FOREWORD: Capable Cincinnati singer-guitarist, Greg Dulli, slowly gained prominence, first as the leader of the Afghan Whigs, then under the pseudonymous Twilight Singers banner, and finally, as wily collaborator in the Gutter Twins. Getting back to the Whigs – I’m still curious to find their formative ’88 debut, Big Top Halloween (pictured below). ’00s Up In It and ’02s Congregation easily sufficed. And ‘93s Gentlemen, released in the heat of grunge’s populist surge, found a wider international audience due to its snippy title track. ‘96s Black Love found Dulli displaying a seedier soul side with no loss in musical quality. ‘98s well-received 1965 hearkened back to the British Invasion with genuine nostalgic enthusiasm.
Before the Whigs disbanded, Dulli moonlighted as the Twilight Singers.
Under this moniker, he kept quite active, recording ‘03s superb Blackberry Belle, ‘04s covers LP, She Loves You, and ‘06s consistently pleasurable Powder Burns. On top of that, he has been involved in one fantastic collaboration with former Screaming Trees front man, Mark Lanegan, releasing ‘08s remarkably cohesive Saturnalia.
I caught up with the good-natured Dulli at Bowery Ballroom in 2000, when he was touring as the Twilight Singers for magical debut, Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers. He was only too glad to cook up some herb at the club’s basement level as High Times’ cameraman took pix. I had fun joining him. He had a cool, calm demeanor and was seemingly game for anything. This article originally appeared in High Times.
“I’ve always liked High Times,” claims Afghan Whigs/ Twilight Singers frontman, Greg Dulli. “They’re a big fuck-you to the establishment.”
A native of Cincinnati and now a resident of Los Angeles, Dulli grew up listening to his parents’ Motown, Stax, and Philadelphia soul records.
“When I was a kid, I sold marijuana,” he reveals, “but didn’t smoke it. Don’t get high on your own supply. I bought a car with the money.”
While majoring in history and film at the University of Cincinnati, Dulli decided to play drums in a few local bands. So at the height of the grunge explosion, he assembled the Afghan Whigs, a highly respected underground band that skirted typical indie rock fare for a more soulful, lyrically expressive style.
“When we were signed to Sup Pop around 1990, we knew we were never going to be Mudhoney or Nirvana,” Dulli recalls. “We weren’t from Seattle. We were from Cincinnati, where a lot of funk bands started. Bootsy Collins came from there. And the Ohio Players, Zapp, and Lakeside are from just up the road.”
During the recording of the Afghan Whigs celebratory 1965 album in ’98, Dulli also wrote what he describes as “a down-tempo mood piece to rock yourself to sleep to.” At the same time, he was temporarily living in New Orleans’ French Quarter with only a bicycle for transportation. The result, Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers, is a lovelorn, despair-ridden record enhanced by the electronica/ acid Jazz-remix duo Fila Brazilia. Two of Dulli’s long time friends, Shawn Smith of Pigeonhead and Harold Chichester of Howlin’ Maggie, provide background harmonies throughout.
A warm, hypnotic aphrodisiac, Twilight compares favorably to Van Morrison’s symphonic epic, Astral Weeks, and Roxy Music’s lush Avalon. Though most of Twilight’s moody reflections depict the loneliness and sorrow Dulli felt after a courtship painfully concluded, the softly flowing acoustic ballad, “Clyde,” finds him seeking bohemian solace as he coos ‘baby doll, why you leavin’?/ come upstairs and get high with me/ the time is nigh for us to fly.’
“Twilight is my version of New Orleans,” Dulli observes. “I’d already used a big brass section, boogie woogie piano and steel drums on 1965. Twilight’s more inspired by the ancient atmosphere of literary New Orleans rather than its musical one.”
Though the Crescent City may be the birthplace of marijuana-smoking in America, it’s still a long way from Amsterdam.
Dulli declares, “To me, it’s a fucking joke that you can’t smoke pot freely in America. Look no further than Holland. They have one of the lowest crime rates in the world and prostitution is legal. They’re legally allowed to grow marijuana. And it’s a harmonious society.”
As he continues to puff on a joint, he continues. “The tobacco and alcohol industries lobby against it. They don’t want anyone impeding their turf. I’ve never seen any one get into a fight who was stoned. But you see a lot of drunk people start fights. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather smoke a joint than drink a beer.”
Dulli usually refrains from getting stoned during the day.
“I want to make sure I have a productive day,” he says. “If I have to meet people for business, I don’t want to get too stoned. I don’t want to get distracted and concentrate on something else. The sun has to be down.”
However, he does make a few concessions.
“If I have a day off, I’ll wake and bake, especially if I’m on the beach,” Dulli admits. “I play in a six-foot-and-under basketball league. We all smoke a joint before we play. I’m an outside shooter. We went eight and two last year.”