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Greg Dulli talks solo album ‘Random Desire’ and its influences in BV interview

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Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers main man Greg Dulli releases Random Desire, his solo debut, this week. Made almost entirely on his own, Greg explores new sounds and styles while still keeping within that swaggering style he’s cultivated over the last 30 years. Greg’s just shared a new single from the record, “A Ghost,” which has a nice, sun-baked spaghetti western vibe to it. You can listen to that below.

The dusty desert vibe on “A Ghost” is evocative of the place where he made the album — Joshua Tree — and his trips from his LA home to the studio were also an influence. “I probably lived in Joshua Tree for two months last year putting Random Desire together,” says Greg. “That was a lot of driving back and forth. Like most people, I get a lot of my music listening done while I’m driving, especially if I have a long drive. It’s great to try out new stuff and see what sticks.” That listening creeped into the record as well, and we cornered Greg, via phone, to talk about his list of influences for Random Desire, which includes Freddie Gibbs, Herbie Hancock, Bing & Ruth, Air, Jaimie Branch, and more.

We also talked about his upcoming solo tour, making playlists, the ideal music for restaurants, the influence of Gang of Four’s Andy Gill, and more. Read that below.

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So this is your first true solo record, did you have a sound in your mind or was it just more like you were the only person available at the time, and it just ended up this way?

I think I knew, I was working on some songs, I’m always working on songs. But once I realized that a bunch of the fellows in my group were going to be busy for a year or more, I just started to think I should do something, I should do my own thing. Then I had a couple songs that I liked already, and then I just built around those. Then probably late last January, early February, that’s when I got a hot hand and probably most of the record was written and/or finished in between February and July of last year. I think there was one latecomer, one song was really late, because I had a record and one of the songs wasn’t working, so I took it out and wrote a song specifically for that slot, and then it was finished.

Did you have at that point an idea in your mind, like what you wanted it to sound like, as opposed to a Twilight Singers’ record or an Afghan Whigs’ record?

Well, the thing that I always had about those records was by and large, in both the Whigs and the Twilight Singers, while I was the songwriter, I was probably the least talented player in the groups. So I had ringers around me always, and in this particular case, I was like, “Dude, you’ve got to be the ringer this time.” Unless it’s just out of your league, and then you can call someone. There’s someone joining me on every single song, but by and large I am doing the lion’s share of the playing. That became the sound, I didn’t have to have the best drummer, I didn’t have to have the best bass player, I was serving the song as the writer. It was really cool. Once I let go of that and let it just be that, it was that became the sound, I was the sound.

What was the most difficult area of performing and recording process for you doing everything, or most everything?

No difficulty. I don’t really, my way of life is not difficult. Other people have difficult lives and vocations, mine is, “Wow, do I need a bridge? Should I put hi-hat on this?” Those are my decisions, so there was just nothing really putting me out. I felt like this record really wanted to happen, so it kept helping me make it happen.

Your tour starts in about a month, who is in your band for this?

It’s myself, Jon Skibic is playing guitar, he is a Twilight Singers and Afghan Whigs’ alumni. Rick Nelson, same thing. And then a young man by the name of Trey Bourgeois, he is the drummer. He was the Whigs’ lighting guy for the last few tours, and Keeler took him out as the Raconteurs drum tech on the last Raconteurs tour. I had seen Trey play at soundchecks and made note of that, and he is the drummer. Joseph Arthur, who is supporting all the shows, he’s going to jump up and play probably about half the show with us. He’s the swing man, he’ll play when Rick’s playing strings, Joe will play bass, and when we need a piano player that’s not Rick or myself, it will be Joe. He’s got some things to do. But by and large, mostly it will be a four-piece band.

Is Joseph bringing his paint kit on tour?

I encouraged him to do it, so I love watching him sing and paint, it’s fantastic. I have several of Joe’s paintings, so I’m a huge fan of him as just a human being, let alone an artist.

