METALSUCKS TALKS TO GREG PUCIATO, LIAM WILSON, AND BILLY RYMER FROM THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN
At this point, how much of an introduction do The Dillinger Escape Plan really need? They’re one of the most talked-about bands of the last decade, and that talk hasn’t quieted down very much in the face of their latest release, Option Paralysis, which comes out today. The album is a very natural evolutionary step from Ire Works, and has (rightly) been met with the heaping tons of praise we’ve come to expect DEP to garner.
When I went to interview vocalist Greg Puciato, bassist Liam Wilson, and drummer Billy Rymer – the latest addition to the band’s line-up – they were right in the middle of signing a table-full of Option Paralysis CD booklets, and only had about twenty minutes to spare before they had to participate in a live web-chat; then they were set to kick-off their headlining tour the next night. You might think that such an abundance of promotional activities would leave these fellas frazzled or at least exhausted, but they were clearly far too excited about the impending release to be bothered by having to talk to a schmucky blogger like me.
After the jump, get Greg, Liam, and Billy’s thoughts on Option Paralysis, the pressure of following Ire Works, their search for a new drummer, fans who wish they’d just stick to crazy-ass mathcore, the joys of their ever-increasing fame, and more.
GREG PUCIATO: Okay. We can do this another time.
It’s cool. It’s okay to multitask.
GP: No, no it’s rude.
How many of these do you have to sign?
EVERYONE IN UNISON: Five-hundred.
LIAM WILSON: I’m going to sign it in invisible ink.
GP: I want a stamp. Or a trained monkey that knows how to write my name.
Maybe for the next album. But first let me congratulate you on this one…
LW: Oh, thanks man.
Obviously something has changed since Ire Works…
GP: Well, Chris Pennie is a shape shifter. [everyone laughs] He’s a changeling, and he took the form of Buddy Holly for our last drummer. No, I’m just joking. We went through a bunch of drummers. At the start of 2007 we had different guy, then 2008 we had a different guy, 2009, a different guy. We finally found the right guy.
[To Billy] How did you find your way into the band? I haven’t actually heard the story.
BILLY RYMER: Well, an old drum teacher told me that they were auditioning. So I would learn [each song] three seconds at a time, and write [out the parts] and then piece all the little bits and words together. I started making videos and posting them on YouTube. One of my friends got Liam’s attention. Liam told my friend, “Tell this kid to E-mail me.” That’s how I started to get in contact, which led to an audition, which led to learning more songs and coming back and playing some more. It was a trial period. The third time I came down, it was just Ben [Weinman, DEP guitarist] and I. He basically told me to get ready for Australia because we were touring with Nine Inch Nails. So I’m like, “I’m the guy?” And he’s like, “Yeah, you’re the guy.” Im like, “I can tell people?” He’s like, “Yeah, you can tell people.” “Sounds good. Let’s do it.”
So you have an actual Cinderella story here. You guys didn’t want to go out and recruit some big name drummer.
GP: Here’s the thing: we did actually go through a lot of big names. Right away, that was the first thing we did was to mine the talent pool that was already out there and known about in the world. We were looking at guys who are in bands who were looking to jump ship, guys who aren’t in bands who are looking to do something cool… the amount of people that can play this stuff is very small.
LW: We got a lot of secret phone calls too. “Don’t tell anybody else in my band that I’m calling you, but I’m interested too.”
GP: And some of these guys are really flattering people for us [to hear from] – people who are big names in the drum world. We accepted some of those submissions, and it was shocking how many of them were off, how many of them were not right or didn’t get it.
LW: They could do the technical part but just didn’t get the punk part, the vibe.
GP: Whenever you get involved with people who are really good players, the dork quotient sky rockets. So you end up getting a lot of guys who are MIT or Guitar Institute type guys, where they can play anything but have zero soul and zero feeling. It’s not about being some type of tech wizard, you have to play…
LW: I want to hear the life in your playing.
GP: Put some balls into it. Those kinds of things usually have an inverse relationship – people who have very little skill technically usually are absolute bad asses when it comes to attitude, and vice versa. That was the problem we went through, with people both known and unknown, is that we ended up getting a few people who could play the songs, but at the end of the day the attitude just wasn’t right. At the last second, when we were literally like, “Okay, we got to take whatever guy feels the best out of these people,” Billy came in and just blew the doors down. It literally couldn’t have been closer.
LW: It was the eleventh hour.
GP: It couldn’t have been closer to us picking someone else.
LW: That was awkward, too, because there were two people that we developed personal relationships with. They were staying at our houses sometimes, and to call those people and be like, “Actually,” after this three-month ordeal, “Sorry.”
So, sorry to talking about Billy like he’s not actually here, but for you guys who have been in the band longer, how does Billy fit into the scheme of things in terms of the differences and similarities between his playing and Chris’ or Gil Sharone’s?
