Interview: Dillinger Escape Plan
Dillinger Escape Plan are sort of like a band of vikings, blazing through a town in a maelstrom of chaos that leave the feeble shivering in a puddle of their own secretions. Think noise, destruction, flames -- literally, frontman Greg Puciato has been known to shoot fireballs from the stage between bouts of expelling the demons in his head.
And, well, being in a band this perfectly brutal isn't easy. Originally from Morris Plains, New Jersey, the Dillinger Escape Plan originally formed more than 10 years ago. They've gone through about nine members since, not counting those in the current quintet formation. Original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis threw in the towel thanks to sheer exhaustion after a few years; other members were forced to drop out due to accidents and injury. Most recently, drummer Chris Pennie decamped to join the mystical proggy-core outfit Coheed and Cambria, nearly the polar aesthetic opposite of DEP.
But no matter -- Puciato and the gang soldier on. Their current tour with Killswitch Engage and Every Time I Die brings them to the Fillmore Miami Beach tonight, in support of their latest album, Ire Works, released last November on Relapse Records. I spoke to Puciato last Thursday as the band prepared for the first night of the tour. Read the full Q&A after the jump. -- Arielle Castillo
Killswitch Engage, Dillinger Escape Plan, and Every Time I Die perform Monday, January 14, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets cost $24. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.
I was talking to Andy from Every Time I Die earlier. He mentioned you all had been friends and had been wanting to set up a tour. Who approached whom?
We went to see Every Time I Die open for Underoath in New York. We were hanging out with them and Jordan, their guitar player, was like, “Oh so I heard you guys were doing this Killswitch Engage tour in January.” And I was like, “Oh really, we are?” And he was like, “Yeah, a big part of the reason we signed on was because we saw you guys had.”
You didn’t know?
That’s kind of the way it works. I read it on the Internet sometimes, what I’m gonna be doing. I don’t know whether I missed that E-mail or what happened, but some other band told me what I was doing in January.
What about Killswitch, did you know those guys very well already?
We’ve played in Japan together three or four years ago. We know them more because we’re from the same scene or so forth. They were fans of ours a logn time ago before they becamemuch bigger than us. Howard [Jones, KSE’s singer] was always very vocal in his liking for us.
I feel like we’ve been talking about touring for years, but it just never happened. We’ve had the misfortune of having our records seem to come out at opopsite ends of the release cycles for a while. All these bands we talk about touring with — Mastodon is another one – we’re never on the same timeline.
I have to ask about the House of Blues in Orlando thing.
Well, so Disney didn’t want you to play, but the other bands were okay?
It’s really weird to me, because we’ve played House of Blues three or four times and brought in a lot of kids most of the times we’ve played there. We’ve never done anything bad at the House of Blues. We’ve been banend from certain venues, and I know why, because there was a giant fireball curling across the ceiling, or we pissed someone else off.
But at House of Blues we’ve always had great shows. It was very shocking for me, because I don’t know if they think it’s gonna draw a cerain kind of kid? But they’re trying to say we’re not in conjunction with the image they’re trying to portray at Disney World. But then – you’re gonna have a band called Killswitch Engage play? Or a band called Every Time I Die?
But it doesn’t really matter because they’re still paying us, and we’re playing another show in the same day. It’s like if your boss was just like, “Fuck you, you can’t come to work, and you’re getting getting paid anyways.” So we’ll be getting paid double – we’re going to play an early show that day, at like 4:30 p.m. at a venue called the Social, and we’re going to make tickets really cheap.
So you joined the band in 2001 after it was already established. Do you think people have finally accepted you as part of the fabric of the band?
Oh, definitely, that was over six years ago. I don’t think people even think about it at this point, in 2008. We’re probably three or four times as big as when I joined, which is funny because at the time I joined I thought we were massive. I thought getting 200 kids outside of your hometown, in a place like Seattle or Portland, was insane. But that was a long time ago, and people who came to see our band back then are probably older and don’t come now. Most kids at this point know there was a singer before me, but I don’t think they think about it.
Do you then think you have a whole new set of fans at this point?
I think a lot of the original ones stayed, but I don’t necessarily think they actively go to shows any more. They have lives, and maybe wives and kids. It’s crazy to me because I’ll see bands play, and a kid from the band will come up to me and be like, “Dude, you were a huge influence on me, I saw you guys play when I was 17 or 16,” and the kid’s band is almost as big as we are.
Because in my eyes, I haven’t really aged, because I haven’t really done anything but play shows and write records. All the other landmarks people have -- kids, school, getting married -- I don’t have. My friends who live at home have those things. My lifestyle is basically the same thing, and I still don’t look that different, so I have a hard time accepting I’m getting older.
