Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs on combining the Jackson 5 with Twin Peaks
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In Set List, we talk to veteran musicians about some of their most famous songs, learning about their lives and careers, and maybe hearing a good backstage anecdote or two in the process.
The artist: Greg Dulli first joined forces with bassist John Curley and guitarist Rick McCollum in 1986 to form The Afghan Whigs, but it wasn’t until the band signed to Sub Pop Records in 1989 that its star truly began to rise. The combination of a fanbase built on years of steady touring and, yes, the success of Nirvana helped Afghan Whigs make the jump to a major label (Elektra) in 1993. Although the band members mutually agreed to call it quits in the wake of their 1998 album, 1965, with Dulli turning what had originally been a side project—The Twilight Singers—into a new full-time gig, Afghan Whigs announced in December 2011 that they had booked a pair of reunion shows for 2012. Over the course of the next several months, not only did those two shows turn into a full tour, but the band also entered the studio to record a few new tracks.
“See And Don’t See” / “LoveCrimes” (2012 singles)
Greg Dulli: I had been DJing for the past 10 years or so, and Marie “Queenie” Lyons’ “See And Don’t See” was a song I played in DJ sets almost every time—it’s a bangin’ song—but I would occasionally kind of focus in on the words, sort of like I did with those Supremes songs years ago, thinking, “Man, these words are kind of desperate and lonely, and they’re surrounded by this funky song. I might have to strip this one down someday.” And then when I started to strip it down, I was like, “Man, this song is a burner!” I love her version, but whenever I cover a song, my criteria is that I have to wish that I wrote it, and then I have act like I did. [Laughs.] That song in particular was… for years I was trying to do it, and sometimes it doesn’t come to me right away. Like, it took me 20 years to figure out how to cover “Black Is the Color Of My True Love’s Hair.” When I finally unlocked that one, I was like, “Oh, yeah!”
“LoveCrimes,” on the other hand, came to me immediately. I had played around with that one maybe a week after I heard it, so it was, like, a year ago. When I was looking to have something to play with the guys—we jam covers all the time, we always have since we got together—I remembered that one and showed it to them in May, and we had it down in half an hour. So that one was very, very natural. And “See And Don’t See,” for that matter, was very natural, too.
The A.V. Club: What was the ultimate impetus for the Afghan Whigs reunion?
GD: I did a solo tour a couple of years ago, and I was doing songs from my life. And when we got to Cincinnati, John [Curley] got up and played with us, which had happened over the years. But then he got in the car with us and went up to Chicago, and that was the first time we played outside of Cincinnati in 10 years. And it was really fun. Then I went off to Europe, but I had to come back and finish the tour on the West Coast, so I called him from Europe and said, “Hey, do you want to come do the West Coast?” And he said, “Yes.” We did however-many shows on the West Coast—six, I think—and really had a great time, so… I’m gonna say that was probably the first move in the direction of doing this.
Then the second move was probably Barry Hogan asking us to fill in for Guided By Voices at the ATP [All Tomorrow’s Parties] thing they were having, and then he subsequently asked me to curate the one that was going to be done in Asbury Park, which is now moved to New York City. So we agreed to two shows, one in May and one in September, and… I mean, I’m not gonna rehearse for two shows five months apart, so I was like, “Let’s go play some shows!” So two shows turned into 16 and now I’m talking to you. [Laughs.]
AVC: Not that you’ve been resting on your laurels, but do you feel particularly re-energized now that you’re back fronting the band?
GD: Yeah, I mean, honestly, I have never not been energized. [Laughs.] I’m kind of continually re-energizing. But I am enjoying myself in this situation. I’ve had a lovely summer.
