By Vincent PollardThe Afghan Whigs were arguably one of the brightest and most innovative bands of the '90s alternative rock explosion, but despite achieving a pretty respectable level of success and critical acclaim, they never quite fit in with their Sub Pop label-mates and plaid-shirted peers. Singer and band leader Greg Dulli has spent the past decade or so with other projects including the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins (with Mark Lanegan) as well as contributing to several movie soundtracks including Backbeat and Beautiful Girls. We caught up with Greg Dulli recently from his home in Los Angeles to talk about the Whigs reforming, performing live, his influences and where next for the Whigs.
So, you're living in California these days? I live in Los Angeles and also in New Orleans. I split my time between the two. Sometimes four months here, eight months there or six months and six months. Whatever works.
What drew you to New Orleans? Well, I started going to New Orleans 25 years ago. It's one of the greatest cities in the world. It's warm, it's beautiful, it has great food. It's a small town with a lot of really cool people. Great architecture, great music scene. It's a fantastic place. I have a home there since 1997, so 15 years I've lived in both places.
I think I put on about five pounds in five days when I was there. [Laughs] There's butter in the air! There's no question about that. If you don't keep an eye on it, it will take you down.
How's the tour going so far? It's been fun. We did Lollapalooza in Chicago, Pukkelpop in Belgium. I'm having a great time. We've been welcomed back with open arms so it's been a good experience thus far.
Are you finding it's a slightly older crowd made up of fans from the '90s or also younger kids too? I've met a lot of teenagers at the shows who came up and said their older brother or their dad has listened to the band so there's definitely been a migration of younger people into the shows.
You guys always stood out from the Sub Pop stable at the time and the whole grunge and alternative rock scene. Well, we weren't from Seattle. We're from Cincinnati, Ohio so it's a different aesthetic I think. And we wore nicer clothes too. [Laughs]
There's more to it than where you come from though. You guys were mining a completely different vein, with the Motown influence and the themes in your music were quite different. I think everyone mines their influences in a different way. As much as I loved soul music I also loved the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. I also loved country music and blues music and I can hear everything that I've ever listened to funnelled into my music. I'm pretty all over the place and it never ends when it comes to music.
Were the Replacements a big influence? Yeah, I liked the Replacements but I really liked Hüsker Dü and they were a big influence on me. Their shows were a little more direct than the Replacements. I saw the Replacements four times and they were good once. [Laughs] The other three times they were wasted. Which is funny and all that but I don't go to a show to watch wasted people play cover songs. Hüsker Dü were a monster ― and I'm not putting down the Replacements because Paul Westerberg wrote some fantastic rock songs and the one time they were good they were unbelievable ― but I would put Hüsker Dü as a bigger influence as far Minneapolis rock bands. Amazing songs, amazing live band.
Do you still listen to them? I'm still a huge fan. I was listening to them a few months ago and loving it. The Zen Arcade, New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig trinity is one of the greatest album runs any band could ever have. They had two singers, two songwriters that wrote different kinds of songs but when they sang together they were really amazing. Their stuff still holds up for me. If you're on the fence I would recommend Flip Your Wig, it's Hüsker Dü in a nutshell. It's them at their absolute zenith.
Bob Mould has a great autobiography about the band and his difficulty in coming out. Well, two-thirds of that band is gay. The drummer is gay too. I don't know who you'd be afraid to come out to. Maybe your audience? If two-thirds of the band is gay that is decidedly a majority. [Laughs] When they were coming up in a punk rock world that was probably a pretty terrifying thing but no less terrifying than Frank Ocean coming out as a hip hop/ R&B guy.
You guys cover a Frank Ocean tune, "Love Crimes." Why that particular track? It's just one that I made work. When I cover a tune, I appropriate it. I make it my own and I just adapted that one. I actually truthfully like all of his songs and he's got two records and he does not have a bad song on his two records and that's pretty rare for me to say that about anybody. But that particular song, in a really concise way it creates a kind of dramatic episode. It's a story song in a way, it's very poetic, the lyrics are very deep and it's got a hook that I would kill for. That "murder, murder, murder" hook is amazing. I'm a huge fan of his but that was the song I felt like I could make my own, so I did.