Before we get into your list, I also wanted to mention a couple other influences that I hear. When Andy Gill died you tweeted about how Gang of Four’s third album, Songs of the Free, was a big influence on you. A lot of people just point to Entertainment! these days, what was it about Songs of the Free that grabbed you?

I got turned on to that record by some girls I went to college with, and they not only loved a man in a uniform, they loved the song, “I Love a Man in a Uniform.” That was the song that got me into that record, and I subsequently, my roommates had Entertainment!, and I got caught up on Gang of Four. But Songs of the Free was my gateway drug into the Gang of Four universe. I had never heard someone play guitar like that guy, let alone write the type of songs that they were writing. Super unique group, nobody like them. Songs of the Free was my way in.

I think for a lot of people, especially in the mid ’80s, it was, because that song was unavoidable at alternative discos or whatever.

The girls, they love to see you shoot.

A band that came to mind  for me when I was listening to Random Desire  — do you remember that Manchester band Doves?

I love Doves, and I love … I don’t know if you heard, Jimi Goodwin made a solo record a couple years ago. Those songs, there’s a song about whiskey just called “Oh! Whiskey.” It’s so beautiful, and there’s a live version where he does it with his band, and I’m watching this, I’m like, “How is this song not a smash?” But I never really understood why Doves weren’t huge. I really love Doves.

So let’s go through the list you sent me, and the first one you had was trumpeter Donald Byrd. Was there any particular record that was your gateway or big influence?

There’s this song called “Cristo Redentor,” which is on A New Perspective from 1963, he recut it on that funk album in the ’70s, Thank You … For Funking Up My Life. But that song in particular was on a playlist that I had when I was driving out, when I would drive the two-and-a-half hours to Joshua Tree every so often to work on the record, back and forth. “Lansana’s Priestess” was another song that I loved off that. I love Donald Byrd, and he taught at Howard University, and his proteges were a group called The Blackbyrds who had a bunch of hits themselves. They were his students.

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Next on your list is another trumpeter, but from now, Jaimie Branch. Have you seen her play yet?

I have not, I’ve only seen her on YouTube, but she’s played, my friend Dave has a club called Gold-Diggers in LA, and she’s played there twice. He turned me on to Jaimie Branch, and I can’t wait to see her play. She’s one of the more interesting artists that I’ve seen, that I’ve not seen, but heard in recent times. Love her music, love both records that I’ve heard. Really can’t wait to see her play live. We listened to the new record three times Christmas Eve night. We were either too stoned to change it, or we were loving it too much to change it. But either way, we listened to that record three times in a row.

She’s really hard to pigeonhole.

Yeah, because you can’t just say she’s a jazz artist, because there’s some really cool guitar music coming out of there too. Also experimental, but there’s also a pop angle to it, and occasionally a Tropicalia angle to a couple songs on the new record. One that flat-out reminded me of Joao Gilberto. She’s uncategorizable.

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Next up on your list was Freddie Gibbs, you guys seem to have a similar style about you in some ways, like a fashion sense.

Well, I love Freddie Gibbs, and I think I got turned on to I think Pinata was probably the record that I got in on. But I also really love that producer, The Alchemist, he did a record with the Alchemist that I really like. Then I love Madlib, the Bandana record, I listened to it all summer long. That was driving with me a lot while I was going back and forth to the desert.

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The one thing that I miss, maybe the only thing I miss about not having a car in New York City is the intense listening you get to do with music while driving.

Do you ever rent a car and go up to Woodstock or up north or anything like that, that seems like a good way to get it without buying a car.

I have friends that have cars, and I encourage them to take me on trips, but it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

I hear that. What about, do you headphone it on the subway?

I do, but I just work from home, so there’s less of that these days.

Do you listen to music a lot at home, music that you’re not reviewing or interviewing?

Yes, I’m still a super huge music fan. But sometimes, you just want it to be quiet.