“Psychedelic Shack” (1986, unreleased)
GD: “Psychedelic Shack” was one of the first three songs we ever played as Afghan Whigs. I’m trying to remember, but I’m pretty sure they were “Psychedelic Shack,” “One Day,” by The Church, and “The Rover” by Led Zeppelin. [Pause.] Yeah, I’m pretty sure those were the first three songs that we played in John Curley’s apartment. But “Psychedelic Shack,” that’s just a jam, you know? That era of The Temptations, the really stomping kind of numbers, just kind of fit the rock-band thing. We passed the vocals around a little bit, and that’s when I knew that I would be the singer of Afghan Whigs, because those other dudes…? Wow. [Laughs.] But it ended up being kind of a staple of our live show early on. We played that and a lot of those Norman Whitfield songs. We did “Ball Of Confusion” later on, and we did “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” later on. The Norman Whitfield era of Temptations is kind of my favorite era.
“Here Comes Jesus” (from 1988’s Big Top Halloween)
GD: I could not even tell you how that goes. [Laughs.] I absolutely have no recollection of that song. I know that there is a song called that, and I know that it’s on Big Top Halloween, but I swear to God, someone would have to tell me how it went. I don’t know the words, I couldn’t even tell you the first line. I have zero recall of that one.
“But Listen” (from 1988’s Big Top Halloween)
AVC: Does anything about Big Top Halloween stand out for you?
GD: Uh… no. [Laughs.] No, that’s not true. There’s this crazy lounge song on Big Top Halloween that someone played for me a couple of years ago called “But Listen.” I’m pretty sure it was done under the influence of something, most likely a psychedelic. And it’s insane. But I can barely tell you that. That’s the one song I vaguely remember liking from that album. But “Here Comes Jesus,” I have no idea how that one goes. [Laughs.]
“Retarded” (from 1990’s Up In It)
GD: Rick McCollum played me a jangly version of those chords that sort of reminded me of The Smiths. He was kind of into The Smiths for a little while. And nothing against The Smiths, but I just didn’t want to hear that at that particular time. But I liked the fingering that he had, so I put the stabs in it and did the staccato riff, and then I was off to the races, probably charting out my favorite themes of the day, Satan and alienation. [Laughs.] So that’s “Retarded.” There’s some reference to the word “hassa” in there, and if you see Scarface, a hassa is “a pig that don’t fly straight.” So Satan, alienation, and repeated viewings of Scarface: That’s what “Retarded” is about.
“White Trash Party” (from 1990’s Up In It)
GD: “White Trash Party” is too fast. When I listen to some of those songs, I’m like, “What the fuck, man?” It’s just so fast. It’s so fast I can’t even listen to it.
AVC: Says the man who recorded a song called “Amphetamines And Coffee.”
GD: Yeah, but that’s a cover song.
AVC: Right, but still, just the subject matter alone… Of course the songs are going to be fast.
GD: That one is positively leisurely compared to “White Trash Party.” [Laughs.] “White Trash Party,” if I tried to play that right now, I don’t know if I could get my wrist going that fast. I mean, what the hell? There’s just a couple of songs where I’m like, “What’s the hurry, boys?” That is insane. That one and “Southpaw” are both good songs played way too fast. I don’t know if we were trying to get somewhere or if somebody had to go to the bathroom or what was going on there. But “White Trash Party” is just too damned fast. I can’t get with that one anymore.
AVC: Well, at least now we know why it’s no longer on the set list.
GD: Yeah. There you go. But Up In It has begun to rear its head. We’re playing a couple off of Up In It now. We’re playing “You My Flower,” and we’re playing “Son Of The South.” But not “White Trash Party.” [Laughs.]
“Sister Brother” (1990 single)
GD: Yeah, I don’t know what was going on there. But, man, you’re going deep! [Laughs.]
“My World Is Empty Without You” (1990 single)
GD: I loved doing that one, and I loved it because I could smoke two cigarettes during the performance of that song. [Laughs.] I basically ripped the bass line from “Maneater” by Hall And Oates, and it allowed me to extemporize. It allowed me to basically just stand there and smoke and talk and do all those things that I was so fond of doing back then. Things which I guarantee you that, as an audience member, I would find incredibly annoying today.
AVC: So in a sense, it was kind of the Afghan Whigs equivalent of what “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is for DJs.
GD: That reminds me of something: Back in the ’80s, we used to try and get on bigger shows as openers, and we got the opening gig for Iron Butterfly. And then word got out that, for our opening slot, we were going to play “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” We had a 20-minute slot, and we were just going to come out and play a 20-minute version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” So we got booted off the bill. Which was probably best, because we would’ve done it, too. [Laughs.]
