Twilight Leader Never Serene

By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News

Which word did Greg Dulli tire of most when reading reviews of his latest album, the Twilight Singers’ Blackberry Belle?

Was it the mournful? Or dark? Or bitter, angry, demons, moody, bleak?

“That’s the easy line on me, you know?” says Dulli with a resigned laugh. “I know who I am, the fans know who I am. I’ll make you laugh, I’ll make you cry.

“Sometimes I’ll read something and I can just tell they read someone else’s review, moved a couple of words around, changed some adjectives,” he says. “There are some incredibly humorous moments in all my records, including this one. Black humor is humor, you know?”

Dulli fronts the Twilight Singers at the Larimer Lounge on Sunday night.

It is a bleak rap Dulli has gotten his whole musical life.

Then again, it’s hard to blame the writers. As former frontman of Afghan Whigs, Dulli wrote some harrowing songs laced in revenge, anger and guilt.

This time, Dulli had some relatively upbeat material prepared on an album titled Amber Headlights.

But then his best friend, movie director Ted Demme, died unexpectedly in a celebrity basketball game that Dulli was supposed to be at but couldn’t attend.

Amber Headlights was shelved, all activity stopped for a few months, then Dulli began writing again.

“When he died, that all changed. I couldn’t put that record out. In one second, I was a different person,” he says.

“I started to begin the process of healing myself. The only way I’ve ever been able to do that is by writing songs and playing music. I’ve been doing it for 15 years, man. It’s the only way I know how to do it.”

Dulli’s hard-partying ways have always kept his life somewhat on edge, and trouble sometimes came simply out of the blue.

In 1998, his skull was fractured and he was in intensive care after a club bouncer attacked him at his own show in Austin, Texas.

Does chaos act as a catalyst in his writing? Has serenity ever played a role?

“I don’t believe I’ve ever had serenity except maybe like a hospital stay, the odd coma, things like that,” he says, joking about the Austin incident.

“I don’t need chaos, and I certainly don’t go out looking for trouble to write about it. I’m keenly observational. A lot of times I will pick up pieces of other people’s conversations. They’re so dead-on poetic that I memorize them, and I don’t have to pay royalties to people if they don’t know I listened.”

He rejects the notion that he’s a perfectionist, but acknowledges he works the people around him hard.

“The Afghan Whigs broke up 10 times because of my drill-sergeant tactics,” Dulli says.

But “as far as being difficult to work with, I’ll pose this question: I’m a guy who was in a band with the same two guys for 15 years. I don’t think I’m that hard to work with. I don’t demand anything out of anybody I don’t demand from myself. You’ll get the best of me, I want the best of you. I’ll push you for your best.”

Up next is an EP of cover songs, along with a duets album with former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan. Amber Headlights got dismantled.

One song came out as a b-side, one was a bonus track on an overseas release, one to a magazine, and the others eventually will appear, Dulli says, especially in the live show.

“Until you see me live, you might not get the four-dimensional look at me. I’m covering Nina Simone, OutKast, Billie Holiday, Bjork, Chaka Khan. I can’t be that bleak,” he says.

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