Since 1997, The Dillinger Escape Plan have been a chaotic, unrestrained whirlwind, captivating audiences with their furious brand of frenzied hardcore. Ahead of a handful of Australian dates as part of Soundwave 2014, we talk to vocalist Greg Puciato about latest album ‘One of Us Is the Killer’, lyrical themes and the group’s intense live performances.
‘One of Us Is the Killer’ has been out for around seven months now, how have the songs been carrying over live?
Really good. This was the record that for us, when we first started playing new songs, they didn’t feel new, which was kind of a sign that they were good as far as we’re concerned. With this record, every time we played a new song, even when the record first came out, it felt like it was right in line and people had an equal reaction for the new and old.
As far as the recording process, talk me through that. You guys kind of made a makeshift recording studio in your practice space, right?
Yeah, that’s right. We’re a little bit all over the place, we all live in a different state, so we now have the ability to record and play on both coasts. Ben has a miniature studio where he lives and we can practice there, and then I have an equivalent situation in Los Angeles where I live now so we’re kind of in a position now where we can really record, play, practice, whatever we want on either coast which is really beneficial for productivity.
Totally, that must be great. Steve Evetts produced the album, who you’ve been working with forever. Is there a reason the band keep working with Steve for every record?
We have a bit of a language as far as our recording goes now. We take a really long time – we take somewhere between 8 and 12 weeks usually to make a Dillinger record and at this point, if we were to switch producers it would take forever. Our music is not the easiest to wrap our head around, so when you have someone who has grown with us the whole time it’s a little easier just to communicate to talk about a part and feel and how you want something to sound. Even just referencing, like, “Hey, can we go back to this part really quickly. I don’t like how my vocals sound, I need to do this again” – with someone new, you’d probably have to tell them the minute second mark. With Steve, he just knows what I’m talking about.
That makes sense. I mean, I think about other albums he’s produced where I feel like they probably would have had a similar process. Poison the Well albums and Architects albums, stuff like that.
Yeah, I mean he’s a motherfucker at what he does. It’s not just about knowing him for a long time, he’s legit. The other thing thing that’s really important is that he’s our friend and he knows us, psychologically. A lot of making a record, particularly the vocals, is knowing how to push a person, and knowing how much is going to get your best versus how much it’s going to beat you up. If you do things too many times you’re just beating a singer up at that point. He knows how to push me, how much is too much. He knows what I’m going through in life, so that if I’m singing about something he already knows what I’m dealing with so he already knows the emotion I’m trying to get out, which is really good. He’s not just hearing notes and vowels and consonants, he’s putting a life to the words too which is important.
On that note, I was reading that as far as vocals went, you recorded vocals for something like 25 days straight?
Yep, that’s right. Usually Ben and I will go back and forth, he’ll do a couple songs’ guitar, and I’ll do a couple songs’ vocals. This time they finished all the music and then I just went in and did 25 straight days of vocals.
As far as lyrics are concerned, what kind of themes did you have floating around going into the writing process? I know there’s this kind of recurring idea of relationships and dependency.
I find that when I look back, a lot of the themes from a lot of Dillinger records have kind of been about destructive co-dependency – being in a band and being in relationships when you’re in a band, that’s something you find yourself in quite often. The nature of coming and going, being in close quarters with people for extended periods and then not seeing them at all, it creates very dramatic relationship scenarios and if you’re not equipped to handle them… I mean, no one is given a manual of how to deal with that, or how to go from being a child to adult with somebody.
When you’re in a band and you have intense personalities, and you’re trying to grow from being in your early 20’s to your early 30’s together, and trying to grow when you’re not together, it becomes a mess. With this record in particular, I found myself in some situations when that kind of schizophrenic, co-dependent destructiveness was reaching a little bit of a zenith. It was reaching a point where we couldn’t live our lives as people, in and out of the band, in that way anymore. It was becoming too destructive, and it was corrupting our personal relationships with one another outside of the band, it was corrupting our lives with people that weren’t in the band, and I feel like writing the record was a bit of a wake-up call to be like, okay, we have to figure some shit just in terms of being human beings and living. If anything, I feel like this record was a turning point from adolescence into adulthood in a lot of ways, in the band and outside of it as far as displaying negative habits you didn’t even realise you were doing.
Away from Dillinger, you’ve been busy with Max Cavalera, Troy Sanders and David Elitch with Killer Be Killed, how was working with those guys?
Really refreshing. It was really interesting to be in a situation where these people who had all achieved a lot of success in their own bands, we were all put in the same room together and agreed to make something new. Collaborating is a really easy way to force yourself to grow and force yourself to go down pathways that may not be comfortable for you. Ben and I stimulate one other creatively a great deal, but we’ve still written five albums together. We know each other so well, so there’s already something there. When you’re in a room with people who you’ve never written music with before, it takes you out of your comfort zone. That was the most exciting part about it, just learning enough new about writing and yourself that when it comes time to make a new Dillinger record… I feel like that process, collaborating with people who aren’t in Dillinger, allows you to go out and bring something new to the group for next time.
Dillinger are touring Australia soon as part of Soundwave. You guys are quite known for having quite intense live shows, do you have to mentally prepare and psych yourself up or is it a more visceral outburst?
I try to stay away from thinking as much as possible. I kind of feel like the point is to transcend being present. If I’m ever present while playing or if I’m thinking about, it bums me out more than anything because I feel like it wasn’t a pure expression. As pretentious as that sounds, it’s kind of the point, especially with a band like us. We try to become as pure in the moment as possible. That’s what people want to see anyway. They don’t want to see something rehearsed and choreographed. If I wanted to do something like that I would do theatre, or a different kind of band. The nature of punk rock and metal and hardcore, which is where we came from, is to get that stuff out of the way and just tap into your id as much as possible.
I was talking to Spencer from Periphery the other week about how they’re quite a technical band but then there’s also this energetic, organic feeling to their live shows.
I mean, I think they’re a much different band to us, I think they’re a much more cerebral, thought-out band. We don’t find much in common with that practiced, rehearsed sort of thing. We were on tour and those dudes were sitting around backstage warming up forever, we kind of get on stage and just let it rip, and I think that’s what makes our shows somewhat chaotic. It’s what we were talking about before, we’ve kind of lived our lives that way too and it’s caused some problem with us as human beings so that’s been the trick for us – how do we maintain that pure chaotic expression as musicians and curb it enough in life that we’re not endangering ourselves.
Just to wrap up – what have you guys got planned for the rest of 2014?
I’m finishing this Killer Be Killed record, that’s going to be done in about a week. We’re going to go do Soundwave, we’re going to do an April/May US run and I think we’re going to go over in Summer and do European fests. We’re already kicking around new ideas for Dillinger songs, so I think once the Summer is over we’re going to get back to the grind. We’ll probably take a month off and probably not talk to one another and make sure that our lives outside of Dillinger are still intact, and get back to writing. So much happens in between every record that it’s always exciting to me to see where we are musically and as people when we go back to the table, that’s the most interesting part. Starting from zero, and knowing you’re that going to hopefully get to a point where you have something tangible to show that you created from nothing and being able to see what the pieces were and where you were in your life to draw from to make that happen.
The Dillinger Escape Plan will be touring throughout February/March as part of the Soundwave 2014 lineup. ‘One of Us Is the Killer’ is out now through Party Smasher Inc/Remote Control.