And if the creative process is different, between writing a song or a short story, which is more satisfying to do? Can they be compared? “They’re completely different things – he responds, definitively before admitting, – A song to me, because it holds an emotional crest with the music, is probably a bit more satisfying for me. I can go around at night driving in my car listening to it. Be proud of myself [laughs].
What about influences? Josh Ritter, and subsequent interviewees in Three Monkeys Online have all pointed out the importance of literary figures on their songwriting? Is that something shared by Dulli? “I’ve definitely be influenced by writers. My two favourite writers ever are Byron and London, just for their sheer use of language. For their ability to make me feel something that I didn’t even know that I felt. I think they were both really naturals at finding simple truths and eloquently portraying that on a page. As far as songwriters go, fuck man… Everyone from Robert Johnson to Bob Dylan, to Marvin Gaye and everyone in between and on top of them”.
For someone who obviously devotes plenty of thought to his craft (“I’m a really vicious editor of my own material so no matter how much I write you’ll never get a double album out of me”), it may seem incongruous that he has released so many cover versions during his career, culminating in last year’s superb album She Loves You. In reality he’s telling a story with this as well, albeit with other people’s songs. “I drew those songs up, in that order – he says about his choice of songs – to present a narrative. There was a narrative in those songs, in that order, for me. Again, I can’t be responsible for someone else’s listening experience but for my own I hear a story and its conclusion”. While he’s reticent about leading the listener in any pre-determined direction, he did have this to say about She Loves You, on his website Dulli’s Inferno: “she loves you means she doesn’t love me. this is a tale of longing and of love unrequited. Of lost love. Wasted love. ‘there’s been an accident’ love…. I wanted the songs to flicker with hope and to shine a light on and comfort a lonely heart”.
She Loves You, in common with covers albums from artists like A Perfect Circle or Cat Power (who receives particular praise from Dulli – “fucking fantastic”), shows how a cover version can be an exercise in creativity, and yet in recent years it seems to have been universally denigrated, reduced to the status of a contractual obligation or a cynical easy launch vehicle for the latest glossy pop sensations. Where does an album of cover versions fit in a culture that values authenticity over interpretation? “If you think about interpretation – without interpretation we don’t get Miles Davis, we don’t get Sam Cooke, we don’t get Patsy Cline, we don’t get Billie Holiday, we don’t get Duke Ellington, – he argues passionately. – So if people are going to only validate writers, well, that’s their loss. My view of music is a bit more three dimensional”.
His view of music is three dimensional and ecletic. The songs on the album range from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Lewis Allan’s Strange Fruit through to Bjork’s Hyperballad. Is there a difference in approach when covering a song like Strange Fruit, that’s been done so many times by so many different people, as opposed to a ‘virgin’ song like Hyperballad that no-one has touched? “Well for instance with Black is the colour, – he responds, choosing the penultimate song on the album, – the version that I know by heart is the Nina Simone version. The Patty Waters version on the other hand is fucking terrifying. The pathos that was involved in her version of the song was definitely influential on how I approached the song, but in the end it’s me and whatever instrument I’m pulling it up on. That’s what decides what the song will be like. I really can’t be concerned with what came before me. I can only acknowldege it and then put my own spin on it”.