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Interviews   

The crazies from The Dillinger Escape Plan


This is a truly fascinating interview, and we strongly advise everyone to read it, even those who are impervious to the very distinctive and sometimes difficult aesthetics of The Dillinger Escape Plan.

For the true music lover, getting the opportunity to analyze the creative psychology of the crazy musicians who make up The Dillinger Escape Plan is a real godsend. “Crazy” is not too strong a word, for there’s madness lurking around the corner when vocalist Greg Puciato reveals and explains his own artistic obsessions, as well as guitarist Ben Weinman’s and producer Steve Evetts’ – hair-pulling obsessions, whose results can be heard on their fresh, intense, dynamic, and very free latest album, One Of Us Is The Killer. What Puciato describes when he talks about the creative process – ordeal, rather – is flabbergasting. The first comparison that sprung to mind was director Stanley Kubrick, who once managed to inject genuine insanity in the eyes of Jack Nicholson. A perfect comparison, really, since the name Kubrick strikes a very particular chord in Puciato.

Another interesting element is his vision of stage performance, which is all about the here and now and about pure spontaneity. You’ll all remember this impressive video, where the frontman suddenly starts running over the heads of his audience. Just as spontaneous is his uncontrolled approach of screamed vocals – a concept which he judges to be the strangest thing ever in music. All this reminded us of another band of crazies, Converge, which the vocalist considers as The Dillinger Escape Plan’s brother band.

Let’s delve deeper into this with a very talkative Greg Puciato in this long interview.

« We’re definitely aware that we push people away with one hand as we’re pulling them in with the other hand. »

Radio Metal: At the time when Option Paralysis came out you said that you tried to make it more coherent than Ire Works, which felt a bit disjointed to you. In order to do so, you mixed the different elements within the songs instead of separating them from song to song. What was the challenge for the band to accomplish with One Of Us Is The Killer?

Greg Puciato (vocals): I think we accomplished the artistic freedom that we wanted with Option Paralysis. That was kind of like the final step for us. The thing that we started with Miss Machine, we kind of resolved with Option Paralysis. We started with Miss Machine, adding elements of melody, and like you said, it was very compartmentalized. For example, we had a song like “Panasonic Youth”, and a song like “Retrofied”. On Ire Works, that continued, but we added other experimental things, and we had a song like “Fix Your Face”, and we had a song like “Black Bubblegum”. Then we had more electronic songs, the Latin, jammy-type songs… We were adding more, but we were still compartmentalizing. On Option Paralysis, we learned how to merge elements. I think “Farewell Mona Lisa” is a very good indication of that. With this album, I think it’s the first time we went into it with full confidence in our individual skill sets and our ability as a band. We knew we could do whatever we wanted. Instead of going into it trying to prove anything to anyone, we went into it completely loose and took whatever came out. We ended up with the record that we have. There’s no actual intention behind the record except to be completely honest with ourselves and not overthink it. So we ended up with a bunch of songs that we didn’t force at all, which felt really good.

By the end of 2012, Ben Weinman announced that this album would be “very punk and hardcore in its influences”, but a statement followed, saying this was misinformation: the album was going to be “progressive ambient mixed with noise”. We can understand that you’re trying to confuse the listener, but would you say that this confusing aspect is in fact one of the characteristics of your music?

Absolutely, yeah! We really don’t like to be predictable. We don’t like to be told what to do. We think it’s really important for us to maintain creative control and creative freedom, and that means kind of sending people on a bumpy ride at times. That’s necessary. We’re definitely aware that we push people away with one hand as we’re pulling them in with the other hand. If we have a song like “One Of Us Is The Killer”, a lot of people may come through the door and wanna poke their head around, but as soon as they hear a song like “Prancer”, they’re gonna say: “Fuck, I can’t listen to this, I’m outta here!” I definitely am aware that if there’s a hundred people that check out our band, probably only 15 of them are actually gonna stay and be able to listen to everything. But that’s fine, you know! I’d rather be in a band that does whatever it wants and maintains creative autonomy and freedom than in a band that has to pander to its audience.

There’s always an interesting meaning behind Dillinger Escape Plan’s album titles. Does One Of Us Is The Killer mean that any human being is a potential killer?