“Conjure Me” (from 1992’s Congregation)
GD: I got the lyric written for me, basically. I overheard a conversation where the girl was saying it to a guy. I want to say it was at a bus stop, maybe? But I just thought, “Wow, that is really mean. I’m gonna have to remember that.” [Laughs.] I was working on a song, and I remembered that phrase, and it fit perfectly into what I was doing. So all props to some unknown mean girl at a bus stop in Los Angeles in the early ’90s.
“Turn On The Water” (from 1992’s Congregation)
GD: I remember we were in one of our 20 breakup phases, and I was living in Chicago and working on a solo record. And then I started to talk to John Curley again, who was like, “Hey, come down, let’s see if we can’t try to play something.” So I would drive down to Cincinnati.
John had this bass line, and he played it for me in his car, and I was writing the song in my mind while we were still in his car. By the time we got to the rehearsal place, I knew exactly what to do. So that song kind of wrote itself. It’s one of my favorites and one of my favorites to play in the early days. We’ve played it a couple of times on this tour. We’ll probably have to give it a couple more airings. But I have very fond memories of “Turn On The Water.” Again, another song where I would smoke at least two cigarettes. We’d stretch that motherfucker out to 10 minutes sometimes. [Laughs.]
“Come See About Me” (from 1992’s Uptown Avondale EP)
GD: One of my favorite Supremes songs ever, and one of my favorite covers that we ever did as a band. We’ve played that one a couple of times on this tour. I think that Holland-Dozier-Holland did lonely and heartbreak as well as anyone in three minutes or less, and that song has no fat on it. It’s just a perfectly written song, lean and mean, and taken to a minor key and adding some distortion, it fit in perfectly with what we were doing and became a song I look forward to playing every night.
AVC: The Uptown Avondale EP was Afghan Whigs’ last release on Sub Pop. How did the jump to Elektra come about?
GD: Probably because of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” [Laughs.] That would be the obvious answer. The first time I heard that song, I was like, “Oh, my God…” I’m no genius, but I was pretty sure that was a game-changer. And the major labels, everybody wanted a piece of that action. We had developed a pretty good audience by that time, and Congregation had done pretty well. We toured a lot—I think we did something like 250 shows on the Congregation tour—and there were, like, 20 labels after us. We were actually beginning to write what would become Gentlemen during that tour and started to whip out some of those songs about halfway through. That was probably as road-tested as we ever were, so I think we wanted to try something new and see what would happen. We were ready to become something. The Congregation and Uptown Avondale into Gentlemen evolution was really a bang-bang-bang time in our development. We did all of that in two years. We were kind of on fire during that particular time. It was pretty much a cauldron of creativity.
“Debonair” (from 1993’s Gentlemen)
GD: The best way I can describe it is that it’s “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 mixed with the chords from the opening theme of Twin Peaks. That is what “Debonair” is. [Laughs.] That’s how I wrote that song, and that’s really the best way I can describe it, if word association is what you’re looking for.
“What Jail Is Like” (from 1993’s Gentlemen)
GD: I remember where I wrote that song. It was the Congregation tour, we were in San Sebastian, Spain, at a club called Xxixxaro [pronounced chih-car-roh]. And that’s when I learned about the Basque language, in which two X’s means the “ch” sound. There was a wedge. One side of the audience was in one room and one side of the audience was in another room, and as the singer, I had to sing to both. It was one of the most bizarre rooms I’ve ever played in. But during sound check, I got there early, and I kind of wrote and arranged what would become “What Jail Is Like” onstage before the band got there. I was the first one there, which is very rare. In fact, it may be the only time it’s ever happened. [Laughs.] So I sketched out the song that night, then I wrote the words the next day in Bordeaux, and the song was being played two days later in Paris. It was one of those super-fast songs that happens sometimes. I mean, sometimes they happen fast, but “What Jail Is Like” happened really fast.