So when you were younger, who did you look up to as a vocalist around the time you joined the band?
It’s weird because I scream a lot in this band, but the people who influenced me the most didn’t scream. I wasn’t a Pantera fan; I didn’t listen to tons of hardcore.
I liked the Bad Brains a lot, Corey Glover, Mike Patton. I didn’t really care that much, when I was a kid, about singing. I started playing guitar when I was nine, and it wasn’t until I was 14 or 15 or so that I started singing, and it was by default. I was in a band, we were playing, and we didn’t have a singer. I was too much of a control freak to let someone else sing, but I couldn’t play and sing at the same time.
And the more people heard me, the more people were like, “Dude, you should really do something with that.” It wasn’t that I was into screaming so much as singing and performing. The screaming thing to me is cool, but it’s not that impressive -- a lot of people can scream. It’s about the feeling you put into it, the feelings you utilize. Like, there’s only a certain number of guitar notes. Some kid can play the same note as Jimi Hendrix, but he’s going to draw a completely different feeling out of it.
You weren’t into hardcore? What were you into growing up?
I started listening to stuff at a very early age that I didn’t think was weird, but when I talk to other people, I guess I realize it was stuff seven-year-old kids probably shouldn’t be into. At like seven I was super into Guns n Roses, then around eight I got into Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax. I was the little kid who the older guys thought were cool.
Who was exposing you to those records?
I had friends who had older brothers, and their brothers thought they were dorks, but they’d say, “Where’s your friend who likes Guns N Roses?” And I thought they were cool because they were 12 and had knives, and wore black during the summer and had Slayer shirts, looking super cool with long hair. I realize now that all those people work at gas stations, but when I was a kid I thought it ruled.
I was totally wrapped up in this stuff that was older than me. All my friends, if they listened to rock it was stuf like Poison and all that. I thought it was lame when I was a kid. I would not listen to anything that wasn’t brutal or fast or aggressive.
It’s hilarious to me because now, I don’t listen to much of that music at all. It’s ironic, because one of the most frustrating things to us is knowing that some people want us to be brutal all the time, and it’s like, “Hey, we all have this other stuff to offer.” But of course back when I was a kid, I wanted bands to be brutal all the time.
So then later I got into weird shit like Faith No More, Primus, punk-funk like Fishbone, Bad Brains, stuff like that. I didn’t really discover hardcore till I was a late teenager, and by then I was already like – developmentally I was already pretty on my way, so it wasn’t that influential.
But your band sort of came out of the hardcore scene.
Oh yeah, of course. All of us were part of a wave of bands that came out in the late 90s, which I think was one of the last genuinely fruitful periods of hardcore. Hardcore’s a weird word, because a lot of people only consider it that traditional, “oi, oi” stuff. If you call something else hardcore they’ll say it’s death metal or whatever; but who cares.
In the scene we were kind of part of the whole Botch/Converge wave. I don’t think since then there’s been a wave of bands that have been all that influential, all coming out at the same time. At this point I think hardcore is more something that helped us get where we are, and empowered us and enabled us to be part of a scene at the time.
It’s not that we don’t care about it, it’s that I don’t feel like it really even exists any more. Like anything else, it just became absorbed by the mainstream to the point where it doesn’t exist. I’m sure that grunge, before it was coined was “grunge,” was a really cool scene too, and then it just got eaten up.
Well, with all the talk about screaming, what do you do to preserve your voice on tour?
It sucks because we played one show yesterday, and I didn’t warm up because I’m an idiot, and my voice is all fucked up tonight. And it sucks because now I have to get a day off before I can recover.
I’m kind of a health nut actually, and I know what need for my voice -- a lot of hydration and a lot of sleep, and to warm up. Last night I had some friends at the show and I was trying to accommodate people…. And all of a sudden it was like we go on in five minutes, and it was like, shit. I didn’t lose my voice, obviously, because I’m talking, but I definitely did some damage that didn’t need to be done on the first day.
What do you do to warm up?
Honestly, I just sing other songs. The most important thing is to sing and be vocal. I like to sing; I don’t walk around my house screaming. The only time I ever scream is when we play shows, or when we’re recording. I used to do scales and stuff like that, which is actually super important, because screaming is extremely damaging to your voice. There’s no way to do it safely, you have to just minimize the damage.
Have you trained with Melissa Cross or anything?
No, I’ve never had training like that. What she says is pretty common knowledge. It’s crazy to me to think people have a big revelation when they go there, how little basic knowledge the human mind can have that they realize it’s mostly common knowledge. You know, like when she basically tells people like, hey, you should probably not be smoking so much, or hey, alcohol damages your voice. It’s common sense.
