Bearing in mind he made three of the 1990s finest albums in that mighty triumvirate of "Gentlemen", "Black Love" and "1965" with his band The Afghan Whigs, that GREG DULLI is still purely a fiercely-renowned cult force is little short of a travesty. However, St.Gregory ain't the type to shrink away from fate that easily and now he's back to greet the dawn of 2004 by coming out fighting with his new project THE TWILIGHT SINGERS and their magnificent new album "Blackberry Belle", which in all its' rich, cinematic darkness is already sounding like an Album Of The Year contender. Needless to say, when W&H got the chance to celebrate with a lengthy Transatlantic call to our debonair hero, we didn't turn it down.....
Greg Dulli (it's pronounced "Dooley" - Greg has relatives in Dublin and Cork) has quite possibly the filthiest laugh you've ever heard. It adds that slight frisson to his - already colourful - conversation which hints at the same indefinable sense of danger tangibly pervading all his records. He's soon letting it run loose when your correspondent informs Greg of his surname.
"Oh really....Peacock, huh? Y'know there was an American footballer called Elvis Peacock during the 1970s. Didya know that?"
Can't say I did.
"Yeah, I thought it was the coolest fuckin' name ever. Tim Peacock, huh? Great name....you related?"
It's possible. I'm from Ireland...everyone's related here.
"Yeah, fuck, they sure are, hurgh hurgh!" leers Greg, who proceeds to tell me about his Irish ties. It's all fascinating, but hell - we're already getting away from the point of our interview, which is the little matter of a superb new album from The Twilight Singers called "Blackberry Belle." Greg, I know the making of the final Whigs album, "1965" was rather, ah, fraught, with dark mutterings of serious drug abuse among other things, but how was this one to make by comparison.
"Well, like "1965", this was one partly made in New Orleans," drawls Greg.
"And y'see, New Orleans has this little thing called distractions, y'know. Like the bars never close, shit like that."
"But, ah, this record changed because I originally had an album made called "Amber Headlights" but then my close friend Teddy died."
Understandably, Greg still sounds broken up about this event, but he continues to reveal more.
"So, as you can imagine, I ditched what would have been a very different record and went for something which had to be made, a record that involved a lot of soul-searching. Believe me, "Amber Headlights" would have been entirely different from this record."
Tell us a little about the Twilight Singers themselves. Am I right in thinking it's s little like your version of, say, Josh Homme's "Desert Sessions" where you work with different, sympathetic musicians who come and go depending on a track's requirements?
"No, it'll be like my version of The Twilight Explodes," laughs Greg, continuing on from an earlier comment he'd made about Julian Cope and what a fan he is of Cope's music and his interest in Krautrock.
"No, seriously, though, I don't think it'll be so much like The Desert Sessions, but maybe more like my version of The Golden Palominos. You remember them?"
Yes indeed. Based around legendary drummer/ instrumentalist Anton Fier, who worked with people as diverse as Johnny Rotten and Bill Laswell.
"That's him," replies Greg. "I loved the way he'd write a particular song and take it to musicians he thought would be sympathetic and, y'know, from my standpoint, after 15 years of playing with the same musicians, I kinda liked that idea."
"Having said that," he continues, after a pause, "I gotta say right now that I'll never be into anything more than playing with Rick McCollum and John Curley (erstwhile Afghan Whigs guitarist and bassist). Those guys are and will always be my brothers and I love them. Sincerely. They both turned up at shows on my recent American tour and got up to play some of the Whigs songs. You'll never beat that....."
He trails off, for a moment.
"But you know this was my chance to work with other guys. I call them hookers, y'know, I pay my money and I get to fuck this person, and I get to fuck that person, hurgh hurgh!"
Very astutely put, sir! But will there be a regular Twilight Singers live band made up from some of the players on "Blackberry Belle"?
"Well, we went out and did 30 shows in America and - apart from our keyboard player who's German and had Visa problems - then everyone in the current band played on the record."
OK, but back to the making of "Blackberry Belle" itself. Tell me about your collaboration with Mark Lanegan. He features on the album's closing track, "Number Nine", which is - in my humble opinion - one of the greatest things either have you recorded (and that's going some), but did the collaboration come from you working with Mark on his recent "Here Comes That Weird Chill" (where Dulli sings on "Methamphetamine Blues" and "Message To Mine") or did "Number Nine" happen prior to that? Lanegan seems everywhere at present....
