What follows is an interview I did with Greg Dulli of the seminal US soul/grunge act The Afghan Whigs ahead of their show in Dublin on February 2, 2015. This article was published in The Irish Sun on January 30, 2015, and on themuse.ie in mid-February.
By PATRICK FAGAN
GREG Dulli is bringing a “monster” six-piece Afghan Whigs to Ireland on Monday.
But asked if the beast inside himself is calmer than in his volatile 20s and 30s, he laughs: “I fucking hope so.”
The Whigs’ final Irish show before their 2001 split threatened to explode into violence when a punter heckled the Ohio-born frontman.
The offensive comment, delivered during a short re-tuning break in a storming set at Dublin’s Mean Fiddler in 1999, wasn’t memorable…unlike his target’s response.
Dulli told his inebriated detractor he’d take his “girlfriend backstage and fuck her” if he didn’t shut up. Almost sixteen years later, the Cincinnati man is a much more contrite and reflective man.
Bristling at the memory, he says: “I’m telling you man, on that tour, it sounds like somebody who’s on a bunch of drugs…
“I’ll put it to you this way, if someone heckled me, and that was the best I could come up with now, I would be sad.”
Five years later, Greg was back in Dublin playing with his new band, The Twilight Singers, and had already mellowed significantly.
The best of the hi-jinks in Whelan’s that night involved him trying to slip his hotel key into a girl’s back pocket…from the stage. It seemed leaving the Whigs had made life more bearable.
He explains: “How can I say this, I had anger issues in my early days, and I self medicated, and I was not shy about sharing my pain in whatever way…sometimes in a poignant way, sometimes in an absolutely inelegant way that served no-one.
“So, those are things you learn about. Time goes on and, hopefully, you mature somewhat so you can actually be taken around in public without lashing out.”
However, some of this anger – and a fair bit of love and heartache – did fuel one of the mid-Nineties’ hidden musical gems, the Whigs’ third release, and first on a major, Gentlemen.
The album was sandwiched between another two, Congregation and Black Love, that shared the theme of desperate longing and loss.
Dulli says: “Love is a part of many people’s continuing journey. Gentlemen and Black Love, Congregation before that, those three records were written during stormy times in my life.
“I was chronicling what was happening to me in real-time. When those things happen or don’t happen, you can’t predict them. I’m certainly not going to write about something that I’m not feeling or experiencing.
“Most likely, those things will never happen again, and they exist in that time. In a lot of ways I can go back through my records and they’re like photographs…I can remember the me that existed in that time.
“Certainly, Gentlemen, in particular, was a crazy time in my life. But I still enjoy singing those songs today, so there’s a peacefulness in that too.”
Following the Whigs’ break-up, Dulli toured and recorded five albums with the Twilight Singers, and one album with former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan, under the name The Gutter Twins.
Then, in 2012, the old band reunited for a string of shows that garnered rave reviews. The expanded Whigs line-up featured original bassist John Curley and lead guitarist Rick McCollum, the latter of whom fell out of the picture before the recording of their stomping 2014 comeback album, Do To The Beast.
Dulli smiles as he admits he relishes playing as a six-piece – minus Rick, far left of the photo above.
He says: “I love it, it’s a monster of a band. There’s many gears to the band, it’s got a great dynamic. It switches gears with ease. All of the players are monstrously talented.”
But asked if there is any way back for Rick, Dulli gets suddenly solemn.
He says: “I miss playing with a version of Rick that existed a long time ago. Honestly, I missed playing with that guy on the reunion tour in 2012, because he was not there either.
“That’s really all I gotta say about it. Rick is not who he used to be, and I don’t think we’ll ever see that person again.”
Dulli lights up again, however, when talking about the upcoming tour, which kicks off in Dublin’s Academy on Monday night.
“I am so looking forward to it. We rehearsed last week and it sounds amazing, and I’m so excited to play.”
And there’s still plenty of that cheeky swagger about him, even if the anger is gone.
It’s put to him that former Red House Painters singer, and current Sun Kil Moon man, Mark Kozelek has been bemoaning the fact there’s no “hot chicks” but plenty of “guys in anoraks” at his own shows nowadays.
Dulli laughs again: “I love Mark Kozelek, he’s great. Women (still) show up (at our shows), that’s all I know. Although, years ago, the Gutter Twins were playing in Belfast, and I looked out there, and I was like, ‘Where are the chicks?’
“That was the only night I remember thinking, there won’t be a line at the ladies’ room tonight. But we do all right with the ladies.”
The Afghan Whigs play The Academy in Dublin this coming Monday, February 2. Their comeback album, Do To The Beast, and 21st anniversary version of Gentlemen are both out now.
Below are Spotify links to tracks from 1996’s Congregation album and, 18 years later, Do To The Beast. (Rather annoyingly, Spotify seems to have been asked to remove Gentlemen while its 21st anniversary version is in the shops.)
The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast