When I let Greg Dulli know that I planned to start up a segment with the Phoenix called “Stalking Greg Dulli,” he told me it was “creepy” before letting out a loud laugh. “Stalking is weird word -– I have been stalked," he says. "Any use of the word stalk, unless it’s cornstalk, is sort of not my favorite word.”
Having surprised pretty much everyone late last year by announcing he was getting THE AFGHAN WHIGS back together after a decade and them some long layoff, Dulli checks in via telephone from his home in Los Angeles, where he’s taking a quick but much needed respite after traversing the globe with his old friends for the length of the summer. “The whole thing’s been fun,” he says. “I love to play rock and roll -– so what’s not to like?”
Though he claims not to be surprised by the across the board positive reaction to the Cincinnati outfit whose tortured, soulful, and biting songs have long provided the soundtrack to embittered members of both sexes after a particularly brutal break-up, Dulli has no trouble hiding his glee at having gotten the band back together.
“I am very happy that people are happy and I’m happy that we’re happy,” he says, using the word “happy” more times in one sentence than he probably did for the entire decade of the '90s. “It’s been a nice thing to do. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself, and now, after getting the initial push of songs where we needed to play a show, now we’re starting to reel in others from around the catalog and that’s been fun to bring in new meat.”
Some of the songs that are getting to spin around on the dance floor are “Son of the South,” which Dulli says hasn’t been played since 1990, “Gentlemen,” the title track to one of the more twisted and resilient paeans to relationship dysfunction, “John the Baptist” and “Citi Soleil,” both from the group’s 1998 swan song, 1965.
“We’ll see what else comes out,” Dulli says, stressing the fact that he’s not going to be anyone’s puppet. “Any song I don’t want to sing, I don’t sing -– that’s just how I roll. If I don’t feel like I can inhabit it in an honest way, it’s not worth it. We’re playing a lot of music. If we don’t play some song you like, I’m sorry, but we’re playing a lot of songs, and we’ll continue to pull songs out as the tour rolls on. I feel an obligation to me and my guys with a respect to the audience that’s coming.”
There has been some new material; downloads of the Marie “Queenie” Lyons chestnut “See and Don’t See” and a wrenching take on Frank Ocean’s “LoveCrimes” have already dropped for free, and live the Whigs have been tacking an original, “Into the Floor” onto the end of “Miles Iz Ded.”
“It’s farm fresh bro,” Dulli says of the song. “I like it. What’s going to happen with it, I don’t know -– it’s a work in progress, it changes lyrically and structurally every night.”
The very existence of something new, or “farm fresh” if you will, has many excited about the prospect of a new Whigs album. But while he’s been grilled about it in nearly every interview since fueling up the tank with guitarist Rick McCollum, bassist John Curley, latest drummer Cully Symington and additional guitarist Dave Rosser on board, Dulli has been noncommittal.
“You know what, I’ll tell you man, I have not stopped living in the moment. Every time people ask me what’s happening next I’m like, ‘I don’t even know what I’m doing tonight let alone what I’m doing next.”
Thus far, the States have only gotten a small taste of the retooled Whigs, there was a quick send off in May in New York City before the band went off to do shows in Spain, Israel, Australia, and England. Then a brief appearance at Chicago’s Lollapalooza in August and a last-minute show there that quickly sold-out. This fall, it’s finally time to go coast to coast in the U.S., and I’ll be keeping tabs on the jaunt as it winds around the country.
Just don’t call it stalking.
THE AFGHAN WHIGS + SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS | House of Blues, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | September 26 @ 7 pm | All-Ages | $35 to $45 | 888.693.2583 or houseofblues.com