When cultishly adored indie heroes Afghan Whigs first got back together in 2012, it was only going to be for a handful of shows. But then a few shows turned into a few more, and then more legs of an international tour.
Now Afghan Whigs are simply a band again – and they’re celebrating it with a new album, Do To The Beast, out April 15. This morning, they unveiled the album’s first single, “Algiers,” and premiered the video (both are below).
Frontman Greg Dulli spoke exclusively to EW about how Usher inspired the album, the inspiration for their new video, and how Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk scooped everybody on the album’s existence.
EW: So when did the idea of doing a record set in?
Greg Dulli: It was after we played the gig with Usher at South by Southwest in March. [Bassist] John [Curley] and I had dinner and talked about making a record. We decided that we should. We started in May, and I finished it on December 30, and there you have it.
Was there anything different about being in the studio this time, compared to the last time you guys recorded together?
I don’t think anything has changed for me studio-wise since I was a teenager. You go in with an idea, and you work it out until it becomes something you enjoy. Recording has always been very simple and therapeutic for me. No matter when and how I’ve done it, it’s always a very consistent experience. Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want to, and there’s certainly successes and failures in anything, but I have a very zen approach to recording, honestly. It serves me well.
Were these songs that you had been saving for the Whigs?
Of the 10 songs on the record, I had riffs for two of them that I had been saving. The other eight were written specifically for this project.
Did you find your writing changed at all from what it had been with post-Afghan Whigs projects like the Twilight Singers or the Gutter Twins?
I do it for me, and I kind of know what’s what. To be honest with you, when I first started the Twilight Singers, it was a reaction to the Afghan Whigs, and I was in both bands at the time. By the time I got to 2011, it was a rock band—it had come full circle, and it was a logical step to return to my rock band. That’s kind of what happened there for me.
How did the single “Algiers” come together?
I wrote that song a year ago—during Mardi Gras last year. Algiers is on the west bank, across the river from New Orleans. Dave, one of the guitar players, lives over there and has a studio. I give things working titles and sometimes I never change the title, and because we recorded in Algiers it became “Algiers.”
There’s a particularly groovy vocal on that song. How has your approach to singing changed?
I stopped smoking five years ago, and my voice is able to do things it wasn’t able to do when I was a smoker. I’ve also been singing for a long time now, and I’ve learned some tricks along the way. On that song, I remember when I started singing it, I was imagining Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Eric Carmen—those were the three lines that popped into my head. There are echoes of each of them in there. I like to try different things, and I got to be a character a little bit inside the song. I said, “I’m gonna croon this one,” so croon I did.
How did the song inform the video?
The video is an homage to High Plains Drifter. When I finished the song, I thought to myself, “This song kind of sounds like a spaghetti western.” It has that Sergio Leone vibe to it. Of the Man With No Name films that Clint Eastwood did with Leone, High Plains Drifter was always a favorite of mine, especially for the revenge angle that it explored. When you see it, it’s very clear who we’re saluting.
Can you tell me what’s happening on the album cover for Do To The Beast?
My friend Amanda Demme is an incredibly talented photographer and artist, and she did that. I first saw that photograph on her Instagram feed and then contacted her about it. Then she did the photographs for the entire record. I’ve known Amanda for a really long time, and she just has a really strong vision of things and we built the packaging around the cover. It’s all beautiful black and white stuff. I’m not exactly sure how she got that cover shot. She’s kind of cagey and won’t tell. I have my theories. When I saw it, I was like, “Wow, that looks like that person’s head is exploding.” That’s probably what drew me. There was a beautiful violence to it.
It almost looks like the person is being pelted with cocaine.
That would be the most expensive photo shoot in the history of rock covers.
Bob Odenkirk ended up breaking the news of the album’s existence with a tweet. How did that happen?
I was on my way to play golf with my friend Mike Brillstein, who had remixed one of the songs from the record. I guess Mike’s dad used to manage Bob Odenkirk, so they were old friends. He came up behind me and started talking to Mike, asking Mike what he was up to, and he’s like, “I just remixed a song for my friend Greg.” Bob said, “What’s that for?” He’s standing behind me the whole time, and I recognized his voice but had never met him. Mike says, “It’s for the new Afghan Whigs record.” And Bob goes, “Oh, Greg Dulli!” And I’m like, “Yes?” And I turn around. All of a sudden he’s asking me about the record.
Then he took a picture of us, and I was kind of in shock because I’m sitting there in a golf shirt in a restaurant, just a deer in the headlights. He was like, “Man, people are going to be so excited to hear about this,” and I was like, “Bob, you can’t say anything, please don’t do that.” But he just did it. I had to call the label and tell them that the announcement they were going to make was scooped by Bob Odenkirk. It was a very L.A. moment. He’s a cool cat and a great actor, and it made me happy it was him who scooped it. That’s the chaos theory. As much as you try to control things, life does what it wants.