It says something about the fact that we all have the ability to be the same thing. If you’re judging someone for something, you have that ability in you too. We’re genetically the same species, so you can’t really ever condemn someone too hard, because you have the ability to be that person as well. But that’s not the main point. The title “One Of Us Is The Killer” is speaking about being accepting and understanding of your role in a destructive relationship. When they’re in any type of relationship, people have a tendency to blame the other person for circumstances that are leading to the destruction of this relationship. Whether it’s a friend, or a bandmember, a wife or a girlfriend or anything like that, chances are, you think the deterioration is the other person’s fault. When you take yourself out of it, you realize: “Wait a second, I’m equally at fault. We were actually both contributing to this”. You end up spending all your time trying to win individual battles. You get into a stupid argument, and you think: “Fuck, I need to win this!” That’s ego bullshit, that’s just you trying to appease your own ego. So you get to the point where you’ve won all these little battles, but you destroyed the relationship in the process. The title is actually about Ben and I. Our relationship had been deteriorating from the time we started touring for Option Paralysis, to the time that we started writing this record. We just found ourselves in a place that we didn’t understand how we had got into, and I think we were both blaming the other person for it. The second we realized that we were both responsible and we started worrying about fixing ourselves instead of changing the other person, the relationship was healed instantly.

« When you get to the point where you start to crack, when you’re ready to sit in the corner and pull your hair out, that’s when you loosen up and good shit starts coming out of you. »

You said about producer Steve Evetts: “There’s no other band he has recorded that requires this amount of attention to details. We take a longer amount of time to do one thing than most bands take to do ten”. How long does it take you to write a song?

Writing can take a long time or it can take a little time. Some songs took an hour and other songs took a month. The lyrics and the melodies to “One Of Us Is The Killer” were written together, and it took about 45 minutes. Some other songs were revised and labored over and changed up until one second before they were recorded. What I was talking about was stuff in the studio. When you’re in the studio and you have the possibility to be in there for a long time, you really develop obsession. There’s really not much else in life that’s like obsessing over 40 minutes of music for months and months on end. You start to really become insane. When you’re listening to a song and you have the ability to isolate individual guitar parts and individual tracks, you start to become obsessive. Ben and I are perfectionists and for us to be able to be that way is great, and it’s also a curse at the same time. But we put a record out every three years, so we figure we need to not just look at everything on the surface. We need to look at things with a four times magnifying glass. And when we do that, we go like: “No, we need an eight times magnifying glass”. And it keeps going until you’re at the fucking 64 times magnifying glass, and until someone finally says: “Hey, enough is enough, this is it!” We do that with every single fucking step of the process. We started recording on November 6th, we were supposed to be done on December 15th, and we finished on March 2nd! (laughs) We had six weeks booked and we ended up taking three fucking months, if that’s any indication of how absurdly perfectionist we became.

Even if you’re really meticulous in the studio, after the album is finally released, do you ever listen to the music and think this wasn’t really all that important?

No! (laughs) It’s extremely important to be that way. Up to the very end, we were that way with Steve. We probably made him mix “Prancer” 25 times and sent him endless revisions: “The 300 megahertz frequency needs to go up by one decibel; the kickdrums need to go up by one decibel; the vocals are too loud…” We only do this once every three years, so who gives a shit about a couple of months? Ten or twenty years from now, when I listen back to this record, I don’t want to think to myself that we spent too much money because we took too long. I want to think to myself: “This is the best that we could have made it sound every step of the way”. Like I said, it’s not so much about doing a million takes. We’re not in there doing like eight million takes, because if you do a bunch of takes, you lose all the soul. It’s more about getting the sound of things to be exactly right and making sure everything sounds the way you want it to. There’s a lot that goes into it and your ears get fucked up too. That’s the other problem: the longer you listen to something, your ears start to distort what things really sound like. This time, it just took way too long! I don’t know how we can not take so long next time, but this was like the limit. There’s no way we could fucking do this again, the level of insanity we went through. We were ready to kill one another and ourselves at the end of it.

Have you seen the movie Shining, by Stanley Kubrick?

Are you being serious right now? I’ve talked about that movie five fucking times today!

