EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN’S GREG PUCIATO
After interviewing Greg Puciato on The Dillinger Escape Plan’s tour bus just hours before their sold-out show at The Blender Theatre in NYC, Axl and Vince agreed upon two things: Puciato might be the best interview subject they’ve ever had, and he’s definitely the nicest. After half an hour of giving incredibly open, honest, and detailed answers to the MetalSucks boys’ every query, he told them they could just hang out and help themselves to some food and drinks from the band’s fridge. Some horrifically scary Satanic metal dude, Puciato is not.
After the jump, read Puciato’s thoughts on The Dillinger Escape Plan’s current tour, the band’s new members, the making of Ire Works, how he chooses song titles, and the lawsuits brought on by the angry parents of injured teenage concert goers…
As Axl and Vince boarded The Dillinger Escape Plan’s tour bus, making casual conversation about a narrowly avoided snow storm which was supposed to take place that evening, Puciato went ahead and began the interview before the tape recorder was even rolling…
…that’s awesome. This is by the far the biggest show, obviously. For us it’s like the only show that completely sold-out before the doors are even open, and that’s a first for us, we’ve never sold-out a New York show ahead of time, so for us it’s kinda cool. And then we’re looking at the weather on Yahoo and it was “Clear, kinda rainy, clear, kinda rainy, massive amounts of snow and ice, clear, kinda rainy, clear” and it was the only day – the one day we’re playing there was gonna be a nor’easter. I was like, “That sucks, man.”
How long have you guys been out for?
This is two weeks and a day, today. And that’s the first time we’ve played shows in the last two years. It’s pretty crazy ‘cause we have two new people on stage who have never even played us before in front of people. And the reception has been better than ever, they’ve been totally embraced by our fans. And as far as consistency goes… I don’t think we’ve ever played this many shows in a row at such a consistent level. I don’t know whether’s that’s ‘cause we’ve had so much time off, or ‘cause there’s so much newness at once – between the two new members and the new record and I haven’t toured in awhile anyway, there’s just so much good energy. You know what I mean? We want to be here, it’s not just like “Fuck, this is the 200th show this year.” We’re still pretty fresh, so…
You actually just kind of addressed one of our questions: like you said, this is a very fresh line-up, but you obviously feel like it’s gelling…
Oh, man, I’ve never felt more confident going on stage that we’re gonna have a good show. I feel like if you’re playing shows – you don’t have a perfect 10 every night. There’s always two shows where you get a 10, but all the rest of them hover around 7 or 8, y’know? Whereas right now I feel like every show is a 9. And the odds of there being a 10 are much higher. There’s never time on stage when I’m mad because someone isn’t doing their job or someone’s fucking up a lot.
I was really worried. That first show we played, I was like “Am I gonna even be able to enjoy the show? Or am I gonna be so busy looking over and listening to the two new people that I’m not gonna feel comfortable?” ‘Cause being in a room practicing with people and actually being up on stage are two completely different things. But everything’s been great. It’s astonishing, honestly, considering the magnitude of the line-up changes.
How has it been from the perspective of fans? Have they been embracing the changes?
Honestly, the fans kind of seem to be more into the new members than they were the old members (laughs). It’s funny, when we play shows, the only thing I hear in-between songs is kids being like (in screaming teenage girl voice) “GIL SHARONE!” and yelling about our new drummer. And that’s really cool for me to hear, because I remember when I first joined Dillinger – and it was way smaller back then – how fuckin’ nervous I was, and how I felt so aware that people were gonna be sitting there with their arms crossed, waiting to see someone fuck up.
And with Chris Pennie, he’s an original member, he’s been in the band for ten years, a lot of people consider his style of drumming to be pretty much a back-bone of what this is all about, so for Gil to be there… and not to like… y’know, everyone always says the new thing is better than the old thing, but there’s honestly… Chris is phenomenal, I would never, ever take anything away from him, he’s a ridiculous talent, but Gil’s just on another level. When I tell people that, they’re just like, “Yeah, the album sounds good,” but he’s the kind of person where you have to watch him play to really understand. There’s something innate in him that you can’t teach, that can’t be practiced for ten hours. He has some sense of rhythm and groove that we’ve never really had before in our music. Our music’s always been super technical and super fast, and Chris was perfect for that because he’s the type of drummer that wasn’t a feel player. Everything about Chris that was respectable was because Chris sits in a room and practices twelve hours a day, turning a metronome little by little and grinding just a b.p.m. faster and faster every day. Whereas Gil has never been that type of player. It’s like the kid in school who always gets good grades because he studies all the time versus the kid in school who always gets good grades just because he’s naturally, like, fucking super gifted, y’know? Not that one’s necessarily better than the other…
So what can we expect in terms of a set list on this tour? You guys have a pretty wide range of albums to choose from now…
Yeah. It’s interesting, because when we were writing the set list, we realized that we have, like, five new songs in there off the new record. For so many years we only had two records out. It’s crazy to think that we played full sets of pretty much the same songs for ten years and got away with it.
