"Trying to recreate the sound of your younger selves is pointless" – hmv.com talks to The Afghan Whigs
Cincinnati's The Afghan Whigs emerged in the late 1980s as one of the true original voices in alternative rock, mixing a brooding soul sound and the darker flecks of what would go on to become grunge. They first split in 2001 after making six much-loved studio albums, but reformed in 2006 to play live dates. They did this several more times, but are now back together formally with the release of new album Do to the Beast, their first studio LP in 16 years.
We spoke to frontman Greg Dulli about recording as The Afghan Whigs after such a long gap, how Usher helped cement their plans to make a new record and how beatboxing inspired the title of the album.
Your first album in 16 years Do to the Beast is out on Monday, does it feel weird to be putting out an Afghan Whigs record again?
"It's not weird, no. I've made seven records in the time between the last time the band put out a record, so no."
Does it feel any different to be putting out a record as part of the Afghan Whigs?
"Not hugely, I'm very proud of it. I feel very privileged to be doing it and it's absolutely special to be doing it. It's one of the best experiences I've ever had making a record."
Two or three years ago when you first started playing shows with the Afghan Whigs again, there was no talk of doing a new record, what changed your minds?
"We did a show with Usher at SXSW and it was a really great show. Right after that show we decided to go into the studio and see what would happen."
Were you perfectly prepared to not make a record if nothing came out of the sessions?
"If anything in life isn't working, do something else, I've learned that. We knew that we weren't going to push anything that didn't want to be pushed."
You said it was a really fun record to make, was that because of how everyone was getting on?
"Everyone was getting on real well and the material was coming fast, we were getting together in these short blasts, not enough for anybody to get sick of each other. We made sure to enjoy life along the way; we'd have dinner together a lot, go to the beach and go driving in the desert. We made sure we relaxed too."
You're all much more experienced musicians now, did that change how you recorded?
"There's three engineers in the band so there's a lot of recording knowledge, intellectual, skilled people make recording a lot easier."
How did the songwriting compare? You must be inspired by different things now…
"Sure. I've been writing longs my whole life, it's what I do, I get inspiration from everywhere, conversations, books, movies, experiences, there's a never ending well spring of inspiration."
Did you go back and listen to your old material to get back the old vibe?
"No, trying to recreate the sound of your younger selves is pointless. You get a feeling when it comes to new songs, writing songs is a craft, I do it all the time."
Do you think this is your darkest record to date?
"I don't find it particularly dark, but then I might just be a dark person, who knows?"
Where did the title come from?
"I was beat boxing in the studio and a friend of mine from Italy was there and he'd never heard beatboxing before and he said that he thought I kept saying 'Do to the beast what you did to the bush'. So that was that."
"Records tend to name themselves. The only title I've ever stashed away was the last Twilight Singers album Dynamite Steps, I'd had that one for years."
Are you intending to play a lot of this record live?
"Of course. I make records to play them live. We're rehearsing, it's sounding really good, we've got a long year of touring and we've got this master list of 50 songs and by the end of May we'll know them all and be able to swap them in and out."
So are you booked for the foreseeable future?
"We're booked through until November. I'm so excited, I live to play live, I like making records but I love playing live, and we'll take it as far as we can."
Afghan Whigs' new album Do to the Beast is released in hmv stores on Monday (April 14th) and can be pre-ordered in store now.