There’s a scene in that movie where Jack Nicholson opens the door and we see his ugly face. I’ve read that Stanley Kubrick made him do this scene like forty times without telling him why!

You’re literally giving me goosebumps right now, because I spent an entire interview about two hours ago talking about Stanley Kubrick. It’s freaking me out that you’re bringing it up, because Stanley Kubrick is one of my biggest inspirations as an artist, because of his level of intensity and detail that he put in his movies. He was a guy that was literally obsessed with every single movie that he did, to the point that outsiders were thinking he was a crazy person. Artistically, I feel that’s really admirable. It can be very destructive as a human being, but there you have it. It’s freaking me out that you’re even bringing it up!

Actually, when I heard you talk about how much time you spent on every detail, I instantly thought about this anecdote. He asked Jack Nicholson to do the take so many times without telling him why, so he would look crazy and fed up and he could capture that in the movie. Do you feel close to that way of working?

Yeah, I think there’s definitely an element to that. If you spend enough time fixating and obsessing over the same thing, you develop temporary insanity. And I think, once you get to that point, you actually become really raw creatively and you get a lot more out of you. How can you record insane music in a sane clinical mindset? When you get into a recording studio, it’s very clinical. You’re in a booth, there’s a microphone, it’s like being in a doctor’s office or something like that. It’s not like being on stage. You have to be perfectly still or else the microphone picks up the noise if you’re even fucking moving your arm. You have to get through that and the only way to do that is to drive yourself to the point of insanity. That’s kind of Steve Evetts’ job too, our producer, especially with me, as a singer. If there’s a part that really needs to be unhinged, he’ll make me do something 50 times in a row. There’s nothing wrong with any of the takes; the first one was good, we could have kept it, and so were the second, third and fourth. But when you get to the point where you start to crack, when you’re ready to sit in the corner and pull your hair out, that’s when you loosen up and good shit starts coming out of you.

« It’s so bizarre anyway that screaming has become a style of singing. […] When someone screams at you, that’s fucking insane! No one ever screams at you in real life, that’s crazy. You’re like: ‘Wow, dude, calm down!' »

Have you ever thought of working with a producer like Ross Robinson? He’s known to really drives the musicians he works with crazy to get the insanity he needs so he can produce.

You know what, I haven’t, because I don’t like the way his records sound. Ross Robinson is Steve Evetts’ buddy, so they sound very similar. They spend a lot of time hanging out together and Steve has engineered a lot of Ross’ records. So I really think a lot of the tactics Steve uses have been picked up from Ross. But I really like the way Steve’s ear works. He has a really crazy ear, like a genetic gift for detail. That’s something Ben and I don’t have, we’re fucking deaf! We’ve been playing on stage for twelve years, so our hearing is probably not accurate. Steve’s got like eagle-eye hearing, I think that helps.

Have you ever experienced producers being irritated or losing patience because of your being too meticulous?

Oh yeah! Steve almost quit ten times! He was just ready to kill himself, man! He beat us up and then we beat him up. When the recording is done, that’s when he knows he’s about to get back everything he made us do. We make him mix to the brink of absolute exhaustion. But we’ve known each other for a long time and we trust each other. If Steve tells me we’ve got to do it again, I don’t second-guess him, because he’s objective. It’s hard to let go and let someone else criticize you. It also works the other way: he makes a mix and he thinks it’s the best mix he’s ever done, and I listen to it and go: “Nah, you can do better!” And he’s like: “But I spent two days working on this mix!” And I go: “You know what? You gotta start over from scratch, this isn’t good enough”. And he’ll do it again, and it’s always better. Again, we tell him it’s not good enough and he does it again, and it’s better. Every single time we do a record, I become a better singer, Ben becomes a better guitar player and Steve becomes a better producer. With a new band that Steve’s never worked for, you think he’s gonna treat them like that? And some producer that I’ve never worked with before, if he tells me to do something 50 times, I’m gonna tell him to go fuck himself. I need to have the creative respect we’ve all developed for one another.

Do you think he’s done working with you guys, because he can’t do it again another time?

