Unclassifiable and hard-to-describe musical acts are rare and fascinating creatures. While so many artists’ styles and sounds can often be compared or recalled to a musical ancestor or predecessor, a few make it extremely difficult to determine their musical lineage.
Take, for example, the Afghan Whigs. The band formed in the mid-’80s in Cincinnati and have released some great (although hard to categorize) records since the latter part of the decade of their arrival.
Led by charismatic and passionate vocalist and songwriter Greg Dulli, it was almost inevitable that the band’s sound would evolve into a mix of genres, textures and styles. Raised and reared simultaneously on heavy doses of R&B, punk-rock, jazz and rock and roll, Dulli’s appreciation for music as a whole is clearly evident both through his recorded works and in conversation. .
After a long break (last album of the group, Shovelwas released in 2017), Dulli and The Afghan Whigs are set to kick off a new tour ahead of a brand new studio album—How do you burn?– it’s for September 9th.
Below, Dulli discusses a variety of topics from his base in California ahead of the band’s live dates.
Many artists have their own unique version or take on what the pandemic has done for them in terms of their creativity or what it’s been like for them to have some free time on tour. What has the pandemic done to you? Did it give you more time to write or to think? How was it for you personally?
Well, I had just released a record the last week of February 2020. I released my first solo record [Random Desire]. I was about to fly to Ireland to start a tour when I thought, “This is the plague! Everyone stay at home! and I was like “Oh my God”, you know. So as far as that goes, it kind of really took the wind out of my sails because I had worked really hard on a record that I loved and I was excited to come out and play it, and then obviously, the world has stopped. So nobody knew [when the pandemic would end] but said ‘It will be done by June’ or ‘It will be done by July’ so I rescheduled the shows for the fall of that year and then it became pretty clear that it wasn’t okay not disappear. So I filmed a few shows where I played alone and in a friend’s club, and I did pay-per-view for those.
As soon as I was done — it was August 2020 — I called my manager and my booking agent and said, ‘Cancel those fall shows. They won’t arrive. I’m going to make a new Whigs record. We started from September 2020 and finished it in December 2021. So it was written and recorded in about a year and, you know, with me and Patrick [Keeler] the drummer, living in California, then we went to Joshua Tree where our new guitarist [Christopher Thorn] has a studio and the three of us worked there. And then sent it to the other guys in New Orleans, Cincinnati and New Jersey. That’s a long answer to your question.
I’m always intrigued by bands that defy categorization. With the Whigs, you can’t really tell what the exact origin or influence of the music is. I’m always fascinated by bands like that. But, on your side, is it a bit by design? Or is it something that comes naturally? I’ve heard and seen your band refer to or be associated with grunge and all those other subgenres, but I think you’re kind of in your own category. What is your opinion on that?
Well, I mean I’m an omnivorous musician, so I listen to a lot of stuff and always have. I grew up listening to Motown, pop music, the Rolling Stones, whatever the neighbors older kids listened to, Zeppelin and AC/DC. But my grandmother and my aunts and uncles, they were [in] Kentucky and West Virginia, so I listened to a lot of country music. And then when I got to college, I got into jazz, I got into punk-rock and all that. And not to mention my high school metal years and my absolute love for Lynyrd Skynyrd, one of my favorite bands of all time. So I was the kid who listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Earth, Wind & Fire, Al Green and George Jones, so I like it a lot.
I just like a lot of different things. So that’s the best way to describe it. My songwriting is like a bird, making a nest: there’s newspaper, there’s hay, there’s a fucking bag of fast food – whatever I can find to get me a styling vehicle or a home or a place to rest. That’s how it’s going to be. So I feel, first of all, thank you for saying that, but I can easily say that we look like the Afghan Whigs and nobody looks like us. This is how I answer this question.
I must offer my condolences for the loss of former teammate Mark Lanegan. It must have been pretty hard. I know you’ve worked with him a lot in the past.
One of the greatest people I know. One of my most beloved and beautiful friends and friendships I have ever had or will ever have. But, you know, in the words of Theodor Geisel, “Don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened.” [Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, said, ‘“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”] And that’s how I go through this particular thing. I will miss Marc forever. He was just such a good friend of mine – such a kind, smart, incredibly funny, and incredibly talented person. One of the greatest singers to ever walk the planet. I appreciate your condolences.
So it’s been a while since you’ve gone around the one you’re about to get into. Tell me a bit about the show and what you have planned. Are you going to focus on what’s new? I know you always like to go back and throw some surprises in your setlists. What can the public who come to see you at Bogart expect?
Despite everything, I haven’t given a concert in front of people for four years. This is the longest since I was 20…even longer than that probably – since high school. Remember, I was about to tour two years ago and it got away from me, and then we had almost two years off. So, yes, it’s been four years, but, regarding your question, we have the album coming out in September. We have this second song coming out before the album.
And, while I love playing new stuff, I don’t want to drown people in it and be like, “Hey, what the fuck?” I mean, by the time we start playing on my birthday, the world will have gotten to hear two of the songs, and we’ll play both, and we’ll play another one from the new record and then stuff from the last two records. I’m going to slip a song from my solo album into the show that everyone in the band wants to play. There will be a generous helping of some 90s highlights from just about every old record.
The Afghan Whigs will perform at 8 p.m. September 11 at Bogart’s, 2621 Vine St., Corryville. Info: theafghanwhigs.com.
This story was originally published by CityBeat’s sister newspaper, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
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