Cincinnati music legends Afghan Whigs return to Bogart this weekend following the release of their new album, How Do You Burn? Songwriter Greg Dulli continues to mix his Garage rock with his R&B influences, this time incorporating synths and expansive vocals his textures.
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We recently talked about records, his ties to the ’90s Cincinnati music scene, including the recently defunct Ultrasuede Studio, and his unconventional mix of influences.
Question: Tell us about the Cincinnati music scene when the Whig Party of Afghanistan was formed.
Answer: There were a lot of bands that I loved watching. When I first arrived in town, my roommate was playing in a band called Dream 286. My friend Janet Pierce Davis was playing in that band. Her boyfriend at the time was her friend Dave, who died a few years before her. He had a great band called Somebody. I had BPA. There was Wolverton Brothers. There was a Red Mass. There was Human Zoo.
I know I will forget someone and it will be a shame. There was this great singer, Vince Gray, who sang my favorite version of “I Put a Spell On You.” It was a really fun place for young musicians and artist types. The scene was cool back then. Some were kinder than others, but some were kinder than others.
Q: The Whigs came into being during the grunge era. “Up In It” was recorded by a Nirvana producer, but you were then signed to Major’s Sub Pop label. Ratings, sellouts, or was the local scene proud that you were promoted?
A: It wouldn’t have been a problem for me. I don’t need permission to do things. It’s obviously not cool to wonder if someone thinks your choice is cool.
Q: Being on the label made it possible to collaborate with big names at the time. It reminds me of Dave Grohl in particular. And it continues today. A lot of people I know are on your new album. Patrick Keeler of Raconteurs plays drums and Chris Thorn of Blind Melon plays guitar. What do you see as the role of collaboration in songwriting? When you write a song, do you have an idea that you bring to the band, or is it more of a ‘stuffing’ process?
A: I’ve written the whole song, but I’ve left a lot of room. Whenever I bring a song to a group, I let the group do what they want. I like people owning their parts. Collaboration is a give and take. And I give these guys a lot of permission.
Q: About four years ago, Ultrasuede Studio closed and merged with Lodge in Dayton, Kentucky. Part of the beauty of the room was the history of the people who recorded there. What are your memories of Ultrasuede?
A: When John Curley got his first Ultrasuede, I was thrilled. Midnight He is where the star recorded all his hits. So I got the hint. It was a fun studio. It’s big anyway. John had a lot of good equipment and know-how. I think the last time we recorded it was from ‘Do to the Beast’ to ‘Matamoros’. It’s probably like, wow, nine years ago now. Time marches on.
Q: It seems like the new album had to be a different process than the previous one. I recorded my parts and drums on Joshua Tree and sent them to the rest of the band. And I’m not too familiar with Whigs, which utilizes heavy synths and vocal echoes. Was that a product of not being able to meet and jam as a full band during the pandemic?
A: I never made the same record twice. As for recording, first of all, I’ve done remote recording before. When the Twilight Singers recorded “Powder Burns” after Hurricane Katrina, I had to ship him parts in the mail while he was stuck in New Orleans for a month or so. There’s also a synthesizer on that record.
Q: My favorite song on the album is “Please Baby Please”. It’s so smooth, you can hear her R&B influences clearly. As a kid from Cincinnati, where did that influence come from in music?
A: I love that song too. There was a lot of R&B in the Cincinnati area. Cincinnati, Dayton – Ohio Players were just around the corner. There was a lot of great R&B coming out of Ohio, especially Southwest Ohio, and a lot of it on the radio. When I was a kid, AM radio played everything. You didn’t think much about genre. You just listened to the song, the way you like it. But my mother says she was a young mother. She was a teenager when I was born, so I inherited her record collection. She listened to a lot of Motown and modern R&B of the time. I was around the house all the time.
Q: The Afghan Whigs have been influenced by many contemporary bands such as National, Interpol, My Chemical Romance and Jimmy Eat World. What do you think has influenced the people who have gone on to make so many different styles of music?
A: All the groups you named are fairly separate groups. They don’t sound like anyone else, and I don’t think we sound like anyone else either. So, if anything, it may have been to solidify individuality. I think they’ve seen and heard that it’s okay to be who you are.
Whig Party in Afghanistan
when: Sunday, September 11th at 8pm.
Where: Bogart’s, 2621 Vine St., Coliville.