Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli Talks Pop Music Covers & Influences – Billboard


Few main figures within the historical past of other rock have spent as a lot of their profession in service of pop music as Greg Dulli. As lead singer and songwriter for The Afghan Whigs — in addition to the Twilight Singers, and all kinds of different facet tasks and solo ventures — Dulli has coated a very numerous variety of classics from the pop world, in addition to from R&B, rock, jazz, hip-hop, nation, folks and seemingly each different doable style.



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In 1992 alone, whereas grunge was taking on the world, the Whigs not solely launched the Uptown Avondale EP of pop and R&B covers — Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,” The Supremes’ “Come See About Me,” Al Inexperienced’s “Beware” — however they discovered area on their full-length vital breakthrough set Congregation to place their spin on “The Temple,” from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Celebrity. (On the accompanying tour, they’d additionally combine in bits from The Spinners’ 70s soul basic “I’ll Be Round” into their very own “Activate the Water,” with such mid-song interpolations changing into widespread apply for the Whigs in reside units over the many years.) Regardless of drawing from such an era-spanning number of supply materials, all of those covers in the end ended up sounding like Afghan Whigs songs, a sign of Dulli and his band’s love for and reference to the songs in query.

And at age 57, with the Whigs prepping launch of their ninth studio album — the appropriately searing and smoldering How Do You Burn? — for this Friday (Sept. 9), Dulli’s musical weight loss program stays as full and balanced as ever. “From the time I locked in on shopping for information to proper this minute, I’ve been an omnivorous consumer of music in no matter model it’s,” he says. “High 40, not high 40, jazz, hip-hop, nation music, folks music, classical music. I simply don’t regulate charts and issues like that — that’s not how I maneuver, by no means have. There’s two sorts of music: There’s music I like, and there’s music I don’t like.”

Beneath, Dulli talks with Billboard a few profession spent in awe (and in service) of the probabilities of fashionable music, in addition to attending to rely such pop purveyors as Usher and Olivia Rodrigo as followers, and the numerous such newer artists who “flipped the swap” for him through the recording of How Do You Burn? [Ed note: This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.]

It looks as if you had been a fairly large high 40 man once you had been younger. How did it enchantment to you as a child, and the way did that inform your perspective on music whilst you had been rising up? 

Properly, I imply, FM radio was nonetheless type of an unique idea after I was a toddler. I imply, I grew up with AM radio. My station was WMOH Hamilton Ohio, and I’ve to say — for a high 40 station, they moved across the genres fairly a bit, which was cool. Moreover, my mother was a teen after I was born, so y’know, I’m listening to what she’s listening to. By the point I’m like, three, my mother is 21, and nonetheless listening to what the popular culture dictated. So numerous the music that I heard was via my mother –together with her report assortment, after I obtained my arms on that. 

However the factor about high 40 or pop radio after I was a child was that they had been extremely well-written songs. Type of the golden period – it’s why the oldies radio remains to be so fashionable. As a result of these songs, they maintain up. 

And once you began within the early ‘80s – you’re transferring to Cincinnati, enjoying in bands, studying concerning the worlds of punk and indie – did that change your perspective about high 40 in any respect? Did you continue to like it the identical, or had been you viewing it in another way coming from this underground world?

I didn’t, y’know – I by no means turned my again on something. Individuals who had been like, all in on punk, and “I solely take heed to punk” – I used to be like, “Properly, you’re silly.” For those who’re reducing your self off and solely take heed to punk, I’m like, “You’re not gonna take heed to Patsy Cline? She’s not punk. You’re not gonna take heed to Miles Davis? He’s not punk.” Y’know, there’s an entire bunch of stuff that you simply’re leaving on the desk. 

So whereas I used to be absorbing punk, possibly some stuff obtained moved to the facet. However I by no means turned my again on any of it. 

Whenever you had been forming the Afghan Whigs, was it vital to you for the opposite members to even have that expansive view of music? That they not simply be rock guys or indie/punk guys? 