Trust me, a lot of times for that, when I want it to be quiet, but I don’t want it to be quiet, I listen to jazz radio. There’s a couple great radio stations that I can recommend to you, one is out of Portland, Oregon called KMHD, fantastic. And then one in Newark called WBGO, those are two of my favorites. There’s also a great station in Paris called TSF, and then if you want to listen to eclectic pop music from all over the world, there’s a station called FIP also out of Paris. Those are probably four of my most listened to radio stations that aren’t stations from around here, which I listen to. KEXP in Seattle, I listen to a lot. WXPN in Philadelphia, I also listen to.

Back to your list, next up is Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Yes. He did a playlist a couple years ago, I don’t know if you ever heard about this.

The one for the restaurant?

For the restaurant, yeah. As someone who makes playlists a lot, and as someone who eats out a lot and really got the entire picture of what he was doing there, I love that playlist. I’ve loved him for a long time, there’s a record that he has called Playing the Piano, which it’s just solo versions of all of the music he’s done over the years. It’s a great way to become acquainted with him that’s not Yellow Magic Orchestra or anything like that. Playing the Piano, it’s so meditative and relaxing. I listened to that record a lot in the last year, both in my home and in my car. Just really calming. Did you hear that Chilly Gonzales/Jarvis Cocker record that came out?

Yeah.

Okay, so that’s heavily influenced by Sakamoto. In particular, this Playing the Piano record. In particular, this song “Tearjerker.” If they didn’t flat-out lift it off of him, I’ll be shocked.

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As far as listening to a lot of playlists and going out to eat a lot, what’s your number one complaint about music in restaurants?

Well, if it’s lazy music and somebody with no taste has been put in charge of it… For instance, playing nothing but contemporary radio artists with no individual style, that’s a drag for me. Also, not taking in consideration what someone is doing when they’re at a restaurant. You’re probably there to talk with your friends, you’re probably not wanting to scream over top of things. Inappropriate music at a restaurant, that’s a real drag.

Is there a place in LA that comes to mind that you always know there’s going to be cool music when you’re going?

Let’s see here, that’s a good one. Probably Bestia.

Is that the crazy beautiful food place? No, that’s Vespertine.

Vespertine, which is amazing, a lot of times that isn’t really music as much as it is sounds, like sound sculptures. I have been to Vespertine, and it’s phenomenal.

Bestia, what’s that place all about?

It’s Italian, been there probably about six, maybe seven years, started by this guy Ori Menashe. He also has a restaurant called Bavel. Both down in the Arts District, both always packed, both delicious food, really cool people work there, incredibly comfortable. They play great music. They often play a lot of hip-hop at Bestia, which is always cool.

Next on your list we have Night Moves, which I’m assuming is the Minneapolis band, and not the song by Bob Seger.

While I love the song “Night Moves” by Bob Seger, I am indeed talking about the band from Minneapolis. They just put out a new record last year, really great. They have a singer who oddly recalls Stevie Nicks, to the point of one of my friends listened to them and called them Beachwood Mac, calling to mind Beachwood Sparks and Fleetwood Mac. So really great songs, and Spoon’s Jim Eno produced the last one. He did a great job. But just writing really, really, really good songs. I really like the new album, but the album before it, Pennied Days, that’s my fave. The song “Denise, Don’t Wanna See You Cry,” so great. But love the first record too, just a really great band, I love all three records. The song “Mexico” on the new record, very Stevie Nicks.

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Next up on your list is French duo Air.

Yeah, man. This is probably from listening to this French radio station, FIP, that I like a lot. Obviously they’re a French station, so they’re going to play a lot of French music, but they’re dropping a lot of Air instrumentals, so much so that I ended up making a playlist. The songs that they played the most on FIP were “Modular Mix” from Premiers Symptomes and “Ce Matin La” from Moon Safari, those are the two instrumentals that they played a lot. But man, I made a playlist of all of their records, it’s got like 30 songs on it. That could get me from my house to Joshua Tree on its own, that playlist. I always loved Air, but something about last year reconnected me to them. I was listening to them as recently as two days ago.

I can hear that lush vibe in some songs on your new record, for sure.