"Let's see," says Greg, casting his mind back.
"Well, Mark and I were working on a record when he got the Queens Of The Stone Age gig, so I moved onto starting this Twilight Singers record," he continues.
"Then Mark got three days off from the road with the Queens and he called to me to say "what happened to that song that sounds like (Pink Floyd's) "Comfortably Numb"? And I said, well, I haven't cut it yet. so he goes (goes into brooding impression of Lanegan) "Let's cut it now."
Just like that?
"Yeah, so he came over and we cut it in an hour...just me and him with a guitar and a click track. He built it up from there, but there's a stripped down version just with the two of us. It's great, you should hear it."
I'd love to. But what's Mark like in real life? He always seems such a smouldering, brooding kinda individual?
"Well, d'you know, he's one of the funniest Motherfuckers ever," says Greg, truly surprising me.
"He's one of the sweetest, kindest, most loving of good men out there. He's a sweetheart, but I tell you - if you see him onstage he's fuckin' scary!"
"Actually, five days after the Singers tour finished, I flew to Vegas to join Mark as his keyboard player for five shows and it was a whole new perspective. I loved just watchin' him and bein' in the shadows. Goddamn, that was good. We're makin' that record together too - it'll be out by the fall."
Oh yeah? Please tell us more...
"Well, it'll come out as The Gutter Twins. We cut ten songs in one for it the day after his tour finished."
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
"Yeah! Well you won't be able to miss it bro'," says Greg, coyly. "I tell ya, that record's gonna spread its' feathers like a Motherfuckin' peacock."
I'm not gonna argue that point. It's funny you should mention playing piano for Lanegan, though, because I was really struck by the piano playing on "Blackberry Belle." You're a fine piano player. Have you been playing for long?
"Thank you," says Greg, truly flattered. "No, I only really been playin' for maybe...six or seven years. But you gotta keep in mind that I was a drummer first. I played in a travelling blues band until that got boring...stuck looking at the singer's ass, y'know. But from there I started learning guitar, bass, piano....it kept me out of danger, you know," he finishes, with just a hint of darkness attached.
And you're one of the few musicians who dares to use a clavinet on your records, too...
"Oh man, the clavvy...I love it so much," Greg enthuses.
"It's such an interesting instrument. Curtis Mayfield uses it, Isaac Hayes uses it, Marvin Gaye, Leon Russell....whoo! Let's bring back the clavvy. You know it's based on banjo strings?"
No, I didn't.
"Yeah, that's why it's such a fuckin' strange, funky sound. A million dollar sound. "Shaft" (legendary Isaac Hayes OST) would never have been the same without it."
Soul music. Cinema. We're on important ground where Greg Dulli is concerned here, right?
"Yeah, well the whole album is linked thematically," replies Greg.
"It's very much a piece, and while I'm never going to explain exactly what it all means to anyone...ever, I do want you to remember you're on a journey with my albums. I always think in a cinematic way. I'm anachronistic in the sense that I always refer back to the '70s...it's my favourite decade for music and I was a child of that era. I always go back there."
"I mean, I don't write singles as such," he continues.
"On this album you got "Teenage Wristband," and that's my version of a Top 10 single, but that's your lot - fuck off," he spits and laughs simultaneously.
"It's all part of a larger thing with me. I mean I suppose I've tried to write singles in the past - with "1965" especially, I gave you "Crazy," "66" and "Somethin' Hot", but this time I didn't try so hard."
"But this album is all about trying to make sense of life," reveals Greg.
"It's like the quote on the sleeve ("And at the instant he knew, he ceased to know"), which is from Jack London's book, "Martin Eden" - also the title of the album's first song - it's the last line in the book."
"To me," Greg continues, seriously now, "it means that only by dying will you know. Maybe it's being raised a Catholic as I was, but trying to make sense of it and fighting against that and coming to the realisation that religion was indeed the opium of the masses and realising we don't know why we're here...."
He trails off breifly...
"..But hell, y'know, this album is a great existential car crash, hurgh, hurgh, hurgh!!!"
Greg, there really is nothing left to say. That's just genius. Thank you for your time. You're a gentleman.
"You too, man. Slainte!"
("Blackberry Belle" is out now on One Little Indian.)