown. I moved down there for about a year and a half and there’s a beautiful old mansion that had a recording studio in it and it was right by my house. It was very convenient, kind of perfect for the proceedings. I think it’s the perfect town and the town kind of personifies (the album).”
Although billed as a solo effort, Dulli freely admits that The Twilight Singers is the result of the combined support of many accomplished musicians. “(It’s) mostly people I’d know for quite a long time and knew their talents and knew how to best get them on tape in this context — so I knew almost everybody. Then when it began to get kind of specific like with the strings and things like that, I got really lucky and began meeting people basically in bars. It’s great — you know instead of saying ‘Hey, you know, you want to go home and sleep with me’ you say, ‘Hey, want to come over and record with me.’ So it worked out well and in New Orleans, the horns are the best in the world. I was a fan of all three horn players who played on the record so that was very important to get — I ended up using them on the Whigs record (1965) as well.”
“Harold Chichester is someone I’ve known for thirteen years. He was the bass player for the Royal Crescent Mob, then he started his own band, Howlin’ Maggie and he still plays in that band. He can play anything — he plays drums, guitar, bass, piano, organ and he’s one of the most beautiful singers I’ve ever heard, so he was a logical choice. Shawn Smith, great singer, a kind of other worldly voice – I’d recorded with him before. Both Harold and Shawn I’d worked with before, so they were the first two picks. All the other musicians are mostly New Orleans musicians. There’s the string players, the horn players and some of the back up singers are also from there.”
“Probably the two guys who put the most imprint on the record besides myself were Fila Brazillia. They were co-producers, they played a variety of instruments, they did all the drum programming. One is an amazing bass player and he plays bass on over half the record. The other one is a great guitar player and he plays guitar all over the record. I took the rough drafts that I finished two and a half years ago over to England with them and we started brewing it all together and we ended up writing four or five new songs. So, other than myself, I would put them as the next largest contributors to the sound of this record.” Their influence can be heard in the funky rhythm/dance sounds which permeate twilight without ever losing the underlying jazz and blues tone of the record.
The end result is an album brimming with emotion and depth without ever feeling forced or contrived. “I was definitely in a different head space when I finished it than where I was when I began it,” explains Dulli. ” I was a pretty sad young man when I first began working on it and I wasn’t quite so sad when I finished it. But I had to be sympathetic to the sad person who began it so that it would sound cohesive.” Tracks like “King Only” and “Love” give the listener a good sense of just exactly where Dulli was at during those New Orleans sessions. “Love is written about so frequently that I tried to put a different spin on what love can be. Love can be kind of heartbreakingly obsessive sometimes, so the person singing (‘Love’) is wondering where his mate is at 3:00 in the morning.”
The most obvious difference between (The Twilight Singers and The Afghan Whigs) is the absence of the electric guitar. I used very little electric guitar in the Twilight Singers, usually only for punctuation, which enabled me to sing in my speaking voice and not scream. That was important to me. Also, I wanted kind of a vibe record and (The Afghan Whigs) had previously done Black Love and I had gone as far as I could go in that direction with the band that I had. They wanted to make a rock record and I wanted to make a rock record with them, if we ended up doing that. But by keeping it separate, it allowed us to do both.”