db Magazine Interview
D. Stuart Gravestock
Talking to Mr Greg Dulli has definitely been a highlight in my short career as a music journalist. The man has been an inspiration to me for the better half of my life; the former frontman for The Afghan Whigs and now The Twilight Singers can evoke the strongest of passions, from desperate lust to love to hate to murderous intent with his vocals. I did not want to mess this interview up.
Unfortunately we got off to a rocky start when I asked about the genesis of the new Twilight Singers album ‘Blackberry Belle’; “Probably the single most evolutionary thing about the record was my friend Teddy passing away. He died very suddenly and I already had a record in the can before that happened. And in one second, my life was different and that record wasn’t ‘me’ anymore so I had to figure out who I was, what I felt like and what I wanted to say.”
I didn’t really expect such an answer. I felt I had to ask about Dulli’s fascination with the ultimate end. Is he a death obsessive? “Sure. I’m a functional schizophrenic, Stuart,” he laughs. “I’m very given to whims, I will always peek over the cliff to see how far down it is, and touch the hot thing that you’re told is hot but you have to find out for yourself. I’ll burn myself on an iron five hundred fucking times, I tell ya.”
Here I must make a distinction; death fascinates me but I don’t really want to get too close. But Dulli seems to need to feel some extent of pain to live – or as he puts it “Masochism, agoraphobia, clinical depression, an id run amok, vices that would make a sailor blush,” agrees Dulli.
So ‘Kali Nichta’, Dulli’s publishing label, must be an invocation of the goddess of death and destruction, Kali, right?
“No, but she hangs well on there. It means ‘good night’ in Greek.” Okay. While I’m getting things embarrassingly wrong, how about the pronunciation of Verti-Marte (a track from the first Twilight Singers album ‘Twilight’)? Nope, wrong as well. (It’s pronounced with a silent ‘e’).
“It means ‘Green Market’. It’s a grocery store in the French Quarter. It was its working title. Verti-Marte is the oldest grocery store in the French Quarter and they deliver on bicycles and it’s open 24 hours. If you know who’s workin’, they deliver other stuff besides groceries, dude.” Dulli gives a sly laugh as I comprehend what he means. Ah, yes, those vices.
Recently, Muggs, Cypress Hill member and producer extraordinaire released an album entitled ‘Dust’ which featured Fat City with vocals by our friend Dulli. There is also a song on ‘Blackberry Belle’ named Fat City (Slight Return).
“I worked with Muggs on the first version. The version on ‘Blackberry Belle’ is sans Muggs. I came up with the riff and the bass line kinda at the same time, laid ’em both down, and I had it in my backpack, thinking ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, I’ve never really written a riff like this, it’s pretty strange.’ And I started thinkin’ ‘Wow, man, I’m gonna sell it to some hip-hop guy and make some cash!’ and then Muggs called, like, a week later. I played him the track and he freaked out, he asked ‘Can I have it?’ and I’m, like, ‘Sure. But who do you want to sing on it?’ and he said ‘I want you to sing on it.’ And I said ‘Holy fuck! Alright!’
“I had no plans on singing over that thing so I think being in front of Muggs very much influenced how I sang it, because the whole cadence of it is that I’m not rapping but I’m not actually singing either. He just had me lay it down and that was it and I didn’t really have any say in how he did it. It’s not that I disliked it but as I lived with it I was thinking ‘I wanna put some drums on it’, and then I put guitar on it and then I put Apollonia on it and then I started to go crazy.”
That couldn’t possibly be the same Apollonia Kotero who rose to fame with Prince, could it? “The very same. She’s on Teenage Wristband too.” So notch up another Twilight Singer. That makes a few now, also including Harold Chichester (Howlin’ Maggie), Shawn Smith (Brad) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees). “When I first conceived ‘Twilight’ it was going to be a trio singing group. That lasted about ten minutes. Put three lead singers in a room? Good luck, man. So I ended up finishing it and when the Whigs broke up, I liked the whole concept behind the Twilight Singers. I liked the whole revolving cast [of members] kind of like the Golden Palominos.”
Dulli has been touring the new album, primarily in the States but is there any chance of seeing him come to Australia? “I’ll do what I’ve done for the last whatever, 13 years: I’ll play twice in America, twice in Europe and then when I get home, I’ll wait for my phone to ring to come to Australia. And that call will never come.”
I suggest, jokingly, that maybe we could just set up a Dulli gig in Adelaide. “I’ll play Adelaide exclusively! We’ll make Melbourne and Sydney get on their horse. We might have to throw Perth some love though. I’ll co-conspire with you!” We laugh, but I give him my e-mail address. Just in case.