When the Afghan Whigs went down to New Orleans to record their fifth LP,
they were all set to make a good-time party record, Whigs bass
player John Curley said.
They even went so far as to pick out a jocular title.
But, as sometimes happens in the city known as the "Big Easy," the foursome
wound up shucking its original plan and going with the flow. The
bandmembers drank in the fabled city's thriving night life. They brought
local musicians into
the studio to add some indigenous spice to the recording sessions.
The result was an 11-song album, 1965 (Oct. 27), an album of edgy
rock songs that seem to feed off the spirit of that classic city's
unpredictable character while pushing the limits of the band's soul
"We were going to call it Stand Up To Get Down," Curley said. "It
was going to be 'ass music.' But ... it took on a life of its own and the
more classic Whigs themes crept in a little bit. It's definitely a
lighter, happier record than the last few."
Their two previous records, 1993's Gentlemen and 1996's Black
Love, were peppered with dark themes of diseased and decaying love --
as depicted in songs such as "Debonair" and "Bulletproof" (RealAudio excerpt). It seems as if
the latest Whigs LP aims to reflect the improved mood of frontman Greg Dulli.
"I think this album ... its theme is release and celebration, which is
more of a visceral thing than a mental thing," singer/guitarist Dulli said.
"That's why I wanted to keep the lyrics kind-of simple. I wanted songs
that could stand on their own, like my favorite singles from the '60s and
'70s. [I wanted] to write more compact, concise songs."
Since the release of their 1990 debut, Up In It, the Afghan Whigs
have been influenced by their favorite soul records of the '60s and '70s.
Frontman Dulli added a sinister vocal edge. A distinctly abrasive
guitar-attack rounds out the package. (Prior to recording the new album,
Michael Horrigan was added to the core membership of Curley, Dulli and
guitarist Rick McCollum.)
New Orleans' rich musical heritage added some new dimensions to the Whigs'
sound by expanding and delving further into the soulful heritage of the
band on songs such as "Neglekted" and "Omerta." Recording in an old mansion
of a studio known as King's Way in the city's exotic French Quarter, the
Whigs invited local luminaries such as horn player Roderick Paulin of the
Re-Birth Brass Band to contribute their talents to 1965.
Much of the rest of the album contains the band's standard, soul-edged rock
To help inject a new pop edge, the band brought in Alex Chilton -- cult hero
and the former leader of the seminal power-pop ensemble Big Star -- to sing
backing vocals for "Crazy," one of the songs on 1965. The guest shot
was on the notoriously laid-back Chilton's terms, of course.
"I just called him up and said, 'Can I send you this song, and would you
think about singing backups on it?' " Dulli recalled. "And he's like, 'Yeah,
send it over.' And then, he didn't call for a couple weeks. And I was like,
'Oh f---!' And then, he called up, and he said, 'When do you want me to come
over and do it?' ... So he rode over on his bike. ... It was a good day."
Dulli wrote on drums, bass, piano -- in his own words, "anything but
guitar." The songs he penned, such as "Crazy," "66," "John the Baptist,"
"Omerta" and "Vampire Lanois," were based on experiences the foursome had
while in New Orleans. Those escapades included McCollum being thrown in
jail after spilling beer on a cop's foot.
While the sassy come-on of "66" tells the story of Dulli meeting and being
charmed by a girl in a bar, other songs such as the R&B tune "Omerta"
defy any clear-cut explanation.
" 'Omerta' is a Sicilian word for silence," Dulli said. "It means, 'Don't
talk, and you're gonna sleep with the fishes if you do.' That one was
almost kinda freestyled, to be honest with you ... I was definitely singing
words I like to say.
"When you sing sometimes, it's like eating something that tastes good. It
doesn't happen to me very often, but this time, it did. The words were
delicious; they were fun to say."