FOR CLOSE on 25 years Greg Dulli has been at the forefront of the Alternative American music scene, first as leader of The Afghan Whigs, then the Twilight Singers, and more recently as one half of The Gutter Twins with Mark Lanegan.
In all that time he never embarked on a solo tour - until this month. Last Friday Greg played the first of what will be a 29 city tour that will take in the US, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Belgium, with a show in New Orleans.
Entitled An Evening With Greg Dulli, the tour comes to Ireland in a fortnight and will include a show in the Róisín Dubh on Friday October 29 at 9pm.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to Galway and seeing my man Gugai,” Greg tells me from his home in New Orleans. “It’s a great club you have there and a great community. I enjoyed hanging out after the show and talking to people. It’s a great place.”
Why has it taken until now for Greg to undertake such a venture as a solo tour?
“I don’t know to be honest but I can tell you why I have done it now,” he says with a laugh. “I was trying to finish the new Twilight Singers record that I had been working on for a year and a half. I kept pushing back the deadline and writing new songs but I thought ‘If I’m ever going to finish this record I have to make a deadline that is immovable’ and the best way to do that is to set up a tour. Before long I was booking the tour, we got the album recorded, and it was on to rehearsing for the shows.
“I’m not nervous. I’m always excited to do something in a new configuration. The first time I did an acoustic solo performance I did it on the spur of the moment. It was a benefit show three years ago in Seattle and I did it without a net. Now that I have done that and the acoustic shows with Mark Lanegan last year, I’m ready.”
An Evening With Greg Dulli will feature stripped down, acoustic, versions of songs from across Greg’s career. On stage he will be joined by Twilight Singers guitarist Dave Rosser and the Polyphonic Spree’s Rick Nelson. There will also be strings to give what Greg calls “a more Baroque, cinematic quality to the songs”.
Greg’s career began in the late 1980s when he formed The Afghan Whigs, who mixed post-punk, alternative, and soul. The band recorded six albums between 1988 and 1998, before calling it a day. After this Greg formed The Twilight Singers, with whom he has recorded four albums, including 2006’s acclaimed Powder Burns. The band has been on hold for the past four years as Greg concentrated on The Gutter Twins. So why was now a good time to bring back TTS?
“We were on hiatus and leaving it alone was very refreshing,” he says. “The thing about the Twilight Singers is, to paraphrase Mark E Smith, your grandmother could be playing bongoes on it and it would still be the Twilight Singers.
“Some of my favourite musicians - Mark Lanegan, Dave Rosser, Ani Difranco, and Nick McCabe from The Verve, are on it and it’s a collection of my favourite songs that I’ve written over the past year. I’m very proud of what we have done.”
That album will be released on Sub Pop in February and will contain 11 tracks. So will it be a departure from previous work or continue to explore where Powder Burns left off?
“It’s hard for me to be objective,” says Greg. “There are songs and styles that I have never played before, styles familiar to me and completely new.
“It’s not reggae, it’s not hip hop, but there are elements of all the things I have been listening to for the last three to four years. I tend to be a magpie with my influences and they come out at the least appropriate times.”
Songs from the forthcoming album will be played at the Róisín Dubh, including ‘The Blackbird and The Fox’, a duet with Ani Difranco, which is available as a free download at www.thetwilightsingers.com “The song was written during summer 2009,” says Greg. “There were fires in LA called the Station Fires. They were very bad. People lost their homes and for two weeks there was this smoke haze over the entire city and out as far as the Joshua Tree. For a hundred miles there was this smoke cloud that did not disappear.
“It would be hard to call it inspiration but it was an impetus to writing the song and it goes from there to this cautionary tale. At that time I had been watching Mafia movies like The Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas for the 50th time. It’s a strange mix of that horrible fire and Mafia movies.”
Greg divides his time between Los Angeles and New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Five years on from the disaster, how has the city tried to recover from the impact of the floods?
“When the hurricane happened, that was something terrible. I hope I never se anything like that happen again,” says Greg. “It’s no different to an earthquake or a tsunami. There is destruction on a level you cannot comprehend.
“You can either lie down or stand up and rebuild, and five years later New Orleans has transformed itself into a new place. I find the city to be flourishing in a way other parts of the US are not and I believe it’s because the people of New Orleans are tough and proud.
“They have an intense civic pride and fierce loyalty to their city. You can see that in the way they wear their city colours. When I came first about 12 years ago I became aware of how proud they are to live here and they say ‘We live in the greatest place in the world and you should recognise that.’”
A taste of Argentina may possibly be discernible on the new Twilight Singers’ album as Greg’s recent visit to South America left a major impression on him.
“I went there a couple of times in the past year,” he says. “Musically I have always been omnivorous. Whether it’s photos, or records, or an experience I witnessed in person, I’m interested in everything I see and hear and it tends to come back out when I write songs.
“My time in South America was something I was wanting to do. It was the last continent I had yet to visit. It held some wonder for me and in particular I became very fond of Buenos Aires and the Uruguayan coast, that particular area was amazing.
“I had a feeling in my soul about Buenos Aires that I only had about a couple of other cities and those would be Rome, LA, and New Orleans. When you go to South America, out of the US or Europe, you start to see that the things that are important to us are not important to them and it gives you a different perspective. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys travelling.”
From his time in The Afghan Whigs to today, Greg has always displayed a broad love of many musical styles and has to time for musical snobbery or ‘hipsters’ trying to create exclusionary, elitist tastes.
“I understand people gather around something and it will become their identity but I remember when I was in college - a long time ago - everybody listened to punk rock,” says Greg. “I did too but I also listened to hip hop and Earth Wind and Fire, and Can and NEU! and Marianne Faithfull. I wasn’t one of those who would turn my back on something just because other people told me it wasn’t cool to listen to.
“To those people I said ‘F**k you! What I like is what I like is what I like’ and that’s my thing about anything. I once saw this guy who had a T-shirt that read ‘I’m listening to bands that haven’t event been created yet’. It’s people wanting to be so far ahead that they can’t lie in the moment - which is a very rare thing these days. I’ve loved music since I was a child. I’m omnivorous. I love it all.”
Support on the night is from Ed Harcourt. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.