[Part 1 of 2] (The second part of the interview will be published Wednesday.)
Greg. Dulli. To his fans, no other words are necessary to incite mass pandemonium and heart palpitations. As the sex-drenched voice of the now-disbanded Afghan Whigs, Dulli turned many a grunge lover into melting blobs of soul-nostalgic music enthusiasts in the mid-'90s. Since parting ways with his former band mates, Dulli has contributed to numerous projects, including lending vocals to the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars and DJ Muggs (of Cypress Hill). His most ambitious post-Whigs project, however, has been the Twilight Singers.
What began as a collaboration between Dulli, Harold Chichester (Howlin' Maggie) and Shawn Smith (Satchel, Pigeonhead and Brad) has evolved into not so much a band but a revolving cast of musicians. The project's latest release, Blackberry Belle, includes appearances by musicians as diverse as Screaming Trees' Mark Lanegan, Petra Haden of that dog, the Rentals, Alvin Youngblood Hart and former Prince protege Apollonia Kotero. During a recent interview by phone from his home in Los Angeles, Dulli waxed poetic about the album, death and Snoop Dogg.
Prefix Magazine: Greg, I got this new album and I've got to say, it's amazing.
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Thank you. PM: At the risk of sounding like I'm gushing ...
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Gush away, darling. I love gushing PM: It's great; I was really surprised by it, and it's beautiful.
Greg Dulli: Part 1: What surprised you? That it was good? PM: No, no! [Diplomatically] I wasn't really into the first Twilight Singers' album ...
Greg Dulli: Part 1: That's OK. PM: 'Cause I'm a really big Afghan Whigs' fan and it was such a departure. I feel like you really went back to your old groove with this one.
Greg Dulli: Part 1: I like them both equally. It would be unfair for me as a father to pick a favorite child. PM: [Trying to make up.] It is damn good.
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Right on! Thanks a lot. Can you hold on a second? [There is a 3-minute pause as Greg attempts to save his cat from jumping out a window. "Get over here!" he calmly but forcibly yells to the cat.] Sorry about that; he's a freak. PM: That's okay. Tell me a little bit about what space your head was in when you were writing and recording these songs. You have all these amazing players on this disc; what can you say regarding that?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Whenever I'm writing songs or recording songs, I'm not in any kind of normal headspace. It's a very unnatural act for me. Which is why I take years off between (releases). I initially had a record that probably would have come out a year ago, but a friend of mine died [director Ted Demme, who passed away from heart failure in January, 2002 ] and I scrapped that record and began to work on this one, which was more akin to the feelings I was experiencing. That's why it's a tad melancholy. I listened to it a couple weeks ago and I heard a hopeful sound in it for the first time. When I do record, it takes me a long time to catch up to what they're [the songs] about -- what they're about to me, 'cause ... I've never kept a journal or taken pictures or anything like that. I'm not a saver or packrat, so since I've been a kid, any kind of recording that I've made will sort of tell me what was happening in my life. And this one would be no exception. PM: I've noticed that in a lot of your music, I always hear this darkness and this lightness, and that there's a literal black and a literal white that comes out in your lyrics. Do you feel like maybe this was more on that black side?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: If I'm going to write songs, the first thing I have to be is as honest as I can with myself. It takes me a while. In my whole life, I've written hundreds of songs. There are like five songs that I've written immediately, that the words came right out and they didn't change and the music came right out. And of those five, three of them I wrote right on the spot completely. Those are weird. There were none of those on this one. It takes me weeks or a month to complete a song -- kind of to get it going and then it will go through its little thing that it wants to go through, you know what I mean? People would be shocked to hear certain songs, how they sounded at first. A friend is archiving everything I've done in the past -- demos, songs I've done. He played me this song and said to me, "Do you know what this is?" And I'm like, "No." And it was a song off 1965, and I'm like, "My god. That one really changed." PM: Have you had that experience with any of the songs on the new CD?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: That I've heard old versions of it? Yes, absolutely -- the words sung to another melody -- it's really strange. I'm a functional schizophrenic. PM: That's cool. At least you can function.
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Sure, tie my shoes, make my own soup. It's amazing. PM: Where do I go with that?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: To the shoe/soup store? PM: [Moving on in an attempt to grill Dulli about some of the songs on Blackberry Belle] I got the vibe from "Feathers" that it could've been about your friend who died?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: It's hard to say. "Feathers" is probably more about me. PM: Where is Decatur Street?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: In New Orleans. PM: What is a Blackberry Belle?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: She's the prettiest girl in the room, and thusly she is the devil in disguise. PM: Is this some well-known fact that I don't know about?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Again, trying to make any sort of literal sense of Greg Dulli is fruitless. If you can (make sense of me), please let me know, because I've been trying for over 30 years and I can't get a handle on it. PM: I've tried to too, but I can't do it.
Greg Dulli: Part 1: It's a waste of your time. There's time well spent in other pursuits, I think. Believe me, that's why I watch baseball all the time. It takes my mind off it. PM: What's your favorite team?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: The Cincinnati Reds! PM: Of course. [Dulli is from Cincinnati, Ohio.] I was listening to "St. Gregory" was trying for the life of me to figure out what's going on in this song. And then you roll in with [the lyric] "They love me down in Texas." Is that a reference to the little brawl you had down there? [During a Whigs show, Dulli was involved in an altercation with a bouncer at a club in Texas, which resulted in a lawsuit].
Greg Dulli: Part 1: I never had a brawl down there. I was attacked from behind, so that's not a brawl -- it's called assault and battery. PM: Is this where that came from?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: I don't know. One thing that I -- and this may frustrate you ultimately -- what a song means to me is mine and what a song means to you is yours. So once I release a song, it's the interpreter's song now. I will never tell anyone what a song means. PM: That's fair. It's totally understandable. It's like any poet ...
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Or a book or a movie. I've read reviews of movies I love and the person who reviewed it hated it and their description of the movie is not the movie I saw. PM: The players on Blackberry Belle, they are numerous. I tried to look up information for each and every one of them and it just got too tedious. But I was really intrigued that you have Apollonia on here. How and why did that happen?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: I met her at a party and was introduced by a mutual friend, and she was flirty enough to get my attention. So that flirt led to a friendship, and she stopped by while I was doing the song called "Teenage Wristband," and I was working with my friend Petra Hayden. Apollonia really loved the song, and she put the melody at the beginning of the song and in the bridge, so she just was there hanging out as my buddy and decided that she wanted to do it. And once I realized that she still could sing, I brought her in for a song called "Fat City." PM: Is she on the DJ Muggs version of that song?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: No. That's just me and Muggs on that version. His management called me and told me Muggs wanted to work with me, and I told him to call me and he came over. And he is the nicest person I've ever met in music -- ever. I have never met a kinder, sweeter, smarter, funnier guy. I have a full-on hetero crush on Muggs. He's the greatest. So I worked on that with him. And I sang backup on a couple of Cypress songs that are coming out, which was a thrill. I love Cypress Hill. PM: I didn't know Cypress Hill was still together?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: I saw 'em play at the L.A. Coliseum, and tons of people showed up. But Snoop Dogg was playing, too so that might have helped. PM: Good old Snoop.
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Yeah, he's great. I met him. PM: Does he really talk in all that "shizzle dizzle" kind of way?
Greg Dulli: Part 1: Shizzle dizzle. Of course, he comes as advertised. PM: Have you seen the show on MTV yet ["Doggy Fizzle Telivizzle"]?