“Mr. Superlove” (from 1993’s What Jail Is Like EP)
GD: “Mr. Superlove” is an Ass Ponys song from the wonderful, twisted mind of Chuck Cleaver, who is just an amazing songwriter. But in wanting to reinvent the song, I lifted the hook from “Listen To What The Man Said,” by Paul McCartney and Wings, and added a banjo to it. Why? I don’t know. But it works. And the piano break, I don’t know where that comes from. The song kind of falls apart in a spectacular fashion at the end, but the front half of it, at least, is an exciting time.
The Backbeat Band, “Please Mr. Postman” (from 1994’s Backbeat soundtrack)
Foo Fighters, “X-Static” (from 1995’s Foo Fighters)
GD: When I got asked to do that record, it was, I think, five or six of us in a room at Ocean Way, and we just started plowing through the songs, man. Literally, I think the idea was for them to sound like they were in a bar in the ’60s and played fast and loud. And there was not a lot of do-over. I think we made that record in two days.
AVC: Were you pretty well familiar with all of the tracks you were recording?
GD: I knew most of them, yeah. It’s hard to explain, but I remember when I sang “Please Mr. Postman,” it almost seemed like it was a destiny type thing. This is gonna sound strange, but the version of the song I remembered most from my childhood was the Carpenters’ version, and I remember thinking when I heard that song as a kid, “This song’s gonna pop up again someday.” And all of a sudden, there it was.
GD: I knew Dave Grohl. He was the only one that I knew personally.
AVC: Is that how you ended up playing on Foo Fighters’ “X-Static”?
GD: Maybe I already had? I can’t remember.
AVC: Well, their debut came out after the soundtrack.
GD: Oh, okay, then I’m sure I hadn’t done it yet. But I knew Dave already. I had met him when Nirvana was recording Nevermind, I think. I actually just saw Thurston a couple of weeks ago. In Norway, of all places. And I hadn’t seen him in 15 years, so it was great to see him.
“Be For Real” / “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe” (from 1996’s Beautiful Girls soundtrack)
GD: I was working close with my friend Ted Demme, who was the director of Beautiful Girls, and he asked if we would play the bar scene. He loved Barry White and basically issued to challenge to me to do a Barry White song. I remember when we first tried to do it, I think he said, “Don’t make it too dark.” And I’m like, “Well, okay…” And so we tried to play it straight, and it sounded like the theme to The Love Boat. So we ditched that idea, and I’m, like, “I’ve got to darken this up a bit, pal.” [Laughs.] But he liked it.
And then he asked for a heartbreak tune, too, because I think there was probably a heartbreak arc going on in the film at that time. I can’t remember. But, anyway, “Be For Real” is a Frederick Knight song, and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful song. I remember it from when I had this record called East Memphis Music: The Hits. I listened to a lot of soul music when I was a teenager. There were a couple of my friends in my neighborhood, and through them I got into the deeper Al Green stuff, like Livin’ For You, and stuff like that. And then someone had this East Memphis Music record, which was like an overview of songs from back then, songs that were both hits and not hits, and that was a crucial part of my musical formation. Frederick Knight’s best-known song is, I think, “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long,” but “Be For Real” is just a devastating heartbreaker of a song. Leonard Cohen does a beautiful version of it, too.
“Honky’s Ladder” (from 1996’s Black Love)
GD: You know what? I’ve scarcely thought about “Honky’s Ladder.” We’re not playing it. It’s punchy, it’s got good use of the word “motherfucker,” but I think I remember feeling like it was too long, and I just sort of ended up not playing it. I don’t know that we’re going to play that one on this tour. We’ve certainly been asked, but I don’t feel any kind of strong desire to play it.
AVC: And yet it was the first single from Black Love.
AVC: Did it just age poorly for you?
GD: I think maybe the taste got kicked out of my mouth by that whole experience, you know? The Black Love time at Elektra was black, indeed. That was not my choice of a single, and it just got kind of rammed down my throat. I wrote the song, I’m not disowning the song, but I just wouldn’t have gone that way. Perhaps it’s a reaction to that. I don’t know.
AVC: So what went wrong between Gentlemen and Black Love?