Properly, we had been all the identical age. So clearly, not all people favored precisely the identical stuff, however we discovered we shared numerous widespread pursuits. And what we didn’t know, one of many different guys would present us about. 

Because the Whigs had been kinda coming collectively, had been you continue to discovering inspiration within the type of massive MTV pop of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, new wave, stuff like that?

Oh, we used to play [Madonna’s] “Into the Groove”! We performed numerous Prince. I bear in mind we performed [The Bangles’ Prince-penned] “Manic Monday,” which was successful. We performed “Mandinka,” which was successful for Sinéad O’Connor. So yeah, we nonetheless would tilt that means. I imply, I like good songs, man. And nonetheless they arrive via is as much as the listener. 

And clearly, nearly from the very starting, covers have been a really massive a part of what you do – not simply reside, however on report. Was it all the time kind of the plan for the Whigs? 

I don’t suppose it was a plan, however it was a solution to like, heat up. And type of begin a dialogue contained in the band. The primary songs we performed as a band had been cowl songs. So it’s the way you get to know when you can play with somebody, after which discover out the opposite strengths. However I like to interpret, you understand what I imply? It’s enjoyable. And I wouldn’t know what it was prefer to not do this. There’s loads of room to do each, you don’t must be both/or. 

Whenever you discuss beginning a dialogue between band members via covers – does that lead you to both kind of uncover your band dynamic, or do originals come out of these covers? 

I feel so. As an illustration, one of many first songs that we ever performed as a band was “Psychedelic Shack” by the Temptations. So that you’ve obtained kind of that psychedelic soul that was taking place within the early ‘70s, with a lotta wah-wah guitar, that obtained Rick [G. Nelson, lead guitarist] on the wah-wah — and a track that I can consider that got here out of that was “Activate the Water” from Congregation. I can hear that in there. For certain, man: I feel that by attempting various things, it might lead you to your personal factor. And I imagine somebody stated, “Expertise borrows and genius steals.” 

You discuss how a lot you like reinterpreting these songs – that’s one in every of my favourite issues about the best way you guys do covers, is that they’re not devoted within the strictest sense, however they’re not full reinventions both. They only sorta sound just like the would if that they had been Whigs originals. Was that troublesome to do the primary couple instances – to seek out your personal voice inside these basic songs? How a lot of a course of is that for you?

I’ll let you know why it occurred that means: As a result of I couldn’t be bothered to studying how they did it. So I might get it as shut as I might to the best way I needed to listen to it. And so they had already completed it their means anyway. 

I used to be listening to Uptown Avondale this morning, and it was placing to me – on the time, it was in all probability the peak of the grunge explosion, and also you guys had been overlaying Freda Payne and Supremes songs. What was the response to that, both at your Sub Pop label or together with your friends? Did folks get what you had been doing, or did it appear kinda alien to them?

I don’t know that it mattered at that time to us what anybody else thought we had been doing. We had been gonna do it whether or not you needed us to or not. We had been already leaving Sub Pop at the moment anyway, in order that was a the final report we did for them. However we had already completed the Supremes songs as B-sides I feel, through the Congregation Tour. So we had already been doing it, and having a superb time with it. That had actually no bearing on the place we had been gonna go after that. Apart from, y’know, it positively began to paint the albums we did subsequent – it actually did in Congregation, Gents, Black Love, and all the best way as much as 1965. It simply more and more obtained that means, slightly extra R&B-ish. 

Wouldn’t it hassle you when different bands who had been ostensibly your friends, or within the scene, would do these type of pop or R&B covers, however they’d do it with both a type of ironic edge, or they’d play up the novelty of it? That was fairly prevalent on the time, and nonetheless could be for many years after…

I imply, The Replacements did stuff like that too, like, a lot earlier. However I’m gonna go all the best way again to, for example, The Stones doing Chuck Berry songs, and The Beatles doing Isley Brothers songs. I feel it’s simply… you get turned on by one thing, you need to see when you can sound like that. After which the good ones take it someplace else.

