Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Searching for the Bookends – The Twilight Singers’ Greg Dulli in interview

In fact it is with one of the never before covered songs that Dulli thinks he learned the most, changing his impression of the song through the process of playing and recording it: “I think it was probably Hyperballad more than any of the others. I actually feel like I uncovered what I thought Bjork was talking about. That song was always kind of abstract for me, and I think I found her meaning in it by recording it. Whether it is actually hers or not, it’s what I think it is about”.

Not only has the album been lauded by everyone from Mojo through to Playboy, but the versions of the songs have also received praise from their original authors, for example both Bjork and Martina Topley-Bird loved Hyperballad and Too tough to die respectively. Then again, when he was in the Afghan Whigs they got praise from Barry White and Mick Jones for their covers of Can’t get enough of your love and Lost in the Supermarket. He’s modest about it, but you can tell that he’s enormously proud of the complimentary reception his versions have received: “It’s an homage, and when the writer him or her self appreciates what’s been done, you really can’t worry about what anybody else says, can ya?”

For an artist who is both a) a lyricist and b) a fan with eclectic taste, what has it been like touring and working in Italy, listening to Italian music? “I’ve always been kind of a nomad. I’ve lived in a whole load of places. It shakes me out of a comfort zone that I get in to whenever I’m in one place too long. It makes me look at life in a different way. So I definitely listen to Italian bands – sometimes they’re very good, and sometimes, like in any country, they’re shit. The Afterhours, and Manuel [Manuel Agnelli – main songwriter in Afterhours and sometime keyboard player in the Twilight Singers] in particular are very inspirational. He’s a very centred, present person, and kind of a shy person, but when he goes on stage he’s a fucking animal. I think helping someone explore their muse as thoroughly as he does, and they do, is emminently inspirational to me”.

But what of the language problem? Can you get the full effect of the music without understanding the lyrics? “I think so! – he answers, convinced. – The record I’m listening to right now, more than anything is Lágrimas Negras, and it’s by Bebo and Cigalla. Bebo is an 85 year old Cuban piano player. Cigalla is a 35 year old Spanish singer. I’ve no idea what exactly they’re singing. I can look at the titles of the songs and get an idea. The title of the album is Black Tears. It’s so unnecessary for me to understand the lyrics, because I can understand by the timbre of his voice what he’s feeling, and what I’m supposed to feel. I’ve always been a phonetic singer and writer, you know. The vowel sounds alone are worth the price of admission [laughs]”.

But, not to press a point, while there are obvious rythmic properties to a good lyric, there is also a narrative effect, particularly with songwriters like Dulli. If you’ve written a lyric that has meaning, doesn’t it require that you understand the words? He’s adamant about the power of rythm and mood: “For me I write the music first always, then I create a melody based on phonetics. Once that is set, I can sit and fit words in to the sounds that I’ve made with my mouth. Believe me, writing lyrics is very important to me, and when I begin it takes a lot, but the actual melody itself, you almost always have to trust your first instinct”. And, judging on the pedigree of his work, who are we to argue.

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