Interview with Greg Dulli about Twilight Singers (OffBeat. June 2006)


CLICK HERE TO READ my entire OffBeat article about Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers band. The following is the unpublished, uncut Q&A from which that article derives. At the bottom I have pasted a live video of Twilight Singers in 

When did you first move to New Orleans?

1997. I rented Peter Buck’s house, 1212 Burgundy, and Governor Nicols, from 97 to 99. Now when I stay there I either stay at Burgundy and Spain in the Marigny, or at Mike (Nepolitano) above Checkpoint Charlie’s.

What made you first move here? Was it just a great tour stop or…?

I’ll say this, it was not the greatest tour stop at first. Ask any New Orleans rock band — every rock band down there is up against it because it’s a tourist industry, everybody wants to hear brass, and there’s just so much going on down there. But I willed it to be a good tour stop. I came there the first time in 88, then around 90 I hooked up with a girl down there. So I started going there all the time. She worked at The Dungeon and uh, (laughs) that was kind of my hang for a while.

I heard you initially moved away because New Orleans sort of had it’s way with you?

Yeah, I was just getting in too much trouble. 

Then how do you pull off living here now, without getting in too much trouble? Here’s your chance to speak to the thousands of other New Orleanians who haven’t figured that trick out yet…

Well, what I had to do was to…uh…cut out some of the more damaging aspects of my…uh…extracurricular life.

You mean certain drugs.

The Class A’s were the first to go. That allowed me to keep drinking and smoking weed. Once I cut out the class A’s – I know I financially killed a couple guys, but… I’m a much more happier, wealthier and well-rested human being. And you can talk to S—–y about the other side of the coin. He’s asked me ‘When will I know when I’m ready to quit?’ And I told him, ‘Dude, you’ll know. Because there’s nowhere else to go. It’s going to be a painful and dark scary place when that day comes, and I feel for you when you get there. Just start swimming upward immediately.’

And New Orleans right now is the worst place in the world to be if you’re anywhere near asking yourself whether you should quit hard drugs.

Yeah, I’ve talked to a few people down there who are like, ‘It’s become a culture in itself.’ And I don’t want to say where it goes down… I don’t want to be outing any certain establishments but… Let’s just say that when I take a walk home, I take Chartres Street. (laughs) If it’s a little too tempting I’ll do Royal.

And now you split your time now between here and the other LA. How often do you come down here now?

Actually, I usually come in the summer.

Black long sleeves and all…

Fuck that. (laughs) I have short black sleeves. But black nonetheless – and that’s two showers later. It’s brutal. But I’ve spent the last five July’s and August’s in New Orleans.

This year though, my friend Dave who runs (the record lable the Morning 40’s are on) he’s my partner in the bars here in LA. We met down in New Orleans this October 7th, five weeks after Katrina went down. He lives in the Marigny, and a tree had fallen in his yard, and on part of his roof. But the roof wasn’t damaged, his pool was damaged. And I was like, ‘Dude, whatever you do, don’t bitch about your pool getting damaged. When anybody asks you what happened, just say you’re fine.’

How did you compose the new songs. Where do you start? Do you sit down with a guitar or?

I usually start with a beat. A loop. Usually Mike makes them; he’s really, really good at them – this is my third, maybe forth record with Mike. This record is really different than Blackberry Bell, which was done down there too; that was just me and Mike in a room, then we would call in other guys once we’d built a skeleton of a track. This new one was a little more live, there was a rhythm section in the room with me. A lot of times I’d start on the Rhodes with a loop, but at least five of the new songs were made by four or five guys in an apartment above Checkpoint Charlie’s, where you have to watch out for the bleed from the uh, magnificent music coming from underneath…

Magnificent?

(Laughs heartily)

Last time I saw Twilight Singers at OneEyedJack’s there weren’t any electronics at all.

