Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse; a fitting epitaph for a band as purely relentless and dedicated to (self)-destruction as The Dillinger Escape Plan.
An ever-evolving outfit that has boasted as many as 15 individual members – including a brief run from a shy and retiring gentleman by the name of Mike Patton – since its inception in 1997, Dillinger represent the most hardcore runt of the litter and are damn proud of it, too. Radio play and mainstream success were never even the slightest of concerns, and a liberal attitude to health, safety, and the concept of sticking to a stage-decreed script at gigs meant that acquired bruises and scars made for badges of honour for those in attendance. It’s not like whichever iteration of the band you happened to catch were going home clean, either.
This is a group that quite literally bleeds for its art. Go and see them live just once and I promise you’ll lament and celebrate their imminent passing as I do right here and now. Hurry, however, for next year it all comes to an official, defined end. Benjamin Weinman has been there since the very beginning, when a bunch of guys in New Jersey made a record, quit jobs, broke up with girlfriends, and hit the road to see what might come of it. Two decades and more than a handful of permanent physical reminders on, he sounds completely at peace with his decision to call it a day.
“In one respect, it’s bittersweet,” he begins. “It’s weird to think that this time next year, I’ll be in a very different place in my life but at the same time it’s really great to discuss the band in a new way.”
It was late last year whilst enjoying a much-earned break when the epiphany arrived, the belief that The Dillinger Escape Plan should scream no more. Kicking back in idyllic surroundings – two days on a beach in Mexico – led to the realisation that for all intents and purposes, Weinman, a man of seemingly boundless energy, was sitting still.
“I was thinking about my life and how it’s been really exciting but ultimately, it hasn’t really changed,” he admits. “The albums are still fun to make, the shows are still really exciting, but my life hasn’t changed, the challenges haven’t really been that different, and life itself hasn’t been as fulfilling as the work. I just realised that if you want things to change you have to do something different. If you want more doors to open you have to close some doors. It was really that simple. It just came to me all of a sudden, it just snapped – ‘I think this needs to end. This is the last chapter; this is a book that needs to be closed.’”
“In a way, I think that’s really respectable and cool, because the idea of doing this whole thing again and knowing it’s going to keep going in the same way? That isn’t exciting. It’s boring. Why fuckin’ do something if you know it’s going to be boring? Sure, I’m going to miss doing this but I’m also pretty excited and scared and nervous. The future is unknown and that’s exactly how it was when we started this band. It’s an interesting parallel.”
Sixth studio album Dissociation closes the book, and don’t expect some kind of pro-wrestling retirement reversal here; you believe Weinman when he says this is The End. If a funeral was held for The Dillinger Escape Plan tomorrow, he reckons their own ‘One of Us Is the Killer’ should provide the soundtrack as the coffin goes up in flames. Frontman Greg Puciato, meanwhile, opts for either Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s ‘Crossroads’ or The Weather Girls classic ‘It’s Raining Men’, “just to really announce our arrival to the netherworld in the most fabulous fashion possible, since there's been like 200 members.”
Suitably contrasting styles from two essential cogs in the machine, and DiS had the chance to speak to both separately…
DiS: It’s been almost 20 years. Given the nature of the band itself, you’ve probably felt every bit of it…
Benjamin Weinman: When you’re in a band you feel like the world stops and you keep going. With a tour cycle, every three years is pretty much the same; you’re home a lot and you’re not a normal person going to a job every day like everybody else but you’re working on music, you’re doing your thing, doing interviews, going off for a show here and there, then you put out an album and go on the road for a couple of years and while you’re doing that you feel like you’re doing all this stuff and everyone is just sitting at home waiting for you. Then you come home and realise the reality is that everybody else is moving and you’re not.
You’re the one standing still. You’re the one doing the same thing and you’re the same person that you were 15, 20 years ago, only with just a couple more grey hairs. Everyone else has evolved and changed and had families and whatever. It’s a hard question to answer - Does it seem that long? In one respect, it just seems like one long day. I’ve literally been doing the same thing for half of my life now. When I think back to those first shows, even with the original line-up, it doesn’t seem like 20 years ago to me, not at all.
Is that a state of arrested development? I’m sure you wouldn’t trade the past 20 years but at the same time, has not living that supposed ‘normal’ life given you pause for thought?
