As one of the enfant terribles of the nineties alternative scene, Greg Dulli fronted the Cincinnati born Afghan Whigs with a seductive mix of soulful, rough-around-the-edges vocals and provocative lyrics to create a soundtrack for tortured relationships 'round the world. Aided by an MTV Buzz Bin video for the title track, the 1993 breakthrough album "Gentlemen" delved deep into the darkest parts of a crumbling union with Dulli painting a stark portrait of what goes on in the minds of men (as in "Be Sweet" where Dulli lets any prospective love interests know that he's got a "dick for a brain" thats "going to sell [his] ass to you").
After two more stellar albums—the noir masterpiece "Black Love" and the R&B soaked "1965" (not to mention a savage beating that Dulli took outside a club in Austin, Texas after disagreement with the bouncers)—the Whigs took a 13 year hiatus from the road before reuniting this year for a dates at the upcoming ATP Festival here in NYC as well as Lollapalooza and their own US Tour this fall. Last week, Dulli jumped on a call with us to chat about baseball, film, The Who and their recent cover of Frank Ocean's "Love Crimes."
I know you're in the process of putting together everything for ATP coming up. Can you talk for a couple minutes about the process of curating the shows? I mean, really I just made a list, a very long list, and then handed it to Barry Hogan [founder of ATP festival], and Barry kind of did the grunt work. I make calls to the people that I knew personally, and everything else went through him. I mean that's kind of his stock and trade. So it's very much a collaborative situation between Barry, his wife, and myself.
Gotcha. Speaking of ATP, I know Frank Ocean is performing. Have you got any feedback about his feelings on the cover you guys were doing, “Love Crimes”? I met him, and he likes it. I met him after his show in Chicago and we had a short discussion.
One last thing about ATP — who wins in a game one-on-one between you and Mark Lanegan? You know, we’ve never played. I don’t know what he’s got. He seems very confident that it’s him. I'm not so confident that it’s him. I think we both think we can win.
Well he’s gonna try and take you down to the block and you’re gonna try to keep him outside, right? I think Mark has some pretty good outside shots, from what he says. But you know, he’s got a few inches on me, and down below he’s most likely kind of a bear. Honestly, I like to stay outside anyway.
I know that you’re a Cincinnati native. I’m a big baseball fan myself, albeit from Cleveland. I’m watching the Reds, man. How would you like to see a Reds-Yankees World Series this year? It’s not gonna be the Yankees, dude.
I'm hoping. My sense of schadenfreude hopes they fall apart, but from a local's perspective here in New York, I’d like to see that series. I would love to see Reds-anybody in the World Series. Reds-A's would be fantastic.
That'd be a nice throwback series. There’s all kinds. You could have throwback series with Reds-Orioles, Reds-Yankees, Reds-A's, just off the top of my head. I'm a Tigers fan, also. That'd be exciting, to watch [the Reds] play them. But I don’t see a clear-cut, absolute winner like I have in the past. The parity in
baseball’s pretty good. We’ll see what happens. We need to get Joey Votto back the lineup also.
Absolutely. I think everybody agrees it's gonna be nice not to see the Red Sox and the Yankees if neither of them make the playoffs this year. That'd be kinda nice. The Red Sox and the Yankees?
Both not being in the playoffs. The Yankees will most likely make the playoffs. They got Arod back and we’ll see what he can do. I’m not putting the Yankees out of the playoffs yet, I’m just not putting them in the World Series.
Speaking of New York, when you're in town, can you tell me just a couple of things that you like to do when you’re stomping around here in the city? I go visit my friends. I've got friends in Union Square, I've got friends in Brooklyn. I go shopping. I check out restaurants. I just walk—I love walking around all over the place. It’s a favorite town of mine. Fall is beautiful. I always go see the Yankees when I’m in town, or I see the Knicks if it’s basketball season. So those are mostly the things I do. Or museums, of course. But for this Fall, I’m definitely going to the Yankee game the day I get in. Then we’ll see what happens after that.
Now turn to this reunion, which was really just mana from heaven for fans like myself. What was the first rehearsal like, when you guys first got together and sat down? What was the first song you guys played when you got back together, and what was it like? The first song we played together was "Little Darlin" by Thin Lizzy. And we played it well. It’s a good song. We fool around and play covers all the time, before we get down to original songs. We always have done that. But we rehearsed two times back last Novemeber, and I’ve said this before, but we kind of played a gig after the second rehearsal.
