The Dillinger Escape Plan: calculating aggression vs multiplying melody
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The Dillinger Escape Plan are not having the best luck right now. First, their tour-mates to be for a series of UK dates, Meshuggah, dropped out of the equation, and then just weeks later – following the hasty re-scheduling of dates to allow for any capacity adjustments – the entire tour was postponed following an injury to guitarist and sole founding member remaining in the band’s current line-up – Ben Weinman.
“The foot’s coming along, it’s not bad,” says Weinman, on the phone from his home stateside. “It’s one of these things… I’ve had worse injuries, but this one is kinda keeping me from getting on stage.”
Weinman’s foot was crunched following an unfortunate guitar malfunction while shooting a video. Rather than use one of his regular instruments, Weinman picked up a cheap replacement for the shoot; said stand-in proved to be the band’s temporary undoing.
It was a shitty guitar with a shitty strap and I managed to slam it down and just drive it into my foot
“Somehow – I don’t know how I did it – I snapped this guitar. It was a shitty guitar with a shitty strap and I managed to slam it down and just drive it into my foot… y’know, it was bad. I’m kinda used to it, I guess, but we’re really trying to keep everything moving right now, with this record. This has made a difficult situation more difficult.”
Momentum is invaluable for a band like DEP – since their inception back in 1997, the band has seen members fall from the wagon with alarming regularity, but never has the jumping-ship of a guitarist or two, or even a vocalist, prevented them from ploughing on with their very much singular furrow of abrasive, technical hardcore. Now, they’re on their third long-player, Ire Works; the band’s make-up might have changed slightly since album two Miss Machine, but the band’s desire for progression remains absolute.
Video: 'Panasonic Youth'
But such advancement inevitably carries a price: admirers of their aggressive precision showcased to such startling effect on 1999’s debut album Calculating Infinity were puzzled by the melodic, Faith No More- and Nine Inch Nails-echoing moments of Miss Machine. The mutation was understandable given the adjustment of personnel – the album was the first DEP record where vocalist Greg Puciato really came to the forefront as a lynchpin figure to look up to – but narrow-minded individuals turned on the band, and accusations of ‘selling out’ were bandied around freely.
With Ire Works exhibiting even more mainstream-courting aspects, Weinman’s surprisingly glib about any further followers dismissing the band on the back of a couple of sing-along choruses.
“I think our last record pretty much did that job (of weeding out the haters), and that was a goal of ours, to put ourselves in a position where we were trying new things and definitely not pigeonholing ourselves. We never wanted to be associated with a particular type of music, so now with Ire Works we’ve been able to make what we think is the best record of our careers without worrying what our fans think. I feel that the close-minded people who aren’t into us exploring new things aren’t with us anymore.”
The rest of the band – Gil Sharone (drums), Liam Wilson (bass), and Jeff Tuttle (guitar) – might have welcomed the delaying of DEP’s launching into the touring cycle off the back of Ire Works’ release, but for Weinman there’s rarely such a thing as downtime.
“For me I never have downtime, as I manage the band. I mean, if we’re not on tour or writing a record I’m preparing to, erm, put out a record or sort out pre-production or arrange transportation for a tour, y’know. I need to hire tour managers, and get merchandise made – it honestly never stops. Plus, ‘cause I’m the only original member in the band I shoulder a lot of the press. I looked at an original press shot of the band the other day and it was strange to see nobody in it except me… but, y’know… I’m the only one who can answer questions about how the band’s dynamic has changed over the years. So I definitely don’t have all that much downtime right now!”
Sounds to me like you do rather too much for the band, proportionally…
“Y’know, there are times when I understand why Sting did what he did, y’know?! (Laughs) There is a point where you’re doing so much work and everybody’s reaping equal benefits but you’re sacrificing so much to get stuff done. Do a Morrissey? Oh no – it’s completely equal, but it’s something that has to be done. There always has to be someone in a band to do these things, and that’s the way it is. We’ve had management in different situations, but we’ve never found anything that’s felt right.. It’s funny – I’m writing an article for a magazine right now on management. For a band like us to survive, where a lot of our peers haven’t because of financial issues and other people making decisions for them that might not be the best, it's what’s kept us together.”
Video: 'Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants'
That DEP have stuck it out throughout their bleaker moments – most recently, acclaimed guitarist Brian Benoit departed the line-up following nerve damage in his left arm and drummer Chris Pennie, who joined questionable prog-rockers Coheed & Cambria – is testament to Weinman’s never say die attitude. He’s been in the wars, physically and mentally, before (when this writer previously met him, bizarrely at a Tesco café, he’d just had many dollars’ worth of dental surgery and could barely talk), and always come through with something sparkling and new to call the band’s own. Things could have been quite different: before founding DEP, Weinman attained a degree in psychology; had he considered the band to be just a hobby way back when, DiS could be talking to Professor Weinman today.
It’s easy to assume, due to their longevity, that DEP enjoy a degree of financial security, but this isn’t quite true. While they are successful enough to do the band full time, it’s the shrewdness of their set-up – with Weinman at the helm – that keeps their ship afloat.
