Greg Dulli: "I’ve made peace with the inevitability of dying"

A press shot of afghan whigs

Greg Dulli has an eclectic CV: musician, actor, hotelier, bar owner. But the spine of his career for much of the past 30 years has been the Afghan Whigs, the band he formed in Cincinnati, Ohio and who are the missing link between Hüsker Dü and Prince. Although the Whigs never turned their critical acclaim into commercial success, Dulli has been a go-to collaborator for a list of people that includes Dave Grohl to Mark Lanegan.

You’ve called the new Afghan Whigs album, In Spades, “spooky”. What do you mean by that?

It feels a little haunted. I had several lucid dreams where I was both a participant and an observer, observing a younger version of me. When I was young I’d ride across this field to get to a bowling alley, where I’d play pinball. I felt freedom riding across the field, and I’d see this place that I didn’t know. It took me until last year to realise that I live in this place now. I’d foreseen where I would end up. That’s happened with a couple of things. Without sounding like a hippie, I think that falls under the realm of ‘slightly supernatural’.

You own a hotel and bar in New Orleans and two bars in Los Angeles. Which is harder: running a bar or being in a band?

Neither one of them is hard. Hard is working in a coalmine or doing construction; I’m not getting up at six o’clock in the morning, and I’m not breaking my back. My father worked for the railroad for forty years. That was hard. My perspective on all that is in check.

You turned fifty a couple of years ago. Was that a big deal?

Not as big as turning thirty. Right before I turned thirty, I went to my uncle and started lamenting the fact that I was getting old. He said: “Boy, you either turn thirty or you don’t.” And it really is that simple. If you don’t turn thirty it means you’ve died. Same for fifty or fifty-one. You’ve got no power over it.

Do you have a fear of dying?

No. I’ve made peace with the inevitability of dying. I’ve endured death; I’ve watched longtime friends get sick, as recently as right now. [Whigs guitarist Dave Rosser was recently diagnosed with inoperable cancer.] That story is going on right outside the window, someone dying right now. Someone has just died. And someone has just been born.

Where do you stand politically?

What, other than I consider myself a liberal? There’s a powerlessness right now. Some crazy things have happened recently that defy logic. In a lot of ways I’m not surprised that someone who was a reality-show star has risen to President.

Do you believe in God?

Nah. I can probably trace it back to when I was twelve years old. What I was being taught in religious school, I just rejected it. Too many inconsistencies and too much contrariness. Plus the absence of dinosaurs in the Bible.

You provided John Lennon’s singing voice in the 1994 film Backbeat, and you’ve acted in other films. What have you learned from Hollywood?

That I have no desire to be an actor. I don’t love watching myself – there’s a self-consciousness that I can’t get past. And the film business makes the record business look like a walk in the park. There’s so much committee-type decision making. Unless you’re an impenetrable auteur, you’re at the mercy of a lot of people. But what stopped it for me was the death of my friend [Hollywood director] Ted Demme. All my stuff was with him. When he left, I left it behind.

What’s the best drug you’ve ever taken?

I would say DMT – dimethyltryptamine – is the best. It’s a component of ayahuasca, which is a South American hallucinogenic. Ayahuasca is very strong, and DMT is like the weekender version of it. It lasts about ten minutes and there’s no hangover afterwards. Amazing.

And the worst?

Ketamine – horse tranquiliser. .

You were the only person other than Dave Grohl to appear on the first Foo Fighters record. When was the last time you spoke to him?

I dunno. The nineties maybe.

Were you surprised by how it all took off?

I haven’t really given it a ton of thought. [Shrugs] I’m happy for him.

You’re a huge Prince fan. Where were you when you heard that he’d died?

I was in bed. I woke up and started reading my iPad. I was like: “Oh my God.” I’d been following the arc of the last few weeks of Prince’s life, and my gut told me. Making a plane land because you’ve got the flu – nobody does that. That’s crazy. And he could barely stand on that last tour – he was on a cane. Look at the beatdown his body had taken – jumping off amplifiers in stack heels, multiple shows a night. That’s a lot of wear and tear on his body. I wasn’t surprised to find out that he’d died.

What will it say on your tombstone?

I won’t have a tombstone. I’m gonna be cremated and just distributed around.

The Afghan Whigs’ album In Spades is released on May 5 via Sub Pop.

The Afghan Whigs - In Spades album review