The Afghan Whigs' spellbinding new album, In Spades, which will be released May 5, is the long-awaited followup to their internationally acclaimed Do to the Beast (2014).
The album, which was written and produced by Greg Dulli, features the tastefully eclectic singles “Demon in Profile” and “Oriole”—both of which you can hear below—plus the guitar-centric “Arabian Heights.”
In addition to an already-planned European tour, the Whigs will perform a sold-out show at New York City's Apollo Theater on May 23.
Unfortunately, the new album and tour happen to coincide with Dave Rosser’s recent cancer diagnosis. Although Rosser is unable to tour for extended periods, the guitarist promises to perform at the Apollo show—and maybe even a few other dates.
The Afghan Whigs are Greg Dulli (vocals/guitar), Dave Rosser (guitar), Jon Skibic (guitar), John Curley (bass), Patrick Keeler (drums) and multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson.
I recently spoke with Dulli, Rosser and Skibic about In Spades, touring, gear and more.
How would you describe In Spades, and how does it relate to the band’s previous work?
DULLI: Honestly, it’s the next evolution. This is the first record we’ve done live in the studio together in 20 years.
ROSSER: It’s pretty guitar-centric and there’s lot of riffing, but it’s still very cinematic. With Rick Nelson in there, we’ve got the multi-instrumentalist who plays violin, cello, piano and guitar.
What was the songwriting process like?
DULLI: I write songs based on the feeling of the riff. The riff and its subsequent arrangement then tells me what it wants to be. I’ve written that way since I was 13. But I’ll never tell anyone what my songs are about, because I feel songs are personal to the listener—and the interpretation is up to them.
SKIBIC: It was a pretty organic process. Out first session was about two weeks long, and at times it seemed we were writing a song a day.
ROSSER: A lot of times during sound checks we’ll jam out to ideas and record them. The time in between albums and touring is spent collecting ammo and then after that, it becomes a matter of finding targets to fire that ammo at.
What can you tell me about the track “Arabian Heights”?
DULLI: I had been listening to a lot of Presence by Led Zeppelin in my car, and particularly the song, “Achilles Last Stand." I think I brought that sprawling, impenetrable vibe in with me. I can tip my hat to Jimmy Page in that particular arrangement.
SKIBIC: That’s a cool song because all three guitar players take solos. I played a figure in the middle section that went from the top of the fretboard all the way to the bottom in a Middle Eastern, descending scale. Greg plays a cool solo at the end and Dave augments the solo with a Steve Gaines [Lynyrd Skynyrd] kind of thing.
ROSSER: A lot of that song was drum-driven. Once Patrick [Keeler] found that snare sound and pattern, that’s when it turned into what it became.
That band has an upcoming show at the Apollo. How do you feel about performing at such an iconic venue?
DULLI: I’ve known about the Apollo since I was a child. Not only have some of the greatest entertainers who have ever lived been on that stage, but also civil rights leaders and theologians. As a venue, it’s unrivaled. I’m very excited about it.
ROSSER: When it’s a venue like that, you go in with a sense of reverence and respect. It’s bucket-list stuff. A dude from a small town in Alabama like me being able to do something like this—it’s going to be a hoot!
How has the band responded to Dave’s recent diagnosis?
DULLI: We’re obviously very conserved about Dave’s health and well-being. We’re a very tight unit and Dave’s our brother. In a lot of ways, Dave was comforting us when we found out about it. That said, he’s impossible to replace and we will not even try to do that. We’re going to go a man short on this European tour because none of us wanted to bring in someone else. We want Dave to get healthy and rejoin us.
Dave, how are you feeling?
ROSSER: I just finished the first six months of chemo and am taking a break. I’m feeling pretty good and my spirits are good. I record a lot at the house and have been making a lot of music with friends. I’m staying busy and have purpose. I’ll try to get out and meet the band on a few stops in Europe where they’ll be for a few days.
What’s your current setup like?
ROSSER: A few years ago this guy from Austin, Joe Parker, built me a guitar inspired by the Del Rey Spectrum 5, with rainbow-colored buttons on it. I’ve got a bunch of guitars for other things and session work but for the Whigs, the Joe Parker has become my main guitar.
DULLI: I’ve been playing the same guitar-amp combo for the last six years: a Gibson 335 through a Mesa/Boogie Lone Star.
SKIBIC: I have lot of guitars and amps, but with the Afghan Whigs I play a Mesa Royal Atlantic 100-watt head through a Mesa 4x12 cabinet. I also have a modern Gibson Les Paul and SG that sound great. On the record, most of my guitar tracks were recorded with a Les Paul Special with P90s and an old Silvertone 1446.
What are you most looking forward to about the release of In Spades?
DULLI: We’ve been in the studio for almost two years, so it’s going to be a pleasure to get out and play some gigs. It’s my favorite thing to do!
SKIBIC: I’m looking forward to reaching as many people as we can with the new record and playing new places. The whole experience of promoting the record is fun, and it’s still exciting to perform live.
ROSSER: The main thing I like about this album is that it has a sound. It’s cohesive from start to finish and has a sequence that’s like a story. I’m very proud of this record and we did it as a band. We really bonded making this album and at times it felt like we were 17 again and in the garage. That’s what you want, and that’s why we play rock and roll and that’s why you play guitar—because it feels good!
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.