Interview: The Dillinger Escape Plan
The Dillinger Escape Plan grew up with their listeners. Originally innovators in the technical and mathematical side of metallic hardcore, the band managed the almost-unparalleled feat of incorporating pop, electronic, and mainstream rock influences into their music in a way that never felt like spanging for change, or pandering to the demands of some management person’s business plan. Point of fact: the band released their newest (and final) album, Dissociation independently, and without the aid of crowdfunding. Their grassroots organization skills and dedication to their followers could be an outline for civil servants as well as other rock acts.
More importantly, though, their music has matured as well. They still play the old songs, but the vitriolic masculinity that typified their early work has given way to self-reflection. Their old songs satisfied because they placed the blame on other people. The new material doesn’t place blame at all, and its fury registers as more pure for that reason.
Invisible Oranges sat down with founding guitarist Ben Weinman, lead singer Greg Puciato and former vocalist Dimitri Minakakis (briefly) before their sold-out date in Seattle. On the bus we discussed the nature of integrity, their wildest stage shows, and the joke that became their most famous riff.
What is the most terrified you’ve ever been on stage at a Dillinger show?
Greg Puciato: There was one show where Ben was swinging his guitar at me like a hatchet. That was pretty scary. Oh wait, that’s all of them. I’m only scared for the crowd. I’m never scared for my own self. There’s times when I see that someone might be getting crushed or some crowd seems a little bit rough or something like that. But I never feel afraid for us. We’ve kind of developed cat-like reflexes over the years. Every night I feel wind from like guitars and stuff passing me by, and it never startles me anymore.
Ben Weinman: The one time that I was scared, again, it was a fear of… you know, it was just an overall fear of the situation. And actually it involved Dimitri over there in the very, very beginning of the band. He had blown fire up in this place. Dimitri, you remember this? Remember when you blew fire up at that club? Dimitri, you’re on an interview right now.
Dimitri doesn’t care.
Weinman: Dimitri, remember that show when you blew fire up and it lit that ceiling on fire?
Dimitri Minakakis: I’ll be an asshole right now. I’m not doing anything.
Weinman: All right, whatever.
When did he light the ceiling on fire?
Weinman: Well, you know how there’s the tiles? [The fire] was in the tile, and there was pipes around, and it was just falling off the tiles and somehow we all just blew at it and it went out. It was like crazy, it was like a miracle. That was very horrifying because, you know, we all saw with things like Great White burning down venues and all that stuff. I thought that place was just going to blow up, that’s it. The fire was just looking for a place to go. I mean I’m like, “That’s it, it’s done.”
Puciato: The only time I’ve ever been scared is if someone else is getting hurt, maybe in the band, too, like the time you smacked your head on the ceiling thing.
Weinman: We don’t know the severity of things personally until the end.
Puciato: After, yeah.
Weinman: Because we’re just soldiers, man. So it’s like it’s more about assessing things later, kind of looking back, and you’re like, “Wow, that could have been bad.”
I think the most impressed I’ve ever been with you guys live is I saw you, like I’ve seen you probably eight or nine times, but probably at Orion Festival in Detroit when you, Ben, had the broken wrist. And it was a big outdoor show, and you spent most of the set sort of over to the side sitting down with a microphone grading the rest of the band with a dry-erase board in your hand.
Weinman: That was tough for me because it was the first time I ever could not physically play with an injury. Like it was impossible. I tried to tape the pick to my cast, I tried everything. So I made the best of it, it was really weird to watch the band play without me. Although it was also very interesting because the band was awesome. So it was great to see it from that perspective. “Wow this is impressive.” The songs are cool. I was proud, you know? I was proud watching it, although it was very hard for me not to be up there.
In the interviews around the release of One of Us is the Killer, there was some talk that sort of one of the running themes lyrically was you and Greg not seeing eye to eye on everything band-wise.
Weinman: I’m not going to speak for Greg, but we’ve discussed it and I’ve read his interviews. I think a lot of the stuff isn’t literal, but it’s relationship-based.
Puciato: A lot of the lyrics are about co-dependency, and we have obviously very a codependent relationship. So we were navigating through the more difficult times around that time, because no one is equipped to handle the level of intense co-dependence that being creative partners for the length of time that we’ve been entails. You know, you become codependent in every way, emotionally, financially, creatively, a lot of different things. And I think that that time period was definitely our rockiest time period. But we always find a way to channel even bad times into positive creativity, you know what I mean? So that’s always a benefit, you know. I feel like we’ve managed to use turbulence in our favor.