The grass is always greener, sometimes. Most of the time it feels like that when you come home from touring and you don’t really have anyone to relate to. You wake up at 12 and you’re like, ‘Hey, who wants to have lunch?’ and your friend says, ‘I have a job, dude’. Alright, I guess I’ll go in the basement and make some Dillinger riffs… but yeah, you’re right, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. In fact, one of the big reasons why the band is ending is because we’ve used it as a platform to fully explore ourselves and every kind of extreme relationship scenario that you can be in, while going through your life in a way that most people don’t.
We finally got to a place where we feel like we understand it and we get it and we can move on as individuals with an appreciation for the past and for everything we have been able to do and accomplish. I think if I was 80 years old and on my deathbed, I’d probably be like: ‘Man, where’s the kid that’s supposed to help wipe my ass and the wife that’s supposed to give a shit? I was on the road running around and now nobody cares because I spent my whole life doing that…’. Maybe I’ll feel like that then? ‘Man, that other life could have been great…’, but that’s not the case.
You noted a couple of months back that you enjoyed the first birthday you’d had since you were a kid in which you felt like you were where you’re supposed to be in life.
I’ve been very lucky to have this band as of late to help me sort through a lot of things and, almost in a way, prevent me from diving into the ‘norm’ of society and what is expected of you, before I was ready. Most people are so hyper-focused on the same thing and the same people around them every day that they fall into a normality of what it’s ‘supposed’ to be. Because we’re passing up other things and travelling all the time, we’ve been able to realise that the world is a much bigger place. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just about trying to experience as much as possible and then be happy. That’s it. I’m now in a place, finally at this age, where I feel pretty satisfied and happy with everything I’ve done and excited about where I’m going, too.
It softened the blow a little bit when you referenced Seinfeld in your interview with Noisey…
Ha! They actually put that article out and they had it wrong. They had me quoted as saying that I don’t want to pull a Seinfeld but the correction is that I do want to pull a Seinfeld! People were like: ‘Well, the last Seinfeld was a shitty episode so you don’t want to have a shitty record…’, but no, the Seinfeld reference means you go out when your ratings are high and you’re doing well. That’s what that means! Why wait until we can’t do it anymore, or we become a parody of ourselves, or we’re just making albums that we think people want to hear, or the shows just aren’t what they used to be, or we’re preoccupied with doing this just because we have to? That’s just bullshit.
So many bands are too scared to dive into the unknown and take the next step while things are still strong, and intentionally leave a legacy behind that’s controlled and acts as one completed piece of work, as opposed to being like: ‘Well, this is what I do now’. That wasn’t the intention for this band when we started, and I wouldn’t feel good ending it any other way.
Some will say that nobody ever stays retired in music. Greg clarified that this isn’t an extended hiatus but rather a definite conclusion. It sounds that way coming from you, too.
Greg, particularly, when we talked about it was like most people. ‘Why? What’s the point? Everything is good, we’re making great albums and playing great shows, why would we do this? Why don’t we just slow down and maybe play less, make it more special?’ At first, that’s the first reaction. Why would you stop this? The more I talked to him about it, the more I was like: ‘It’s just not exciting.’ Leaving one toe in the water is bullshit. That’s not the fuckin’ Dillinger way of doing things.
That’s not brave. That’s not intentional. Every note in a Dillinger record is intentional. Everything we do is intentional and has a purpose. Continuing to do this without knowing what the fuckin’ goal is, or where the end is, or what we’re trying to say, is not good. I think once the fear of not doing this went away from him and he started thinking of it as an artistic statement, it really made sense to him and to the rest of the guys.
Dillinger has always operated under its own niche terms but what do you think about the music industry now as you leave it, to a degree, versus when you first started 20 years ago?
Really good question, because it’s changed quite a bit since we started. In some sense, the way we function hasn’t changed at all. We’ve never been a part of that major label world. Radio has never been a concern. Record sales have never really determined whether we tour or if we’re active. The things that affect most musicians and artists and labells haven’t really changed how we do things. At the same time, the reality is that this would be a much more lucrative career if we were a part of that, but you can’t really think about too much – it’s a waste of time. It is what it is and it’s not going away.