We cover my own material. It gets too tricky for me, or I’m just too lazy. We actually did have programming on the first record and brought that with us on tour, a lot of triggers and MIDI action. But to me it was holding back the surge that you want to have live – when you’re locked in with a machine you can’t go anywhere, so that’s why I uh…

Kicked the drum machine out of the band?

Kicked it out of the live band. Not the studio band.

What about the singing? You bring singers with you?

Everyone in the band sings. But they’re having to cover like, the Joe Arthur parts – they’re tough to cover — we spent two days with the live band just nailing the Joe Arthur parts. And hopefully Ani DeFranco will get up and sing with us in New Orleans, so we’ll dodge that bullet.

Going into this album, what did you intend to make different from your other music? Or do you even care about mining yourself for ideas you didn’t think you could come up with?

I do. But it happens accidentally. I’m a big fan of vocals as an instrument, so, if I could sing like Jeff Buckley I’d push em a little further. But I can’t. The first song in particular though, I wrote and laid down the guitar, drum machine and synth in Italy, after listening to ‘Evil Heat’ by Primal Scream for about a month solid. So the guitar sounds cold. I wanted it to sound kind of detached. Kind of like how you are when you’re uh…doing Class A’s. I loved that sound. I had stumbled on to some kind of fresh sound for me, so trying to reproduce or re-record it in New Orleans, trying to make it sound warmer, would have defeated the purpose.

How was it influenced by New Orleans?

I think that, with the other styles of music going on in New Orleans – I make records in New Orleans, but not New Orleans sounding records. It’s about catching the vibe down there. That being said, when I first got down there – I saw you there by Washington Square Park – it was such a fucking surreal ghostown, with the guards running around, and checkpoints and shit…

And Halloween ending at 2 a.m.!

Not since the Civil War! But that curfew had a little trouble. I got home at 5 on Halloween. I just said fuck it, I didn’t care. Corey (from One Eyed Jack’s) went out to Metairie, which didn’t have a curfew, but then we had to come back into the city the back way, through St Bernard, and we had to kill the lights a couple times so the cops wouldn’t see us. Cause they were the last people we wanted to talk to, coming home at 6 a.m.

People were running to the National Guard to protect them from the NOPD.

Yeah, I drank with some of the National Guard. They would come down to OneEyedJack’s, look both ways, then come into the after hours jams we were having at OneEyedJack’s.

Tell me about your upcoming OneEyedJacks show.

We’re going to shoot the show at OneEyedJack’s. Rio (Hackford) is directing it ——– going to shoot the show. I know he’s done all the Supagroup videos, and a couple other ones. I think this is the first show he’s directing. I can only hope it’s good. He’s fucking Taylor Hackford’s son! 

A lot of your press admits that as your music evolves, lyrically you are still exploring the same themes of “________”. So, are you “exploring the same themes” or are you just making the same decisions and mistakes, and have the same regrets as you always have been?

I don’t think any of that is true. I’m a contant, yet slowly evolving individual. All I do is report from the field. Am I the same guy I was when I was 27? No. And I don’t think I sound like that guy either same. This record in particular, I’ve certainly come to some conclusions in my life and am passing them on.  The last thing I’m going to do is preach. And if I had learned to moderate  and behave myself a little more, I might not be in the position I am now. But I will say that my time in New Orleans hastened my way down the road.

Who is your audience now? 

There are kids there, and there are old people there. If you get it when you’re a kid, come on in. If you’re getting it when you’re 80, I love it! I think that’s who my audience has been for the last ten years.

New Orleans is always like that, every age represented at almost every show.

Yes. But there are old folks that actually follow me around a little bit; a couple that are they’re 70-years-old, and I will see them at at least four East Coast shows. And I can’t wait to see them.

So, I know you slip a lot of – not really covers but — musical appropriations into your shows.

Yes.

So, you’re gonna do that Gnarles Barkley song,  “Crazy” aren’t you?

You know I am dude! (laughs) It’s down and it’s in the show already! You’re the only one to ask me that, Michael!

 I know you at least that well.

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