But we’re definitely playing longer now than we’ve ever played. The most we ever played were 12 to 13 songs, which I realize now is not that much time ‘cause all our songs are so short (laughs). We’re playing like, 15, 16 songs right now, and still managing, if we don’t have, like, a big equipment fuck-up at some point, we’re still managing to keep it under an hour – it’s like 55 minutes or something.
It’s spread pretty evenly – we usually have a song off of Under the Running Board, a song off of Irony is a Dead Scene, then, like, three from Calculating, three or four from Miss Machine, and right now five off of Ire Works.
You guys are obviously very well known for your live shows being incredibly physical, and you’ve obviously had some problems with former guitarist Brian Benoit doing some very serious damage to himself, and Ben Weinman told us he broke his foot when he dropped a guitar on it… do you ever worry about how long you’re gonna be able to do this?
Oh, yeah, man. Definitely. I’m already… I’m in pretty good shape, we’re all in pretty good shape considering the amount of damage done to ourselves. I mean, I know that if I cut my hair short enough I’d have just road maps of scars all over my head, and I have a fake tooth to replace the real one that got knocked out by a guitar.
But the crazier thing is that now I’m starting to feel things that have nothing to do with… like, they’re not scars, but when I wake up in the morning, my back is just tweaked, and it’s not in a way that would have happened from anything other than playing. I can feel weird nerve stuff, like I can’t feel the side of my hand on the pinky finger, ’cause I remember playing and I got hit with a guitar and it shorted out, and now [my finger] just feels like its asleep. So it’s little things like that. But I still feel just as good when we’re playing as I did five years ago, I feel just as energetic, I don’t feel tired, in fact I think I have more energy now.
The thing I worry about is the lawsuits, getting sued and never being able to have a life after this because, y’know, not me but someone else at a show decided it was too much for them and decided to sue us, which happens all the time. It’s happening right now, not that I can talk about it too much. The thing that sucks about this whole punk rock/hardcore thing getting bigger is that it’s drawing in a lot of people from outside of it, which is great, ’cause in a commercial sense it’s absurd to think that that a band like us could ever be in the Billboard Top 200, it’s stupid to even think that, or that we could sell out, like, an actual venue, not just some VFW hall or something. But at the same time, that’s because there’s a lot of people who listened to, like, Sum 41 a year ago but now are like “Oh, this is the real shit, I wanna get as close as possible to it and see what it’s all about,” so there’s like, little girls and boys that were into, like, almost pop music a couple of years ago and now they come to a Dillinger show, into a world that they had no, like, slow coming into, you know what I mean? They’d never seen another hardcore band, and they’d never been to like a Converge show or whatever, and now they come to something they’re not used to, and they sit right in front because they’re just like “I love them!” And between kids going off and us going crazy, something happens – even if it’s something little…
It’s not the kids, it’s the parents. The kid’ll go home and he’ll have like a little bruise on his shoulder and the parent will be like “What happened?” And we’ll find out a week later that there’s some kind of lawsuit. Because the parents go online and they see that you can type in our name and there’s million pages or that our video’s on MTV2 or something, and they think that, because of that, we must be rich. And that’s what I thought when I was a kid, too, like I thought that Exodus must be rich (laughs). If I looked through a magazine and there was a band in there, I was like, “That band must be rich.” So I’m sure they think the same thing.
