Dillinger Escape Plan: Greg Puciato on the New Album, Signing With Sumerian, Dubstep, the End of Modern Culture
Let’s get it out of the way: Dillinger Escape Plan is fucking important.
They’re not easily disposable, digestible or about to make it easy on the world. They’ve spent the last 14 years not merely pushing but bulldozing boundaries and then re-writing metal and hardcore’s cognitive schema with musical mathematics. They may have erupted from the New Jersey post-hardcore scene but they have also managed to carve indelible mark on the mainstream touring the world with the likes of Nine Inch Nails and playing to the hipster set at Coachella.
Dillinger had figuratively (and oftentimes) literally burned down stages worldwide with a live show as dangerous as any band out there. At the center of their chaotic conflagration: frontman Greg Puciato, a raging bull of a man with a voice as smooth as it is terrifying. Oh yeah, he’s a practiced fire-breather. For real.
Noisecreep caught up with Greg in the midst of the chaos that is the making of a Dillinger Escape Plan album circa 2013. Freshly inked with Sumerian Records, Dillinger (rounded out by guitarist Ben Weinman, bassist Liam Wilson, drummer Billy Rhymer and guitarist James Love) is in the thick of it with long-time producer/collaborator Steve Evetts for the yet-untitled follow-up to 2010’s Option Paralysis. With a spring release in the cards and months of touring already on the books, 2013 is already gearing as a year full of plenty of scrapes, burns, bruises, broken bones and wounded psyches.
We are talking Dillinger Escape Plan, after all.
You guys are in the studio as we speak. What’s happening in there?
What’s happening is we’re about three weeks behind! [laughs] Every time we get into the studio we think we’re going to be faster. Maybe it’s because we’re getting older and we think that this time we have our shit together and we know the songs inside and out. And then once we get in and we start going down every little path of possible creativity you can imagine. “Let’s try this microphone.” “Let’s try this amp.” I’m like, “I want to change these lyrics.” And then Ben is like, “I want to change this guitar part.” And wait a sec, “The drums aren’t like they are on the demo. My lyrics don’t line up now!”
We’re all extremely ADD-ish – producer included, which tends to cause us to make things take forever. Even still, everything is going to come out relatively on time – we’re going to make an April or May release it looks like.
From what I understand, Dillinger records don’t go according to plan.
Never. Never. Depending on whom you ask in the band, it always changes in terms of whose fault something really is. In reality, it’s all of us. Dillinger is a different beast in tracking than most normal bands. Even Steve (Evetts) has told me that there’s no other band that he has recorded that requires this amount of attention to detail. We take a longer amount of time to do one thing than most bands take to do ten. At this point, talking to Ben about it, we only do this once every three years on average so ten years from now I don’t want to look back and think, “Fuck man, we should have finished that one three weeks earlier!” Who cares? You want it to be right and you want it to be the thing that was the closest to what your vision actually was.
Well, you’ve never made a record that sucked.
I think we may have made a disjointed record. When I listen back, I think that Ire Works was slightly disjointed but I think it was the best that we could have done at the time given the circumstances, never having met the drummer that played on the record until literally the day he started tracking drums! The whole (original drummer) Chris Pennie leaving thing was a factor at that point and I could tell we were regrouping when I listen back to that record.
I am proud to say that when I listen back, there is nothing on any of our records that sounds dated or is embarrassing now. I’m proud of every second of everything we’ve ever done, which is pretty rare to be able to say.
In earlier interviews, Ben stated that the songs for this new record were very influenced by old punk and hardcore records. Does that still feel like the case?
Yeah, I can hear that a lot. I can definitely hear that in some of the riffs, which are really aggressive. It’s not a blatant hardcore record or anything like that. I actually think this is the most all over the place and weirdest record we’ve ever written. It’s the first one since I joined the band where Ben has sent me songs and I’ve been like “What the fuck is happening? This sounds like a beehive!”
What do you think of this current Dillinger lineup?
It’s the first time we’ve had the same recording lineup for two records in a row since Miss Machine. I know a lot of bands say this, but this record is a big leap for us and part of the reason for that is that we weren’t spending a ton of downtime trying to teach new people back catalog. It takes a lot out of you. It’s way more important for Ben to be focusing his energies on being creative rather than teaching some one guitar parts he wrote fourteen years ago. James Love (guitar), having been in the band a few years ago, came in really seamlessly as a new a live guy and Billy (Rymer), as a drummer, has just turned into a cyborg basically. Since we got him, we’ve pretty much kept him in a cave and turned him into the Terminator of Dillinger drumming! Technically, he’s our best drummer for what we’re doing.
