Dulli Makes His Way

Dulli Makes His Way Back North
Night Watch / Tom Scanlon
SeattleTimes.com

Long time no see department: Greg Dulli brings the Twilight Singers, his post-Afghan Whigs project, to Chop Suey on Monday (9 p.m., $11).

Yet, don’t let the idea that this will be his first Seattle show in three years make you think Dulli has lost his hyperactivity. “I bought a bar three years ago and started running it,” he says, crackling with energy. “The Shortstop on Sunset Boulevard. It’s an old cop bar, it’s been doing real well for me it’s right near Dodger Stadium, in Echo Park … The Shortstop is probably like a cross between the Nite Lite and the old Frontier Room.”

Dulli’s new Twilight Singers album is called “Blackberry Belle.” He played the Showbox three years ago but doesn’t come around very often.

The last time Dulli was in Seattle, it was to clear out a storage locker. He had moved here with his Ohio band the Afghan Whigs in the early ’90s, after signing with Sub Pop. He hit his Northwest wall a few years ago and headed for L.A.

“The thing that got me out of Seattle, honestly,” he says by cellphone, backstage at New York’s Bowery Theater, “was the darkness. At one point in my last year there, I was having a bout of agoraphobia … I was holed up in Magnolia I had a nice house near Discovery Park and not seeing sunshine started to freak me out. … The sun didn’t shine for 53 days. I said to myself, ‘I got to get out of here.’ ”

Even so, he insists he’s not a Seattle-hater. “I’ve had some of my greatest times in Seattle a company in Seattle gave me my kick start in my vocation. You’ll never hear me slag Seattle.”

Before relocating to Seattle, the Whigs had been doing pretty well, going on tour with the then-young Flaming Lips. “The success of the Flaming Lips and Nirvana are the two most inspiring things I’ve seen,” Dulli says.

While Flaming Lips creative leader Wayne Coyne has been able to adjust to being on another level, “Kurt wasn’t so lucky,” Dulli muses, a thought that leads him to the recent suicide of another friend. “I don’t know that the (recording industry) system made Elliott Smith do it a few weeks ago, but … I used to play with Heatmiser (Smith’s first band). Elliott used to come into the Shortstop at night. It’s like, you look at a guy, he looks at you, you remember where you met. I’m not saying we were best buddies, but I did consider him a friend, his loss is my loss. …

“He was also incredibly funny and could be really sociable. I’m not going to sit here and say I’m shocked, because I’ve seen him before and I’ve seen people look better. I saw Layne Staley waste away. But people come back. People had Mark Lanegan marked for death, but he came back he’s house-sitting for me now.”

After his show at Chop Suey, Dulli will return to play keyboards for Lanegan’s Showbox concert Dec. 12. And Lanegan sings backup on the 11th “Blackberry Belle” cut.

The Twilight Singers’ second album was originally something more light-hearted until he was devastated by the death of another close friend, Ted Demme, best known for directing “Blow.”

“I had a record in the can called ‘Amber Headlights,’ it was done, 12 songs. And I went to dinner with Ted Demme on Friday night, and Sunday afternoon he had a heart attack playing basketball. The second I got the call ‘Amber Headlights’ was deep-sixed … I didn’t listen to music, I couldn’t even tie my shoes for a month. Ted was my runnin’ buddy down in L.A. I had been in two of his movies (‘Beautiful Girls’ and ‘Monument Avenue’), he directed a couple of my videos, I baby-sat his kids, he was my boy. It took my wheels off, I just sort of retreated again, I started all over again.”

The first song on “Blackberry Belle” is “Martin Eden,” and it pretty much tells the story of Dulli’s mind frame: “black out the windows, it’s party time/ You know how I love stormy weather/ So let’s all play suicide.”

This dark album is getting quite a bit of acclaim. A Boston Globe reviewer described it as “more beautifully rendered tales of the dark side from a menacing master of seduction.” Entertainment Weekly said Dulli “reimagines Sinatra’s ‘In The Wee Small Hours’ as a drive down a dark, snaking alt-rock highway with a gutful of vodka tonics. … ” Ben Ratliff of The New York Times wrote “finally a guy who simply knows how to make music that feels good in the ear.”

While the record may be dark, Dulli promises his live show will be quite a bit of fun. “We’re playing 2-hour shows.” While he might cover anything from Outkast to the Zombies, he won’t touch Nirvana or Elliott Smith. “I can’t. I knew those guys … I’ll talk on stage, and talk about Kurt on stage. … Maybe as time passes, but right now, I’m alive, and I’m not going to (do a Smith cover). That’s how I’m feeling about that now right now I think it would be in bad taste, I think it would be slightly necromantic.”

In any case, there is “Martin Eden,” written and produced months before Smith’s death, yet eerily prescient. The very beginning of it even sounds like vintage Smith.

Dulli’s story almost sounds like a celebrity version of “People Who Died,” the old Jim Carroll tune. “This is a high-stress business I’m and I’m not even talking about friends in Hamilton (Ohio) who got caught up in gears at Hamilton Steel or died drunk driving. I’ve seen death from a young age, and I will be called and you will be called hopefully not for a while. But I do not fear death.”

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