But usually what happens is they start a lawsuit, realize we’re not rich, and then the whole thing will just disappear. ‘Cause no lawyer is gonna spend fucking two years or whatever trying to get the ball rolling on something that’s not gonna pay. But there’s a couple of things going on right now that are still going, and it’s starting to freak me out, because they try to sue you for not just current earnings, but they try to sue you for future earnings, too, as an individual, not just as a corporation. And it’s like things that weren’t even my fault, just because I’m a person who’s associated with the show. They go after everyone they can. They don’t know anything about who to sue, so they just go “We’re gonna sue every person in the band, we’re gonna sue the record comapny” – which is absurd, they have nothing to do with the shows – “we’re gonna sue the club, security, the promoter, anything we can try to get because my son, somebody landed on his toe and broke it.” And they’ll try to sue for astronomical amounts, and it’s like, “Are you kidding me? This is ridiculous!” Stage diving and crowd surfing and shit like that has been going since the beginning of fucking history, man, you know what I mean? Eddie Vedder did it in a video that everyone saw – there’s crowd surfing at fucking Avril Lavigne shows and shit, y’know (laughs)? It’s not that crazy. And honestly, the crowd is not that crazy – I still feel way more scared in the middle of a Slayer concert…
It’s so funny that everybody says Slayer pits are so scary…
That shit’s brutal, man (laughs). Seeing Slayer’s like seeing Hatebreed six years ago. Like there’s been times when I’ve been watching Slayer from the side of the stage, and I look out at the crowd and I am so fucking happy that I’m not there (laughs).
Recently I was at Sounds of the Underground, and it was one of the ones with Suicidal Tendencies, and it was in California, so it was like their fuckin’ turf, and I was way far in the back, and I thought I wouldn’t be near any kind of pit – but the second they started playing, I was just, “Oh, I have to get out of here, now.” (laughs) So I don’t really feel like our shows are that dangerous. But it’s obvious that if you put a bunch of fucking people crammed together in a little club and there’s a lot of energy, that there’s a chance that something could happen. It’s not worth like trying to fucking ruin people’s lives over.
So let’s talk about Ire Works for a minute.
So first of all, congratulations. Obviously it’s getting an amazing reception…
Yeah, thank you.
…it might be the most critically acclaimed album of the year.
That’s crazy to me to hear… ‘cause when Miss Machine came out, we were very concerned about it, we were very uncertain about it… Like, the second that record came out, we were unhappy with it. I can’t even listen to that record now.
Just like little things, like the production doesn’t sound the way we wanted it to, there’s vocal choices that I made where I totally lost battles in the studio with our producer… like things I remember fighting for where he was like, “No, you should do it like this,” and I went his way and now I listen to it and wish I would have done it my way. Things like that. And I know that Ben feels the same way about the guitar parts and stuff. So this time we were aware of every little thing we didn’t wanna do again.
Did you have more time on this one?
We had a lot more time. The cool thing about this time is that, when we did Miss Machine, we didn’t go to a real studio – we brought [producer] Steve Evetts and all his equipment to us and thought it would be cheaper and more comfortable for us to basically take our rehearsal space, gut it, and transform it into a little studio. And because of that, we got really… I don’t wanna say we were lazy, but we were not as efficient at the time, and it felt like we were just going to our practice space, so every hour we were like “Let’s go to Starbucks, let’s go to Dunkin’ Donuts, let’s go here, let’s go there.” And at night we went home, to our different homes.
This time, we did something we said we would never do, which is we went to California to make a record, which we always hear is the death of bands (laughs). ‘Cause they end up going out there and they end up spending all their time at the beach, and hanging out with girls or something.
But we got one hotel room, all five of us plus two or three other people, we all stayed in one room and slept on, like, cots and floors and three to a bed a stuff, and we all went to the studio together, even if it wasn’t our turn to record. If I had nothing to do that day, I was still there all day. So we were just living and breathing it constantly. If we left the studio and went back to the hotel room, we were all still talking about what had been done and what we would do tomorrow, so it was so much more just a continual barrage of ideas. There was nothing that we wanted to do that we didn’t take the time to do. If we didn’t like the way a certain drum sounded, we spent an extra day just sitting there, getting it right. Whereas before, we were kind of enamored… not to get too technical about it, but the whole Pro Tools thing was so much newer back then, so if we had, like, a shitty snare drum sound, we were under the impression that we could fix it later on, like in mixing, like “Oh, we’ll just put this plug-in on and fix it.” And now we wanna get it so that all we have to do it turn it up when it comes time to mix it.
