The Twilight Singers
Twilight Singers at SK
The Twilight Singers are an ever changing collective, a chance for Greg Dulli to be in whatever kind of band he needs to be in at any point in his career. Not a Dulli solo project, but more a particular outfit assembled to record a particular collection of musical moments/compositions.
Listening to Blackberry Belle, the second recording from The Twilight Singers, feels like falling without a catcher in the rye to protect you (as embodied in the descending piano opening up the epic “Martin Eden”). And then: scene 2- you are a passenger in a beat-up old Volvo, cigarette butts climbing out of the ashtray in exodus, sliding down Sunset Blvd at 3:30 in the morning, your driver wide-eyed, ambitious and smiling with a cackle. The trip seems like one you have been on before: love, death, that blending of reality and non-reality, sweaty sex (definitely not love), mystery, wonderment and life. Greg Dulli is the driver, a true liver of life, and Blackberry Belle is his tribute to the decadence humans — free and redeemed — are allowed to taste.
Dulli’s voice has never been more powerful or his songwriting stronger than on these songs. “Teenage Wristband” asks, “You wanna go for a ride?” Greg has inhaled his influences from Pink Floyd to Nina Simone to Big Star to the nastiest side of hip-hop and he asks his listeners; “Are you READY FOR THE MOTHERFUCKING RIDE OF YOUR LIFE!!?!?!?!?” Greg Dulli has gathered up his Twilight singers; crazy foreigners, dark lords of the French Quarter, guitar slingers from Hollywood’s saloons: Mathias Schneeberger, Mike Napolitano, Michael Sullivan, Jon Skibic, Brian Young, Scott Ford, Petra Haden, Apollonia Kotero, Mark Lanegan, Stanton Moore, Greg Wieczoric, Steve Myers, Chris Phillips, Matt Hergert, Hoss, Nikki Crawford, Jesse Tobias, Rick Steff, Richard Ford, Kamasi Washington, Josh Lampkins, Chris Gray and Amay.
Dulli came to the writing and recording of Blackberry Belle after devoting over a decade to The Afghan Whigs, one of the most original, expectation-defying and yet stylishly sophisticated outfits to emerge from the latterday American underground rock scene. Formed in Cincinnati as a pack of crowd-baiting rock rabble-rousers, Dulli and company grew ever more ambitious and accomplished as composers and musicians with each release, quickly leaving behind any and all bases of ready comparison, their work being increasingly colored by a passion for vintage soul and more contemporary funkification. At the same time, Dulli’s lyrics became more brazenly poetic, yet darker and more introspective, exploring harrowing inner psychological terrain with rabbit-punch immediacy.
Within a ten year span, The Afghan Whigs went from the earnest if raw rafter-shaking of their self-released Big Top Halloween debut in 1988, to the more cultured and epic rock of Up In It, their SubPop debut two years later (the Whigs were the first non-regional signing by the trailblazing label). R&B flavorings started making themselve’s noticeable on ’92’s Congregation, that influence becoming still more prominent that same year on Uptown Avondale their farewell to SubPop. Throughout this period they established a reputation as one of the most ferocious, provocative and subtly sexy live bands in these United States and aggressively, successfully defended that rep for the rest of their career as a band. In 1993, the first major label release Gentlemen marked an artistic quantum leap as well as yielding some of their biggest radio successes to date and the ’96 follow-up Black Love is still considered on of their masterpieces, albeit a dark, by fans and critics alike; but Black Love evoked mainly bewilderment at the record company where this music was considered not nearly as radio-friendly as its predecessor’s.
The first Twilight Singers album twilight as played by the twilight singers was begun in 1997, Dulli and his fellow Whigs having gone on hiatus, to cope with the degenerating relations with their label. Having completed the initial recording sessions with a combination of hot New Orleans locals and old friends like Harold Chichester (Howlin’ Maggie), Martin Barrett (Screaming Trees) and others, the project was put on hold as The Afghan Whigs signed with another major, wrote, recorded and released the highly regarded 1965 and toured to support it throughout 1999 – The Afghan Whigs’ glorious swan-song as it transpired. When Dulli turned his attention back to The Twilight Singers, he proceeded to strategically reinvent much of the treatments, traveling to Hull, England to work with Steve Cobby & Dave McSherry a.k.a. dance-maestros, Fila Brazillia (known for visionary acid-jazz remixes for Radiohead, the Orb, Busta Rhymes, and Moloko as well as their own recordings). twilight as played by the twilight singers was released in the Fall of 2000 and Dulli assembled a touring edition of The Twilight Singers that included Chichester on keyboards and vocals and Whigs’ drummer Michael Horrigan on bass to perform across the U.S. to universal critical acclaim.
Moving his base of operations from Seattle back to Los Angeles where he’d lived in the early 90’s, Greg began writing in anticipation of a new Whigs album, but discovered that other members were ready to trade in the footloose lifestyle of touring musicians for hearth, home and family. The group mutually agreed to amicably part ways in 2001 and Dulli devoted himself fulltime to The Twilight Singers, eventually writing almost 30 new songs in preparation for what would become Blackberry Belle.
While working on Blackberry Belle, Dulli also helped out friends’ with their projects. He wrote and sang lead on “Fat City” which appears on Muggs’ (DJ of Cypress Hill) Dust album. Greg also sings on two tracks on Mark Lanegan’s new solo album Bubblegum. Dulli appears on two songs; “Methamphetamine Blues” and “Message to Mine.” Before that, he’d sang lead and co-wrote “Somebody Needs You” on don’t be afraid of love the second album from Big Beat exemplars, Lo Fidelity All-Stars. These collaborations follow in the footsteps of such past notable excursions as standing in for John Lennon in the renegade Beatles biopic Backbeat, singing lead for an ensemble comprising Dave Grohl on drums, REM’s Mike Mills on bass, Thurston Moore and Don Fleming from Gumball on guitars that provided the film’s musical performances.
Greg spent the next year recording in a studio run by a mad German producer, a mere three minutes away from his new home in the Silver Lake district. Five great songs were quickly recorded, which received only a lukewarm response from label bigwigs, prompting Greg to seek and eventually gain his freedom. He decided to proceed as he had before signing this last deal and make the record on his own, not involving labels until the project was complete. So, everything was clear. Then, a close friend died suddenly. Within a few weeks, Greg was feeling very differently about the record he was making. The songs that he had been recording no longer fit with where his head was at.
Greg’s journey from there took him back and forth between Los Angeles and New Orleans, alternately working with the crazed German at home and Mike “King of the Quarter” Napolitano in NOLA. The album was darker now: more rich browns and reds, with Rembrandt-esque light showing just parts of the crime scene. Songs like “The Killer” describing one moment in time and all its varied moral implications; the final question, “Where should we go?” posed to a lover at life — a scene of combat. That same lover reappearing in “Number 9″ (with added vocal by Mark Lanegan), the beautiful classic-Pink Floyd inspired album finale, asking the Devil for one last chance to live. Blackberry Belle is as sad as it is triumphant.
Blackberry Belle makes the listener feel good that they’re falling without hope of a catcher. The record carries with it a pulse of a heart beating beyond adversity, but one that cannot survive without it either. You hear that pulse when you listen to “St. Gregory” or “The Killer.” It is felt in life’s darkest corners. It is the comfortable darkness where Greg Dulli meets inspiration Jack London, who coined the phrase that appears on the album’s artwork “At the instant he knew, he ceased to know.”
Taken from the official Blackberry Belle-era bio