Following a 16-year hiatus and a recent reunion tour, Greg Dulli talks about the return of his band with their album Do To The Beast, out on 14 April, preceded by single Algiers. Afghan Whigs play the Cathedral, Manchester, 17 July
The High Plains Drifter video for Algiers is brutal and pretty but looks like you received a royal slap across the face from the actress.
Yeah, she slapped me pretty hard and I remember the assistant director yelling at her off camera to slap me harder. I’m like: “What’s going on here?” I think she did it three times. It was a really fun video to do though and we did it in a day, on the fly, with an old friend who had directed previous Afghan Whigs’ videos. When I recorded that song it reminded me of a spaghetti western so we just decided to do a literal interpretation in this old cowboy town just an hour outside of LA.
It seems like triumphing with Usher at SXSW last year was the catalyst for you going back into the studio, but wasn’t a new record always at the back of your mind during the reunion tour?
At the time, we just went out and enjoyed it and I didn’t think past it. It was liberating for me to just live in the moment and experience the feeling of just playing the songs. We thought we were done after the tour and we were asked to play some more festivals but I wasn’t interested in playing old songs again. When we had the opportunity to play with Usher in March last year, it was really fun and then after that me and John [Curley, bassist] decided that we would make a record. So we started recording in May and it was done by December, so it was pretty quick.
New track Matamoros has a very slick beat but it’s also quite sinister.
Matamoros is in Mexico and in the late 1980s a series of satanic murders happened there. An Italian friend of mine was visiting when we were recording that song. He told me about how he was vacationing with his girlfriend around Tulum, Mexico. They met a guy from Matamoros and they both got sick after they met him. Later, when they developed their camera film, the photograph of this guy was grossly disfigured and demonic. So I tried to work some of that story and imagery into the song.
Are you fascinated by otherworldly, paranormal voodoo things?
Well, there’s so much that we don’t understand and there are different plains of existence at work, I believe, so yes, that fascination of the known and unknown is always appealing to me.
With original guitarist Rick McCollum no longer involved, how did you create an atmosphere to ensure the new members didn’t feel pressured to second-guess a Whigs sound?
Dave [Rosser, current guitarist] played alongside Rick on the tour so he knew his style. There was such a big time break in between Whigs’ albums that we were reinventing the band on the spot and I had played with Dave for as long as I’ve played with Rick now, so it was second nature. Plus there’s a bunch of different guitar players all over the record. There’s a lot of personality going on throughout the songs.
It’s the artwork of Amanda Demme, photographer and widow of one of your best friends, Ted, that adorns Do To The Beast. How important is that continuation of a creative relationship?
I’m a very loyal person and my friends are like my family to me so the fact that Amanda was doing the photography and the layout and art direction of the record meant a lot to me. She’s very talented and whenever I look at it I see her and I see Teddy, so it’s a nice feeling.
Twitter is supposed to break down barriers but, by only posting photographs, you’ve managed to create more mystery around you, is that deliberate?
I’m not good at talking like that. To me Twitter is great for letting people know where a food truck is going to be or where a concert’s going to be and it’s great in the hands of comedians. I think they’re the best people to have that format but I just don’t have anything to say like that. I think social networking is cool for whoever wants to use it and I avoided it until Instagram came along. But I quite like that because I can post a picture, I get to see my friends’ pictures and I don’t have to talk.