Well, so if that’s what the last one was about, what’s Dissociation about?
Puciato: I can’t really sum it up in a nutshell. I mean I write very autobiographically, so to me the songs are what they’re about. I’m not going to into the things in my life that I write about, but hopefully people can find themes in there that they relate to.
Weinman: I think ultimately the big picture of it all is that we’re coming from a much more internal place now, as far as dealing with the things that we feel we can control, the things that we would have liked to do differently. The demons are inside instead of outside. I know that sounds kind of cliché or whatever, but we’ve come to a point where our existence is in our own hands, and that’s a really great place to get. It’s a healthy place when you’re in relationships to get to, because then you’re with people not out of expectations, but out of actual enjoying their company or finding the good in the relationship.
One of the reasons this is the last tour, and we do feel it’s come to a head and a good closing, is because you start a band like this because you want to scream at people. This was a place that was created to vent. It was never supposed to make it. It wasn’t supposed to be like a full-time job. It was supposed to be: you sit in class all week and work at some crappy job just to save enough money to buy some crappy guitars and stickers from the used guitar store. And now I get to get this out completely uninhibited, irresponsible hour of my life in some crappy basement. That’s it, that’s all it was. Yelling at things and screaming and thrashing at things that pissed us off.
Hopefully people get to an emotional maturity level where eventually they find that center where they realize that none of that stuff matters, it’s about how you conduct yourself and how you think of things. I think that was a huge inspiration for both of us in this weird parallel situation where we were partly angry at how we conducted ourselves in the past, partly anxious about how we were going to move forward in the future. So yeah, without going into specifics of like what a song or lyric is about, whatever, I think that’s a lot of inspiration for it, you know?
Puciato: Yeah, we stop looking outward, and turned it more inward, you know?
Let’s keep it at eleven. Photo: @maxvoltar A photo posted by THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN (@dillingerescapeplan) on
The decision “this will be the last one.” Did that become before, during, or after the creation of the record?
Do you remember the moment, the moment when you knew?
Weinman: Well, I mean I brought it up, the conversation first. The funny thing is honestly every album could have been the last. Because every album was difficult. There was always something that could have ended this band. A major original founding member leaving unsuspectedly. Or a horrible injury to some of the members or somebody quitting right when you’re about to make an album. Or legal issues, and so many things. Every album had stuff that could have been the end.
So you could say that it’s always in the air. “Will we do this one? Will this be the end? Who knows? Five years if we’re doing it again, then we’ll just have to ask the question again, you know? But I do remember thinking to myself at one point after just the early stages of the album, that whole idea of where you see yourself in five years. I couldn’t answer that with anything exciting. “I guess this same cycle,” you know? And while I still felt very stimulated by the music and by the shows, at this age you know you start to say to yourself… Greg mentioned once, like this is the peak of our young-ness, where we can still have some energy and relevance to try new things. Whether it’s family or new projects or a different kind of career or just go off and disappear or try something, whatever that is, we’re kind of at that point where it’s time to try something new, and create that uncomfortable scenario and unpredictability that we had earlier on.
The fear of us not doing it started to turn into excitement, because that fear was like something that felt like we were younger, like, “Fuck, we have no idea. Let’s just jump in something that’s really dangerous and we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
As Greg and I started to discuss it, it advanced. You throw around the idea of should we just do it less, should we just take a break? The more we discussed it and talked about it, we realized that regardless of our personal agenda, creatively, it really makes sense to have a definitive ending to the story that we control in a situation where we’re still relevant. We’re bigger than ever. On our own label we put out an album that’s like number one on all these [charts]. That’s amazing, but that was only due to fans. We had no infrastructure. So to go out on that thing is really empowering. It just made a lot of sense from every angle, and so we just kept going over it, and going over it.
This is such a silly canned question, but I am genuinely curious. What’s the moment in the story arc of Dillinger Escape Plan that you think you’re most proud of now?
Puciato: I’m the most proud of the fact that we didn’t break up when we had more hostility in the band. I’m proud of the fact that we didn’t say “Fuck you, I’m over this right now,” or, “I can’t handle you right now”. We kept going and got to a place where we feel like we can make that decision based in positivity, not based in running from something. When you’re saying, “Fuck you, I can’t deal with you,” you’re really showing weakness in yourself. If we would have broken up due to some type of acrimonious split, even though that’s initially more exciting for people on the outside because it’s dramatic, if we’d broken up acrimoniously at any point, I think we would have seen that as being weak, and a creative failure.
