Interview The Afghan Whigs: ‘I’m Closing No Doors’

Influenced more by Marvin Gaye than Black Sabbath, DIY speaks to Afghan Whigs.

During the Grunge Wars of the early nineties, the Afghan Whigs stood alone. Influenced more by Marvin Gaye than Black Sabbath, and not even bothering to feign Seattle as their birthplace, they mixed soul and rock ‘n’ roll to devastating effect, perhaps most notably on 1993’s ‘Gentlemen’. At their epicentre was Greg Dulli, a self proclaimed man ‘with a dick for a brain’, whose lyrical honesty left all women reeling (is this really how men think?).

And then, they were gone.

Fast forward 13 years, and the news that they’d reformed for a few overseas dates and a single UK appearance at ATP’s ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ festival in May, came as a bit of a surprise. Over the years, any suggestion of the idea had been immediately been rebuffed, shot down in flames, nice idea and yes, everyone else is doing it, but we weren’t expecting Dulli to be taking time out from the Twilight Singers for the Afghan Whigs any time soon. So when DIY got the opportunity to make that long distance call to the good old US of A and find out what’s next for the band that would never reform, well, we dialled those numbers quicker than you can say ‘Fountain & Fairfax’…

Welcome back! How did the reformation come about, was the catalyst the approach by ATP?
Well, that’s one reason, you know. If that was the only reason, that would be a bit one dimensional, but that’s one of the reasons, yeah.

Isn’t (ATP founder) Barry Hogan’s wife a huge fan? I think I heard that she badgered him about you guys for years?
We had been asked before, and some other things factored into it, but their diligence is one of the reasons we’ll be playing there.

It’s only a year since you claimed that Afghan Whigs would never reform… Are you regretting that statement, now that you’re constantly being reminded of it?
Saying hard things like that, I’ll never do it again.

You’re curating the New York ATP, right? How’ve you gone about picking the bands for the line up?
I made a giant list that I sent to Barry, and then he and I went back and forth. It was an interesting process, obviously I was a fan of all the groups and individuals that I asked to perform. We used the contacts that he had, obviously some were available and some were not. But I think we’ve put together a good show.

Is there a notable ‘one that got away’?
I don’t think we’ve got Prince! There are a couple of others that I’m still holding out hope on, but Prince was a notable pass. I think I have a few left to go, so I’ll keep that open, I don’t want to put a whammy on it.

Should we expect to see an Afghan Whigs curated ATP in Butlins at Minehead any time soon?
Not yet, but I still haven’t met Barry in person, I’ll let you know after I see him for the first time, he’s just a voice on the phone to me!

You’re headlining the ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror Show at Alexandra Palace in May, which must be one of your biggest UK shows. Do you feel a sense of vindication, that there’s so much interest after all these years?
I’m flattered, but I, I don’t really know what to say about that, that’s sort of for other people to talk about, not for me. I feel kind of like I can’t answer that question.

So, what should we expect from a 2012 Afghan Whigs show?
Well, a great rock and roll show! The songs are already written, and if you ever knew us, you’ll know, and if you don’t, then you’ll be in for a surprise. We most likely still will throw in covers. We haven’t actually started rehearsing yet, so it exists, in a vacuum, that’s how I apply it.

So you’ve not been rehearsing solidly in preparation?
We got together in November to kick the tyres, and we were lethal, so it was my decision to hold back until May to play again. We’re cooling our jets. We didn’t play together for 13 years, I don’t think another couple of months is going to be a problem.

How did it feel to play the old songs?
When we played them in November, I had such a wonderful experience revisiting the songs. They really held up, I had no doubt that they would, but I got all the magical feelings that I was looking for. There were some songs that took me back, they’re like photographs that you see from your past, there’s some good ones and there’s some strange ones, but as far as a ‘This Is Your Life’ moment, it was pretty magical for me.

When Guided By Voices reformed, they immediately threw out a new album, but the Pixies have been doing it for years without feeling the need. Are you planning on putting out a new Afghan Whigs record?
You know what, I am alluding to the previous statement that I made; I am going to keep the book open and keep the possibility, all possibilities available. We’re going to see what happens, and react to what happens, but right now it’s wide open. Yes, maybe, maybe not, we’ll see. I hate to be ambiguous, but in this particular case, I think it’s best.

How about re-releasing the back catalogue?
That’s definitely going to happen.

So what does the reformation mean for the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins? Are they on hold or is this a full stop?
When we did The Gutter Twins, the Twilight Singers were on hold, when we did the Twilight Singers, The Gutter Twins were on hold. I’ve sort of set up a couple of different gangs for me to hang with, so I’m closing no doors, they’re all available to me on my whim. There’s no lack of commitment, when you have three bands, you can’t run all three at once. I actually don’t know what I’m going to do next. I don’t know what I’m going to do this afternoon.

Do you notice your influence on any ‘current’ bands? I often think The National owe you a bit of a debt?
You know, different people will come up to me, known and unknown, and tell me that we were an influence on them, and it’s always a great compliment to hear that. The National are from Cincinnati, and I’ve read that they’ve given us a salute in the past, and they’re a great band, and if we influenced them in any way shape or form, I think that’s awesome.

Final, slightly off kilter question, but the cover of ‘Gentlemen’, is great, it sort of evokes the theme of the album, whilst throwing a curveball because… well, they’re kids. Any idea what happened to them?
I don’t! You know, I could call our publicist at the time, that’s her daughter. They must be quite adult by now. I have no idea, that’s something that I haven’t thought about! You know what, I’m gonna look into that for you, that’s an interesting question that I’m kind of bummed that I haven’t thought of myself!

Afghan Whigs play their only UK date at ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror at Alexandra Palace on Sunday 27th May.

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