Whenever you say “the good ones” – had been there different bands that you simply regarded to on the time as fellow interpreters of track, that you simply had been like, “Oh man, every time these guys do an older track, they actually put one thing new into it, they put themselves into it”? Anybody you kinda regarded to for instance there? 

No. I imply, I’m my very own instance. [Chuckles.] 

Whenever you guys obtained signed to Elektra and began getting performed on MTV extra, had been there any moments throughout that kind of interval through the mid-’90s the place you felt like, “OK, now I perceive what it’s prefer to be on the heart of popular culture”? 

Um… no. I’ve to say, that there was slightly little bit of “cautious what you would like for” after we obtained there. As a result of it obtained slightly overwhelming for me. Similar to the additional stuff that you simply needed to do, that I wasn’t totally comfy with. I positively had type of an ambivalent relationship with that after I obtained there. 

Was it a dream of yours to get a track on high 40, to have a kind of basic pop track hits that may be coated by future generations?

I might love that. And I can let you know that I’m nonetheless attempting! However for certain, yeah, I might… I imply, I like to jot down songs. To write down a track that captured the zeitgeist, because it had been – to get one thing within the high 40, that may blow my thoughts. 

Did you take note of the Billboard charts once you guys had been popping?

Probably not. I wasn’t like that individual, ever. I do bear in mind when Nirvana knocked Michael Jackson out of No. 1. And that was a second I used to be like, “Oh, wow. One in every of ours did that.” To somebody who was – I imply, Michael Jackson was in all probability my first musical hero. I liked Jackson 5, man, they had been my favourite. 

Have been you continue to maintaining with Michael Jackson by the point of Harmful and Nirvana kicking them off, or did it simply really feel like a win for the house staff? 

Nah, it positively felt like a win for the house staff. I’m attempting to consider what the final Michael Jackson track I favored was, and it was in all probability “Clean Felony” or one thing. So he was simply type of doing issues that I didn’t actually care about anymore. I imply, I liked Michael Jackson, nonetheless love his music to at the present time. However at the moment, Nirvana doing that, I used to be like, “Hell yeah, man.” Very pleased with them. And well-deserved, they made a fantastic report. 

In order the Whigs went on hiatus, as you went solo and with the Twilight Singers – how did your relationship with fashionable music change, and the way did you proceed to eat music? It appeared such as you obtained significantly impressed by the brand new wave of R&B initially of the 2010s, once you had been overlaying Frank Ocean and The Weeknd. Did that specific second in music flip you on in a brand new means? 

Properly yeah, however in the identical means that D’Angelo and Maxwell did within the early ‘90s. Or Tony! Toni! Toné! Anyone’s all the time flipping the swap, there’s all the time a brand new one that’s bagged it up and is about to point out it to you and present you ways it may be completed. That’s what I like. Y’know, you might draw a line from D’Angelo to Frank Ocean. However once more, it’s not a chart factor for me: It’s simply, “Do I prefer it, do I not prefer it?”

Do you’re feeling like most people you’re employed with – your bandmates and friends – do they preserve the identical type of open ears that you simply do? Or do you discover that’s type of anomalous, that most individuals, even musicians, as they get to a sure age, their style is their style they usually’re not essentially seeking to get turned on by new stuff?

Yeah. I imply, does all people in my band take heed to as a lot music as me? Completely not. Am I turning them on? Sure. However despite the fact that they may not take heed to as a lot music as me, each single man in my group has performed me one thing I’ve by no means heard earlier than, and that I favored. So once more, possibly it’s not a brand new factor that they performed me, however it was new to me.