In what ways are you a “health nut?” How do you keep that up while on tour?
I’m an extremely competitive person in everything I do, and [health] was one of the things I channeled it into. It wasn’t that I wanted to look a certain way, but I started working out at some point in my life, and I got obsessed that it was exactly something that I got out of exactly what I put into it. If I’m out of shape and I feel like shit, it’s my fault. So if I’m in shape and I feel great, it’s my fault. I hate being affected by things I can’t control.
How do you keep up with that on tour though?
On tour I literally drink water constantly; I make sure that I always have a water bottle in my hand. I sleep as late as possible. At first you’re so self-conscious about being the singer who doesn’t do a lot, but now people realize how much it sucks when I don’t take care of myself. Especially now that we’re doing more singing, everyone realizes how important it is that I not sound like shit. If you’re in some veterans’ hall somewhere just screaming it doesn’t matter. But we’re not any more, so it helps now if I can get that extra hour of sleep.
There have been so many lineup changes over the life of this band. Does it still feel like the same band to you? What makes it the same?
It’s more about an attitude than a lineup. It’s really weird to even think that I’ve been in the band longer than half of our band, and, like a lot longer than some people. I think even people who were there before me, I’ve been in the band longer than them. Dimitry was only in the band for three years and I’ve been in it for like six now.
But I do know the people in this band now, attitude-wise, are the ones who are supposed to be here. This band is extremely phsyically demanding, and the financial reward is nowhere comparable to the amount of effort we put in. You know, it’s like, I just recently got health care last month for the first time since I’ve been an adult. I’m not getting any retirement; I have no guarantee to anything in the future. The more you get to your mid-twenties, that freaks people out. Or physically they can’t do it any more, which is what happened to Brian.
Ben said something really interesting recently: The people who join Dillinger, they don’t join the actual band, they join what they think the band is in their head. And then they begin the visual interpretation and attitude of what they thought it was. Like, the band that was in my head when I joined is what it is now, but it wasn’t actually like that at the time. I thought the band was way crazier on stage than it was, and I think that really affected my performing style. But this band was way crazier than it was back then. We keep getting this new blood in feeling this responbility to uphold what they see as an image of the band. They end up outdoing it.
I’ve read quotes from Ben that say Chris Pennie leaving your band for Coheed and Cambria was embarrassing. Do you agree?
Yeah, I remember that interview. That was a really hard time for us, and a lot of shitty things were said between all parties. I don’t know if I would use the term “embarrassing.” I’m not gonna sit here and talk shit about Coheed; they’re good at what they do. I don’t like it, but they’re good at what they do. The way they went about it is embarrassing. It’s embarrassing how they handled it at first.
That has nothing to do with anything people know about publicly. There was a lot that went on this exchange where as a friend and as a person, I’d be embarrassed if I handled it like that. I think it’s the way I look at it. But in hindsight, everyone does shit that’s fucked up.
We’re in a better place than we’ve ever been. Gil is great for this band, and honestly, things were in the band were so bad, personally, at that point, it was almost like being in a relationship of convenience with someone, and you don’t realize that you don’t really even enjoy it.
Ire Works just came out, but you’re going to be on tour for a while. In the meantime, are you writing any new material at all while you’re on the road?
We write nothing. Not a single thing since the last note of Ire Works was recorded. I don’t think it’s really possible now. That record was extremely draining because of all the things going on.
There was a lot of shit going on in my life that was extremely draining, but also fruitful as far as inspiration was concerned – sometimes the shittiest times in life can provide inspiration. But right now I’m really happy, so I don’t think it’s the time to write new material. Not just because I’m happy, but because we haven’t had the time to live. You have to have a big inhale before a big exhale, and we haven’t had the time to live and really gain anything that we would have to say. I’m sure after a year and a half of being in the road and having a lot of shit in life fall apart we’ll find something else to be motivated to talk about.
You’re known for crazy stuff onstage. What do you have planned for this tour?
This is really interesting. We went through a period after the Great White thing where people were freaked out. But then it was fine, so this last tour I did it a lot, and nobody really complained. But the last date in December, the club owner freaked out.
I pissed him off so much that he took his free time, looked up our tour dates for the Killswitch tour, and sent a mass e-mail to every single club we were playing. So it’s probably not going to be very likely that I’ll [breathe fire] on this tour.
There was actually a fire marshall at the show last night, and he sat in the front row until we left the stage. But I don’t want us to become a thing where people are like, “Hey, you didn’t breathe fire, I want my money back.” It’s not about that.