BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
Only a few weeks after celebrating the release of their first new album in three years, The Afghan Whigs had to deal with a somber reality.
Dave Rosser, the band’s guitarist since 2014, died of inoperable colon cancer in late June at the age of 50.
The alt-rock veterans, led by frontman Greg Dulli, took solace knowing that Rosser’s presence is felt throughout that new album, “In Spades,” and Dulli said that whenever he and his bandmates Jon Skibic (guitar), Patrick Keeler (drums), Rick Nelson (various instruments) and John Curley (bassist and band co-founder) step on stage, he knows the feeling will intensity.
The Afghan Whigs, which reformed in 2011 – a decade after disbanding – this week launched a fall North American tour that plays Terminal West on Thursday.
Before the band headed out for a spate of European dates in early August, the candid Dulli called to chat from California – site of one home base (New Orleans is the other) – and shared his thoughts on the new album, Prince and why he loved playing The Roxy.
Q: I imagine it’s been a tough summer since the passing of Dave.
A: It’s tough, but we knew the day was coming and that he’s not suffering anymore is a relief to me. When you watch someone who was so vibrant and then is sort of just existing, it completely ran counter to the type of dude he was. While we all initially were optimistic maybe something could be done, once he took a turn, I was like, I just wanted him to not be in pain. We’ll miss him forever and ever. He’s on every song on the new album. We were almost done recording when he got the diagnosis. “I Got Lost” was the final song I had to write words for, that’s why it pops out. The poignancy of the lyrics of that song was absolutely real.
Q: You haven’t been to Atlanta in a few years, so I’m sure people are going to be excited to see you.
A: I think we played Center Stage in 2014. My favorite Atlanta venue was The Roxy; (side project) The Gutter Twins played one of the last nights at The Roxy in 2008. I loved that place, it sounded great. Just a really fun place. It was the jam. It was the coolest rock venue in Atlanta.
Q: Are you thinking of new cover songs for the tour?
A: James Hall, he’s from Atlanta. We’ve been covering one of his songs, “You Want Love.” We did a recording of it and he sings on the recording. I would hope that he will get out with us in Atlanta.
Q: The new album is really gorgeous – “Oriole” and “Arabian Heights” in particular – and it’s been getting some rave reviews.
A: I defy anyone to not be happy when someone likes what you did. I felt like we had done something special and that the songs were very strong. So am I surprised? No. But happy, absolutely. It is a joy to play them every night. The audience has responded very favorably in that direction. It’s been really cool to just go out and play. I love playing, but I really love playing in the States. You’re on out the road, but you’re still in your country. It’s very relaxed and comfortable. We take a tour bus – I’ll fly if it’s long drives and I’m getting tired of the snoring -but for the most part it’s really fun to hang out with everybody. You can’t beat the camaraderie level.
Q: Going back to “I Got Lost” – it is particularly haunting and you mentioned that Prince’s passing was a death that affected you greatly last year. What was it about him that touched you musically?
A: I saw him when I was in high school, the “1999” tour. Vanity 6 and The Time opened and he was doing all of the albums, but I really only knew “1999.” It was the first time I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and “Controversy” and “Head,” and it was kind of blowing my mind. That dude, he was the package in a way that no one else has ever been the package. Great player, amazing guitarist, virtuoso singer, a f****** badass dancer. I really defy anyone…there’s not another dude who can do all of those things, and he had a run of amazing albums that rivals anybody and surpasses, even. From “Dirty Mind” to “Sign O’ the Times,” unparalleled. Nobody in the Beatles had that, nobody in the Stones had that, Jimi Hendrix didn’t have that. He had a little bit of all of those people. I don’t think anybody will ever top him. I saw him more than 10 times and every time it was like, oh my God, I cannot believe that dude. It’s not even close. Some people say they don’t have a favorite and I say, you never saw Prince.
Q: You said this is the first full-band album you’ve done since 1996 – meaning, everyone in the studio at the same time actually communicating?
A: Eight of the 10 songs were all six guys in the same room and that hadn’t been done since 1996. It was done in a cohesive way. It was well over a year of us working on it, but every time we did, those who didn’t live in New Orleans would fly there. It was amazing, and it sounds like it, too. The songs are all very different from each other.
That’s what made this record really special for me and knowing that Dave is on all 10 tracks and that every night when we go play these songs now, he’s with us. That’s a gift that I will never not appreciate. I’ll bet you I’ll mention Dave Rosser on stage for the rest my life.
Q: You went back to Sub Pop on the last record. How come?
A: I have to point out that I went back to Sub Pop in 2008 with The Gutter Twins and 2011 with The Twilight Singers. This is actually the fourth record that I’ve done with them since we’ve been back, almost 10 years. It’s been great. (Label co-founder) Jonathan (Poneman) and Megan (Jasper, executive vice president of the label), I’ve known them since the ‘80s; they’re like my family. Even when we weren’t on the label, we stayed in touch. It’s been really comfortable. I feel looked after, protected, supported, celebrated – all the things you want as an artist.
The Afghan Whigs
With Har Mar Superstar. 8:30 p.m. Thursday. $30-$135 (18 and older).Terminal West, 887 W. Marietta St. NW, Atlanta. 404-876-5566, http://www.terminalwestatl.com.