Greg Dulli’s lyrics indicate that he has, perhaps, some Issues. The singer for Afghan Whigs often chronicles the bombed out terrain of relationships gone wrong (singing unapologetically, even with gusto, lines like “Ladies, let me tell you about myself/I got a dick for a brain/And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you,” off of 1993’s corrosive yet very soulful masterwork Gentlemen. Still, Dulli’s mesmerizing stage presence stirs the womanhood of many a female fan. Earlier this year he turned in a brilliant performance as the singing voice of John Lennon in the largely (and unfairly) overlooked movie Backbeat. The Whigs head into the studio this fall, but to satisfy us in the meantime, they present an EP, What Jail Is Like, a mélange of covers, live tunes and both live and studio versions of the forcible title track. Dulli talks to us from a Seattle hotel room about how he keeps on keepin’ on.
You had a strict Catholic upbringing. True?
I think I allowed it to get kind of strict. I was an altar boy for four years. I was never molested, though. [Laughs] I passed out on the altar two Sundays in a row. The second time it happened, the priest and the deacon brought me backst … no, not backstage. Backstage at the church! [Laughs] They asked me, “Greg, are you on drugs?” I was like “No! I’m in eighth grade, for chrissakes! I don’t even know where to buy drugs!”
Were you forced to be an altar boy?
No, I kinda wanted to. I liked the suits. The black dress with the white thing over the top. I figured if I had to go to church, I might as well be onstage.
You’re from Cincinnati, a town that’s a tad conservative.
I would agree with you wholeheartedly. I just wish it wasn’t so fuckin’ uptight in Cincinnati. They need to let the cork out of their ass a little bit. You know what’s a cool town? Ripley, W.Va. I used to live down there. There’s all kinds of cool mountain people. There’s a little town close to Ripley called Twilight. There’s a world-famous clog dancer there that’s about to become a superstar.
You’re not foolin’ me on this, are you?
Not at all. I think his star is ascending rapidly. A bunch of people around the country know who he is, and I heard he filmed a couple of episodes of Roseanne.
So who’s the suavest person you’ve ever met?
I met Lou Reed once after a Velvet Underground concert in Denmark. He was pretty suave. It was just one of those hi-how-ya-doin’ things. I didn’t want to linger and have him bum me out.
Are you thinking about the band’s direction next time in the studio?
I think that Steve [Earle] the drummer and I want to make a dance record, but I don’t think the other two guys will let us do that. Our drummer has been drawn into the rave scene.
He’s outta control. Everything he plays now has that four-on-the-floor disco beat. You have to check his pupils to make sure he’s not on ecstasy.
Are you a fan of raves?
There’s some interesting music that comes out of there. Some of it is annoying, but I’m kind of into it. I love to dance, too. A new way of doing it is always something I’ll check out.
What, jumping up and down in the same spot for four hours?
No, man, I move my ass. I get into it.
What’s been the most Spinal Tap moment of your career?
The grunge Beatles that I played with at the MTV Movie Awards. We kept being asked to walk toward the stage, and then they would send us back and make us wait in this room, and we’d stay in there and drink, and then they’d tell us to come again, and they weren’t ready for us again, and it felt like “Hello, Cleveland.”
What was it like sitting in the theater and watching Backbeat?
Didn’t do it. I’m going to wait for the video.
Didn’t you see a screening?
We didn’t get invited to a premiere or anything. We threw a little hissy fit in L.A. We told them the various ways that they blew it with that movie. They should have taken it to Cannes, they should have flown us all over to Cannes to play. We would have totally done it, too.
Do you fear getting old?
I’m ready to be an old man. Sitting on the porch. “Get out of my yard, you little fuckers!” Spraying them with the hose. I’ve learned not to be afraid of what’s inevitable. Old doesn’t bother me at all. All you old people are just whiners and complainers!
OK, fill in the blank: “My fellow band members call me the blank one of the group.”
You? Hmm. So, I’m reading an article on you and …
I haven’t read anything on us lately. I used to. Unless it’s something really heinous, then I have to see it, because I love the mean stuff. If it’s well done, I really enjoy it.
What’s something that’s been truly heinous?
We were going to Albany, N.Y., to play, and we picked up this little fanzine, and it was one of those typical kind of record reviews where in the first paragraph they say, “This band used to be cool when they were on an indie,” so you know what kind of review you’re going to get. So after he completely disemboweled our record, the last sentence of the review was “I fart on this record.” [Laughs] I must have laughed for a week every time I would think of that line.
I’m humbled in that writer’s presence.
Exactly. Scarcely has there been a better way to dismiss a record that I’ve ever seen in my life. I had to take my hat off to the guy.