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Nothing compares to Greg Dulli. The 2012 incarnation of the Afghan Whigs frontman is several shades removed from the erratic guy who penned brooding, caustic, and catchy death anthems for the heralded alt-rock act until their breakup in 2001. His love for delivering soul music in a punk capsule broadened into electronic experimentation over the past decade with the Twilight Singers. Last year's Dynamite Steps shows a fascination with noir-ish characters still sticks out of him like a horse-filled hypodermic.
Dulli's vices and a lot of tobacco puffs led to performances that didn't always live up to the recorded promise of the Whigs' studio material, but his sobriety of the past couple of years – and now the band's 2012 reunion run – have been fruitful. Before Sunday's Varsity Theater gig, Dulli speaks candidly about reclaiming his voice, and his new drug of choice.
Gimme Noise: What's your cigarette intake like these days?
The Afghan Whigs play a sold out show on Sunday, October 28, at Varsity Theater; 612.604.0222
Greg Dulli: I haven't smoked a cigarette in four years.
GN: When the Afghan Whigs performed at Lollapalooza, it just sounded so clear.
GD: I can't imagine smoking a cigarette ever again. It's not that it's revolting to me, because occasionally I'll smell one and think "Wow, that smells good." But I don't smoke, and have no plans on smoking. I think it's really helped my singing exponentially.
GN: What do you want to do with your voice now that you have this new freedom?
GD: I think I'm really experimenting with it right now. On the last Twilight Singers tour, I started taking my voice out for "midnight rides" – to see, you know, how fast it could go or how high it could jump. And now, on this tour, I finally get to sing the [Afghan Whigs] songs in ways that I wanted to sing them back then, when it was desire and not ability. Now desire and ability have met in a happy place.
GN: Anything else that you do in terms of prep to get your voice ready for shows now?
GD: I learned a breathing and warm-up technique from this Italian friend of mine. It involves a CPR mask, and I'll leave it at that [chuckles].
GN: So with all this clean air in your lungs, do you still burn incense, or was that just a visual motif of your 1996 album, Black Love?
GD: I don't really do it as much anymore, but I did the other night. I did burn a stick of incense for the first time in like... six months. Just Monday night, actually. Strange that you bring that up, but I used to burn a lot of incense. I don't really smoke, I'm not around it very much, but it was nice the other night.
GN: So you're off the cigarettes, and you stopped drinking. What do you still allow yourself?
GD: I smoke weed.
GN: There ya go.
GD: Not all the time, but you allow yourself, you know, certain liberties. It's just like the Dutch, man. I've scarcely met a Dutch person that smokes weed or fucks prostitutes, but the fact that they're allowed to keeps them in line, I think.
GN: And it won't have the same effect on your lungs.
GD: I don't like, sit there and smoke blunt after blunt or even... I'm like a two-hit dude, you know? I take two hits and then, you know, look for cookies [laughs].
GN: What is it going to mean to bring the Afghan Whigs back to Minneapolis?
GD: I'll tell you what, I actually flew through Minneapolis on the way back to L.A. and I love Minneapolis. I always have. When we were forming the band and going out and playing, Minneapolis was up there with playing New Orleans for me. As someone who has idolized Prince since I first heard him, I had to go where he was from.
GN: What do you see beyond November right now [Note: After this interview, the Whigs announced a New Year's date in Cincinnati]?
GD: Beyond November, from the time I was born, comes December. Honestly, in regards to where the Afghan Whigs go, I'm actually just kind of living in the moment, and doing so rather successfully now, and not really thinking anything other than what's happening right now. I'm not even trying to be cryptic. I think we're having a good time, and I think we're playing very well together. I think the extra pieces that we have added have been invaluable to the sound of this version of the group. I'm enjoying what's happening now, and I think whenever I've thought too far ahead, that's when I get in trouble. I'm trying to stay out of trouble.