I can let you know that after we did [Frank Ocean’s] “Lovecrimes”… I organized it myself, and I introduced it to them, and we began enjoying it, they usually had been like, “That’s cool, when did you write that?” I used to be like, “I didn’t!” [Laughs.] And that’s once they came upon that they had been enjoying on a Frank Ocean track. It was similar to, I simply whipped it up and confirmed them a brand new track. And who wrote it solely issues to the writer. 

Are you typically interested in songs that it feels such as you might have written?

Properly, what I all the time say, for me to cowl a track, is: I’ve to want that I wrote it, after which I’ve to behave like I did. 

I needed to ask concerning the couple gigs you performed with Usher a decade in the past. Did you develop any type of relationship with him? Have been you followers of his, was he a fan of yours?

Properly I used to be positively a fan of Usher. Unbelievable singer, and nice dancer too. However when – oddly sufficient, he heard “Lovecrimes.” And our pal Andy, who used to run The FADER, he put us in contact, as a result of Usher needed to play South by Southwest, however he needed to play with a rock band. He requested us to be the band. 

And we had been type of completed then. We had already completed the reunion tour. I used to be really in Australia, working with Steve Kilbey, once more. So Usher inadvertently obtained the Afghan Whigs again collectively. And we went down and did that present with him and determined to make an album after that. Then we did Do to the Beast, after which after we toured Do to the Beast, he texted me whereas we had been in Brooklyn. He was like, “Hey, I’m in Brooklyn – can I come right down to the present tonight?” And I used to be like, “Hell yeah, dude!” After which he was like, “Do you wanna do ‘Climax’?” And I used to be like, “Completely.” So he obtained up there and he forgot the phrases, so I needed to get him out of it. 

Have there been different moments in recent times, or perhaps a whereas in the past, the place different artists have paid you that kind of homage and respect? Or artists that you simply wouldn’t essentially count on to be Afghan Whigs followers, both coated a track of yours or given you that kind of hat tip? 

We don’t get coated a lot. We is perhaps a difficult cowl!  

It’s included in your press data now that Olivia Rodrigo’s a fan of the Whigs. Have you ever really heard something about that?

I did hear – you understand what, I heard that via Patrick Keeler, who additionally performs drums in Raconteurs. And he met her on the Jack White present in L.A., and shared that data… that made me smile. 

That should be some type of profession validation, that possibly the largest new pop star on the planet the previous 12 months or so is a fan of your band. 

Yeah. You understand, I’m a self-validator. However look man, it’s all the time good to get a praise. Who doesn’t like that? Even when any person’s like, “Hey, I like your shirt.” It makes you smile, doesn’t it? 

She’s type of emblematic of a brand new factor in fashionable music now, the place she’s a pop star however she’s additionally a rock star, and the kind of traces between pop and rock and pop and R&B – mainly all genres. The traces between them are kind of blurrier than they had been again within the ‘80s and ‘90s. Is {that a} cool factor so that you can see? Or do you’re feeling the traces have really all the time been blurry? 

Properly, I imply, once more – return to the Stones, who had been a blues band, they usually had been a rock band, however then they wrote pop songs. After which when disco got here, they did disco songs too. So that you’re kind of similar to, browsing the tradition. Y’know, “Are you able to keep on the wave, and get your self again to the seashore to do it once more?” 

So I’ve not heard any of Olivia Rodrigo’s rock ‘n’ roll work. However I’m certain she’s… I’ll put it to you want this: The music that youngsters are making as of late is type of mind-blowing. As an illustration, [Whigs guitarist] Christopher Thorn’s child is 15 years outdated. And he’s enjoying me music and I’m like, “Oh my god, you’re 10 years forward of me.” With the sophistication of his compositions. 

Like, how outdated was Lorde when Pure Heroine got here out? 16 or 17? So which means she wrote the songs a 12 months or two earlier than that? So which means we’re speaking a few 14 or 15-year-old child, doing refined composition work. Billie Eilish and her brother for example, as effectively. These are – they’re coming at it simply at a extra totally shaped at youthful ages than anyone I bear in mind.

