Q&A: Greg Dulli On The Legacy Of The Twilight Singers

It’s funny how time changes things. When Greg Dulli’s Afghan Whigs first broke up in 2001 the band’s hardcore fans were understandably disappointed. So though fans welcomed his next project, The Twilight Singers, when it started as a side project in 2000, there was some skepticism as there always is when audiences are forced to accept change.

The Twilight Singers did quickly become a hit, thanks to some of the best work of Dulli’s career. But the rotating band always felt a bit overshadowed by the massive specter of The Whigs, whose legacy only grew in what would be an 11-year absence before they reunited in 2011 and toured in 2012.

Since then The Whigs have been a fully active band releasing new music consistently and touring. So with Whigs fans satiated, of course now fans are revisiting and developing a new appreciation for The Twilight Singers. So the timing is perfect for a complete TS retrospective, the very impressive 13-piece vinyl collection, Black Out The Windows/Ladies and Gentlemen, The Twilight Singers, out tomorrow (November 10). The release is being ushered in with a new video for “Number Nine.”

I spoke with Dulli at length about what The Twilight Singers meant and means to him today, the friendships he built during those years, memories of that time and much, much more.

Steve Baltin: I go back to the very first interview we did in 1994 when I jokingly asked you if you were a big Jack Kerouac fan ’cause you were never in one place for more than a month at a time.

Greg Dulli: What did I say?

Baltin: I don’t remember the exact comment, but you definitely made a little sarcastic response to that effect. Is that still the case or have you settled down some now?

Dulli: Dude, I’m as settled as I’ve ever been, but I still travel quite a bit. I did whatever tour that was last year. I was trying to figure out how many gigs I’ve played and I think it’s gotta be close to 2000. But I don’t really go to New Orleans as much as I used to, although I’m going next month. And so yeah, I’m in Southern California and I work out in Joshua Tree. And I visit my family in southern Ohio and unless I tour or do a holiday, that’s where I’m at now. I’ve lived in this house for 22. I moved in right after 9/11, so that was 2001. I’ve lived in this house for 22 years. Longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.

Baltin: Do you feel like you’re in a place where you could appreciate and look back on The Twilight Singers a little more now?

Dulli: I haven’t toured the Twilight Singers last album and tour was 12 years ago. And then right on the back end of that show, that’s when we decided to get the Whigs back together. So it was a big chunk of my life. Blackberry Belle turns 20 on Saturday.I don’t usually go into things, but I wrote something up for it about all the people that I met. Really Blackberry Belle was like me starting my life over. I went back to Europe with the Twilight Singers. I had not been to Europe since ’99, and I went in 2004. So yeah, it had been five years since I toured Europe. And I used to go to Europe all the time with the Whigs. And then, as soon as I started going, I started going all the time again, and I’ve never stopped. Also, played Australia and played New Zealand for the first time in the Twilight Singers. It afforded opportunities, and I was also able to configure the band however I wanted. So, I’m the only person who was in all the Twilight Singers albums and shows. But that’s always how I conceived it in the first place. Steve, I don’t know if I ever told you like how I got the idea for the Twilight Singers, but it was really based on the Golden Palominos. So I remember hearing about Golden Palominos and I had never heard of Anton Fier, and he was the conceptualist of the band. And it was him and a rotating cast that he could reinvent every time. Obviously he had different singers. He had Jack Bruce, he had Syd Straw, he had Michael Stipe. I think I’m pretty sure, like Marc Ribot, Arto Lindsay played with him. He had the cream of the crop, musicians and singers, and that was super attractive to me. And once the version one of the Twilight Singers, which was me, Harold and Sean, flamed out, I had a blank page, and that’s when I really got going. And that enabled me to have, all the people on Blackberry. Petra Haden, Apollonia, my buddy Steve, and of course [Mark] Lanegan, which he was actually going to be in the Blackberry Belle band, and then he got the Queens job.

Baltin: Albums are a snapshot in time. So when you look at Blackberry or some of the other stuff from this, and you see these relationships, I’m sure it triggers a lot of memories.

Dulli: For sure. I look at Michael Sullivan, who is really the main bass player on Blackberry Belle, Scott Ford, who joined the band. Scott plays on two songs. So Michael Sullivan plays on all the other songs. Michael Sullivan is dead. Dave Rosser is dead. Mark Lanegan is dead. So those memories are triggered. Those are my friends and they’re not here anymore. So, those are the things that when I listen to them, I’m like, “Wow, the energy is there infinitely, but the body is gone.” That’s what time does, it gives and takes. And so I look back at all the people I played with, and that came through the band, and I have the greatest memories. Obviously not everything is peaches and cream all the time, but the Twilight Singers, I created my second act, and made it succeed. So I have a great affection for the project. I have great pride in the project, and I have countless, friendships and relationships that I still have to this day from The Twilight Singers. Purpose say I have to speak.

Baltin: When you go back to the Whigs and you’re able to incorporate things of the Whigs that you got from Twilight Singers do you have a much greater appreciation for what that era meant?