LW: We’re always going back and forth – “Oh god, he’s so much like Chris.” Drummers are kind of like their own… every band member has his own jokes and clichés attached to them, but I think with him, it’s not hard to compare. We can sit here and do it all day. I don’t want to promote the comparison, but there are things that we’re looking for based on who was in the band. At the same time, we weren’t looking for Greg to be [original DEP vocalist Dimitri Minakakis’] replacement so much as we want to see who you are now and where you’re going. It was the same – we didn’t want to replace Chris or Gil, we wanted somebody who could do everything they did and more. When we got Gil, it was like, “You got to bring this in and, oh, you’ve got good pocket. That’s cool. Your pocket is better than Chris’ in some ways, but Chris played with more fury.” So it was like you take these things, and I think with Billy we got everything we’re looking for and a little bit more. That’s always the goal, you want to expand the shoe size that you’re trying to fill.
That’s cool. Billy, how have you find the reception from the fans? Dillinger fans can be a tough bunch.
BR: Well, when Greg posted my number on the internet, and they started calling me a faggot and saying that they were going to kill me if I fuck up one note at the show, that was scary. [laughs] It was definitely scary. I was really scared the first couple of shows, and going down to Australia…
That’s a serious trial by fire.
Yeah, but it was a great experience. This has made me a better musician. This has made me more ready for this lifestyle and more prepared. The fans, honestly, have been incredible. The fans have kind of reinforced why I’m doing it. You know what I mean? I was just like “Man, I’m not sure,” because there were all these message boards saying that “This kid is going to suck” and whatever. Then every show has just been smiles and handshakes and crowds going crazy. After the show, everybody says “Dude, you’re doing a great job. Thank you for being in this band.” It can’t be more gratifying.
That’s great, man. Let’s move onto the actual album itself. How much pressure did you guys feel following Ire Works, which seemed like it was universally acclaimed and made you guys bigger than ever?
LW: I don’t think we ever think about topping [the last album], because we already know that we need to top it. As we were doing Ire Works, we were always thinking that it would be a stepping stone. We knew when we were done with that one that it would be a stepping stone for the next one. You’re always kind of looking forward more than looking back, I think. Going into it with all the critical acclaim… I don’t know. Now that this record is getting reviewed, I almost feel like all the sour grapes are coming out, like, “Ire Works was okay.” [laughs] You know? I was like, “Really? I thought everyone liked that one. I hope you like this one.”
GP: Time allows people to be more critical of things.
LW: And us too. I think I look back on Ire Works and remember coming out of that like “Yeah, we did it! We made another record.”
GP: Part of that was because we couldn’t even believe we were going to make it through that time period, because of all the unrest with the Chris situation. We hadn’t met Gil until we went in to record Ire Works, so we didn’t even know if… we were excited because we didn’t even know if our record was going to be possible to make at all, much less finish.
LW: We were writing simultaneously as we were recording with that one. This time around it was real easy. We just kind of coasted. By no means was there no struggle. There’s struggle involved in writing our music, but for us the relative amount of struggle going into it was greatly diminished.
GP: There wasn’t an internal struggle between the members…
LW: Yeah, the struggle was in the writing and not in our lives. I feel like that added a lot, and we were able to just go in and bang it out. We were just so much more prepared, too. We didn’t have that frantic “Oh shit! Got to stop writing and got to start looking for a drummer while we’re programming this stuff and trying to get these demos to a point where we can show them to somebody to get them to this point.” This time we went in, and Billy knew his parts and we all just kind of knew what we were doing. It was easier for us to make what we consider to be the better record. Looking back again at Ire Works, I would never say it at the time, but certain things seemed undercooked based on what we’d just accomplished.
Can you be a little more specific?
LW: This record, it’s like…
GP: There’s no fragments.
LW: All killer, no filler.
GP: They’re all songs. There are ten songs on the record.
LW: Not interludes.
GP: There’s nothing that is an interlude or a prequel to something, or a post-song track. These are all stand-alone songs, all ten of them.
LW: I think we pushed everything a little further, too.
GP: It’s our longest record, and it’s the least amount of songs we’ve had [on a record]. Each song we explored every idea you could possibly have taken, instead of rushing it through.
LW: I think on Ire Works, the songs were more streamlined, relatively speaking. This time I think it’s more epic. I don’t want to say “more complex,” because that gets into a slippery slope with Dillinger fans, but I think the songwriting was more mature and more complex in that it was wider. We explored more things. It wasn’t like, “Oh, that idea. Okay, next one.” I think we were more willing to say, “It all works in this song.”
BR: We felt great when we wrote 5 seconds of music. [laughs] If we got 5 seconds done in one day, we were like “High five! That was awesome.”
LW: “Hey that transition works now. Cool!”
I think the last time we interviewed Greg, Ire Works had just come out, there was still some trepidation maybe on some of the not mathcore-ish material. Did you feel more at ease this time with a song like, for example, “Widower?”
