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How Greg Dulli's Beatboxing Shaped the Afghan Whigs' New Album

Greg Dulli is second from the right.

Greg Dulli is second from the right.

The Afghan Whigs | First Avenue | Saturday, October 11
Since slithering onto the scene with 1988's Big Top Halloween, the Afghan Whigs have made a science of dredging the darker sides of the human psyche. Frontman Greg Dulli has entertained devotion and derision from his shadowy and often disturbing narratives -- any number of which could be construed as autobiographical in nature.

With a new release, Do to the Beast, in the bins and a U.S. tour hitting stride, one would think that Dulli's plate was plenty full. However, he also found time to contribute photographs to the soon to be released I Apologize in Advance for the Awful Things I'm Gonna Do, a music lover's dream, which also features haiku from Danny Bland (Dwarves, Best Kissers in the World), calligraphy by Exene Cervenka (X), all designed by Victor Krummenacher (Camper Van Beethoven). Plus, the group will release a deluxe 21st anniversary version of Gentlemen later this month.  In advance of the band's First Avenue appearance on Saturday, the dark prince of deviance was good enough to chat about the unintended consequences of beatboxing, and stealing from Phil Spector.

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Gimme Noise: I have a quote for you. "It's going to take like a Saudi Arabian to put the Afghan Whigs back together."

Greg Dulli: (Laughing) His name is Ahmed. And we're in a hot tub right now. A woman is fanning me, and when we get done talking, she'll feed the grapes.

So what came first, was it the tour, or did you know previous to that that you wanted to put out new [Afghan] Whigs material?

We toured, and promoters were trying to get us to continue the tour, or do more touring. And I was like, if I ever tour again, I will always do it with new material.

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So, is Do to the Beast one of those album names you had in the drawer?

It is not an album name from the drawer. That came from my friend, Manuel, who heard me beatboxing and thought that's what I was saying.

Now, is that true?

It is very true. He thought I was saying. "Do to the beast what you do to the bush." That was the full title. But I didn't want to be Fiona Apple, so I chopped it in half.

What are the symbols about?

Um, what are they? I think it's man, earth, serpent and fire. It's runes.

Now the Afghan Whigs were always a little out of step with the times. Does that make it easier to prepare to make a new record after a 14-year layoff?

Any kind of expectation is a prison. As soon as you try to appease an ideal or an expectation, you have limited yourself. My whole process of working on this thing was, "I need to make a record. I'm going to make a record for this group, so all of the songs I come up with at this time, will be for this group." Not worrying if it sounded Afghan Whig-enough or any of that. That's just not in my wheelhouse. So I just wrote the best songs I could, and showed them to the fellas and whichever ones we could play the best were the ones that got put on the record. A really simple process.

One of the things I immediately noticed listening to the record was how dense the songs are. Did you start with a skeletal arrangement and slowly add onto that, or did you know the songs would benefit from more complex arrangements?

You know what, man? I just love density. Whenever someone hears a "non-dense" song from me, I'm oddly proud that I made it through without piling a bunch of stuff on it. But I love the wall of sound, I really do. I love to be crushed by the weight of instrumentation. I don't know why.

The song "Algiers" especially, the whole Phil Spector thing --

It starts with the "Be My Baby" drum beat. Might as well push all of your chips in if you're going to play at the Phil Spector poker table.

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How are fans reacting to the new material?

They love it. I've always been kinda blessed in that the folks who come to watch me, in any of the bands, seem to be open-minded and ready to hear what I've been up to. When we did the reunion shows two years ago, we played everything you would've wanted to hear. So, now this is a different show and I think the people are really enjoying it, you know. I think it's a great record, and it's really fun to play.

Any tasty covers on tap?

A couple things... and I'm working on another one now -- so yes. We've done some stuff in Europe, but it's usually off the cuff. There's this new song I like... I'll have to wait until we get out there to pull it off.

So, what are you listening to these days?

I really like the Jungle record. I like the new William Tyler record. I like the Protomartyr record. I like this group from L.A. called Deluxe. Those are a few off the top of my head.

Can we expect a live Afghan Whigs record from this tour?

Maybe. We've been recording all the shows and, in particular, the San Paulo show is really, really good. And the London show that we just played last week was really, really good too. And we have a great recording of it. So, off the top of my head, those two are kind of the frontrunners. But I would never make that call until we took a run through the United States... we could very well get the ringer out there.

So obviously it's about the [Afghan] Whigs for the foreseeable future, but if you were to guess, what would you say is next? Another [Afghan] Whigs record maybe?

I know that we're going to do a Twilight Singers box set... that's actually what's being worked on right now. And I've been digging through the archives...a whole lotta stuff that never came out. So I don't know exactly what I'll do next, but we're going to play this [Afghan] Whigs tour into next year. I don't know how far into next year.

The Afghan Whigs. With Joseph Arthur. 18+, 10:30 p.m., Saturday, October 11 at First Avenue. Tickets.

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