Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli on owning bars and mourning friends

Greg Dulli can graphically compare the economics of a bar owner to the economics of a rock musician.

“If you’re in the Rolling Stones, that’s charity,” he says, gesturing around while seated in a black leather booth at Atwater Village’s Tee Gee club — one of three spots he co-owns in Los Angeles – one last afternoon. “If you’re with the Afghan Whigs,” he adds with a grin, “you’re crazy.”

Dulli, 57, has been in the Afghan Whigs — actually since 1986, when he founded the shadowy grunge soul band in Cincinnati, not far from his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio. The group, built around Dulli’s agonized beefcake whine, found post-nirvana alternative rock success in the ’90s with albums like Gentlemen, on which the frontman dissected a toxic relationship in brutally blunt detail; MTV’s embrace of the LP’s breakout single “Debonair” even led to Dulli being cast in the early 1994 Beatles biopic “Backbeat” as the voice of John Lennon (alongside Dave Pirner’s Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl’s Ringo Starr).

Decades later, after a split and reunion and some personnel changes, the Whigs are still at the starting line. On Friday, the band will release their ninth studio album How Do You Burn? and play the first date of a US tour that Dulli and his colleagues will keep touring through mid-October.

“We just spent three weeks in Europe, and the show in Prague – I mean, that’s why I’m still doing it,” says the singer, who has made solo records in addition to the Afghan Whigs and has worked with the Twilight Singers and Half of them played the Gutter Twins with Mark Lanegan. “Absolute emotional ecstasy.”

As much as music means to Dulli, he now spends much of his time tending to his businesses: Club Tee Gee, the iconic Footsie’s in Cypress Park and Short Stop near Dodger Stadium, along with two other bars , which he co-founded -owns in New Orleans, where Dulli lives when he’s not in LA. The short stop was his first investment; He paid $15,000 for his first bet in 2000, when the original incarnation of the Whigs began to fall apart.

But Tee Gee, who he’s had for about four years, is his favorite, he says. (For one thing, it’s the closest to his house.) Dressed in a golf shirt and basketball shorts, his once jet-black hair turned snow white, Dulli eagerly points out some of the decor items he changed when he bought the bar from the family of one of the Men who opened it in 1946. His business associates at Tee Gee are “a former marketing executive with a finance major, a lawyer and an accountant,” he says. He laughs and adds: “All the s— I’m not.”

Dulli, who acts like a supporting character in a Martin Scorsese film, had known Bars long before he started playing her with the Afghan Whigs. Growing up, he had two uncles who owned joints in Hamilton, where he hung out and played shuffleboard. “It was a familiar environment,” he says today. “And I understood that my two uncles did well with it.”

Indeed, despite his various indulgences as a young rock star — and with the crucial guidance of an executive who said “like ‘Capital gains — follow my lead'” — Dulli was smart with the money he began making when the Whigs took off. “It was real estate right away,” he says. “I bought my first house when I was 27, then another when I was 29.”

When asked whether LA or New Orleans is the bigger drinking city, Dulli says New Orleans is “a more consistent drinking city,” not least because bars there can stay open 24 hours a day. “But what I’ve learned is that nothing good happens at 5 a.m. unless it’s Mardi Gras,” he says. “I’m not staying open to five dodgy motherfs – just tweaking and trying to keep their heart rates down.”

Dulli’s new music still exudes a somber weekday vibe: “The Getaway” is narrated by someone “waiting for the night as I wreck the day,” while in “A Line of Shots” the singer contemplates “a simple lie.” to cite your sympathy.” Throughout “How’s Burning?” — Dulli’s collaborators include Whigs founder bassist John Curley, as well as members of the Raconteurs and Blind Melon — the band combines the kind of spiky guitars and throbbing R&B grooves Dulli loved since he was a kid obsessed with Led Zeppelin and Motown, Aerosmith and the Ohio players.

