Lab Productions Interview
Greg Dulli is one of those personalities in music who is a living breathing sound bite. Be it his musical pursuits or personal beliefs, the former Afghan Whigs and current Twilight Singers frontman uses his words wit to insight a mind riot in those who either love him or hate him.
LP: How has the second U.S. tour for Blackberry Belle been going?
Greg Dulli: Fantastic. It’s been fucking amazing. We re-tooled the set list a bit for this time. I tend to have a short attention span. So after the European tour I re-tooled the set list to keep it interesting so I don’t take a two and a half year break from touring.
LP: What did you do to tweak the set list?
GD: I added a couple songs from the album that never came out. [“Amber Headlights”]. We’re doing a record called She Loves You, which is a covers record. So there are four of five totally re-hauled versions of songs by Bjork, Chaka Khan, Martina Topley and Billie Holiday. And a couple Whigs songs we didn’t do last time out. It’s extremely entertaining for me and from the looks of the crowds, extremely entertaining for the.
LP: You’re playing on Easter Sunday in Denver. Are you going to blow the dust off of your cover of “The Temple” from Jesus Christ Superstar?
GD: I dunno… I might do “The Thirty-nine Lashes” now. Even though it looked a lot more than thirty-nine in that Mel Gibson movie.
LP: Did you see the Passion of the Christ?
LP: How was it for you?
GD: I didn’t like it. I have studied Theology and I’m very interested in religion. Especially religious iconography. And Jesus’ life from Gethsemane to Golgotha is fascinating to me. And it just looked like a snuff film to me. I got bored. When you beat a guy for 45 minutes… I fell asleep three times.
LP: Do you think Gibson was trying to be salacious for the sake of being shocking?
GD: There’s a way to do that and still tell a skilled story. And if you’re going to show flashes of his life, like they showed flashes of Palm Sunday, a little flash back of the Sermon on the Mount, flashes of the Last Supper…. I would have gone a lot further with that stuff, if you’re going to show flash backs at all. But putting him in to show him being beaten for 45 minutes left me bored. And the worst thing you can do to a movie goer is bore them.
LP: There is a lot of religious imagery that makes it into your work. How does religion play a role in your existence?
GD: As a book of folklore, I think the Bible, the Koran and the Torah are all fascinating. But anyone who takes that shit verbatim is insane. Mel Gibson included. And I do think Mel Gibson is clearly insane.
The writing and the imagery are unbelievable… I was a Catholic for 13 years. I was raised a Catholic and I was an unmolested alter boy I’d like to add.
LP: Congratulations on making it through unscathed.
GD: I have to tell you. When I look back.. If you let those guys have sex, you’ll watch that shit disappear. You let those priests have sex and they won’t molest anybody. They pick on kids because they can scare them and bully them into not telling because they are children.
I look back now at Father Marney, who I was an alter boy under. And knowing what I know now about human beings, I would guarantee he was a homosexual. He was a hardcore alcoholic and I think he drank heavily to squash the pain. I think it’s an unnecessary anachronistic practice that has to go. And I think the Catholic Church is a fucking sham.
LP: This is why I’m glad I grew up a Southern Baptist. You kinda grade sin on a curve.
GD: You live life and you’re a flawed human being when we enter this world. Original sin? I didn’t bite that apple and neither did my old lady. So get off my dick.
LP: Let’s talk about the new album. I noticed there was a moody, echoey surreal sound to the songs on Blackberry Belle. What this an intentional direction you took?
GD: I had a record done. It was a rock record. Then my best friend died. So I think that’s why you hear what you hear. It’s a night swim through the netherworld I felt really angry, really sad… really confused and that is probably my way of trying to figure my way out of it.
LP: A lot of your lyrics touch on drug addiction, violence and dark emotions. How much of that comes from your own experiences and now much of it is a great picture painted lyrically?
GD: I can’t paint a really good picture, but I have also had my experiences in the shadow world. None of late, however.
LP: You also have a knack for painting a picture of inner city life. Black life in particular…
GD: The firewalls of race and sex are there to be torn down. And I’ve never been afraid to scratch at those walls and tear them down. I’m an Earthling and the Earth is mine and the Earth is yours. So the fact that race and sex bothers people so much, I’m always going to provoke.