GD: Well, nothing went wrong with me. [Laughs.] But Bob Krasnow left, the head of Elektra, and we just had internal issues at the record company. I mean, boo-hoo, these are first-world problems that are certainly not really problems. But it was problematic at the time, and it kind of made me sad. It was just a ship without a rudder. The people in charge over there I had absolutely no respect for. It’s hard to tour a record as it is, but if you’ve got people that you not only don’t like… I mean, I don’t have to like you as long as I respect you, but if I have no respect for you, then we are all fucked.
“Crime Scene Part One” (from 1996’s Black Love)
AVC: Is there any particular track from Black Love that you consider to be the record’s definitive song?
GD: I think there’s a bunch. We’re playing a bunch of them in the show. The entire ending suite—“Bulletproof,” “Summer’s Kiss,” and “Faded” are all crucial parts of the Whigs, and we’ve been opening almost every show with “Crime Scene.”
“Crime Scene” is about somebody I knew who found herself in kind of an interminable position in life, and she kind of set about tidying things up before she went on her own way. I think I was speaking for her in the song. Or imagining what she was thinking before she did what she did. Also, my friend Nicholas [Klein] had written this screenplay for this movie called Million Dollar Hotel, which they made, but I feel like it was a butchered version of what he wrote. So I think it was a combination of my friend’s death and Nicholas’s script that were the inspirations for “Crime Scene.” That’s a song I feel deeply to this very day. And probably always will.
“Creep” (from 1996’s Bonnie & Clyde EP)
GD: Great song. It just started out as a concert thing, but concert things, you take liberties with them, and we decided that we liked it so much that we decided to lay it down. We had to get right with it, so to speak. But I loved the clav. The clavinet in it was nice, and I really like what Rick plays in the song. That song was a fun ride. Certainly a product of its time, but I know we got the thumbs-up from Dallas Austin, who wrote the song, and that was a thrill.
Denis Leary, “Love Barge” (from 1997’s Lock ‘N Load)
AVC: You’ve got lots of musical credits on Denis Leary’s Lock ’N Load album. Were you on the single, “Love Barge”?
GD: I am not on “Love Barge.” But I am on Lock ‘N Load, and I did co-write a song called “Insane Cowboy (In Africa)” with the great Jeff Garlin. I play guitar and sing backup on it, and Jeff Garlin is the lead singer. It’s a phenomenal piece of music. [Laughs.]
AVC: How did you cross paths with Leary?
GD: He was friends with Ted Demme. And Ted was one of my best friends. Ted directed No Cure For Cancer and all of Denis’ “Angry Smoking Guy” MTV commercials. I remember we met in a bar one night, and then when I was in the movie Monument Ave., that’s when I got to know all those guys, Denis and all his bros, when we shot in Boston. I’ve known Denis for about 15 years. He’s one of my favorite people on the planet.
“Somethin’ Hot” (from 1998’s 1965)
GD: I actually was doing the first Twilight Singers album, the electronic record, and in the middle of doing that, I came up with this riff, which may or may not be a little like “Best Of My Love” by the Emotions. I’m not saying it didn’t sway me a little bit. And for that matter, “To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn as well. Which are both kind of similar, the kind of stop-start thing. I had never written punchy pop songs before that were more about lascivious come-ons that the deep, personal pain that I was feeling inside. [Laughs.] “Somethin’ Hot” is like a line of cocaine. It’s a blast. Okay, so maybe now it’s a double espresso, but at the time, it was definitely a line of cocaine.
“Uptown Again” (from 1998’s 1965)
GD: A-minor/G/F has produced many great songs, amongst them “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” “Angie,” by the Stones, “Driver’s Seat,” by Sniff ‘N’ The Tears. “Uptown Again” is probably my attempt to join those lofty ranks. [Laughs.]
AVC: 1965 remains the most recent Afghan Whigs studio album to date. Why did you guys decide to disband?
GD: We did the tour, and we sort of got bigger and bigger. Sometimes we had horns, we had backup singers, and it became kind of a revue. I think we had lived a lot of life and been together and been on that record/tour Habitrail for a large part. It was sort of all we did.