The one thing I will say is that there’s got to be more of a barometer for quality out there. It’s cliché to say it, but there’s so much noise. There’s so much music and media coming at you all of the time through your phone or your computer or your TV. Anyone can make an album and market it and Facebook target it. I think it’s really important for young people to search for really special music and artists. It’s important that people really celebrate the artist who is doing it differently, and doing it their own way. It’s so easy to do it the wrong way.
What’s the worst injury you’ve ever received? You posted a photograph of your eye recently which looked like high-end make-up effects on a horror film.
It’s funny because my parents see these Instagram shots or someone sends them a picture and they’re horrified. The truth is that stuff is just temporary. Stitches and black eyes are an inconvenience but when you tour and play as much as we do in the way that we do… things like that happen on every tour. It’s not a big deal. Yeah, it leaves a scar and it sucks and it’s scary sometimes when blood is pouring all over your pedal boards and you’re like: ‘Wow, I hope this isn’t too serious…’ while you’re playing. For the most part, you learn that you’re not made of glass and that things like that aren’t such a big deal, but it’s the permanent things that will affect you for the rest of your life, the things that people don’t really see.
I fractured my skull many years ago and it chipped a bone in one of my vertebrae. I had rotator cuff surgery from injuries accrued onstage and they gave me a full MRI and saw a ton of other injuries all over that they were very surprised that I had, based on the way I function. I have neurological damage from my neck that makes me have to pee all the time. I’ll probably have to get neck surgery, eventually. There’s all kind of things from throughout the years that will affect me forever but cuts and black eyes… whatever. It makes for a cool picture.
But how best to gauge the overall bigger picture, that of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s legacy? “Grateful and proud and shocked and confused,” is Greg Puciato’s winningly succinct response when called upon to summarise. Ask him if there’s much of a difference between the guy who auditioned to replace original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis and the person he is today and the answer is especially candid and thoughtful.
“A lot is the same,” he notes. “At the core I'm pretty similar to who I was at nine, who I was at 13, maybe more so now than in a long time. You spend a lot of time struggling with ego when you're in your twenties – and I don't mean ego in terms of being egotistical, I mean ego in the sense of false self. You just see people, all young adults really, becoming these cartoons, wearing awkward costumes, basically. I think everyone is figuring themselves out, trying to establish who they are as individuals, which becomes even more difficult when you exist as being synonymous with a group, like a mascot or figurehead for a group of people. And then there's the lack of knowledge of all of the issues you have. You're just so excited by life. So the difference between 21 and now for me just comes down to self-awareness and not fatigue or feeling older in a negative way.
“A lot of the flipside to the blinding level of energy I felt at 21 was a completely naive and reckless willingness to go full speed down any rabbit hole I encountered, oblivious to harming myself or others in the process, oblivious to where that energy and those drives came from. I think people that are driven to make art are coping with things – anxieties or what have you. You feel boiling rage or crushing depression without knowing why, eventually engaging in a lot of coping mechanisms you aren't aware of. The difference between then and now is just awareness, knowing where it all comes from, what the dangers can be, being able to hopefully exert some control over everything so that I'm not obliviously self destructive or wasting my energy.”
Dissociation marks arguably career-best form for one of the better screamer/singers in the game. The title track, in particular, finds Puciato making sense of Dillinger’s demise in tender, telling fashion. It’s as beautiful as a Dillinger Escape Plan song gets (and there are more contenders for that title in their canon than you might think) and the perfect way to say goodbye. Puciato’s energy won’t be wasted when the eulogies fade, however, as he has The Black Queen to deal with. No mere side project, his new baby is a fully-realised engaging creation as evidenced by this year’s Fever Daydream debut. But there’s another record to consider, first…
DiS: Dissociation is one hell of a way to bow out. How are you feeling about the record at this moment in time?
Greg Puciato:: Great. It feels like a victory both personally and as a band. It's hard to tell when you're working on it, you're so zoomed in and it's such a personal process, you're essentially giving birth to something, inducing labor, or vomiting, whichever analogy you prefer. Either way it ranges from discomfort to pain as it goes on. Now that it's out I feel proud of it. It feels like a victory, the culmination of a lot of personal growth within the band and a celebration of what we have accomplished.
The title track in particular boasts some of the most considered vocal work of your career and it’s presented in a relatively atypical vulnerable way for a Dillinger song. What was the state of mind there? Did you write it with The End in mind?