I have to think that it snuck in there somehow. They’re just a phenomenal band, got to see them play live a couple times also, great.

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All right, next up on your list, Black Pumas.

Yeah, I love Black Pumas, great singer. Don’t know how he’s getting to all those places emotionally, but he is special.

Another record that has a lot of lush strings on it.

Yeah, man. That’s just a really well made record, and don’t know who made that either, but being it’s from Austin, I wouldn’t be surprised if Eno had a hand in that too.

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All right, we’ve got three more to go here. Bing & Ruth is up next.

So I do yoga a lot, and I make yoga playlists, and I have one dedicated to the music of Bing & Ruth. There’s one song in particular, “In This Ruined House,” it’s either a B-side or an extra track. Probably my most played song last year for some reason, I just played it over and over. Really calming to me, very reassuring. So I had to include it on the list.

Very atmospheric, you almost don’t notice the melodies and stuff, which are there.

I make a lot of Spotify playlists and I have this one called the Forest that I made probably a year-and-a-half ago, and I listen to it, I would have it on in my house and it was like being back in the womb. Just beautiful atmospheric music that you could not even have on with any kind of real volume. Bing & Ruth are like that.

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Next up, Juana Molina.

Juana Molina, I finally saw two years ago, and we put, I have a couple bars here in LA, we put two of her records on the jukebox and we listen to them a lot. She just put a new record out, kind of a punk rock record. But Un Dia and Halo also on heavy rotation in my car and in my house. Having been a fan of hers for many years, finally getting to see her perform live was a real treat. It’s kept her in front of me in many ways. She was definitely a part of my travel back and forth between home and the studio.

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Finally, we’ve got Herbie Hancock.

Yes. Herbie Hancock, obviously from those jazz stations that I told you about, they play a lot of Herbie. It got me to go back, the record Secrets was a record that I was listening to last summer. I subsequently went back and started listening to his Death Wish Soundtrack, which is really, really great. The record Secrets has a lot of his funkier music, the first song. “Doin’ It,” eight minutes of just perfection. “Cantaloupe Island” is on there too, killer record.

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Greg Dulli / 2020 Tour Dates:
March 19 – Róisín Dubh – Galway, IRELAND
March 20 – Whelans – Dublin, IRELAND
March 22 – SWG3 Warehouse – Glasgow, UK
March 23 – Gorilla – Manchester, UK
March 24 – Islington Assembly Hall – London, UK
March 26 – Paradiso Noord – Amsterdam, NETHERLANDS
March 27 – Muziekodroom – Hasselt, BELGIUM
March 28 – Trix – Antwerp, BELGIUM
March 30 – Luxor – Cologne, GERMANY
March 31 – Lido – Berlin, GERMANY
April 02 – Hotel Cecil – Copenhagen, DENMARK
April 03 – Debaser Strand – Stockholm, SWEDEN
April 04 – Parkteatret – Oslo, NORWAY
April 24 – 7th Street Entry – Minneapolis, MN
April 25 – Metro – Chicago, IL
April 26 – St. Andrew’s Hall – Detroit, MI
April 28 – Beachland Ballroom – Cleveland, OH
April 29 – Woodward Theater – Cincinnati. OH
April 30 – Mr. Smalls – Pittsburgh, PA
May 01 – The Great Hall – Toronto, ON CANADA
May 03 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
May 05 – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC –
May 06 – Webster Hall – New York, NY –
May 07 – Union Transfer – Philadelphia, PA
May 09 – The Grey Eagle – Asheville, NC
May 10 – Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, NC
May 12 – The Loft – Atlanta, GA
May 15 – One Eyed Jacks – New Orleans, LA
May 16 – 3Ten @ ACL Live – Austin, TX
May 17 – Granada Theater – Dallas, TX
May 19 – Bluebird Theatre – Denver, CO
May 22 – Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR
May 23 – The Showbox – Seattle, WA
May 26 – August Hall – San Francisco, CA
May 28 – Palace Theater – Los Angeles, CA

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