Vocalist hopes to see more fans this time

April 2, 2004
David Lindquist

Indy Star

As fate would have it, the Twilight Singers are booked at the Patio next Thursday — April 8, the 10-year anniversary of the day Kurt Cobain’s body was found at his Seattle home.

Twilight vocalist Greg Dulli knew Cobain before Cobain was designated as the face of a rock ‘n’ roll revolution.

The Afghan Whigs (Dulli’s old band) and Nirvana (Cobain’s world-changing band) were once label mates on Sub Pop Records. The musicians played shows together and were guests in each other’s homes, Dulli recalls during a telephone interview.

Their friendship began in 1989, predating Cobain’s high-profile tortured-artist spiral of health problems, interpersonal conflict and drug use. Cobain killed himself on April 5, 1994.

Dulli, whose name rhymes with “Julie,” remembers a lighter side to the man responsible for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

“I wouldn’t say he was the happiest guy in the world,” Dulli says. “I wouldn’t say he was exactly Hamlet, either. He had a wicked sense of humor and was quick to smile.”

Like basically everyone else keeping tabs on Nirvana, Dulli says he was amazed at the “quantum leap” of artistic growth between 1989’s “Bleach” album and 1991’s “Nevermind.”

“When (‘Nevermind’) passed Michael Jackson and hit No. 1, it was like one of your boys just took down the establishment,” Dulli says. “I’ll never forget the smile I had on my face that day.”

Thanks to Nirvana’s breakthrough, commercial doors opened to acts ranging from Beck to P.J. Harvey to the Smashing Pumpkins. Dulli and the Whigs scored modern-rock hits with “Debonair” in 1993 and “Honky’s Ladder” in 1996.

Today, Dulli doesn’t sound bitter because those days have passed. Instead, he says it was a fluke that inventive rock music ever flirted with the mainstream.

“For the most part, (popular culture) is sold to the great unwashed,” he says.

While that observation probably won’t launch the Twilight Singers to an appearance on Ryan Seacrest’s TV show, Dulli still cranks out dark after-hours tales that split the musical difference between Led Zeppelin and ’70s R&B great Donny Hathaway.

The Twilight Singers’ second album, “Blackberry Belle,” finds Dulli to be the same dangerous playboy he portrayed during the Whigs’ active era.

“Black out the lights, it’s party time,” he sings during new song “Martin Eden.” It’s a line reminiscent of “Baby, untie me now. I’m ready to get down,” from “Uptown Again,” a track that appeared on the Whigs’ 1998 farewell album.

Dulli, who’s been described as an “S&M poet,” uses the language of a lady-killer when explaining the revolving Twilight lineup (more than 20 musicians receive credits on “Blackberry”).

“It’s probably a reaction to being in a band with the same guys for 14 to 15 years,” he says. “I liken it to being married and then becoming a serial player.”

Thursday’s show represents a new chance for Indianapolis to impress the 38-year-old Cincinnati native.

“The Whigs played the Patio twice,” he says. “I think one time nobody came, probably in 1990 or something. And one time 50 people came. Then we just scratched Indy off the list.”

Fair enough. But what about those lyrics? Were they a put-on then? Are they a put-on now?

“Anything I’m discussing, I’m not making up,” Dulli says. “Whether it exactly happened to me or not is debatable. But it happened to somebody.”

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