Dulli: It allowed me to continue writing and performing music, which has been my favorite thing to do since I was a teenager. And I can honestly say it remains my favorite thing to do. I just got back from Joshua Tree, working on a new record. Steve, I love having a blank page and then looking at the picture at the end of the day. It’s still the most exciting thing for me, is to create something that was not there when you woke up and is just bouncing through your head for days after that. It’s still one of the most exciting and magical experiences that I get to have and that I interact with. So The Twilight Singers, just the sheer amount of people that I met through it, and the friendships that I made and still have, and I still tap into that talent pool whenever I need to. It’s a gift, and it continues to give to me. I love every Twilight Singer’s record. The first one doesn’t sound like the rest of them, because it was a side project and I was trying new sounds, share the songwriting with two other people. And then, when I returned to it with Blackberry Belle, it became more of, “Okay, I have to build the house.” But I had lots of people come in and help me. And going forward, She Loves You came right after that. Powder Burns after my living in Italy for a year and playing with After Hours, who were very like electric rock band. That’s why Powder Burns started getting heavier. That’s when the Whigs influence started to come back into the band. And then there was the Gutter Twins, in between Powder Burns and Dynamite Steps. So, that’s a decade of my life, man, and I’m enormously proud of the material. It’s why when I do the solo shows, it’s heavy on Twilight Singers, because I love those songs so much, and always will. There’s a couple songs that we’ve played in the Whigs, notably “Teenage Wristband” and “The Killer.” And those were requests from my band mates, which was super cool.

Baltin: Are there songs that really stood out to you?

Dulli: Whenever anybody asks me what my favorite song that I’ve written is, the one that always pops into my mind is “Martin Eden,” which is the first song on Blackberry Belle. And it started out as an accident, basically like the engineer asking me to get a piano sound. So sitting at the piano, I’m gonna overdub on another song, and I played the opening, “da da da da da,” out of nowhere, just like, that’s what I tested. That’s what I gave the engineer to test the sound with. And then he said, “What was that?” And I go, “I don’t know.” And he goes, “Well, you should investigate that one.” And I can’t even remember what song we were working on, but we went full tilt into “Martin Eden” at that point. And there’s something about “Martin Eden.” I had just read the book. I related to it in many ways. I related to Elliot Smith and his passing, I was friends with Elliot and if you’ve never read Martin Eden or don’t know the story, you don’t have to be a detective to draw the line from that story to Elliot. And so that’s the song that I always say. I love the melody. I love the words. It’s frozen in time for me, and I have written so many songs that I love and continue, but there is something about that song. That’s the one I always bring up.

Baltin: Will there be opportunity to do a Twilight Singers one-off tour?

Dulli: We talked about it, and for me, it would’ve been the last version of the band. And for different reasons, a couple of the guys were unable to do it for they have jobs. And their employers were like, “No, you may not have a five week rock and roll vacation.” And you gotta respect that. I have a band. So I wasn’t gonna go build a new band to go do this. I’ll just do it by myself. When I do another solo tour, I’ll sing those songs again. That’s the way I look at that. It was talked about. We all wanted to do it. We just couldn’t make it happen. And for reasons of purity, I really wanted it to be The Dynamite Steps band and obviously Dave Rosser was not going to be able to do it, but Christopher Thorn was going to step in for him. And Christopher obviously plays with the Whigs now. He was a friend of Rossers, and a big fan of the Twilight Singers. That would’ve been great. It just Scott and Wiz were unable to do it, and I wasn’t gonna do it without them. [But] if I showed you what the set list, the songs we were working on for the solo tour back in 2020, it was songs from all the Twilight Singers records as well as the solo record. And you were going to get that, obviously. COVID had other ideas and that was that, but you’ll hear ’em again. You’ll hear ’em again as they were intended to be heard.

Baltin: When people hear this set, what do you want them to take from it?

Dulli: I could not be more proud of every single record that’s in it. I don’t put out records unless I love them, and that’s why I love all of them. But the Twilight material is super strong. And I would hope that people would be like, “Wow, this band was f**king great. And they made some great albums, some great performances, and this is really fun to listen to.” There’s a comprehensive book of photographs and essays and credits and credits and memories and it looks beautiful. It’s a special thing. It really is an art project and one in which I’m as proud of as anything I’ve ever done.

Baltin: Are there one or two artists that are the template for how you’ve been able to evolve your career and how you want it to keep evolving?

Dulli: The way you said that, the one who comes to mind and the one that I step back and go, “Wow, you really did it on your terms,” is Nick Cave. He’s continued to push himself. He’s continued to do new things, whether it’s his Red Hand Diaries or his movies. Who saw Nick Cave headlining arenas? Nick Cave did. And then he went and made it happen. So that’s the guy I’m gonna say. As a fan of his, I’m beyond happy for his success, and that he did it on his own terms. And man, he’s had some tough breaks along the way, but always answers the bell. So I’m gonna go with Nick Cave.

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