I think it was guys going in different directions at that time. We got back together a year or so after that tour and worked on some stuff (“I’m A Soldier” and “Magazine”), and it just wasn’t happening. So we went our separate ways. But never in any kind of anger. It was just a mutual decision.
GD: I heard Skip Spence when I was probably 18. I worked in a record store, and the guy who ran the record store was kind of a hippie, and he turned me on to Moby Grape and Skip Spence. And he also turned me on to a record that I love to this day: the David Crosby solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name. The guy’s name was Jeff—I’m blanking on his last name, which is terrible—and I was a punk rocker by then, but he sort of humanized the Grateful Dead a little bit for me, too. I remember listening to “Brokedown Palace” and kind of getting it. So I’ll give Jeff credit for turning me onto some cool stuff that was perhaps slightly crunchy for me at the time. [Laughs.]
Lo-Fidelity Allstars, “Somebody Needs You” (from 2002’s Don’t Be Afraid Of Love)
GD: Lo-Fidelity Allstars opened for us in New York when we started the 1965 tour, and I think by then they had already remixed the “Battleflag” song with Pigeonhed, and I just really liked their sound. I actually saw Phil Ward, the head Lo-Fi, something like five months ago.
They were making an album and asked me to sing on it, they sent me a track, and I crooned over it. And I believe that song is featured in a sex scene in Sex And The City. It was Charlotte having sex with her lawyer, who I think is the guy who plays Runkle on Californication [Evan Handler]. “Somethin’ Hot” was used in a sex scene in Six Feet Under. It’s when the gay brother comes out in a strip joint in Vegas and gets ditched by all the homophobic undertakers, and I think he goes into the Las Vegas Weekly back pages and finds a consort to bang in the parking garage, where he gets busted by the cops. We’re always good for the sex scenes… gay or straight! [Laughs.]
The Twilight Singers, “The Twilite Kid” (from 2000’s Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers)
GD: One of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written, honestly. I think it was deeply autobiographical at the time. I definitely probably felt a little lost, and that song was probably me attempting to comfort myself. Which has happened through the years, but that one was a particularly poignant time in my life, and I can tell you, whenever I’ve played that song, as recently as a year ago, I still feel it pretty hard.
AVC: Was it weird for you to go the route of The Twilight Singers instead of the Whigs?
GD: No, you know, because at first it was a side project. I was just into checking out these other sounds, and those were sounds that the other guys weren’t really super interested in checking out, and I needed another outlet. And then when the Whigs disintegrated, it was the phoenix for me, rising up. Every band I’ve ever been in has met something to me, including my high-school band. It’s all just parts of and stages in your life.
The Twilight Singers, “Teenage Wristband” (from 2003’s Blackberry Belle)
GD: I wrote it in New Orleans during a particularly wild time in my life. I had been working on another record, and then my friend Ted died and I kind of had to rethink where I was. But I had already written “Teenage Wristband,” and Ted loved “Teenage Wristband,” so that was the one song that I carried over. Well, there might’ve been one or two, but I knew he loved that one, so I put it on Blackberry Belle, and it’s really the only one I’m remembering that survived after he moved on. As for the song itself, it’s “Take The Money And Run,” you know? Get in the car with a girl and ride off into the night. That’s really the long and short of it, I think. “Born To Run” for the 2000s. [Laughs.]
The Twilight Singers, “Too Tough To Die” (from 2004’s She Loves You)
GD: “Too Tough To Die” was written by Martina Topley-Bird, and, if I had to pick, of all the songs I’ve covered in my life, if that’s not my favorite one, it’s in the top three. I think the words are phenomenal, I think the groove is hypnotic… just really a very sensual, sexual song. For a song I didn’t write, I identified with it in every way. One of my favorite songs, ever. Her version and my version.
Greg Dulli, “Domani” (from 2004’s Amber Headlights)
GD: I’m trying to remember that one. [Long pause.] I remember it being kind of a cross between Hall And Oates and My Bloody Valentine. That’s about the best way I can sum that one up. We played it for a long time on that first tour, and I remember always wishing I had a third guitar to really crush that chorus live. Because there’s, like, six or seven guitars on that song. Whenever you had a room that can take the bomb drop, it was good. The verses are very kind of “She’s Gone”-ish. I’m probably putting myself up for all kinds of infringement suits with all my admissions in this interview. [Laughs.] But I don’t really care.