After quitting after a tour behind 1965’s 1965 album – Dulli was “kind of done with the music” and briefly ran the bar at Short Stop before turning to the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins – came the Afghans Whigs back together in 2012. initially with founding guitarist Rick McCollum on board. But McCollum didn’t last long: “I think he was just settled into his life,” says Dulli. “He was like an alien to me.” The band recorded two albums, 2014’s Do to the Beast and 2017’s In Spades, with guitarist Dave Rosser, who died of colon cancer shortly after the latter’s release.

Dulli conducted remote recording sessions for How Do You Burn? as his bandmates were scattered across the country during the COVID pandemic. “That first song is about four people in three states,” he says of the LP’s hard-hitting opener I’ll Make You See God. But it doesn’t sound piecemeal at all; Dulli, an admitted control freak, reckons the other players actually felt more invested in the music because they created their parts under his watchful eye.

“You can’t always be Paul McCartney,” he says, shrugging.

His vocals — snarling, brusque, slightly harried — are particularly strong, which he attributes in part to his work with Lanegan, the raspy-voiced ex-Screaming Trees frontman who, according to Dulli, had perfect pitch. “It was devastated, but always in the right key,” he says of Lanegan’s signature croak. Of his own singing, Dulli says, “In all modesty, I think I sound a lot better now than I used to.” The worst singing he’s ever done is widely considered to be his best on the album, in his opinion.

“I recorded almost all of the vocals for ‘Gentleman’ in about three days, and I was rocking and rolling at the time,” he says. “Staying up all night doing things that are Not good for your throat.” You get his point, but on an album about desperate people in a desperate situation, could it be that it’s that raggedy quality that makes the performance?

“If you like method singing,” he says, “I guess it’s a master class.”

Dulli, who has never been married and has no children, is open about his history of substance abuse. “I used to read Creem magazine when I was young, especially when they were talking to Keith Richards,” he says. “I loved Keith Richards. And I thought, I can’t wait to do drugs. Drugs look damn fun. I will do them all. And I did.” By the late ’90s he had entered what he puts in a “self-destructive phase”; he became “stingy and erratic,” to the point that “even my staunchest supporters told me, ‘You suck .’ So I pulled myself out of that phase and never went back there.”

Did his ability surprise him?

“I have an iron will,” he says. “If I decide, it’s done.” Today he drinks tequila, mezcal and gin; He used to like bourbon, although he’s lost his taste for “the brown downers.”

A rock guitarist/singer and drummer performing on stage

Greg Dulli, left, and Patrick Keeler of the Afghan Whigs perform in Berlin, Germany, July 30, 2022.

(Pedro Becerra/Redferns)

Dulli says the loss of Lanegan and Rosser — as well as his friend Shawn Smith, who played with the Twilight Singers, and his former booking agent Steve Strange — made him reflect on his own mortality. “I’m moving into the fall of my days,” he says. Of Lanegan’s death in February, the cause of which was not publicly disclosed, Dulli says he knows nothing other than the fact that Lanegan’s health was severely damaged by a battle with COVID over the past year.

Before that, Dulli says Lanegan was “floating some conspiracy theories” regarding the pandemic — “classic foil hat stuff about vaccines and Bill Gates. I said, ‘Dude, come on.’ But I think he got over it.” Dulli spoke to Lanegan on the phone a week before his death, he says, “and I seemed fine at the time.”

The spread of COVID misinformation is just one aspect of a political climate Dulli jokingly says makes him wonder “when will Ashton Kutcher show up and tell us we’ve all been punked.” This summer, the singer traveled home to Ohio to visit his mother. “I drive to my old town and I see all these flags with the name of a person who isn’t president anymore,” he says. “Why are you raising that flag? This is a cult flag. Is that Jonestown?”

He shakes his head as he continues, “You know, when I was young you could make friends with someone who didn’t agree with you and eat ice cream afterwards. Now motherf- wants to kill you.”

When asked if he supports Karen Bass or Rick Caruso in the LA mayoral race, Dulli says, “Sure, I’m a socialist, so I’ll just put that out there and you can probably answer your own question.”

Is there a tension between a socialist and a small business owner?

“A little,” he says, laughing. “My partners sometimes rein in my socialism. They say, ‘Now, Greg…’” Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli on owning bars and mourning friends

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