I think Gil (Sharone – drummer 2007-2008) was playing against his strengths when he was in our band which made him grow a lot and made us grow a lot because we were playing with a drummer whose greatest strength is playing reggae and funk and music with a ton of groove and pocket. All our stuff is really ahead of the beat and aggressive so it was really interesting to hear songs like “Panasonic Youth” played with a drummer who had a swing to his playing but ultimately, what we’re about is squeezing the trigger of the machine gun to your face.
Do you think there’s a Dillinger “gestalt” or shared mentality between anyone who plays in the band?
I’m not sure if we can distill it down to much more than really wanting to be the best at what we’re individually doing and are capable of at all times without comprise. And that means in regard to anything we do any have control over from writing songs to how we present ourselves to who we affiliate with to the business we do. We’ve learned over time that the word “no” is way more important than the word “yes.” You define yourself by the things that you don’t do so when it comes to the things that you do, you really need to make sure that you squeeze every bit of effort out of yourself and you hold yourself to a very high standard. Sometimes that gives people on the outside the impression that we fight a lot or that we’re just crazy [laughs]. But really, it’s just because we care so much.
Dillinger has always had a very fierce and what you could call punk rock mentality in that regard.
Like in a Blink-182-running-around-in-your-underwear-singing-about-high-school sense of the word, right? [laughs]
It’s weird, because metal, which is a scene that we end up being lumped into all of the time, has a very different aesthetic and a very different mentality than we do. I don’t know if that makes other metal bands not know how to perceive us and whether they think that we feel that we’re better. We just came from a different mentality. There’s not a lot of bands anymore that came from hardcore and honestly, I don’t know if hardcore or punk really even exists in the ways that it did in the ’80s and the ’90s and the early, early 2000s. Bands from that scene, aside from Converge aren’t still really that active. Still, I think that attitude helped separate us when the giant metalcore wave hit in 2002 to 2004. I think the reason why we never got swept up in it and then carried out with it was because we didn’t see ourselves as having much to do with it.
Dillinger Escape Plan may never sell a shit-load of records but you’ll have a career as long as you want to.
True. I think we realized that a few years ago. At some point in time both major labels and manager-type people were really blowing smoke up our ass saying, “you guys are going to be the next System of a Down or the next Slipknot” and that freaked us out. We didn’t want to become a victim of someone else’s agenda. Over time, we realized that we can’t rely on anything that’s current or in pop culture to determine what we do and that’s suited us well. Five years ago, there were bands that had songs all over the radio that could put three thousand people in a room that now couldn’t draw two hundred people! They would never trade places with us back then but a lot of them would do anything to trade places with us now.
And Dillinger pays your bills.
Exactly. That’s something we thought that we’d never be able to do. That’s something that just happened randomly. It wasn’t calculated. We never had a manager. We never thought about that kind of stuff. It was more like: “Are we going to be able to come home from this tour and not be homeless?” That was pretty much the gist of it and we were actually absolutely as meagerly as possible. Then at some point, we weren’t living in abject poverty anymore which is all any of us really care about. For me, being able to support ourselves now means more than being massive for a couple years and then nothing.
Dillinger recently signed with Sumerian Records. Sumerian is known primarily for bands like The Faceless but also for Warped Tour skewing bands like Asking Alexandria and I See Stars. After being on the uber credible Relapse and then taking a pit-stop at Season of Mist for the last record. Why Sumerian?
I’ll be honest with you. We didn’t plan on it. There were a lot of labels that were pursuing us and when it came down to it, they were really relentless about it. Me and Ben didn’t take it seriously but when we went there we had the best conversation that we had ever had with a label about what we are, what we come from, what we do and where we’re going. I honestly didn’t know much about or listen to many of the bands on the label but y’know what? That’s the way it would be on a major label, too. And honestly, what’s the point of signing to a label where there’s a ton of bands like you? Mr. Bungle was on Warner Bros. Did they have anything in common with Debbie Gibson? Mastodon is on Warner Bros. Do they have anything in common with Flyleaf? What’s really important is do these people get us? Do they understand where we want to go? Will they give us the creative freedoms to get there and are they not going to fight us on things?
