A Prolific Greg Dulli Gets Down on Cover Songs and PopMatters

PopMatters talks with the irreverent and inimitable Greg Dulli. And this time, there’s no holds barred.

Greg Dulli doesn’t mince words, he calls people on their shit, and he’s unapologetic in both his actions and his history.

But he also succumbs to begging.

Such was the case when he sat down with PopMatters recently, and was badgered mercilessly to throw a bone to those obsessed with his tales of misery, gutted hearts, missteps in love, and the shattered remnants which remain, by touring a few dates on the East Coast this month.

“I wasn’t really planning on playing America, cause I’m knee-deep in this next all originals Twilight record… ahh — you never know.”

Over the course of the next few hours, Dulli was worn down to, “I’m actually going to see my manager now, I’ll tell him I have a special request to come to Philly.”

One week later, the dates were announced; three of them — Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Somehow, fall seems a little bit sweeter when Greg Dulli ushers it in, this year with a covers record, no surprise from someone who with the Afghan Whigs and his current outfit the Twilight Singers has routinely thrown songs from the Supremes to Van Halen into the live set.

“Oh God dude, I could do a quadruple record that would be fucking fascinating, but I wanted to do it quick. The record was done in 11 days — it’s very live-sounding, the bulk of it.”

Released in late August, She Loves You is a blistering 40 minutes of soul, both graveled and suave voiced yearning and head-scratching choices. From Mary J. Blige (“Real Love”) to John Coltrane (“A Love Supreme”), Dulli leaves no style untouched by an absolutely brilliant knack for turning any song into a sad and lonely swagger. “Real Love” fades out to the refrain from the John Lennon gem of the same name, while a cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” incorporates “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, turning an already chilling song into a near creepfest.

“To go out and sing, sometimes a song is just so warped, I can’t go sing it, cause it fucks with my head. In the case of She Loves You, I wanted to go back to the do it fast days, and play it live and not really fret over it. But believe me, it is a badass sonically sounding record, and there’s lots of overdubbing delight. It’s very alive, and that’s what I love about it, that’s what music is supposed to do to you.”

This comes while Dulli has no less than four additional projects in the works.

“I’m hummin’ man, I’m hummin’ — I’m a machine,” he says. “I’m not going to try and get like Prince or Ryan Adams or anything, because inevitably, it will all stop, and I’ll go back to my two, three year, whenever I feel like it kind of thing.”

He says this particular phase of creativity is can be attributed to the death of Ted Demme almost three years ago. A close friend and director of such critical favorites Blow and Beautiful Girls (the second featuring the Afghan Whigs as a bar band), Demme is less known as co-creator of Yo! MTV Raps, which in retrospect played perhaps the most important role in bringing hip-hop to suburban America.

“He brought rap music to white people – o.k.?” Dulli states vigorously, “And that blew rap up into the fucking gazillion dollar industry it is today. From records to fashion to Hype Williams’ five houses. What he did for hip-hop culture is grossly underrated. Besides that, he was going to be one of the all-time greats when he was done — fact. He was always in the game and a hero to me. He worked fucking every day on something.”

“I think when he died, his constant searching for inspiration or applying said inspiration to a piece of work, was so inspirational to me, that not in any conscious way, I’m determined to pick up that torch and make the most of the time I have. I’m kind of surfing a really good wave right now, and when you get on the wave, you ride it until it’s done riding you.”

First up is the next “proper” Twilight Singers record, which Dulli is comparing to the Afghan Whigs’ masterpiece Gentlemen, a record that ironically enough, was preceded by a covers record.

“I think I needed to do Uptown Avondale to get to Gentlemen, what I’m going for now, I need the car tuned up, lubed up, and ready to drive a long fucking fast distance.”

If She Loves You is a warm-up — it’s scary envisioning what’s coming next. Six songs have been tracked already, a title picked, and a December 1st deadline set for completion.

“The one I’m working on now is the most ambitious record I’ve ever tried to do, in terms of sound, and content and the particular tale I’m weaving this time around,” he begins. “It is fucking frightening. It’s called Period Rush. I actually read this book called Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War and this guy meets these Civil War re-enactors who describe a feeling called “period rush” in which they immerse themselves in another time and culture, and they get high off of it. I’m very fond of minding the past, and I’m basically going to start in the ’70s and work my way back to the ’30s. It’s all original material, but I’ll put it to you this way, I’ve got a veritable music library in my home — and I’m studying for finals.”

Dulli has just returned from Europe, where he finished producing a record by the Italian band After Hours. The Gutter Twins, a side project with Mark Lanegan (whose voice can be heard all over She Loves You), and two proposed covers follow-ups; She Loves Me and She Loves Me Not, the latter of which Dulli says “Will plumb the depths of depravity that even I’ve never checked out. It’s scheduled to be a posthumous release. I do that record the way I want to do it — it’ll kill me.”