We’re really good friends and we live very close to one another, so we hang out a lot outside of the studio. I think that help keep our relationship positive. If all he had were the memories of making Dillinger records, he wouldn’t want to talk to us ever again! Our records are not fun to make. When we were done with this record, I think Ben and Steve and I were like: “I don’t ever want to listen to this record, I don’t even want to go on tour, I don’t want to hear these fucking songs ever, ever again!” That lasts for like a few weeks and then you listen back to it, you call one another and you’re like: “Hey man, this doesn’t suck, you did a good job!” But by the time you reach the actual end of recording, you never want to say the words “Dillinger Escape Plan” again!

How can you identify the moment you have to stop? It’s easy to lose your objectivity when you work so much. Now that the album is ready to be released, is there a doubt in your mind, something that tells you it could have been better?

No. I think after a time, you just learn where the line is. For example, there’s stuff on Miss Machine, when I listen back to it, I really wish we could do that again. There’s a little bit less on Ire Works and I’m almost 100% happy with Option Paralysis. On this album, I’m pretty close to 100% happy. Over time, we’re learning when to push and when to say enough is enough. Sometimes we get the guitar done in an hour and it’s perfect. Sometimes we do a vocal take and the very first one is the keeper. There are other times when it takes three days to get the guitar right or we do literally 70 takes of a vocal line, and the 70th is the one we keep. It’s really a matter of intuition at this point. We have written five albums together and we know what’s right and what’s not. It’s hard to pinpoint, it’s intuition, not a science.

But do you ever lose your objectivity?

The important thing that happens is that we make sure one of us isn’t there. I usually am not around when Ben’s recording guitars, I just come in briefly. So when he records guitars, I come in for like an hour at the end of the day. That way, if I listen to what they’ve done, I’m really fresh, and vice versa: if I record vocals, it’s pretty much just me and Steve, and Ben will hear what we did maybe every other day or so. Then he can make comments and it’s easy enough to be objective. When Steve is mixing, we won’t go in the room. We just wait until he does his thing, then he shows it to us and we just make adjustments. So we try to make sure one of us is always fresh while the other two are working. That way we can at least have temporary objectivity. The reason we can do that is because we trust one another completely. If I do something vocally and Ben hears it and says: “That should be more like this”, I follow him, because I know his ears are fresher and more objective than mine, and vice versa. We respect each other’s opinions more than we respect our own, because we realize that we can’t be objective otherwise.

« I want people to hear me scream, I want them to hear the intent behind it. I don’t want them to hear it as an effect, I want them to think: ‘Holy shit, he’s furious right now, he’s out of his mind!' »

We can hear a saxophone on “Hero Of The Soviet Union” and trumpets on “Paranoia Shields”. How did you come up with the idea of using these instruments?

It’s funny, because we don’t really consider ourselves… I mean, Ben doesn’t think of himself as a guitar player and I don’t consider myself just a singer. I think we just strive when we write songs and that’s why we’ve had so many different instrumentations on the records throughout the years. We’ve had piano, we’ve had electronic, glitch-type stuff, on this record we have horns… We had horns back on Ire Works, too. We think everything really visually. When we’re writing songs, we don’t limit ourselves to the instruments we’re actually gonna play on stage. We just ask ourselves what would sound really good here and we don’t worry about whether or not we can do that. We just think: “It would be really awesome right now if there was a fucking horn, instead of a guitar!” Or: “This part reminds me of a space shuttle launch”, so we find the sound of a shuttle launch and we put it behind the music in the background. We don’t really have limitations in the way we think. If we hear a glockenspiel or a xylophone, we just put it in. There’s really no second-guessing it.

Actually, the saxophone and the diversity and craziness of the clean vocals on “Hero Of The Soviet Union” are reminiscent of John Zorn and Mike Patton. Can we see it as a tribute to this duo?

Not intentionally. I definitely am a fan of Naked City and The Boredoms and of his work with Mike Patton and Yamatsuka Eye. It’s explosive, free-for-all avant-garde. It wasn’t a conscious thing, I think it’s just something we’ve been influenced by over the years and I guess it probably came out. Actually, you’re the first person to say that. But yeah, I’m sure that’s in there somewhere.