When I heard the song musically I knew that I wanted it to end the record, and most tracklisting stuff is my department because it changes how I write based on knowing where it will be on the album. I knew that not only was that song going to be the last song on the album, but the last song of the band, so it needed to resolve things in a certain way. It felt correct to me to not end with a giant explosion, but with things stripped to their rawest, and most vulnerable and naked points.
Taking things away little by little until there is nothing – a dying star fading into a pinpoint. The lyrics of the song have nothing to do with the band, specifically, just the overall theme of the tragedy and loneliness of choosing strong solitude over the weakness of codependency. That being alone and healthy may ultimately be better than destructive codependency, regardless of how it feels, or whether it seems tragic on the outside.
Dissociation speaks to a still-strong creative process, yet it also serves as a eulogy of sorts.
Yeah, at no point did we feel we were doing this because of a lack of creative fuel. I sure don't feel that way. It's more about the artistic empowerment that comes from making a deliberate choice. The choice to end on your terms creates the ability to view the entire band as a body of work, like a book or a movie or a painting. Instead of writing a book until you run out of ink, or painting until you're out of paint, or running a TV series until the audience is no longer there and you've long since become parody. That doesn't appeal to us. Intent illuminates action.
Looking back, what are you proudest of?
The thing I'm the most proud of is that we didn't quit when things were at their hardest, or at their worst. Whether it was due to member changes or losses or injuries or inner band communication problems or difficulties, we stuck by the band, to the artistic commitments we had made to each other. We knew we had more to say together, and we got through. We didn't say ‘fuck you’ and split up acrimoniously, which would have been too weak a move for us, and we didn't give up in the face of any adverse circumstance.
Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Some have criticised that a musician – and in particular, this musician – was honoured. What’s your take on it, and of the notion that song and lyric writing should or should not recognised?
Look, I get it. If you're a purist, lyrics aren't prose. As someone who writes them it’s a drastically different approach. The things you have to concern yourself with when writing something that is going to be heard, something that also has to match music, that is vastly different than something that is just meant to be read – it deals with a lot of restrictions. That being said, I would argue that Bob Dylan had such a dramatic effect on writing as a whole, not just songwriting, but that someone of his magnitude has had such wide influence regardless of the specific written medium, that it's great. I mean, I get it; what, are we going to give a songwriter award to Cormac McCarthy? I see both sides. Ultimately I don't care a whole lot because it's an award… who cares? Ultimately they mean nothing. His actual influence is the same magnitude regardless of the semantics of how to sum that influence up.
Fever Daydream is a really engaging debut with a fun aesthetic. What does The Black Queen give you? Where do you hope to go with it?
Well, the emotional range in that band is different from The Dillinger Escape Plan. I wouldn't have been able to write Dissociation or give that performance if I hadn't done Fever Daydream. That album was a representation of vulnerability and a shedding of any possible cartoonish genre cage that I felt might be on me. It’s not a side project so much as it's just another band, that runs parallel to Dillinger. I feel equally present in both of them. We have a lot of common ground in that band, and our skill sets are really complimentary, and it's really new as far as explored territory goes, so I think we have a lot more to say with that. We're already working on a follow-up EP.
How do you feel about the state of the music industry as you begin a fresh chapter?
I think we're in a good place. Things were out of balance during the CD era, as far as how much money could be made vs. how little choice people had. Record labels really controlled things to an abnormally large degree. We're finding a good balance now and things are going in a good direction; finding the sweet spot for consumer convenience, artist revenue, artist control, etc. Everything works itself out if you let it. The worst thing is labels trying to get people away from streaming or trying to force specific formats on people. In reality, every medium has its benefits and people will pick the one that works for them.
I don't think file sharing is a big issue because it's a pain in the ass compared to streaming. And anyone who complains about streaming royalties has probably never tried to start any kind of business. Everything has its issues to iron out in time but we are way, way past the darkest days. We wouldn't have been able to self-release Fever Daydream or do what we did with it as far as levels of control. If it was the ‘90s and we needed someone to approve every cent spent on it, that record would have cost a fortune. And now we own that forever.
The Dillinger Escape Plan | 1997 – 2017
Dissociation is out now on Party Smasher Inc.