For the past 20-plus years, Greg Dulli has been crafting unforgettable songs, first as the lead vocalist for The Afghan Whigs and more recently as the front man for The Twilight Singers, who released the excellent Dynamite Steps album earlier this year.
Combining moody, atmospheric music and vivid lyrics, many of Dulli’s best songs have a cinematic feel to them, and Dulli himself recently observed in a Spin article that “[my] songs sound like a movie.” (Read Dulli’s picks for his all-time favorite films.)
A few days before The Twilight Singers hit Atlanta for their May 5 concert at the Masquerade, I had the chance to interview Dulli about his passion for film, how his interest in cinema translates to his songwriting, and his thoughts on the best use of his music in a movie or TV show, as well as touching on Dynamite Steps and his approach to live performances. Here’s what he had to say:
Ryan McNally, Atlanta Movies Examiner: Have movies ever impacted or inspired your songwriting?
Greg Dulli, The Twilight Singers: Movies and television and books and poetry and photographs and art and everyday conversations are all part of the nest that I build—not to go out on the metaphorical superhighway. When I was growing up there were some birds that lived in my yard, and I remember watching them build a nest, and it took a long time. You don’t totally build a nest in a day, you know what I mean?
I would climb up and look in the nest when the momma bird was gone to see if there were eggs in it yet. And there was straw and pieces of broom and string and yarn and paper and all kinds of things that went into that nest, and I think it kind of dawned on me then that that was how you made something that would hold you. And I think I kind of learned patience back then too—not that I employed it until much, much later in my life.
So when I became interested in music—I became interested in music at a very early age and followed it studiously and my friends and I loved reading liner notes. There was no Internet when I was a kid so I got Creem magazine, I read Rolling Stone, I read Trouser Press and Hit Parader and all kinds of things.
And I’ve loved movies all my life—when I was a teenager I got an 8mm movie camera. Me and a couple friends in the neighborhood would make our own movies. Usually they were of the slasher variety because of fake blood, and it’s very visual. And having a crazed killer go through the neighborhood, you can stack up the body count pretty well, especially if someone changes their shirt and agrees to die again.
So when I went to college I started to make movies there, and at the same time I was playing in a band. The two just kind of went hand in hand for me. Through studying film you learn how to create an arc and fulfill a narrative. With a lot of my favorite music, whether it was punk rock or what’s now called classic rock, I saw similar thematic content in those things and my favorite records—whether it was Led Zeppelin IV or The Damned’s Black Album—they had the opening and then the moods changed, and it was not unlike cinema to me or epic poetry or a series of paintings, a triptych that artists would do.
In part 2 of this interview, Dulli discusses which of his songs he considers particularly cinematic, how performing “Dynamite Steps” live is a challenge, and why he thinks Denis Leary is ballsy. Read more from Greg Dulli.