At any time there was ever problems we always kind of doubled down and kept investing in the band because we knew that creatively we weren’t going to end on a weak note like that. And the fact that we managed to get through those times and get to a place where we can now be all pretty much getting along better than we ever have, come out with a record that a lot of people think is one of our best records, and be able to finish the painting instead of just like throwing the paintbrush down and walking away from it unfinished, I’m really proud of that, and that we grew enough as people to be able to do that. To me the band isn’t shows and albums externally the way other people see it. The shows and the albums come from internal things like relationships and growth within the band. So the fact that we were able to get to this point and get to a resolve that feels on our own terms, I’m proud of the things that we accomplished interpersonally to get to that point. That’s what I’m the most proud of.
I’ve got this horrible ritual before shows. I always look up the set on setlist.fm.
Weinman: You want to prepare yourself if they don’t play songs you like. Yeah that’s cool. I get it.
I do, but this is the first show in six months that I haven’t done that.
Puciato: Oh, that’s cool.
Weinman: Oh, cool.
I really wanted to have that feeling again of not knowing what’s coming, minus like “43% Burnt” in the last 10 minutes. But short of that…
Weinman: We weren’t playing that for a while.
Puciato: We stopped for a little bit.
Weinman: We weren’t playing it at all.
That’s a great curveball. I would have felt so interesting at the end waiting for it not happening, that would have been in a way like a really satisfying denial.
Weinman: Ah, you know, some people are masochists. They like blue balls, you know?
I kind of do.
Puciato: Do you want me to fluff you a little bit?
If you’re… I mean I can turn the recorder off. Actually, let’s keep the recorder on.
Weinman: It’s not cheating if you don’t blow a load.
Did you throw any other left hooks into the set?
Weinman: Not really. You know, it’s weird because we’re kind of doing this tour as a tour for the album. But you can’t play all new songs, you know? You only have so much time. So you get to pick a few new ones, a few really old ones, a few from the last album, and then you’re done, you know? In fact at some points we would just play a piece of [“43% Burnt”] and then just we’d be done. We went into just the ending and then done. Like we never did the whole song.
It’s even better to just do the end, because everyone remembers the breakdown at the start.
Weinman: The breakdown which was written as a joke five minutes before in the studio.
I’ve never heard that story before.
Weinman: That song started with the tapping bit originally. It just started with the craziness and ended with craziness. And then I remember saying to our drummer, “We should just put in something that Hatebreed fans would like.” I said straight up. Something they can mosh to or something, and I just went [he sings the “43% Burnt” riff] and we couldn’t help it. We started messing it up and we started changing the time signatures and stuff. We did that in like 10 minutes and then we just threw it on the front and the end and that was it, you know?
Those 10 minutes might be the best career decision you’ve ever made.
Weinman: Yeah, it’s pretty ironic, you know.
Puciato: Yeah, it’s crazy.
At the Crofoot in Pontiac, Michigan tonight in a few hours. Photo from NYC: @markvalentino A photo posted by THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN (@dillingerescapeplan) on
That was many people’s introduction to your band. Mine was “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants,” which I’ve never seen you guys play.
Weinman: We have been playing it recently, out on the tour.
Puciato: We have been playing it recently.
Well, if you want, don’t play it tonight. Just make me hate you forever.
Weinman: You’re into bondage, aren’t you?
Not in the interview. Vava voom.
Weinman: Well, thank you for taking your gag ball out so you have to talk to us today.
I left it in my briefcase at the office.
Weinman: Okay, the special case.
What’s your favorite Dillinger song, to play or to listen to? Maybe you’re one who doesn’t listen to your own stuff.
Puciato: Favorite song to play or listen to or either one? Right now my favorite songs are all off the new record, because they’re relevant to me.
Puciato: And relevant to us and we haven’t played them 200 times. So I really like “Limerent Death.” I really like “Surrogate.” I really like the song “Dissociation” even though we’re not playing it. So most of the stuff that I feel the most fired up about live right now is the new stuff, just because you work on something for so long, you’re like rearing to get it out of the gate. It kind of takes on a different life form once you start playing it over and over again. But on this tour, older songs have a little bit more weight to them, because you are suddenly like faced with the realization that you did this big thing together. And you see people in the crowd, and they’re singing songs back to you that you know are like 13 years old and 14 years old. Now instead of feeling like, “Man, I don’t feel like playing this song again,” like it might have been a year or two ago, now it takes on this other new like, “Wow, this is really cool,” because you’re kind of coming out of body a little bit now, and you’re able to separate yourself and almost see it a little bit third person in a way that you couldn’t before. So I have a little bit more appreciate for our whole catalog right now but the ones that I’m really psyched on are all new.