There are actually a couple of songs that remind of Mr Bungle in the way your vocals vary, like “Paranoia Shields” or “Crossburner”. Does Mike Patton remain an inspiration to you as a singer and to the rest of the band as well?

I don’t think there was a time when we were recording that Mike Patton ever crossed my mind. When you’re younger, I feel you’re more influenced by other singers. But I don’t really think of other singers anymore when I’m recording. I just try to do whatever feels right and not worry too much about where that influence came from. I don’t want to accidentally start to mimic anybody. I just try to not think of any other singers. But certainly, as far as approach goes, Mike Patton has been a huge inspiration, because the way he’s operated his creative trajectory has always been one of complete artistic freedom. People like him, or Radiohead, have always done whatever they wanted and never really thought about the commercial repercussions of it. That’s honestly where most of the inspiration comes from, not so much musically or stylistically.

This is a pretty violent album, and at the same time, it’s very diverse. It really looks like, ever since you started to include some melodic, at times almost pop, elements in your music, you’ve tried to find the perfect balance between violence and catchiness. Is this the case?

You know, man, we really do not think when we write. There’s nothing planned. But I do see what you’re saying and I do agree that: the more we go in one direction, the further we go in the other. The more melodic and the better we become at doing softer, more delicate stuff, the more aggressive and violent the other parts become. That’s just gotta be some sort of natural balancing thing. We’re not doing it deliberately, there’s never a conscious decision to be that way. I don’t know, it has to be some sort of self-correction that is happening and that we don’t know about. It’s definitely not intentional.

Even if there are melodic moments, the album remains extremely violent. Do you think that violence is enhanced by melody, that the best way to make violent music is to surround it with melodic moments? Do you think dynamics is the key?

Yeah, I definitely do. I think the dynamics are extremely important. If you start off on 10 and you stay at 10, people become desensitized. I think desensitization is the real issue. If you start at 10 and stay there for too long, when you drop, it’s gonna be really underwhelming. And you don’t have any way to get more extreme, so you’ve just kind of fucked yourselves. But if you start off at 10, jerk people down to 3, which is the reason why we threw “One Of Us Is The Killer” so early on the album, then you can go anywhere in between. Now you’ve got 3 through 9 to play with for the rest of the record. If you start too high and stay too high, you’ve screwed yourself; if you start too low and stay low, you’ve screwed yourself too. Hanging out in the middle is not interesting, so I think you really need to try to go as far as you can in both directions to keep people engaged. Also, we get bored really easily. Every time we do a song that’s really aggressive, we almost always write a song after that that’s more melodic, just as a reaction.

« There’s absolutely nothing cool about planning to break a guitar. You should do it because you’re in the moment and you fucking decide to smash it. »

The band Converge has a lot in common with Dillinger Escape Plan, with their intensity and the way they break their violence with mid-tempo or atmospheric moments. What do you think of this band?

Converge is the one band on the planet that I feel has been… They’re like a brother band. We developed out of the same scene at the same time, around the late 90s, early 2000s. We were kind of both coming from the same place, the hardcore metal scene. We found ourselves playing right before and after one another all the time when we would play metal fests or hardcore fests. We found ourselves being talked about in the same breath all the time. I think we’ve developed a kind of silent acknowledgement of one another’s trajectories, running in parallel a little bit. I think we went down more of an experimental road than they did. That’s not for better or worse, it just is what it is. I think they have maintained a constant ferocity throughout their career. They’re one of the few metal bands I respect as absolute peers, in terms of where they’ve come from and where they’re going, and of artistic integrity. I have nothing bad to say about that band. They’re one of the few bands I can listen to and enjoy.

A friend of mine who really loves your music told me that what he likes about your way of singing is that you don’t completely control your screams. The opposite of that would be all of those death metal bands that have a lot of technique. Do you agree with that statement?