Was there anyone from that technology – or not from that technology – who you had been listening to throughout How Do You Burn that you simply discovered inspiration in?

I imply, I’m always listening to new stuff. I might provide you with some names, and I wouldn’t essentially say that you simply hear them within the report we made, however… there’s this younger woman named Nilüfer Yanya. And I Shazamed her a pair instances, we ended up enjoying a competition in England final month that she carried out at, and I watched her carry out and she or he was incredible. There’s a younger French lady named Camélia Jordana who I completely love. I like this British instrumental all-girl group known as Los Bitchos, they’re incredible. There’s this younger lady named BENEE, who I actually like – she’s both Australian or New Zealand, I can’t bear in mind. Genesis Owusu, I like him too. Arooj Aftab. Laura Mvula. These are all newish or new artists which have proven me a superb time during the last couple years. 

I don’t suppose you guys do any straight covers on the brand new album, however I discover that you simply kinda sneak an Ice Dice lyric (“Then we performed bones, and I’m yelling ‘Domino’” from “It Was a Good Day”) into “Concealer.” What was the inspiration there?

Uhhh, I used to be simply placing the track collectively and – it introduced itself, and I used to be like, “Do it!” I’m gonna sneak it in there. I’m sneaking issues in left and proper. 

There’s a lot litigation now over songwriting credit, and who does and doesn’t get credited once you’re doing that type of pop intertextuality factor. Do you ever fear that it makes these type of quick-hit references, or these type of brief lifts – does it make it too troublesome to incorporate these, with all of the potential authorized difficulties? 

Come at me, bro! 

That’s your official stance?

I imply, what else am I gonna do? I’m not doing something dangerous, y’know? I might let you know – I’ll put it to you this fashion: I’ve lifted straight from among the greatest hits of all time. And people folks haven’t come at me. So both I’m too small potatoes, or they don’t give a f–ok. 

You’ve launched so many nice covers through the years – some reside, some interpolated via your personal work – however numerous them are both arduous to seek out now, or they’re scattered in every single place. Do you ever consider gathering them multi function place, as like a field set or another type of illustration of the total Afghan Whigs/Greg Dulli pop canon? 

I’m wondering how arduous that may be. I’ve been on so many labels… however we’re placing collectively a Twilight Singers field set, and that may have all the covers. The Twilight Singers is the one band that I ever did a covers album with, in order that shall be there. However we additionally did a ton of covers, and there’s an additional disc simply of these. In order that’s coming subsequent 12 months. 

However yeah… the Frank Ocean track, and the Queenie Lyons track that we did again in 2012, I used to be unhappy to see that these aren’t up on streaming. And the Police cowl, too. So there are a bunch of… I gotta herd some cats, Andrew. There’s a bunch on the market that, you’re proper, might be corralled. I gotta get on that. 

Do you ever take into consideration the type of full image of the pop music historical past that you simply’re creating via these covers? That that is the Greg Dulli model of pop historical past that you simply’ve created via these many many covers through the years?

Ehhhh, y’know… not actively. I’m type of an in-the-moment dude. However I do must say, that you simply do have me eager about herding cats. There’s so much on the market, and it’s simply type of willy-nilly. 

Do you might have a decide for the best pop track of all time? High 5, contenders, no matter?

Oof… The primary pop track that I ever like, simply fell in love with, and nonetheless like to at the present time was “I Need You Again” by the Jackson 5. I feel that’s an ideal track. I feel “Do It Once more” by Steely Dan is an ideal track. I feel “Cruisin’” by Smokey Robinson is an ideal track. I feel “Cult Logic” by Miike Snow is an ideal track, too. It’s incredible. These are my high 4. 

And when you might have one in every of your personal songs — one Afghan Whigs track to develop into a kind of pop commonplace — do you might have a decide for which that may be? 

Oooh… I might say “Somethin’ Hot.” 

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