Add that to a DVD from the last Twilight Singers tour, for which Dulli, “Can’t tell you much, cause it’s kind of a surprise. It’s got a kind of whenever release date…I like to keep things kind of loosey-goosey,” and the imminent release of the much talked about, shrouded in mystery Amber Headlights; a record recorded in full just after the Afghan Whigs broke up.

Amber Headlights is gonna come out,” Dulli promises. “I think I’m probably just going to put it on my site, and sell it to the people who actually want it, instead of going through some sort of major ordeal. It’s a fucking cool record. Some of it was songs I had written for the Whigs to play and we never did, but they’re done a bit mournfully in this case.”

The dissolution of the Whigs is a point of contention for both fans and critics alike, as they were seen as beyond simple genre categorization, and though lauded by the music press, never got their just due. Still, Dulli stands firm in that chapter of his legacy being closed.

“I look back with great fondness and feel enormously lucky to have played in a band for 15 years with two of the finest human beings [guitarist Rick McCollum and bassist John Curley] I’ve ever met and who still continue to enrich my life,” he says.

But a full-blown reunion anytime soon?

“I really kind of doubt it. It would probably happen on the spur of the moment, you’d probably have to be there when it happened. We’d all have to be in the same town, and that town would inevitably be Cincinnati. Going out and playing a nostalgia show? I don’t know man. I played those songs thousands of times and I love ’em, and I still play a couple to this day. Doin’ a whole show of that? My stomach is startin’ to clench up.”

While the death of the Afghan Whigs may have been seen as premature to some, in typical Dulli fashion, there was material released under the guise of the Twilight Singers as recently as last year.

“Actually, “Son of the Morning Star” from the Black is the Color EP is a Whigs song — and that’s the Whigs playing it too. That’s me Rick, John, and Michael (Horrigan). I snuck it on there. Everybody is un-credited, “Produced by Yin and Yang,” that’s me and Curley. So anybody who bought that and liked the Whigs were playing a Whigs demo all along.”

It’s that kind of devil-may-care, “I’ll do what pleases me” attitude that has leaves poison dripping from some writer’s pens. Take for instance a live review in the Chicago Tribune last year where critic Greg Kot chastised Dulli for bantering too much between songs during the first leg of the Blackberry Belle tour. He went as far as calling the singer a “self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing jerk”.

“I’ve been all three of those things,” Dulli responds. “Greg Kot is entitled to his opinion. I noticed Greg Kot didn’t leave, so again, I’m not responsible for his masochistic tendencies. Come on man, a guy like that is going to either say you reinvented peanut butter or say you’re a self-indulgent jerk. There’s a lot of two-speed journalism; praise or destroy. I got no gripe with that guy — I’ve had worse said about me. What you learn early on is you’re not as bad as they said you were, you’re not as good as they said you were. I know when I’m good, I know when I talk too much, I know everything. Come on — it cost 12 dollars — suck it up.”

He’s a bit less forgiving towards PopMatters’ very own Rob Horning, who reviewed a show a few months after the Kot piece ran.

PopMatters wrote a pretty scathing Brooklyn review — scathing! And fuck dude, I’m 39 years old — I’ve heard it all. Soon as they start to get personal, I remove myself from the situation. I don’t know them. That guy was personal. It was fucking personal, and when you get like that, I’m probably just going to shrug my shoulders. Because the Warsaw show we played? Fantastic show. I’ve played bad shows, and I’ll cop to them, but my percentage of bad shows is very low.”

“Here’s what happened; I gave you Dulli the first round, and I gave you Twilight the second round. So any kind of criticism evened out. I talked, and talked and talked the first round as I’m wont to do, and the next time around, I didn’t talk at all — and everybody was bummed out. So I’m like “what do you want?!” To me, I’m like, if you don’t like it — then leave. You pretty much know what you’re going to get when you go to see me. I didn’t twist nobody’s arm. I didn’t plunk down your credit card. I didn’t reach in your pocket. And I didn’t stand there when you were bumming out over a particularly witty and insightful monologue by moi. So bust out your own violins and have a pity party with yourself.”

There’s no denying the charisma of Dulli, nor the power of the Twilight Singers’ live show, and the two combined may not reinvent peanut butter, but they are combustible, resulting in what will no doubt be a highlight among year-end tours. It’ll be a long, interesting, unpredictable night of dry humor passed to the audience, emphasizing some of the best songs — and covers this decade has seen. With all of the work ahead of him, chances are Dulli won’t be listening back on any of the shows after the trek, but part of him is thinking about it.

“I’d like to listen to a nice four-hour concert with Greg Kot sometime. Twist-up a couple of bones, fire it up, and then break down my performance. “So what do you think Greg? Think I should’ve just moved on instead of talking about Addison Street hotties or something?”