Yeah, I’m not safe at all! I’m the loudest screamer you’ll ever hear in the vocal booth! There’s no technique involved whatsoever. I can’t sit still and scream, I can’t scream softly. I’ve never screamed while not holding a microphone. I’ve never practiced, I don’t want to go to these workshops where you learn to scream. I think that’s terrible, man. It’s not like pressing a distortion pedal: I don’t do it as an effect, I scream because I want to make people feel the emotions I’m trying to hit them with. When you’re screaming, you don’t even think about what that is. It’s so bizarre anyway that screaming has become a style of singing. It’s like the strangest thing ever, that screaming even exists in music, because in life, a scream is the most intense thing you can do with your voice. When someone screams at you, that’s fucking insane! No one ever screams at you in real life, that’s crazy. You’re like: “Wow, dude, calm down!” I want people to hear me scream, I want them to hear the intent behind it. I don’t want them to hear it as an effect, I want them to think: “Holy shit, he’s furious right now, he’s out of his mind!” And that is actually the case when we’re recording. I’ve always thought it was very strange that anyone controlled their scream. It’s the strangest thing in the world. I mean, controlling your singing is one thing, but the whole nature of screaming means you should be as unhinged as possible.

There’s a video that has become famous on Internet, where you’re literally running a few seconds on top of the audience. It’s very impressive. Have you ever thought of making it a recurring stage move?

You know, it’s funny, because sometimes… YouTube is really interesting, because it immortalizes things that you didn’t really know you were gonna do. You spend all this money making music videos and then someone captures a moment on their phone and that ends up getting more views than the video you spent millions of dollars to make. And it’s funny because sometimes people come up to me before we play and they’re like: “You know that video where you run on people? Are you gonna do that tonight?!” (laughs) And I’m like: “I’ve no idea, man! I don’t ever think about it! And now that you bring it up, I’m definitely not going to do it!” All you can do when you’re playing is try not to think. If you don’t think, you can be in the moment and that what makes things exciting. If I walk up on stage and I think about doing something, then I don’t do it, just out of principle, because I know inside that it wasn’t pure. It’s like planning on breaking a guitar: there’s absolutely nothing cool about planning to break a guitar. You should do it because you’re in the moment and you fucking decide to smash it. Not because it’s the cheap guitar that you brought for the song during which you knew you would break a guitar. People get so caught up in the superficial aspect of things, instead of the intent behind them. It’s the intent that matters, not the superficial act.

Skin from Skunk Anansie does that as well, but it’s less violent that when you do it!

Like I said, man, I don’t even remember doing that. I didn’t know that happened until someone showed me the video!

« I’d rather be in a band that does whatever it wants and maintains creative autonomy and freedom than in a band that has to pander to its audience. »

Jeff Tuttle has left the band to pursue other projects in music and film, but the press release mentioned that his future with the band was uncertain, which means it’s not closed. Do you have a feeling this could be temporary and he could rejoin the band at one point in the future?

Yeah, anything is possible. James, the guy we have now, was with us on tour for two years, from 2004 to 2006, and I never thought that he’d be back in the band. Jeff left completely amicably, there’s nothing negative between the band and Jeff. So the door is definitely open. A year from now, if he were to decide he wants to come back, we would definitely be open to that possibility. There’s no reason not to be. We didn’t have any sort of falling out or anything like that.

Like you said, your new guitar player, James Love, already played with you in the past. Is this why you chose him? Since he’s already worked with you, you knew you could trust him and he understood your way of working and performing?

Yeah, it’s exactly why. It’s really difficult to find someone who can play this kind of music, who you can get along with as a person and that can be on tour for basically a year and a half straight. That really whittles the selection down to almost nothing. It would take so much out of us, not just to find that person, but to teach them all the songs. The fact that James wanted to come back was perfect, because he already knew three records’ worth of material. We knew he could handle being on tour, we knew we like hanging out with him, and we knew he was a good guitar player and would learn the songs on his own. We only had to make minimal adjustments. He figured the stuff out really well on his own, because he’s already trained, so to speak. It was really seamless. We played one show together in California in November, just to test the waters. There was not a single time where I looked over his side of the stage and thought: “What the fuck are you doing?” It was completely seamless.

Interview conducted by phone on April 3rd, 2013 by Metal’O Phil
Questions by Spaceman et Metal’O Phil
Introduction by Spaceman
Transcription: Saff’

The Dillinger Escape Plan’s official website: www.dillingerescapeplan.org

Album One Of Us Is The Killer, out since May 14th, 2013 via Sumerian Records / Party Smasher Inc.



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