Weinman: I really like “Limerent Death”. I feel like we’re all very much on the same page when we’re playing that song. We all feel the same thing, and it’s very powerful. And to see it be one of our most popular songs on the set and be this new is exciting.
So people are really reacting?
Weinman: They’re really reacting. And then when we play “Prancer,” the one from One of Us is the Killer, they really react. It’s really exciting to see people react so hard to newer stuff as if it was like the old hits that someone would sing. The new ones keep getting more exciting for the fans and people in the crowd. It says that we are really feeling it. We’re not just a carbon copy of ourselves. We actually are still writing inspired music that means something to us, because it’s translated as real. If they trust that you believe what you’re saying, that’s when they will just jump into the fire with you and fucking just destroy a club together.
I’m only realizing this now as I’m saying it, but every time you guys put an album out there was a moment on a song that meant something to me, that I could hang a memory on.
Weinman: That’s great.
Puciato: That’s really cool.
Weinman: That’s great, that’s what it’s about.
There’s something in the way that you guys write a song that allows me to relate to the music, that I can’t do with other bands. I really can’t pin that down.
Weinman: Because you’re one of us. It’s that simple.
It’s that simple? There’s no magic, there’s no secret ingredient, there’s nothing?
Weinman: You like challenges, you like work.
Weinman: It’s not craft. It’s art, you know? So I think when people can’t pinpoint what’s the difference between us and other bands are considered technical, have time signatures, whatever, it’s real simple. There is craft and there is art. There is technically being able to do something, and then there’s something that has intention, purpose.
Puciato: You have to infuse it with meaning.
Weinman: That’s the difference. The only difference between art and craft is like if there’s a meaning to it, there’s intention. If you know why you’re doing it, and it’s not just to sell a basket or fucking paint someone’s face, that’s the way it was supposed to be. So that [the fans] are happy with the 10 bucks or whatever.
Atlanta yesterday. Wilmington, NC tonight. Photo: @steveoshoots A photo posted by THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN (@dillingerescapeplan) on
Did you realize you were doing that when you were like just a kid who was a little bit better at guitar than everybody else starting to write these songs?
Weinman: No, I mean in high school I only made friends because I was kind of the best guitar player in school, and that didn’t say much because there was only probably two or three, you know? Until Leon came into freshman year, he was like Slash. He had long hair and was Asian. He wore leathers, fine leathers. He had a Gibson, motherfucker. Damn Leon.
When you’re younger you envy people and you get excited by music, and you’re excited by the lifestyle and everything. It’s the soundtrack to your lives, and it’s the whole thing. You’re just creating bands that sound like the bands you like, and then at some point when you realize that’s not going to go anywhere, you start to realize that you just like to make music. I think the thing that we did right was we created without the intention of it being some massive cultural phenomena that was going to be all over the pop radio and stuff like that. Maybe we would have done that if we thought it was possible, because hey, that’s a better job than sitting at a desk, you know? But we didn’t think it was possible. Then as you got some success and people started to appreciate what you do, hopefully if you have any intelligence and any honor, you look at what’s worked for you and why you’re doing well, and you realize that’s what you’re good at. We started with not knowing that we could do it, just making music that was really self-stimulating, that fulfilled something for ourselves. And then when you look up and there’s actually a few people actually watching, you start to realize what you’re selling. We were selling honesty. We were selling the alternative to what everyone else was doing.
So our business strategy is to continue to be that alternative and create music that we feel fills a hole that’s not being filled. That’s what’s worked for us. And I found that that’s what works for me in life. Things I don’t believe in, I can’t do. It doesn’t work, it never works out. If I try to do something just for money, it doesn’t work out. If I try to do something because I think it might materialize into something later, it doesn’t work out. I can only speak for myself, but I think honestly knowing everybody we’re all kind of the same. We have to feel pumped and excited, and we have to create something that we feel happy with regardless if there was anyone listening or not. This album is very symbolic of that because we’re putting this out knowing that this ends. It doesn’t matter if we go on tour with the Deftones and get new fans. It doesn’t matter if we go out with Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. It doesn’t matter if we play a basement or whatever. It doesn’t matter if anyone even likes it, honestly, because we’re moving on, you know?