The Twilite Kid
Cleveland Free Times
By Anastasia Pantsios
Soul without the sarcasm.
“This show is going to be candlelit , dark and Parisian cabaret-style,” says Greg Dulli, describing the on-stage vibe of his band, the Twilight Singers, on its current tour. “I’m going to get in touch with my inner Liza.”
Anyone who has followed Dulli’s career since his 1986-2000 stint with the one-time Cincinnati-based Afghan Whigs won’t be too surprised to hear him evoke the most mannered cabaret singer on earth. Part of Dulli’s dissolute charm — what set the Whigs way apart from their fellow grunge-era bands — is his deliberate, stylized theatricality. It perfectly suited the Whigs’ music, which was a stormy, swollen, soul-drenched post-punk pastiche in which Dulli’s lyrics forever fought an unresolvable battle between cockiness and self-contempt.
“I’m a mass of contradictions,” says Dulli in a classic understatement.
Much has changed for Dulli. For one thing, the Whigs called it a day, amicably, in 2000, soon after the release of his first Twilight Singers album , twilight as played by the twilight singers. When he released it, Dulli says, he assumed he’d be going back to the Whigs.
“I did briefly, but only to bury the body,” he says. “We took it as far as we could. But we lived in four different states and three different time zones. When we reconvened to start the next record, we knew each other but we didn’t. We wrote together for about a month and then we sat around drinking one night and I think I said something first and we just kind of did it around a table playing cards. It was actually kind of sweetly dignified.”
About the same time, Dulli moved back to Los Angeles from New Orleans to get a handle on his personal substance abuse problems.
“This is the fourth time I’ve lived in L.A.,” he says. “I’ve had wanderlust since I was a kid. It’s probably some gypsy shit. But when I moved to New Orleans in 1997, that was like my destiny. But I really don’t have what you would call will power, and the all-night availability of decadence became too much for somebody of my weak composition. When I learn to behave myself, I’ll go back. I’ll probably die there. But I don’t want to die of cirrhosis.”
In another contradiction, after moving to Los Angeles, he bought and ran a bar and gave up music for a year.
“I just sort of stopped and didn’t realize I had stopped,” he says. “I had four inches of dirt on my piano and my guitar stayed in my closet. And I don’t know why. All I can say in retrospect is maybe I had to grieve the Afghan Whigs a little bit.”
His return to music was, literally, a seismic experience.
“I was sitting at home reading and we had an earthquake,” he says. “Nothing major, nothing falling off the walls or anything like that. I went to go just look around and look for my cat and see if everything was okay, and I saw my guitar. I pulled it out and I realized it was the first time in 13 months that I’d pulled it out. I went out on my porch and started playing and I had a song written in 10 minutes.”
Dulli quickly assembled 14 songs and was ready to go with a new album. Then he was hit with another shock.
“My best friend died,” he says. “That album in one second became obsolete. If I were to put that record out and say, this is Greg Dulli right now, I would have been lying to you, me and anybody else who listened to it, because that wasn’t me anymore. So I scrapped a whole record and started all over, except for one song, and that was the song I wrote after the earthquake.”
That song, “Papilion,” is one of 11 tracks on Blackberry Belle , the second Twilight Singers CD, just released. On it, Dulli encapsulates everything that has obsessed him musically, from punk to soul music to cabaret to stylish diva-esque vocals. Billowing, almost shoegazer-ish synths veil some tracks, while on others, piano figures amble languidly in the shadow of rock ‘n’ roll guitars. While some of the music has echoes of classic rockers such as the Who and the Kinks, Dulli’s vocals are still redolent of soulful singers, such as Nina Simone, who have inspired him over the years. The lyrics, not surprisingly, are darkly reflective, lacking Dulli’s familiar sardonic attitude.
“The stuff originally was kind of, I’m not going to say impersonal, because everything I write is pretty personal, but it was sort of third-personish,” he says. “And I felt like what I needed to do had to be incredibly intimate to honor my friend’s memory. The fragility of life was just on full cinescope for me. Everything was on the surface of my skin. I think as a songwriter I would have been a fool to walk away from that.”
TWILIGHT SINGERS, ROSAVELT
7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 12
5000 Euclid Ave.