Greg Dulli Headstrong in Twilight
by Hannah Levin
Much of what I initially found intriguing about Greg Dulli was his overblown, hypermasculine persona in the Afghan Whigs. The characters he embodied on 1993’s Gentleman (one of the best rock records of the early ’90s) were so unflinchingly misogynistic that listening to the album was almost like watching someone trying to do a drag version of a straight man. That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but he always added just enough self-lacerating touches to humanize things, and I honestly thought the testosterone caricature worked quite well for him. Although he claims the Whigs are still a band, he’s currently touring in support of Blackberry Belle, his second release with the Twilight Singers, a project more reflective of his love for the early Motown and Stax sound.
I was a big Afghan Whigs fan…
You still can be; I’m still in Afghan Whigs.
But your energy is generally focused on the Twilight Singers, correct?
In terms of music, yeah. I have extracurricular activities that I’m concentrating on, too. I own a bar and I just bought another one [in Los Angeles].
Did you get some sort of exemption from the smoking ban down there? That drives me bananas whenever I go to clubs there, and now New York…
I just walk around like I own the place wherever I go, and I’m sure that’s why a lot of people hate my fucking guts, but you know what–I smoke wherever I want to.
Do you think people think you’re an asshole?
I know people think I’m an asshole.
Why? Tell me what you mean by that.
I’m a candid, direct, and confident person, and people don’t like that. I think I’m a very loved and loving person, and I think that pussies are scared of me.
Fair enough. Let’s talk about some of the people you collaborated with on the new Twilight Singers album. How did you hook up with Alvin Youngblood [Hart]?
I met Alvin Youngblood in London in 1998 at a show. Alvin walked by my dressing room and I was playing “Custard Pie” by Led Zeppelin. So we had a Led Zeppelin hootenanny in my dressing room–and then he was the opening act on the Whigs’ 1965 tour.
So you pulled him into the studio for what reason?
Because I wanted a lap steel on a particular song and Alvin plays lap steel like nobody’s business. He’s just great; I think he’s one of the most beautiful cats I’ve ever met.
And you worked with Mark Lanegan again; I’m assuming you guys have a long history…
Oh boy, we sure do. I’ll be his piano player at his Showbox show in December.
You clearly have a huge affection for Stax and Motown, which shows up initially in that cover you did with the Whigs of [the Supremes’] “Come See About Me”–which is excellent, by the way.
Of all the things like that we did back in the oldie days, I have to agree with you. Back when we came to play Detroit after that, Martha Reeves gave us a tour of the Motown museum. And then she was like, “None of you boys smoke grass, do you?” so we went into the echo-chamber room of the studio and smoked out. I invited her to come down and sing with us that night, and we did “Heat Wave” and “What’s Going On.”
So did you grow up listening to that stuff?
I was born when my momma was 17 years old, and she had pretty good taste in music, I must say. We listened to Stevie Wonder, Al Green, the Temptations, and Otis Redding, you know–everything. And my mom really loved the Supremes, so it was probably my destiny to cover all those Supremes songs.
On the new record, you seem to be somewhere in between your love of that stuff and the rock side of the Afghan Whigs. Are you deliberately trying to do a little bit of both?
I think I’ll probably get there. I’m kind of a functional schizophrenic, you know? Me and Mark [Lanegan] get together and we sound like Waylon and Willie, and I’ll get together with other friends and we’ll sound [different]. It depends on who I’m with and what I’m feeling. Thank God for everyone involved that I can’t rap, it’d be so goofy–it’d be terrible.