Up In It: Greg Dulli Talks Afghan Whigs Reunion

The frontman for the reformed ATP headliners speaks for the first time on his old band’s new lease on life

Afghan Whigs
Afghan Whigs / Photo by Sam Holden
WRITTEN BY
Steve Kandell

While last week’s announcement that the Greg Dulli-curated 2012 edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties in New Jersey would be capped off by the first Afghan Whigs shows in 13 years may not have been a shock to anyone minding the indie-rock rumor mill, or keeping track of which beloved ‘90s bands had yet to give into reunion fever, big questions still abound: Why now? What else is in the works? And no one better to pose these questions to than Dulli himself, in New Orleans overseeing some home renovations that could be seen as plenty metaphorical, if one were so inclined.

Dulli was cagey as to whether or not the band would perform publicly before or after the September festival date, other than to continually lapse into the plural, so we just leave you to think of all the other bands that reformed after more than a decade to only play one festival show. [Note: We are winking at you so hard right now.]

You’ve obviously been asked about getting the Afghan Whigs back together countless times over the past 13 years. Why is this the right moment?
The best way I can answer that is, it’s the perfect storm: I did this acoustic tour about a year and a half ago and [Whigs bassist] John Curley did six of the shows with me, and we had a great time. We hadn’t spent any time on the road together since the band. In the spring, I spent a couple days in Minneapolis with [Whigs guitarist] Rick McCullom, and that was also a great time. I started talking with [ATP founder] Barry Hogan on the phone, and I really admired what he’s done, and the combination of those experiences convinced me this could be a good time. Plus, I had nothing really pressing this summer, so it gives me something to do. The clincher, though, was playing those songs acoustically — I hadn’t performed them in 15 years and I thought it’d would be cool to play them again electrified.

And there wasn’t a disconnect? Those songs are so visceral and personal and you’ve made so much other music in the years since.
Oh, we’re playing all new material. No old songs, just new stuff we’ve come up with. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Well, I’d think that the way bands like the Pixies and Pavement and My Bloody Valentine have done it the past few years, there’s not really the expectation for new material. Does that make it easier or take some of the pressure off?
I don’t really know. I will say that when we first got together in New Orleans after Thanksgiving, we ran through, like, 30 songs, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I found it to be a transcendent experience. I felt deeply connected to the material, and I think that bodes well for the performances. We did record four cover songs last month, just to see how it would jibe, and we did them kinda fast and easy-peasy. We’ll be playing those in the shows and we’ll release a couple of them somehow, I’m sure.

What were the covers?
I don’t want to say.

Covers have always been a big part of your sets, both with the Afghan Whigs and the Twilight Singers; if you guys went out and did nothing but covers, people might not be too bummed about that, either.
We were a great cover band, so that’s something I’d consider. Like a Prince-style late-night thing. We might have to pull “The Cross” back out.

Is there a plan to reissue the old Afghan Whigs albums with unreleased material?
We’ve been talking to Sub Pop about reissues, but still not sure what we could do there. I do know that John Curley has the Gentlemen demos, which I haven’t heard since we made that album. He’s the archivist of the team, he has everything we ever did. I don’t even know how much unreleased stuff there even is. There is a “Crime Scene Part Two” from the Black Love era that I remember being cool. That was a long time ago.

At this point in your career, you’ve done more albums without the Afghan Whigs than with them. Now that you have some distance, can you put your finger on what was different about that band and those songs chemistry-wise?
There’s something ancient and intuitive about playing with John and Rick, and it’s a cool feeling. We have no plans of going any further than what we’ve already done as far as recording. Our main goal is to celebrate what we did and enjoy each other’s company. That’s it.

Do you have any sense of what the Afghan Whigs’ legacy might be to a generation of fans 20 years younger than you? Is that something you even think about? Do you feel like the band has something to prove?
Of course I have interest in that. I hope there are some new faces when we play, but I honestly have no idea what to expect. That’s part of the greatness of it. If you ever liked us, you’re gonna have a great time. If you never knew who the fuck we were, you’re gonna have a great time. The show we’re designing is a real show. It’s an experience.

In what way?
We never had a light guy. Now we’re gonna have a light show. It’s not like some rock opera, but it’s not just a throw-and-go, either. There’s some thought being put into this. Also, there’s better mental health. Some of the last shows I vaguely remember from the end of the band were pretty messy — it’s an opportunity to play on level ground this time. It’s not like anyone is making a million dollars or anything like that.

A million dollars, no, but a lot of your peers have definitely found ways to reform with comforts that weren’t available in the ‘90s, in a manner befitting adults with families. I’d think that has to be some of the appeal of doing this now — you’re not just cramming yourselves into a van.
In our case, I think the songs have matured gracefully. In all humility, it’s gonna be an amazing experience for everyone, including the people onstage.

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