Afghan Whigs bring their surprising new album to Royale
When the Afghan Whigs reunited for a tour in 2012 after more than a decade off, it was unclear if the critically acclaimed alt-rockers — responsible for brawny masterpieces like 1993’s “Gentlemen” and 1996’s “Black Love,” which combined hard-rock muscle with R&B flair to great effect — would also be making new music together.
The answer turned out to be yes. Earlier this year the band — sadly, sans departed guitarist Rick McCollum — released “Do to the Beast,” a rip-roaring new album that revived its unique sound, while also pushing it
forward. The Afghan Whigs
return to play Royale on
Tuesday, with opener Joseph
We chatted with Whigs frontman Greg Dulli by phone from LA about the torture of writing lyrics, Usher’s hand in the existence of “Do to the Beast,” and why you might see Dulli popping up on TV in 2015.
Q. I’ve read that it was your collaboration with Usher that sparked the band’s return to the studio. Was he someone you had known previous to your live performance at South by Southwest in 2013?
A. I actually was a fan of Usher’s, and my friend Andy [Cohn] at Fader magazine called and said, “Hey, would you be interested in doing a gig with Usher where you guys collaborated?” And I said, “Sure, tell him to call me.” So we talked a couple of times on the phone, and then we agreed to meet in Texas, and worked on the show for two days, and then we did the show. There was something really energizing about that experience that made me want to jump in the studio and do something rather quickly. “Do to the Beast” was written and recorded in seven months, and it’s fresh to me because it went that quickly. And that’s why it’s still so fun to play all these songs that we’re playing right now, because I just finished the final songs last fall.
Q. While reunited bands often follow that model of reunion tour/new album, many times the results are less than ideal creatively. “Do to the Beast” starts with “Parked Outside” and that immediately identifiable Whigs swagger, but evolves from there. Is that something that you can actually quantify, how you arrived at that confluence of classic and contemporary?
A. I think because I spent the year before that playing those old songs probably put me back in the wheelhouse and the wellspring of emotion that caused those [old] songs to initially happen. So, probably, the straddle between the past and now put me in the unique position to do the songs that became the new record.
Q. This time out you chose to write the lyrics after all of the music was done. What was the impetus for that?
A. I always do that, but normally I’ll do, like, three songs and then write the words. But this time I let all of the songs go until the very end, and then I wrote all of the words in 40 days.
Q. So you weren’t tempted after you made that decision to write down whatever words might’ve popped into your head?
A. I put scratch vocals down, and inside the scratch vocals sometimes words pop out that I use to build the songs. But, tempted? Of course. But that’s the procrastination of lyric writing. I absolutely detest lyric writing. I hate it.
Q. Because it’s so painful to come up with something original? From where does the hate stem?
A. Yeah, it is ultimately the most rewarding thing that happens to me as a songwriter, but the process of doing it is painful. It’s not like I hate what I do. It’s just that it inevitably dredges up emotional things that are not the most fun to think about. Sometimes it is and sometimes it’s not, but it’s inevitably a messy affair. (Laughs.) So it’s nothing that I fully look forward to, but upon completion it is usually enlightening and liberating and altogether satisfying. My ambivalence is well-placed. I normally don’t let the ball roll that far down the hill before I attempt to catch it, and this time I had to write 12 sets of lyrics in 40 days.
Q. I noticed a photo in a Tweet a while back of you and your friend Denis Leary, which made me wonder if you were helping with the music for Denis’s upcoming FX series about a washed up rocker, “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll”?
A. Yeah. Denis actually wrote all of the songs, but I was his bandleader. It sounds great. I think it’s going to be a really cool show.
Q. Any chance you’ll be popping up?
A. I might. I hung around the set a couple of times — you never know what will happen.