The Afghan Whigs on ‘How Do You Burn?’: “This album was an escape”

Whigs frontman Greg Dulli has spoken to NME about the band's new album and his relationship with the late Mark Lanegan, "the big brother I never had"

The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli has spoken to NME about his band’s new album ‘How Do You Burn?’, which features contributions from his late friend and collaborator Mark Lanegan.

Work on the Whigs’ ninth studio album, which arrived on Friday (September 9), began in 2020 after COVID-19 curtailed Dulli’s plans to tour his solo record ‘Random Desire’.

Forced to record much of the record remotely, Dulli, guitarist/co-producer Christopher Thorn and drummer Patrick Keeler formed a bubble together in California, while bassist John Curley, guitarist Jon Skibic and keyboardist/strings player Rick G. Nelson laid down their parts in Cincinnati, New Jersey and New Orleans respectively.

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“Most of the records I do are reactions to the one before it, so the solo record was more of a muted affair [while] I went in the opposite direction for ‘How Do You Burn?’,”  Dulli told NME about the latter’s grandiose, energetic sound.

“Luckily, Patrick, Christopher and I live in California so I was able to play live with them, [which] gave the record the immediacy I think it has. There was so much uncertainty, hopelessness, fear and confusion in the world that I was working on songs to transport me to another reality, so I really feel like this album was an escape.”

‘How Do You Burn?’ is the Whigs’ first new album in five years, and the third they’ve recorded since reforming in 2012. Asked by NME for his favourite track on the album, Dulli pinpointed the soulful ‘Please, Baby, Please’.

“That song came about by accident, and it just wrote itself,” the frontman said. “It was what I refer to as a ‘get out of my way song’, because it’s coming whether you want it to or not. I love playing it every night: we’ve had it in the show since we started the tour, and I’m looking forward to playing it many more times in the future.”

The album title was coined by the late Mark Lanegan, a close friend of Dulli who was a regular in his Twilight Singers project as well as his musical partner in The Gutter Twins. “As soon as he said it, I made him repeat it and told him I was going to take it [as a title],” Dulli told NME. “And he said: ‘You got it!’ I’ve given him several names, so he owed me one.”

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Lanegan, who passed away in February at the age of 57, posthumously makes his Afghan Whigs debut on the new album by singing back-up vocals on two tracks, ‘Jyja’ and ‘Take Me There’.

Asked if it felt emotional listening back to those songs now, Dulli responded: “Well, put it this way: you really have to listen hard to hear him, and I think Mark would be the first to bust my balls about that if he was around. He did not hear the mixes. But I will say when he came to the studio to sing the backing vocals on ‘Jyja’ he was on the way to the airport to move to Ireland, [and] that was the last time I saw him. So that is absolutely the definition of poignant.”

Talking about the impact of Lanegan’s passing, Dulli continued: “Mark dodged death so many times I started to think he was immortal, so there was a little bit of disbelief that, wow, it finally got him – whatever it was. I feel he had nine lives and used all of them.

“I’m always going to miss Mark Lanegan. He was literally the big brother I never had, but I got so much out of my friendship with him that I’d do it all over again.”

Prior to Lanegan’s death, the pair had been working together on further projects. “We were passing ideas back and forth for something, mostly likely another Gutter Twins record which we always said we’d do,” Dulli added. “We were actively discussing that back around his birthday last November, and by December we were passing tracks back and forth.

“He was like Mr Project, so you had to get in line. But it would have been fun to do another Gutter Twins album with him.”

Mark Lanegan
Mark Lanegan (Picture: Getty)

Among the other contributors to ‘How Do You Burn?’ are Dulli’s regular guest vocalist Susan Marshall, who memorably sang on the Whigs’ 1998 album ‘1965’, and Marcy Mays, who sang 1993’s ‘My Curse’, a portrait of a toxic relationship from their landmark ‘Gentleman’ album. Mays reprises her role on ‘Domino and Jimmy’, a duet with Dulli which he views as the ‘My Curse’ couple 30 years on.

“Marcy and I were talking a lot on the phone during the pandemic and I thought we should do another song, so I went and wrote it,” Dulli explained. “She sang my song solo 30 years ago and now we get to sing together, which feels great.

“There’s a sense of reunion. I brought in Mark, Susan and Marcy, Ed Harcourt sings on one song and Van Hunt [who sung with The Afghan Whigs on ‘Do To The Beast’] comes in on ‘Jyja’ and ‘Take Me There’. Van has always been a secret weapon for me, and he transforms both those songs.”

The Afghan Whigs’ new album, ‘How Do You Burn?’, is out now via Royal Cream/BMG. The band will play a trio of UK live dates in November – you can see their upcoming dates below and find tickets here.

November
4 – Cathedral, Manchester
5 – St. Lukes, Glasgow
6 – KOKO, London

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