It’s difficult deciding what to ask Greg Dulli. Difficult because of the span of work he’s produced, people he’s played with, and even projects he’s currently working on. For example, ignoring his long career as front man for the Afghan Whigs, last year alone he released the third Twilight Singers album, She Loves You, toured extensively with them, played keyboards on tour for the Mark Lanegan Band, recorded tunes with Lanegan for their long awaited “gutter twins” record, and took time out to produce the latest album by one of Italy’s most interesting prospects Afterhours. As we speak he’s in Milan, having temporarily joined Afterhours as a guitarist for their current Italian tour. Where do you start?
To call him promiscuous wouldn’t be off the mark, musically speaking at least. Indeed, he puts it in those terms when I ask if, having worked on so many collaborative projects, he’d be tempted back into a full-time band situation. “It’s like I was married for 15 years, and now I’m single and get to fool around, – he laughs, – and yet still get to have substantial relationships but without the commitment factor that would probably tighten me up!”. In fact he has a basic band chosen for his next Twilight Singers record, an album of original material this time round, which he’s already started to record.
“I sort of have settled on a band, – he explains, – having been in a band for that length of time, my desire to get back into a band situation, I can say was not as high as most people’s. You have to kind of weed through. I’m not 20 years old anymore, growing up with somebody, going drinking with them every week, so I have to kind of check people out, and the best way for me to do that is in the recording studio”.
There’s the distinct impression talking to Dulli that the She Loves You album of covers, as inspired as it was, has been a preparatory work. A way to get both himself, and the musicians he chooses to work with in shape for the next round of original material. It’s not unprecedented in his career. Prior to the recording of 1993’s album Gentlemen, the Afghan Whigs recorded and released an e.p of covers Uptown Avondale. “I think the best way for me to clear my decks is to play other people’s stuff and to get into something, – he agrees, – When I’m listening to someone elses music and playing along, I’m usually playing something that’s foreign to me. So it’s a great way to prepare myself. As I prepare this next record it’s become kind of obvious to me that the reason that I did do the covers record was to do this”.
In a Pop Matters interviewDulli suggested his next album would be called “Period Rush”, referring to a history-induced high which would be outlined by referential nods to music from the ’70s back to the ’30s. This, it would seem, has already changed. “Now I have a song called Period Rush rather than an album. The album is now going to be called Powder Burns. It’s a multi-entendre, and I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions”, he laughs with a throaty chuckle. He won’t be drawn on the subject matter, reasonably suggesting “Whatever I would tell you would only spoil it for you. I can’t ever tell anyone what my songs are about because once I let them go they’re not mine anymore”.
He does let us know that it’s eyed for a January 2006 release. At the same time he gives an interesting insight into his creative process, when I ask him what type of songwriter he is: “I’m a narrative songwriter, – he responds, – I think it’s because I have written short stories and scripts, and I have to follow some sort of linear path, at least for myself. I write songs for me and only when I get them into some sort of presentable shape do I ever consider playing them for somebody else. I’m constantly looking for bookends. The first song and the last song, because then it becomes a lot easier to drop crumbs on the trail as it were”. And so, for this next album he’s found at least one of those bookends: “I don’t have the final song, but I do have the first song. That one is actually a little more important to me, because of the two bookends the first one unlocks what I’m going for. Now that box is unlocked”.
Unlocking the narrative thread is something that comes naturally to Dulli. He admits, though, that there’s a different process, and a different motivation between writing songs and short stories. Much of the Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers music has been tagged dark, both in its subject matter and musical tones. Does that in turn suggest the music comes from a dark mood? Or, to put it another way, can you write a song when you’re happy? “I’ve written,” he starts, then pauses to think, before continuing “maybe one album when I was happy and that was the final Whigs record [1965 – released in 1998]. That has probably the happiest songs I’ll ever write. I probably shouldn’t say that, but what the hell. When I’m happy I’m not drawn to play. I’ll sit and jam with somebody when I’m happy, but writing a song almost never. It’s a cathartic thing”. Short stories are a different thing though: “I can definitely do that when I’m happy but they almost never turn out happy, – he laughs, -, so I don’t know what that says about me!”