I grew up in an integrated community. I live in an integrated community. I maintain my status as an Earthling…. Not as a white man.
LP: Spin and Rolling Stone are doing their 10 year Kurt Cobain remembrance issues. How do you see the change in music culture since he died?
GD: Kurt Cobain was a friend of mine. We were on the same label [Sub Pop]. We toured together. We stayed at each other’s houses when we were on the van circuit. Watching him write an album that went to number 1. An album that replaced Michael Jackson, who was my musical hero for years..
LP: Really? The King of Pop?
GD: It’s still not too late for him. I need to have a talk with him. When I was on Columbia, I really tried to get Tommy Matolla to set up a meeting with me and Michael Jackson, so K could straighten him out, but nothing happened.
But uh… I think the rise of garage music with The White Stripes and The Strokes and that sorta thing is the new grunge. But music has changed so much and now with the Internet, I really wonder if there will ever be a revolution like there was with what Kurt did.
With him you had a punk rock kid who obviously grew up idolizing Cheap Trick, Husker Du, The Beatles, The Pixies and The Replacements. I can hear them all when I hear his music.
We were all 23 years old then. Now I’m pushing 40, I watch if from the sidelines now. I do my own thing. Even during the grunge thing, we always felt like the outsiders, doing Supremes songs and Al Green songs. We were like the weird kids in class.
This is probably why in Europe and down south we attract a multi-racial audience. Asians, Indians, African Americans, whites… Half women. Most of our shows are 50% female, if not more.
Going to see those punk rock shows, it was all guys. I don’t wanna play that. Who wants to play for a sausage factory? I wanna play for the ladies.
LP: Well this would help your chances of getting laid.
GD: I’m sure it did. But I’m also a student of Marvin Gaye. So that probably didn’t hurt either.
LP: What’s going to happen to the Amber Headlights stuff?
GD: I’ve knocked a couple songs out there for a couple things, but I have been revisiting that material. There are a few monsters on there. With the shock of Teddy’s passing a couple years behind me, I think I can look at these songs again with the perspective I didn’t have then. I don’t know if it fits as a record now, but there are three songs I plan to pull of there and re-tool. There is a smash hit on there. I just started listening to it again a couple months ago and I said, “Holy smokes…. That’s a catchy motherfucker.”
LP: OK…the “She Loves You” EP is next. But what about after that?
GD: I’m doing a record with Mark Lanagan of the Screaming Trees. We have a group called The Gutter Twins, so we’re going to finish that record in May before he heads out to front the MC5 in June. And that will probably be out this winter. Then we’ll get started on the third Twilight album in Sicily this summer.
LP: Any chance there will ever be a Whigs tour in the future?
GD: Naw. It’s funny… John will get up and play with us tonight and Rick will get up and play with us in Minneapolis. I really love those guys and I love the songs we did. But when you quit, you quit. I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it for a cause or for something that helps someone, but just to tour? Naw.
When we broke up, we sat down, talked about it, got teary eyed, got drunk, played poker and said goodbye. When we were 20 years old, we were fist fighting and quitting the band twice a week. It was nice to see us act like adults. I really love those guys. They are like my brothers. Those are my boys and I love them and they love me. But we all have new groups now and I think we’re all happy that way.
LP: I didn’t know you had a brush with death 4 years ago. What the hell was that?
GD: We were at a club in Austin and a couple of the security guys were skinheads and meth addicts. Alvin Youngblood Hart is a Memphis blues singer and guitarist who was our opening act. Steve Meyers is an African American singer who was in our band. And I don’t have to hear the word nigger twice to punch a motherfucker. So I shined a guy up really good and he and his friend waited for me after the show and hit me in the back of the head with a baseball bat. I was in a coma for two days.
LP: Holy shit dude. When you came out of that, did you have a different perspective on life in general?
GD: Yeah I did. The first thing I did when I came out of that was to put my faith in Karma. And I had to wonder if I was Karmically paying for something. I don’t know how the universe works. If I did I’d be making a whole lot more money and so would you. But ironically, I did come out of it with a peace I don’t think I had before.
So in a backward ass what I thank those racist meth-heads. I plan on staying for quite a while. So I’m looking forward to making people uncomfortable and smile for years to come.