Interviewed for FasterLouder
“Sometimes I forget that I was in another band,” says Greg Dulli, discussing the legacy of his years as the frontman for The Afghan Whigs.
The band released a string of albums through the 90s that earned Dulli a reputation as a dark and complex character. The Ohio band successfully melded rock, soul and R’n’B at a time when grunge was king and since their breakup in 2001 Dulli has continued to explore the shadows of the soul in various guises.
A man who thrives on collaboration, Dulli’s focus of the last few years has been The Gutter Twins with fellow prince of darkness Mark Lanegan. Like his partner, Lanegan has built a post Screaming Trees career as a singer for hire, following his muse through Queens Of The Stone Age, Isobel Campbell, The Twilight Singers and his own solo records. With their drama soaked voices both men gravitate towards angst and heartache so working together seemed a logical step.
Dulli rates Lanegan’s voice as one of the best when he states with conviction, “Aside from being my friend and collaborator he truly is one of my favourite singers that I’ve ever heard.” The attraction to work together seems to be a mutual one built on respect for each others voices. “When I heard his first solo record I was like “my god”, I can’t really compare him to anyone,” says Dulli. “I can tell you as someone who has learned to sing with Mark over the years, his phrasing is utterly unique and unto himself. Its almost like learning algebra. The song will bend to Mark and thats to the songs benefit.”
After releasing their debut album Saturnalia in 2008 The Gutter Twins toured as a full band, exploring their blues and soul inflected rock at full volume. Then came phase two in January with USA and European tour dubbed ‘”An Evening With Greg Dulli & Mark Lanegan”’. Now expanded to Australia and South America, the idea was to strip away the musical layers from a variety of songs from both of their back catalogs, leaving just the duo’s voices to carry the performance.
Originally the idea was to tour the whole band but logistically the stripped down show proved to be more practical. “The full band costs a lot of money. Being asked to do this tour mean it makes more sense to do it acoustically. Plus we would have to re-rehearse the whole thing,” explains Dulli. The two singers are joined by an additional guitarist and Dulli is keen to point out the enjoyment he gets from the format. “I love playing this show, the interplay between me and Mark and Dave Rosser, I’ve never really had that in any other form so I’m totally looking forward to it.”
For the first time the Twins will also be looking back to their former bands and breathing new life into some of their favourite songs. “I’m playing a couple of Whigs songs in this show we are doing and I really hadn’t done any Whig songs in ten years so its been fun to revisit them – in a new way. People sure do like them,” Dulli says.
Rather than just singing their own songs Dulli and Lanegan mix up their roles to give the audience a different perspective. “We’re both singing all the songs, whether as the lead singer or harmony singer or a straight up duet. One of us pipes up at some point during the other one’s songs. It’s cool, I sing a couple of lines from his songs and he sings a couple of lines from my songs too, so its cool,” he enthuses.
Reinterpreting other people’s songs has always been a big part of Dulli’s live shows where he has been inspired to tackle everything from Prince to old soul classics to Fat Freddy’s Drop. “I heard them on KCRW and I was in a parking garage and they didn’t back announce the song so I got out my cellphone and had to walk outside the garage and call the radio station and was like “What’s that last song you played?” and by the time I got outside it was three songs ago so I ended up having to hum it to them. They finally told me two songs and I went and found both songs and one of them was Fat Freddy’s Drop,” he recalls.
Recently the tables have been turned with the imminent release of Summer’s Kiss, A Tribute To The Afghan Whigs featuring the likes of Lanegan and Joseph Arthur. Dulli is flattered by the tribute and is looking forward to hearing the different versions though one key song is missing. “I used to say I wished Whitney Houston would cover one of mine just to make some money,” he jokes.
Dulli is currently recording the next Twilight Singers album and is taking time out from that for the upcoming tour. Though it interrupts that project, there is still some continuity as both his travel mates are involved with the new record. “Rosser is in the Twilight Singers so we can work on things in hotel rooms, it’ll be good. Mark is singing on the Twilight record as well.”
As for future plans, Dulli is confident that the Gutter Twins will reappear at some point. “I’m certain we’ll do another Gutter Twins record someday, there’s no reason why we won’t. I’ve been lucky to be able to do things when I want to do them and that worked for me, I’m not going to fuck with the situation.” That luxury of freedom to create seems to sit well with Dulli as he seems content with the present as well as the music of his past. Don’t go expecting happy songs any time soon though, Dulli still kind of likes the view from the gutter.