Yep, The Afghan Whigs are back, and better than ever. Formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1986, The Whigs have been a constantly engaging presence in the American rock scene. With six albums under their belt (1992’s blisteringly awesome Congregation being this scribe’s favourite), they broke up rather amicably in 2001. When I mention to Dulli how happy I am that they’re finally back together and playing again, he sounds genuinely moved. “I’ll tell you what,” he says, “it’s been a really nice reaction from the people. I’ve been moved by the show of feelings – and I’ve had a real nice two weeks so far.”
It’s been a little over a decade since the Whigs broke up in 2001. I tell Dulli that it seems to have been a pretty amicable breakup…but what brought it about in the first place? “Oh, we were just three guys – four at the time – and living in four different cities, and doing four different things at four different places in our lives,” he muses. “And three of us had been together for 15 years and we played 1,200 shows…it was just time to break it off. At that time, it just became a burden and a hassle. I’ve always said in my life, you can try to work through things, but when things become a hassle, you just gotta walk off. It just wasn’t really fun anymore. We were scorched and had been…going, you know? So it was just time to walk away.”
Dulli had already been engaged in a side-project for a couple of years before the Whigs broke things off, the collective The Twilight Singers. “It ended up being my creative outlet,” he explains. “Then I started working with [Screaming Trees member] Mark Lanegan [in side project The Gutter Twins] too.”
But it was during a fateful (and rare) acoustic solo tour in 2010 that steered the events that would eventually culminate in a newly re-formed Whigs. Whilst playing in Cincinnati, he asked John Curley to join him on stage. “We did five or six Whigs songs together at the show,” Dulli remembers. “I was heading to Chicago the next night, and I asked him if he wanted to [come with me] – and it was the first time in ten years that we had played together, and it felt really good.
“I mean, John’s married and has two kids, so that was another reason the band split up – you know, his wife didn’t want him running around on the road while they had little babies!” he laughs.
A year after those promising shows with Curley, Dulli hooked up with Whigs lead guitarist Rick McCollum during a day off of The Twilight Singers’ 2011 spring tour. By that time, the idea of reforming the group was officially germinating in Dulli’s head. “That was when I started to privately consider getting the band back together,” he recalls. “I’d written a lot of songs over the years, and those songs meant a lot to me; so to be able to sing them again for the first time in a long time – I think it awakened something in me. You put something aside, and sometimes you can just keep walking, you know? I had done a fine job of continuing on without those songs, but revisiting them on the acoustic tour, I found I had a great deal of affection still for that material!”
November 2011 found the three musicians in New Orleans, where they convened for several days and rehearsed their classic material. They still had the magic, Dulli remembers. “As soon as we got into that room in November, and played, that was – you know, we talked about [getting back together]. You can talk about something, but until you actually do it, and see how it works, and see how it sounds … frankly, I wanted to see if everybody could still play. That was the clincher: the playing!”
And everybody played to satisfaction?
“We could have played a gig that night,” Dulli says immediately.
And the rest, they say, is history. Their reunion tour is galloping along at full speed (earthquake damaged venues aside), the chemistry is as strong as ever, and Dulli feels truly happy playing those songs that mean so much to so many people. I find during the course of our conversation that he’s genuinely excited, and his excitement is palpable and infectious.
This will be The Afghan Whig’s first time playing Australia as well, so if you’re a fan, these shows should not be missed.
BY THOMAS BAILEY