The new Afghan Whigs album, Do to the Beast, their first in 16 years, starts with a backbeat and a sharp guitar riff, before Greg Dulli’s voice comes in, howling. It’s muscular and tortured, further proof that even though the Afghan Whigs started in 1986, broke up in 2001, and occasionally reunited in various permutations since then, there’s a particular magic to an Afghan Whigs song, an alchemy of sex and drama, and Greg Dulli makes up the heart of it. Dulli’s been busy in the past ten years, working on projects like The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins, which have their own appeal but never quite get to that Afghan Whigs feeling of obsession and desperation.
For Do to the Beast, Dulli is joined by former Whigs bassist John Curley and a host of other musicians from bands like Chavez and Queens of the Stone Age, and the results feel like classic Whigs: songs that are hard-rock rave-ups, swooning ballads, and soulful turns of piano. I talked with Dulli about why he got the band back together, where you should eat in New Orleans, and more:
Flavorwire: What was the impetus to do the Afghan Whigs again?
Greg Dulli: We decided we wanted to make a record. We went on a tour a year and a half ago and had a great time, and decided to quietly go in the studio and see what happened.
The album’s great, and the songs are a real mix of stuff you’ve been doing throughout your career. How did you put them together?
I don’t start out with any kind of constitution of the record. I’ve really written songs the same way since I was a teenager, you know? I sit down, I work on a riff, I sing a scratch melody over the riff and try and figure out how I’m going to sing the song. And then I write words that are appropriate for the mood of the song. So you know, without fail, the sound of the music dictates what is going to be said in the songs.
The mood’s still moody on this one. You still sound like romance is trouble and girls are rough, and it doesn’t get better.
I don’t try to interpret my songs for other people, you know. I do my thing and once they’re done, they’re —
Out to the world?
When you’re writing your lyrics, I’m curious about what you read, whether there are any books that inspire you.
I’m trying to think of the last book I read. I don’t think I’ve read a book in a year, so… I mean, I do read a lot, I read magazine articles, I read the newspaper, but all last year I was just working on music all the time, and I’ve worked on a lot of instrumental music, too. And I listen to a lot of instrumental music as well. That’s kind of where I’m at.
That makes sense, particularly when you’re busy creating. Sometimes your head needs to pay attention to that.
Well, when I’m doing that, it’s not that I don’t listen to the radio or what have you, but when I’m coming down from recording, I listen to silence. When you do music all day long, it’s kind of cool to take a break from it and just listen to ambient sounds of the world around you.
Yeah. The album was recorded in Joshua Tree…
Some of it was, not all of it was.
But what kind of vibe is out there?
It’s the desert. It’s quiet. There’s no distractions out there, so it’s a great place to get in touch with your thoughts.
Do you feel like location made a difference in sort of what muses were coming out?
I think location, where you are and what you see and who you interact with… it’s not that you’re really even consciously aware of what’s happening, it’s just kind of your — where you are… you know? But I try to stay in the present as much as possible, so if I’m in New Orleans, there’s people everywhere, I walk a lot. But in the desert, it’s kind of quiet, there aren’t a lot of people around. It depends on where we are.
Where should somebody go to eat in New Orleans?
There’s more great restaurants in New Orleans — I mean, Mariza’s great, Herbsaint’s great, Cochon is great, Coop’s [Place] is great. There’s four… Lilette is great, The Joint… I mean, we could be here all day talking about food.
You’ve been in music for most of your adult life. Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known starting out?
No. I’m still looking for things to know about, you know? It’s why I collaborate with so many people. If you just stay in a vacuum, you’re never going to learn anything. So I play with a lot of different musicians. I travel around, I try and keep things fresh and interesting for myself. I tend to seek out people to learn tricks from.