So to get back to your question, when we finished it we sat down and we were like “Wow, we’re really happy with everything – this will be the one that no one likes.” (laughs) So when it came out and we started seeing “Album of the Year” in certain magazines and five stars and four K’s from Kerrang, we were just like, “This is pretty crazy.” ‘Cause we like it, but we didn’t really think… we just feel lucky to be doing something that I know is pretty out there in a lot of ways, not just because of the aggressive, crazy stuff, but now because of the contrast between the aggressive and crazy and the poppy and stuff like that. I know it’s a lot for people to take in, so for someone to be able to appreciate it as much as we do is, I think, pretty lucky.
You were talking about the contrast between the heavier stuff and the more poppy stuff on this album. On Miss Machine, with a song like “Unretrofied,” it seemed like you were dipping your toes in the water of genres besides mathcore, and then on Plagiarism you had a Justin Timberlake cover, and now on Ire Works it seems pretty even split between the crazy stuff and the poppy stuff. So did the poppier stuff come about naturally, or was it a conscious decision to move in that direction?
You know what? When we first started writing this album, I’d do interviews and tell people it was gonna be like Calculating Infinity, Part 2. ‘Casue the first four songs we wrote were all crazy songs. It was literally like the first two songs on the record [“Fix Your Face” and “Lurch”], and then this song called “82588,”and then that song “Party Smasher” were all written in a row. Then, of course, as soon as I told people that, the next song we wrote was “Black Bubblegum.” So that changed the whole dynamic.
At that point we realized that was the most poppy we could ever get. Even “Unretrofied” had a little bridge that had screaming and stuff – “Black Bubblegum” is the first Dillinger song ever where there’s no screaming in it. But it wasn’t something we thought about, and the fact that it did come so naturally to us… We were just like, “fuck it.” There’s nothing we could write that we would be afraid to put on a Dillinger album, as long as it has some kind of cohesiveness and sounds like us – that it didn’t sound like us trying to do something else, that it just sounded natural and felt natural, and it didn’t feel forced. That song came as naturally to us as “Fix Your Face.”
So we were just like, “Okay, let’s see where this goes.” And the more interesting stuff to me is the stuff – like the last song on the record [“Mouth of Ghosts] has a three or four minute part that almost sounds like Mars Volta to me. Not that I wanna start doing that kind of stuff, but it’s exciting to me, because it really makes you realize that we’ve gotten to a point where we’re not thinking about what we’re doing, we’re just letting ourselves be. Whereas with Miss Machine, we were so conscious of the weight of Calculating Infinity… even though we felt confident in songs like “Unretrofied” and “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants,” we were still freaked out by them. We knew that a lot of people were going to jump ship, and a lot of people did jump ship.
But the experience freed us of ever feeling that kind of pressure again. I know that there’s people who liked us ten years ago that either think we suck now or we sold out, ‘cause they just wanna hear Calculating Infinity over and over again. And that’s cool, if they want to, they can play that record over and over again. I mean, we have songs on this record that are for them, but as far as new people go, I don’t think there’s gonna be anybody that, if they liked Miss Machine, they’re gonna hear Ire Works and go “What the fuck are they doing?” ‘Cause to me if just feels like a massive extension of where we were trying to go with that record.
And it’s important to recognize that when we say “poppy,” we’re not talking about, like…
Maroon 5 (laughs)?
Yeah. It’s still very aurally dense…
Right. I mean, “Black Bubblegum” was the song that, if people really technically wanna know what song has the most going on – it’s that song by far. It may not be the fastest or have the most notes per meter or something like that, but when you look at the song… when we had to mix that song, we have five times as much to do as we did with “Fix Your Face.” And that, to me, is just as interesting – the fact that you could put head phones on and hear little things that you might not’ve even heard before, that there’s literally, like, thirty tracks of vocals, that was fun for me too (laughs). Most songs, there were like, thirty, thirty five tracks to mix – that song, there were 120.
Wow. So that’s all you singing – the back-up and everything?
Yeah. And it’s cool, ‘cause for me as a singer, screaming’s fun, but I don’t walk around the house screaming (laughs). And I feel like it was cool to do something else, to have a song where I can actually be happy about the singing and it’s not just some little five second part that was thrown into a song that was all screaming.
