Rock Solid

Rock-Solid in a Post-Whigs World

By Glenn Gamboa
STAFF WRITER
Newsday.com

After a decade as the charismatic front man of indie-rock heroes The Afghan Whigs, Greg Dulli was eager to try something new when the band disbanded after its 1998 CD “1965.” He formed The Twilight Singers, a dance music collective that relied on atmospheric layers of synths rather than the raucous guitars of his former band.

The result was “Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers,” a cool combination of gorgeous electronic music provided by Brit chill-out crew Fila Brazilia and Dulli’s dark tales of love. After a two-year break, where Dulli focused on some film roles and established a base in Los Angeles to match his New Orleans home, he began working on a new Twilight Singers CD.

“I started to do songs with Fila again and I just wasn’t feeling it,” said Dulli, calling from his Los Angeles home. “I kept thinking some of the songs needed some guitar and they’re kind of rock snobs. I would work with them again in a second, but it didn’t feel right this time.”

Dulli realized he could no longer deny his rock-and-roll heart and his new CD, “Blackberry Belle” shows it. “Now, I’m loving it like I never did before,” he said. “Taking a break reignited my love of rock and now I feel like a … teenager again. I feel kind of like I did when I played drums in my very first band, like I am 13 again.”

The grit of dark rockers like “Teenage Wristband” and “Decatur Street” reflects that new energy, as well as the grief Dulli felt after the sudden death of his friend, director Ted Demme. Demme – best known for movies “Blow” and “The Ref,” as well as “Beautiful Girls,” which featured Afghan Whigs as the house band – died of a heart attack in January 2002, just as Dulli was set to wrap up the second Twilight Singers album.

“All the lights dimmed a little bit for me after he died and I was sadder than I have ever been,” Dulli said. “I had a record almost done when he died and it all felt so foreign and inappropriate to me that I put it aside. Only one song, ‘Papillon,’ made it over to the new record. After he died, for a good month, I didn’t do anything. I was just shocked. Then I started working on songs to keep my mind off of it. And then to keep my mind on it, you know what I mean? I dedicated this record to him because my feelings are all throughout there.”

For the upcoming “Blackberry Belle” tour, Dulli has recruited a five-piece band of rockers to be this year’s model of Twilight Singers. In addition to the new songs, the band will rough up songs from “Twilight.” “I told them to approach those songs like we were going to cover them,” Dulli said.

“The biggest change is probably ‘That’s Just How That Bird Sings,’ which has a bossa-nova feel now.”

With a rock-leaning band behind him, will Dulli break out some Whigs tunes for his fans? “Frankly, I would rather hear someone else’s songs, but they really want to do it,” said Dulli, who became known for covering TLC’s “Creep” and Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” in the midst of a Whigs set. “I’ll definitely still do other people’s songs – It’s like Tourette Syndrome for me.”

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