Afghan Whigs frontman brings Twilight
— Ryan Williams
Greg Dulli can turn a phrase. Whether writing about the darker side of love on classic albums like “Gentlemen” from the Afghan Whigs or creating new anthems on the Twilight Singer’s latest Blackberry Belle, Dulli’s crafty lyrics and collisions of rock and soul resonate with the silver-tongued wit of someone both wise to the world and weary of its ways. The Twilight Singers are coming to Indianapolis on the second leg of their international tour after a jaunt through Europe, and I had the opportunity to interview Dulli by E-mail. As in his songs, there’s meaning to be derived in the shortest of answers. Brevity is the soul of wit.
IMN: Your first jaunt across the States found you including songs from both Twilight Singers albums (including their latest, Blackberry Belle), the occasional Afghan Whigs number, and covers from Kate Bush to Derek and the Dominos. Is this the plan for the second leg as well, or will you be changing any of the elements?
Dulli: We got a new batch to christen the faithful with. But we’re playing Blackberry heavy.
IMN: How did you choose the musicians for this tour?
Dulli: Rock, paper scissors…
IMN: What’s been the biggest culture shock for you on returning to the States?
Dulli: Janet Jackson has some hot ass nipples.
IMN: What have been the high and low points for the tour so far?
Dulli: Y ou win some, you lose some, but we’re always in the game.
IMN: “Domani” is the only song you’ve released off of the album you scrapped before Blackberry Belle (Ed. Note: that album was stopped following the death of his close friend, director Ted Demme). Have you reconsidered playing any of the other material, or is this something that will remain shelved?
Dulli: a couple fossils have been discovered and dusted off…
IMN: You’ve got a long history of taking songs from other artists and giving it a very personal reinterpretation. What makes you choose a cover for the set list?
Dulli: if i can make it mine, then it is invited to the party.
IMN: Would you ever consider another project like “Uptown Avondale” (an Afghan Whigs EP that featured covers of the Supremes, Al Green, and others)?
Dulli: “She loves you” will be released this summer. (Ed. Note – “She Loves You” will feature tracks from Billie Holliday, Marvin Gaye, Mary J. Blige, and others)
IMN: Is it still possible to create good soul music today?
Dulli: outkast, d’angelo, mary j, angie stone, al green…
IMN: Do you still feel attached to any sort of Afghan Whigs legacy, or is it something you’re ready to move beyond?
Dulli: I am a proud alumnus of the unbreakable afghan whigs.
IMN: When you’re translating songs like “That’s Just How That Bird Sings” (a quiet acoustic number from the first Twilight Singers album) from the album to stage, how do you adapt to a smaller band?
Dulli: the band that recorded it is smaller than who plays it live.
IMN: You’ve worked with a diverse group of people on each album – what attracts you to the playing of such diverse people as blues artist Alvin “Youngblood” Hart, That Dog’s Petra Haden, and Galactic drummer Stanton Moore?
Dulli: they are bad ass motherfuckers.
IMN: Speaking of (or typing about) Moore, you’ve done a lot of recording in New Orleans- what attracts you to creating there?
Dulli: It’s not a place, it’s a state of mind.
IMN: If a typical fan were set loose on your record collection, what would they find and what would they be surprised by?
Dulli: They’d find a huge mess in my living room and probably be surprised that i step on them all the time.
IMN: What marked your transition to a more polished, refined songwriting style?
Dulli: I started smoking weed w/ Lieber and Stoller.
IMN: You’ve remarked before that you don’t like to comment on the meaning of your songs, but you’ve given a very explicit explanation of “The Killer” on stage during the tour (Ed. Note According to Dulli, the song examines the moment Jerry Lee Lewis went from musical hero to outcast over his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin). What is so striking about that moment, and why did it resonate so much with you?
Dulli: Jerry Lee Lewis is fascinating to me and I like talking about him.
IMN: A lot of your music has a cinematic flair to it. How much inspiration do you take from films in your music?
IMN: Would you consider working on music for another film (Ed. Note – Dulli contributed songs to “Beautiful Girls” and “Monument Ave.”)?
Dulli: I’d love it.
IMN: What’s the difference between bartending at your establishment in L.A. and performing?
Dulli: You don’t have to wash dishes after a gig.
IMN: What’s in your musical future, both performing and the studio?
Dulli: Tour, record gutter twins. record twilight 3, tour.
IMN: How is the Gutter Twins project with singer Mark Lanegan coming?
Dulli: Almost done.
IMN: Harder to find on tour – clean bathrooms or decent drugs?
Dulli: I find they go hand in hand.
IMN: Do you mind coming back to the Midwest (Ed. Note: Dulli is originally from Cincinnati)?
IMN: You recorded some of your earlier material at Echo Park in Bloomington, Indiana. How did that come about?
Dulli: We played w/ Paul Mahern’s band, datura seeds and he blackmailed us into recording there. I never saw the pictures he was talking about.
IMN: Add anything you want here.
Dulli: Suckers swallow everytime.