By Brian F. Johnson
When it comes to reboots, bands are under an intense amount of pressure to make sure they don’t destroy their legacy. Most of the time, the best-case scenario is that they maintain the status quo of their earlier successes. Many fail miserably and a few get filed under, “Meh. It didn’t suck.” Seldom do bands rise from their ashes with something that is better than the original. But the Afghan Whigs have done just that with their re-emergence and their first album in 16 years.
The band formed in the mid- to late-eighties, became one of the few non-Northwestern bands signed to the famed Sub Pop label and by the early 1990s they signed a deal with Elektra that was so lucrative it included funding for a feature film written by vocalist/guitarist Greg Dulli.
Ultimately though, the film was never made, the band’s follow up album didn’t gain the traction of their previous work and after another label switch and a few more years, the band broke up in 2001.
While the split hadn’t been nasty, Dulli had claimed over and over that the band would never reunite. But thankfully, in this situation anyway, Dulli is a liar.
In 2011, under pressure from All Tomorrow’s Parties festival director Barry Hogan, the band did step on stage together followed by some other high profile gigs like 2012’s Lollapalooza. Still Dulli said there wouldn’t be new material. Then, after a 2013 SXSW gig that featured surprise guest Usher, Dulli and bassist John Curley began talking about future plans. Low and behold, by the end of 2013, Dulli, Curley and the rest of the new Afghan Whigs were wrapping up work on Do To The Beast — the band’s first album in 16 years, which also signified a return to the iconic Sub Pop.
“I wasn’t afraid of changing our legacy. Once you decide to do something you have to step forward fearlessly. Expectations are a prison and if you allow yourself to be imprisoned by what other people think you’re not living your own life,” Dulli said in a recent interview with The Marquee.
“It wasn’t a matter of jumping off the cliff and hoping the chute would open, it was like jumping off the cliff and knowing the chute would open,” Dulli continued. “John Curley and I have known each other since we were 19. He’s like my brother. So, sink or swim the chute will open. That was just a foregone conclusion.”
Open it has. Do To The Beast was released in early 2014, and is The Afghan Whigs’ first album to reach the Top 40 charts in both the U.S. and the U.K. In the U.S. it entered the Billboard Top 200 album chart at #32, and critics worldwide have applauded the group’s blend of rock, pop, math rock and soul, all of which shines brightly on what is probably the Whig’s heaviest album of their career.
Dulli said that he never saw a big picture vision of the final version of the album. He explained that when they went in to record he only had two embryonic ideas sitting by in the wings for the album. “When we went into the studio I had two riffs and that’s it. The rest of it all came out as we worked on it. We wrote, recorded and mixed the album in seven months,” he said.
Now, with the songs from Do To The Beast taking on their own form live and the reunion far enough behind them that it’s a non-issue, Dulli said that he’s living in the moment more than ever before. “I’m just enjoying touring; hanging out with my friends and playing shows,” he said, adding that he doesn’t write on tour and that as of right now he’s not focusing on anything other than being on the road.
But behind the scenes, The Afghan Whigs are preparing for yet another milestone. This month the band’s 1993 album Gentlemen will officially be old enough to drink, and the Whigs are throwing the album a birthday, complete with a deluxe edition re-make. The re-release by Rhino features the original album, newly remastered, along with heaps of rare B-Sides, live performances and previously unreleased demos.
Dulli, who gave the credit for the project’s progress to Curley, said frankly, “I cant take any credit for this, other than I wrote the songs 21 years ago. For this [re-release] I’m merely a participant, but I think it’s cool that people are still enamored of something that happened so long ago, and I’m happy that I still like the songs,” he said.
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