GP: Yeah, because it’s honest. You have to be honest with yourself. It’s much easier to write a song like “Widower,” and it takes much more balls, but it’s easier because you’re not causing dissonance with yourself. It’s easier to write a song that you want to write naturally, rather than try to force yourself to be a caricature of what you were ten years ago, to make it seem like a theater production. We can only write ten songs that sound like Calculating Infinity even though we don’t want to write ten songs that sound like Calculating Infinity – but that is what takes effort, and that’s what is going to be shitty in the long-run, because it’s not honest as an artist. You’re going to get sick of playing [that material] on the road because it’s not who you are in your life at this moment. It’s false, and to us, that is something we’ve never done. We’ve never once done something in this band for somebody else. The second you start doing that, it’s not your band anymore. For us, a song like “Widower” is as much a Dillinger Escape Plan song as “Panasonic Youth,” because we didn’t second guess ourselves and did exactly what we wanted to do. Whether or not someone else likes it is not really our problem.
LW: From the fan perspective, or from our perspective of the fan perspective, we’ve already put out “Unretrofied,”” Black Bubblegum,” “Milk Lizard.” If we’re really throwing you curveballs at this point, you haven’t been paying attention. For us, it’s that much easier to release these songs now,because we feel that they’re more mature and better crafted. We’re better songwriters. We’re better at writing those songs now, too.
GP: People become identified with a time and place in their lives more than anything. They want you to keep acting the same way that you were ten years ago. You’re a different person.
LW: It doesn’t change. We’re still getting the same sort of reviews. [Our latest album is] always going to be compared to Calculating. Obviously they’re going to compare it to previous releases. Calculating still seems to be the zenith for most people. I feel with this record, more than any other one, I’ve heard “Wow, they’re returning to something,” or “This to me is what I like about Dillinger.” From peers that I trust who would give me the honest skinny, that’s the impression that I’m getting. It’s kind of satisfying more of what the old fan is looking for and simultaneously delivering what we started to showcase on Ire Works. Hopefully it makes everyone a little happier than they were previously. But it’s not about them in the first place.
GP: You have to be what you are in the moment. The thing about bands is, the first record is the one that they didn’t have any preconceived notion of. There was nothing looming over them. There was no specter of anything they did in the past. A lot of times bands do their best stuff first, because that’s when they don’t give a shit. The second you do anything that receives any type of notice, and you realize that that’s behind you, it’s very easy to get in that situation where if the camera is in the room, people act differently. No matter how natural you feel, the camera is still there and it’s making you act differently. The biggest challenge is to not pay attention to the past. Every record is a new record. There’s no such thing as a comparison to your old record because, like I said, it’s not the same band. It’s the same as when you go to a roulette table – just because you see five reds in the row, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the next one is going to be black. The odds are the same every single time. The record is its own record. It’s not a competition. Music is not a sport. This record is Option Paralysis. It’s three years after Ire Works. That was a different record and a different time. It’s not meant to beat that record, or to be a better version of Ire Works.
LW: It’s not a sequel.
GP: It’s its own version of its own record, and it doesn’t matter if sounds completely different or not.
You guys are getting bigger and bigger.
GP: We eat a lot. [laughs]
The last time we spoke, it seemed you like were getting your first taste of the controversy that sometimes comes with being in the spotlight. I think there was talk about lawsuits from fans that have been injured at shows or some shit like that.
Now it seems like even more – and Greg especially, just by virtue of being the front man – you find yourself in the center of stupid shit a lot.
LW: Yeah like people accusing you of being on steroids.
GP: I’m gay. I’m on steroids.
You wrote something about Barack Obama which became a whole thing…
LW [sarcastic tone]: You wrote something about Barack? You didn’t tell me that. [laughs]
GP: What can you say about that?I can’t control what people make a big deal out of and what they don’t. If you try to run around and compartmentalizing and chase down every possible thing… If I wanted to Google every single negative thing anyone has said, or every untrue thing… the thing with the reporter and the steroid thing was almost like a… it wasn’t a kid on a message board or wasn’t a comment on a YouTube video. That was a person who has some responsibility to be journalistically appropriate. It wasn’t done as an editorial, or some kid mouthing off on a blog. It was on MTV News. Why even draw the connection between an actual news story, like Mark McGuire’s steroid use, which has nothing to do with music anyway? Why draw that connection and be like, “Here’s the people in music that we also think are on steroids.”
LW: “We.” It’s not “we,” it’s you. [laughs]
GP: I don’t care if someone says I suck, that’s subjective. You can think I suck or not, but when you’re putting something about someone out, almost as if it’s this close to being news, it’s just inappropriate. I just wanted to say something. But in general, I don’t care. I know there are a lot of people who dislike and like everyone. It’s more important that anyone cares at all. I’m fortunate to be in a position where anyone gives a shit about me, even negatively.