The Twilight Singers, “Forty Dollars” (from 2006’s Powder Burns)
GD: [Takes a deep breath.] Well, they say that you don’t need drugs to write great songs, but in that case… I don’t know if you can write “Forty Dollars” without being on drugs. With all due respect to Marc Bolan, I’ll put those lyrics against any T. Rex song that’s ever surfaced. [Laughs.] The words are insane. And really fun to sing. And my continued fascination with “She Loves You” continues unabated on that song. I don’t know where it’ll pop up next, but there’s something of a magnet in that hook, that’s all I know.
The Gutter Twins, “God’s Children” (from 2008’s Saturnalia)
GD: “God’s Children” started out as an extra, because I hadn’t written a song in a little while, and sometimes I will write a song just to prove that I can. That one was confounding me. I could not find out how to unlock it, and so I got really frustrated and started playing it on electric guitar, and that’s when I came up with that kind of military-drop in the middle of the song. When I came up with that bit, it unlocked the song for me. And I will say that, along with “Twilite Kid,” “God’s Children” is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written.
AVC: Are we likely to see another Gutter Twins album at some point?
GD: I think so, yeah. We’re both kind of busy right now, but Mark [Lanegan] is my neighbor and one of my best friends of all time, so I would be surprised if we didn’t. I can’t say when, though. We sort of put the cart before the horse by talking about it way back then, and we’ve had to answer for it for four years. [Laughs.] But I think we will. We had such a great time doing it and we enjoyed each other’s company and writing together and everything about it, so I would imagine we will. As long as we’re both on this particular plane, I don’t see any reason why there would not be another Gutter Twins record. And I think we can even make a better one than we did before, honestly.
The Twilight Singers, “When Doves Cry” (from 2009’s Purplish Rain)
AVC: Exactly how big are your balls?
GD: Church bells, sir. [Laughs.] That, and it was Apollonia who asked me to do the song. So that enabled me to go for it. I’d done versions of it onstage, but to do that one… She sang right next to me. She also sings on “Teenage Wristband,” by the way, and there’s a hidden message in that song that she… oh, it’s not even hidden. If you go to that song, you’ll hear it. She references “Purple Rain” in “Teenage Wristband.”
Purple Rain was a turning point in my life in a lot of ways, and that I’ve become friends with her and we’ve sung together has been a childhood thrill. To be a kid from Hamilton, Ohio who saw Purple Rain like five times the week it came out… whenever I’m hanging out with her, I’ll just look over at her and think, “That’s Apollonia!” [Laughs.] Even though I call her Patty now.
AVC: Because you can.
GD: Because I can. And also because that’s her real name: Patty Kotero.
The Twilight Singers, “On The Corner” (from 2011’s Dynamite Steps)
GD: I’ve got to put “On The Corner” up there with “Twilite Kid” and “God’s Children.” Another favorite song of mine. “On The Corner” has everything I like about rock ’n’ roll in it: It’s fun to sing, it’s got the killer wah solo, it shifts gears halfway through, it’s completely abstract. What am I talking about? I don’t even know. But I love it. I wondered what was coming up as the song from Dynamite Steps, and I’m really glad it was that one, because I still have a really huge crush on “On The Corner.” And I hope I always do.
AVC: So now you’re back with Afghan Whigs. Have you guys discussed anything yet beyond the tour, or are you just taking it as it comes for the time being and seeing how things pan out?
GD: We’re going to see. I’m going to Hawaii after the tour, that’s my plan. [Laughs.] I’m not thinking too far ahead. I’m just trying to stay in the moment, and I’m kind of enjoying it. But we’ve thrown out a couple of things during the shows that, if the fans are paying attention, they may realize that they’re hearing something that they haven’t heard before, something that we’re kind of forming right in front of them. That’s the best and most vague answer about the future that I can give you. [Laughs.]