GREG DULLI – Interview

Foto-© Maciek Jasik

Bei den Afghan Whigs ist es mucksmäuschenstill. Die seit der Grunge-Ära bekannte Band ruht nach zwei Alben wieder, aber Greg Dulli ist deshalb nicht untätig. Der Frontmann macht unter eigenem Namen weiter und geht nicht den gewohnten Gang.

Natürlich ist da die von Soul, Gospel und Blues befeuerte Stimme und die aus Noise-Rock kommende Wucht. Aber Dulli ändert die Richtung schon mal, auf dem letzten Whigs-Werk In Spades schon durch Streich- und Blasinstrumente. Jetzt kommen weitere Arbeitsgeräte hinzu und er bezieht für dieses Zeitalter typische technische Hilfsmittel in den Prozess mit ein. Das Ergebnis ist das erste richtige, von Anfang bis Ende so geplante Soloalbum Random Desire (bei Amber Headlights aus dem Jahr 2005 handelt es sich um ein abgebrochenes Projekt, das vor Blackberry Belle von The Twilight Singers, Dullis anderer Band, entstand).

Der Sänger aus Ohio gehört nicht zu berechenbaren Persönlichkeiten, er kann schon mal ein Vulkan sein, so wie auf der Bühne. Dieses Mal, kurz vor Weihnachten, ist er in massiv gebender Stimmung. Das mag auch daran liegen, dass ihn nach dem Gespräch die Aussicht auf den späteren Gang in den Apple-Store am Berliner Ku‘damm erfreut. Dulli reizt das Neue immer wieder, die Liste der im Gespräch vorkommenden Internetradio-Stationen sagt einiges über seinen Entdeckerdrang. Listen and enjoy!

Your solo album is a surprise, in many ways. It isn‘t a conventional rock record, you are pointing to other directions. Are you trying to be more experimental?
I definitely look around for other sounds. I listen to a lot of European radio and shazam the hell out of it to help me find new things that I like. There‘s this great French station called Fip, they play literally everything. There‘s also a great Cantonese opera station in Shanghai I listen to as well. I love instrumental music, an enormous amount of the playlist that I make have no vocals on them whatsoever. I often don‘t like to listen to words, I just like listening to music.

Wow! Does this mean that there is an instrumental album on the cards?
I‘m definitely going to do that. It‘s something I always wanted to do, if not next definitely soon, because I have all these great players around me that I can put together. I know string players and horn players, I know dulcimer players, now I know a harpist who appears on Slow Pan, the last song on the new record. I‘m picking up little things along the way. The instrumentation on this reocrd is a little more all over the place. There are tubular bells for the first time, a vibraphone for the third album in a row, there‘s a four-horn-section in Lockless. The horn sounds at the beginning of that song are me on a mellotron. We needed drums, so I beatboxed the beat. These kind of little freedoms freed me up from guitar, piano or more conventional instruments, it was a nice liberation to have. It wasn‘t that I studied or did it on purpose, I was ready when the accident happened. I was ready to capitalize and run with it. You know, here‘s a situation presenting itself, what are you going to do? Well, I‘m going to jump into the water and start to swim.

The album title Random Desire appears in the song Lockless too.
I had it for a while, I once had it called Random Selection, that is something that focus groups do…like a Kinsey Report or something like that…you get a bunch of people and study the reaction to things. Finally you pull out one person, everyone in the group has the chance to be the person, the final person is the random selection. I thought to myself…I‘ve had many desires in my life, randomly making a solo record is a random desire, that‘s where the title came from. Lockless is not an official word actually, I made up the word. It‘s a world I would like to live in. (laughs)

Your voice sounds different on this record.
I began to use a technique of singing in the back of my throat and it started out with me doing Bob Dylan‘s Lay, Lady, Lay, which is my favourite Bob Dylan performance. It‘s a syrupy voice, but I didn‘t use it all the time. I would use it for impact or effect or a contrast to another vocal. I knew when to do it and I knew when to not do it. I did a version of Girl From The North Country. Nashville Skyline is my favourite Dylan album, there‘s great songs on that record, but the singing on that record…he never sang that way again, he used a slapback reverb on his voice. It‘s very a sweet element in his voice but he sings in the back of his throat. It‘s my attempt to get to that voice, but I kind of made it my own, I think.

