Posted March 30, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

A ‘Hot Hand’ Led to Greg Dulli Album, ‘Random Desire’

Greg Dulli
Greg Dulli

Afghan Whigs singer Greg Dulli began to write the songs for his new solo album, Random Desire, after finishing last Afghan Whigs record, 2017’s In Spades. The Whigs were on hold as drummer Patrick Keeler was about to take a short sabbatical to record and tour with his other band, the Raconteurs, and Dulli’s longtime collaborator, bassist John Curley, was going back to school. The tragic death of the band’s guitarist, Dave Rosser, also necessitated that the band take a break. 

Dulli wound up writing the tunes for the album at his home in Silver Lake, in the village of Crestline high up in the mountains above San Bernardino and in New Orleans, where he lives part of the year. He also wrote and recorded in Joshua Tree at the studio of engineer Christopher Thorn. Whigs’ guitarist Jon Skibic and multi-instrumentalist Rick G. Nelson, Mathias Schneeberger (Twilight Singers), pedal steel player upright bassist and physician Dr. Stephen Patt, guitarist Mark McGuire (Emeralds) and drummer Jon Theodore (Queens of the Stone Age, the Mars Volta) all play on the album. 

Dulli spoke to us via phone from Los Angeles. 

Talk about the process of writing the songs for this album. You threw out most of the early tunes?

I don’t throw them away. I file them away and many times they make their way back in. For instance, one of the songs on this record is called “The Ghost,” and I originally started that one four years ago and came back to it. You just have to get them when it’s their time. I brought it back. The bulk of the record was written between February and July of last year. Eight or nine of them were written then. That’s a good hot hand for me. If I’m getting a song a month or two songs a month, I’m doing well. 

Are you feeling your mortality these days?

You don’t get halfway to a hundred and not feel your mortality. 

How’d you wind up at Joshua Tree?

[Producer] Christopher Thorn is my dear friend and collaborator. He and his family have a house in Silverlake and a house in Joshua Tree. Last spring, they decided to stay in Joshua Tree full-time. He was moving his studio out there. To continue working with Christopher, I had to go where he was. Luckily, I love his place. I’ve been recording at Joshua Tree for 20 years. This was more of a full sail thing. I spent two months there, not in a row but all put together. I would go for a week or two weeks at a time until we got it all done. It’s a great creative place. It’s nice and quiet. There aren’t a lot of distractions and I can get a lot done. Christopher Thorn is one of my all-time favorite collaborators. We work very well together.

What made you want to handle all the instrumentation?

I played most of it. I started out as a drummer. I’m not in danger of taking anyone’s drummer job. For the songs that I was doing and I play drums on, I was the perfect drummer. When someone else is the drummer that means I didn’t do as well on that one. The other great thing about playing all the instruments is that I don’t have to wait for anyone. I don’t have get anyone’s schedule. I just go and do it. It happens when it happens. There’s someone joining me on every song. That’s because I like what they do and what they brought to the song.

I’m not going to play everything just to say I played everything. I’ll play everything to a point. My mission each and every time is to get the best song possible, however that happens. 

“Pantomima” has a great guitar riff driving it. Is that you playing guitar on it?

I’m playing guitar, but John Skibic is also playing guitar. The first guitar you hear is Jon Skibic. 

What’s the inspiration for the tune?

I was working on another song and a lot of times when I’m doing a check for another instrument for the engineer, he’ll ask me to give him something. I’ll start playing something, and I can’t tell you how many times that will turn into a new song. “Pantonima” happened that way. It just kind of happens. The inspiration was put upon me by the riff itself. 

“Marry Me” is one of the quieter tunes on the album, but it’s one of my favorite songs. Talk about its genesis.

It was one of the first new songs that I wrote for the record. It was just after Christmas. I don’t always do well with winter. I tend to be a bit more melancholy than I am other times of the year. I was just feeling something. That one just appeared. There’s some songs that I don’t write as much as I channel. “Marry Me” came out fully formed. I wrote it quickly at like 3 in the morning. 

I’m surprised it was the first one you wrote for the album because the other songs are rougher around the edges. I guess it didn’t dictate the direction that you went in for the album. 

That was the first new one that I had come up with. I had already decided “The Ghost” and “Scorpio” were already in the pool. Again, it happened in that amorphous way. It told me, “Get a guitar and take down dictation from beyond.” I was like, “Alright. I’m happy to help.”

Who sings the other distorted vocals on “Scorpio?” 

That’s me. I used a pitch shifter. It’s the same trick Prince used in “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and Bob George did that too. You can be whoever you wanna be. Never let reality shake you off the mountain.

That voice is spooky. 

Yeah. And with the series of questions it asked, I got to inhabit another personality. It was really fun.

“Slow Pan” makes for such a great album closer. 

I’m an album guy. When I make things, they have a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is very important, and the ending is crucial. It’s the end of the movie. There’s an Italian artist named Paolo Conte who has a particular style of playing. It’s almost sort of like sensual nursery rhymes. He’s a piano player. I was channeling Paolo Conte and I was trying to play one of his songs. I couldn’t do it because he’s a jazzer, and that meant it would be a difficult thing for the rudimentary likes of me. “Slow Pan” is my attempt at writing a Paolo Conte song. Once I finished the riff and had the melody and sang it, I put on some more dressing. I really heard a harp on it the entire time. I called a friend of mine and his girlfriend played harp on it. First time, I ever had a harp on a song, and I was thrilled.

What will the shows be like?

I have a band. I have a five-piece band, and we’re going to play this record and some selected cover songs and a large swath of Twilight Singers music and perhaps a deep Whigs cut or two. Since they’re still an ongoing entity, I will most likely shy away from that. 


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].