That’s what I heard. I was at the show at the Bowery, and you guys were tight. It was a real treat for me. The first time I saw you guys was in 1998 at the Fillmore, living in San Francisco at the time. The pre-party, the pre-show festivities got away from us and we showed up later in the set, and you were just in the middle of a tremendous cover of “Beast of Burden” from the Stones, and you were telling people not to hate on the Haight, and you had a bow around your neck—it was great. With that in mind, are there cover songs that people are always requesting you guys to do that you’ll never perform? My thing is not really working anymore. We kind of do what we want. There’s all kinds of covers we’ve done. People are like, “Please play ‘The Temple,’” and I’m like, “Well, I don’t know that we’re gonna play that one. But I never say never. So you never know what’s gonna happen. I’m looking forward to this next round, it’ll be fun.
Absolutely. In terms of your songs, what’s in your catalogue? Pretty much every morning when I’m in the gym, I start off every day with maximum-volume “Summer’s Kiss,” and I know personally I’ve always wondered about the genesis of that songs. I’m wondering if you could talk about that really briefly. [Deep breath] Man, that’s a long time ago. I actually don’t know what to say there. I could imagine that—I can’t even imagine. How I wrote that song, I cannot even remember. I’m sure I wrote it on an acoustic guitar; that would be my guess. And probably realizing that I had a Quadrophenia-style song happening, I switched to electric guitar, and probably windmilled it a few times. But that song is, to me, an homage to The Who.
Yeah, it’s pretty evident. But that’s looking backwards. In terms of looking forward, can we expect any new, original material in 2013? I don’t know. I’m staying in the moment. I’m always writing songs, always. I’m going into the studio today. So I’ll figure that out when the time comes.
One thing, in terms of checking you out on this tour, it looks like you really kicked it into a gear in terms of your health. Can you talk a little bit about redefining yourself; what kind of workout regimen you were up to? No.
Gotcha. [laughs] I’ll talk about music.
What about film? I know that you were a student, a filmmaker before The Whigs. I’ve always been curious about what some of your all-time favorites have been in terms of film, or what films you’ve been seeing now that you’ve been enjoying? You know what, there’s really not been a lot of films lately that I’ve seen or have wanted to see. I think the current state of cinema is really not—there’s nothing I’ve really wanted—I’m trying to remember the last movie I saw that I liked, and I'm straining to think of that. I'm sure it's a foreign film of some kind. It's sort of like whenever somebody asks me what I’m listening to, unless I’m sitting in front of my iTunes or something like that, my mind goes blank. But I certainly listen to more music than I watch films, and I’ve certainly watched television more than I’ve watched movies, because movies really aren’t that great these days. I’m looking forward to a few coming up, but it’s kinda a grim cinema world.
Are there you can point out in particular that you’re looking forward to coming up? I wanna see The Master. Seven Psychopaths looks good. And I’m looking forward to Jericho at
Absolutely. From now until way back in the days, is there one band that you would’ve liked to have seen played live but didn’t get a chance to check out? In my life? The Beatles. Off the top of my head: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the pre-plane crash version. The Clash, Fela Kuti.
For the ATP shows coming up, can we expect any special guests coming out? No, but why would I blow a surprise if I had one?
[Laughs] Touche, sir. You’re absolutely right. Listen, I wanted to keep it short and sweet and just get a chance to chat a little about music and about, of course, the Reds. I really appreciate you jumping on the phone with me and chatting, and I’m looking forward to checking you guys out at Terminal 5 as well as ATP this year. I can't wait to get there, man. Having a great time, really been enjoying it, and always love touring during playoff season. So it's my pleasure.
And I do have to say that if you guys do play one song, I’m looking forward to “Citi Soleil” is the one song that I didn’t hear at the Bowery that I know you guys would just blow it off. That, or "John the Baptist" would just be amazing. We’ve played them both on this tour so you never know.
I have friends that have been catching your shows around the country and I have vicariously, we’ve been talking about the shows afterwards, and every time they’ve played both of those, I’ve been a bit jealous. But the Bowery show was amazing, man. The next day I was tweeting about and talking to everybody about it. My wife was a little annoyed—she was like, really? But she wasn’t there, so she didn’t get a chance to soak it up, so she was a bit jealous. So thank you, thank you for years and years. I know my obsequious part is coming out and I try to hold it in check! Josh, you know what man, I will never get sick of hearing that somebody likes what I do. It’s very nice to hear and I appreciate your enthusiasm, believe me. Whenever somebody tells me something nice, I like it. So I really appreciate your being so forthcoming, and that’s really great to hear. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
No problem at all, man. Well listen, I’ll see you from down in the crowd in a couple weeks, alright? Yeah. You’ll get one of those two, I almost guarantee it.