Because, especially in this band, that’s something that I thought would never happen – when I joined this band, I had no idea where they were mentally, but I thought they were just gonna wanna do stuff like Calculating Infinity. So when we started to do other kinds of stuff, it was pretty awesome to know that everyone’s open minded enough that we can put everything under one umbrella, instead of having twenty side projects. It’s nice to know that if Ben comes up with a song that has a part that sounds like Aphex Twin, he feels comfortable using it in Dillinger and not starting the Ben Weinman Side Project.
So how involved are you guys in helping with one another’s parts? Is it just like, Ben does his thing and you do yours?
It’s more like checks and balances. Ben pretty much writes all the music and I pretty much write all the lyrics and vocals, and with bass lines, Ben will write the part and then Liam [Wilson, bassist] builds in, colors in, kind of, you know what I mean? And it’s more like checks and balances. Obviously everything we write we think is fucking great, ’cause that’s the way people are, you know what I mean (laughs)? Ben will write something and 90% of it is usually awesome, but then there’ll be part where I’ll be like, “You have to do that one time less” or it’ll be like, “That part is not what you think it is. What you’re describing to me is not what it is. You’re telling me what’s gonna happen, and it’s gonna be this huge part, and I’m telling you I’m not hearing that when it happens.” And then we’ll get in a little argument, and he’ll tell me that I don’t know what I’m doing because he’s been in the band for ten years and I’ve only been in the band for six (laughs). And then we’ll get in a little tiff and then I’ll usually turn out to be right. And the same happens on the reverse, like if I have a line or a vocal pattern that I think rules, and then he tells me it sucks, chances are it’s not great. Because you don’t have a filter on your own stuff. So he knows that I can do something better… so we help each other out.
But as far as writing parts, I’ve never come to him with a guitar part, and he’s never come to me like “Here’s a lyric that I think would work here.” It’s more or less just like “Do better than that.”
“82588” is obviously the release date for Metallica’s …And Justice for All. Do the lyrics song in any way to …And Justice for All?
Not at all.
Thematically? No way at all?
Well what I try to do with song titles – and this probably won’t make sense to a lot of people – I try to name songs like not what they have to do with lyrically, but more what they feel like, you know what I mean? Like if you look at the song, and it makes me feel a certain way, I’ll try to find [a title] that goes along with that, just vibe-wise. When you’re listening to the song and you look at the title, I want the title to feel like the song, not necessarily having anything to do with the lyrics. And, to me, “82588” was very anti-septic sounding, it was the song that was the most like Calculating as far as it’s really atonal, there’s not much melody, even the riffs aren’t melodic riffs, they’re more like stabs, like (makes stabbing riff noises). They’re real cold, and to me, one of the things about …And Justice for All is that is was very cold and anti-septic and brutal.
It also happens to be my favorite record of all time (laughs), so it was like an easy way to put in a little homage to something that I feel like, if I’d never heard it, I would never even be playing music. That was the record that bridged me from Guns N’ Roses and stuff like that to, like, death and crazy stuff like that.
With all the accolades, do you feel pressure to top Ire Works next time out?
Um… not yet. I mean, we don’t have a single idea yet – there’s not one riff or one lyric or anything that exists whatsoever. We finished recording that record three months ago now, and not one single thing has been written since then. Because we haven’t even had time – it totally drained us of creativity, and now we have to just live for awhile and I guess restore the well, so to speak.
But I think we’ll be fine. The best songs to me were the ones that were written closer to the end, so…
Like which ones?
Um… well I don’t wanna say that (laughs), but maybe they just feel that way to me because they’re the newest to me. The last couple of songs were written with Gil, so, to me, that was a big deal, ‘cause it proves not only that Gil can learn Chris’ parts, but that we can actually write with him. And that was “Horse Hunter” and “Mouth of Ghosts” – the last two songs on the record were written with Gil. He didn’t just use Chris’ demo parts as a template, he went and wrote all his own parts. And when I hear those songs, there’s no difference in quality between those songs and the songs that were actually done before. So I’m excited to write more, I don’t feel pressure. I feel excited because I know what we can do… and the writing process with Chris was such a fucking nightmare, because of the deterioration of personal relationships.
The Dillinger Escape Plan play The Station in Portland, Maine tonight with A Life Once Lost and Genghis Tron as support. For a complete list of tour dates, head over to their MySpace page.
-AR & VN