Aside from not fighting us on things, our big question was: do they have ideas that are awesome? The answer was yes. We were really excited about Sumerian and where this guy (owner Ash Avildsen) wanted to take his label and wanted to take his vision. He’s obviously a Dillinger fan and we ended up getting along really well personally. For the first time, I can call the guy that runs the label at three in the morning and brainstorm rather than wait three days for a response to an email to a guy who doesn’t get it all because he started his label in 1980 and is trying to make 2013 fit into the paradigm when they started.
Dillinger Escape Plan has always stood apart from other bands. You’re basically from the New Jersey hardcore scene yet have also toured with more mainstream bands like deftones, Nine Inch Nails, System of a Down and played festivals like Coachella. You’re a different kind of band that cuts across many different audiences. What do you think DEP represents to modern music in 2013?
I think that we’re a very rare thing now, especially now. Everything is so commoditized to the extreme and nothing can get made unless it’s very palatable. There are not a lot of people flying the flag of “We’re creatively free – fuck you!” I think that’s what we represent to people: the fact that we refuse to conform. To do things just for the sake of being commercially viable. We represent a certain freedom and fuck you attitude that doesn’t exist for the most part. We’ve always have done exactly what we want to do this is both a good and bad thing from a business perspective but we’ve never really made a decision thinking about something as a product. We’ve always been completely selfish about every decision we’ve ever made.
Are there musicians and music out there that inspires you now?
Yeah, but I don’t think there’s much exciting going on in rock or metal or much guitar based music right now. I think that most of the frontiers that are being broken are being broken in electronic music – which is producing a lot of garbage too. But I do think there is some exciting stuff as far as people doing new things. You can’t re-invent the same thing over and over again. Rock was the first thing that happened and after that came metal and punk and hardcore. Then hip-hop came and that was the big wave of the ’90s and the 2000s. I think now, the generation that’s doing the most interesting stuff is doing it in the electronic world, which I don’t think is necessarily a good or bad thing. It is what it is. Most of the stuff that I’m finding completely crazy is coming from genres that are completely different than the ones we’re normally associated with. People doing a lot of crazy stuff with soundscapes and beats, a lot of which has found its way into the mainstream: which is responsible for dub step which I don’t hate all of it. It produces crap like any genre. People say “Dub-step sucks.” That’s like saying “metal sucks.” It doesn’t suck; it’s simply that most of the stuff that hits the most people sucks because it’s generally the most watered down and common denominator.
On the production of things, if you listen to a mainstream pop song, there’s a lot of weird shit that people are doing that didn’t happen ten years ago – panning things weird ways and putting weird filters on drums. In major pop songs that would not have happened ten years ago that are coming from underground electronic music and working their way into the mainstream.
The interesting thing that’s happening right now is that everything is becoming relevant simultaneously because people have access to everything at the same time. You don’t have kids anymore that only listen to metal or only listen to rap. You have kids who skateboard, wearing Trash Talk shirts but who also listen to Kanye West.
What you’re saying is that we’re really at the end of a one-note, homogenized culture.
Completely. The Internet is the greatest invention of all time because it’s equalizing everyone at such a rapid pace. It’s a good and bad thing. It’s good because everyone has access to everything at once and they can become a blend of so many influences at once. You don’t have to live in a “scene” or in a certain city to be a part of a movement. You don’t have to be in England in the ’60s or in Seattle in the early ’90s to get what’s going on there. The flipside of that is that scenes don’t really have the chance to develop like they did anymore. I do believe everything will balance out. Right now, it’s a case of people having no restraint and having this insatiable hunger for instant gratification. Eventually people will learn to rebuild and refocus their attention spans. For all that people saying about downloading and the problems that come with the Internet, I would never go back.
We do live in the information age, after all. Data is currency!
Definitely. A lot of the people who bitch about losing money (to downloading) lose sight of the fact that they’re saving a shit-ton of time. Time is the real thing that is valuable in life. The time you’re spending on this conversation – you’re never getting that back. You can’t buy more of it. The fact that all this high-speed internet and instant information is saving you a shit ton of time is incredibly valuable – if you’re smart enough to not be distracted and sit around and refresh your Facebook and Twitter all day, that is.