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You don‘t use the soulful powerhouse vocals so much you‘re known for. Sometimes they still appear, like in The Tide, but the longer the record goes on the more you get into this slower darker, spookier thing you already tackled during the recordings of the last Whigs album In Spades. Do you think, once the first few tracks are done on a record, you automatically come to the point where you can open up new vistas?
Yes, it was possible now since I am removed from playing in a rock band. I would say from Powder Burns into Gutter Twins into Dynamite Steps into Do To The Beast… those records were all very rock‘n‘roll. With In Spades the stairway began to go south, so to speak, especially on the back half of that record. I am the band mostly, I am the drummer, the bass player, the piano player, I‘m playing almost everything. I would bring in people, there‘s plenty of other people on the record, but each song started with me as the foundation. Because of that and working alone with Christopher Thorn who has become…we‘re just getting started, me and this dude, you know what I mean…we have an unspoken language between us, it‘s pretty magical. He‘s really fast, he‘s got this beautiful place out in Joshua Tree, we started working at about 2pm and stopped at 2am. We‘ll also stop and talk for two hours if we want to. Living and vibing is part of the thing, without it you‘re going mad. Then you can pick up an instrument randomly and start playing it, maybe something will happen, maybe not. We‘re already working on the next thing. The next batch of songs is going to be a little funkier, using a kind of hard funk you associate with Sly Stone or Funkadelic.

Which moments have been most important for you during the making of the record?
I‘m often looking through my phone and a lot of my ideas come here…that‘s where Marry Me started…(turns on phone and plays a recording with an acoustic guitar)…listen to the background, it‘s a radio station called Ambient Sleeping Pill. I was sleeping when this song came to me. I woke up and it‘s on there because I forgot to turn it off, it was almost 3am when it happened. Four days later Sempre happened. These songs started coming quickly, I started to channel something. When you do that you have to be available and ready for that. I realized that I was getting gifts at a very quick rate and I had to keep up with them. Between last January and July most of the record was done…well, I thought it was done. But the fourth song…it was first a different song in that slot. I thought it was a good song but it didn‘t fit really. Super catchy song but I pulled it out and I wrote The Tide to fit the slot. I needed something to ease in after Marry Me, that song is such a heavy moment! So The Tide was the last song written for the record in early August and then it was kind of done. But the I kept listening to the first song Pantomima, which had no drums all the way into September. Then I thought: Should we put drums on it? You don‘t want to be like fucking with stuff that much, but it needed drums and it needed handclaps. Then everything was done.

Let‘s talk about country music. A few songs like Slow Pan reveal a leaning towards that genre. What kind of connection do you have to this sound? Are you a keen fan?
Do you know who Paolo Conte is? An Italian singer who mostly sings in French. I‘m going to show you how Slow Pan happened. I was trying to learn this song and it was too jazzy for me I couldn‘t figure it out, so I dumbed it down and…(looks for a song on the phone, an intro starts with piano chords, it‘s Reveries by Paolo Conte)…there‘s Slow Pan for you right there… I love country music, to be honest with you. The thing that you hear is my doctor, my physician, he‘s one of the best pedal steel players in LA. His name is Dr. Stephen Patt. Before I came over I saw him play with Jon Brion, he toured with Ryan Adams, he‘s a seriously in-demand cat and also an awesome guy. He‘s plays on Slow Pan, Lockless, A Ghost and Marry Me. He also plays standup bass on Marry Me and Slow Pan. My grandparents loved country music, they played it all the time. Whenever I visited them, they listened to classic old country by Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams Sr., Roy Acuff. Then later on my aunts loved Merle Haggard. Willie Nelson has a great satellite radio station called Willie‘s Roadhouse. Whenever I drive out to Joshua Tree I listen to Willie‘s Roadhouse the whole way out there cause it‘s very country & western driving out there…. (laughs)

You spoke about ideas for more solo albums in the future. Are you still interested in working with The Afghan Whigs again or did the band break up?
It wasn‘t possible to do a band album this time. Guitarist Dave Rosser passed away shortly after the release of In Spades. Drummer Pat Keeler is busy with The Raconteurs and my old friend John Curley is studying again. Without John there‘s no Whigs really. But you never know – Jon Skibic and Rick Nelson, two of the band members on In Spades, are also part of my solo band. They could easily get involved in another Whigs project. I‘m still in touch with Mark Lanegan, he‘s always the first guy who listens to my records. You know, things in music don‘t really have to end. There‘s something in the air that keeps us together and if the right opportunity comes along, we‘re happy to take it.

Greg Dulli Tour:
30.03. Luxor, Köln
31.03. Lido, Berlin

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