“There have been a lot of bands that have appeared to do really well,” comments Weinman, “but because they have so many people taking from the pot, and that they’re all before them… Basically, the fact is that everybody gets paid before the band – the producer gets paid, the label people, the press people… then the band gets paid. You go on tour, and the crew and driver and any rental people – they all get paid before you do, and therefore there’s really no room in a band our size, functioning the way we do, to waste money. It’s a tough deal.”
We are not some sort of packaged, marketed thing – we’ve always been the opposite of that
Signing to a major label would make things a little easier on the management front, and DEP were courted by labels larger than their Relapse home (with whom they signed a multi-album deal in 1998) after the slow-burn success of Calculating Infinity, regularly recognized by rock publications as one of the most influential albums of recent times.
Says Weinman: “We have had approaches from big labels, after the success of the first record. It was obvious we were doing things pretty much on our own and that there wasn’t a big marketing machine behind us, so that automatically led to us getting on the radar of bigger labels. This is whether they like the music or not – they were interested to see how many albums we had sold. Everybody’s looking for the next big thing and nobody can predict it anymore.
“We were approached by a few big labels before Miss Machine – one deal we were close to signing, and they were going to buy us out of the Relapse deal, but it just didn’t make sense. When you looked at the accounting of it, it made no sense; it was a recipe for failure. We have nothing against bands that sign to big labels – at the end of the day all a label does is put a record on a shelf, but some labels also dictate much more than that. If we were ever in a situation like that… well, that’s not the type of band we are. We are not some sort of packaged, marketed thing – we’ve always been the opposite of that. If you don’t like what’s being pushed down your throats by major labels, on the television and the radio, then maybe there’s us to check out.”
So is a move to a major completely ruled out today?
“There just hasn’t been a situation that’s been right for us yet, where we’ve the creative freedom to do what we want.”
Video: '43% Burnt', live at Hellfest
Back to the album at hand: Ire Works features some of DEP’s most accessible music to date, but also some of their fastest and brutally bombastic. It’s taut and sharp, razor-edged and truly divisive as all of history’s maverick musicians have been. Weinman might feel confident that deserters are long gone following the Miss Machine fall-out, but it’s entirely probable that Ire Works’ dalliances with ‘mainstream’ (keeping things in perspective) arrangements will alienate a few hangers-on.
What’s most striking about the new album though is its incorporation of more prominent electronics; Puciato’s work with Atticus Ross’ glitch-rock outfit Error has inevitably had an influence on his 9-to-5 musical calling. Weinman recognizes what a significant part of Ire Works this flirtation with electronica is.
“That’s a huge part of this record, the balancing of the electronic elements and the organic elements. I think that the way we look at music, it’s important to embrace technology but not necessarily to take advantage of it to the degree where you’re abusing it. That’s the way I see the future of good music – good music – going, and I think that those who can’t take advantage of this new technology without abusing it are going to lead to the downfall of music.
“I think the bands that will continue to go on and produce something special are those unafraid to adjust the mechanics. The point is to not do something simply because you can, but to do something because it furthers your vision and gives you another tool to create this vision. The thing about our band is we’ve always had this dichotomy of being somewhat technical and precise and also kinda un-formulaic in certain ways, and unpredictable. We’re seen as putting equal importance on energy, and emotion, and aggression, which is not normally something found in super technical music. I’ve always felt that separated us from other bands – it’s never been about sounding like a machine, or completely like some calculated thing.”
There are people who were never exposed to music like ours until they came to see us play
While it’s true that the titles of albums one and two alluded to a certain tech-heavy approach that obscured, rather, the intimate details that made DEP’s songs so enjoyable given repeat exposure, the new one nods to aggression; ‘ire’ meaning rage, of course. This energy – this controlled rage – is channeled into the band’s live performances, which have seen Puciato go as far as fire-breathing from the stage of London’s Forum (this writer very nearly lost his eyebrows at said show). It’s touring – and heavy touring at that – which enabled DEP to make their initial mark above and beyond the critical acclaim for Calculating Infinity.
“The touring side of things has been such a huge part of this band, and our success,” says Weinman. “There are certain people who heard the chaotic aspects of our music and didn’t like it right away, but there were also people who didn’t get it ‘til they saw us play. There are people who were never exposed to music like ours until they came to see us play, perhaps on the bill of one of their favourite bands or something.”
Festivals must be great for you, too?
“Festivals can be a great help – we’ve not had as many opportunities to do them as other bands, but we’ve always embraced them, and the chance to not preach to the choir, so to speak.”
And to wrap up, when do you suppose you will be back in the UK?
“We’re rescheduling the US dates [see MySpace], which push back the European dates. We’ll be in the UK at the beginning of February.
“I think (the postponement was) sort of for the best – we didn’t really have a package together yet for the November European dates, as the bands we wanted to have on it couldn’t do it, and we didn’t have all that much time to get ready. We’ve new members, and we hadn’t had all that much time to practise together. So, I think this break might be a blessing in disguise, and everyone says that – honestly, now, we’re able to get all this press done which would have been really difficult if we were on the road, running around. We’re also able to practise more, to get to the point where we should be, able to come back after so long away.
“People will have heard the record this way, too. Unfortunately I was the one that had to take the hit, but hopefully it will prove to be for the best.”
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