The Black Queen // Greg Puciato

There’s never an end for Greg Puciato. There’s always something for him to share and something for him to create. As he tells me, it’s the only way he can process things. It’s why he’s been on a whirlwind ride from 2013 until now; from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s ‘One Of Us Is The Killer’ LP through to The Black Queen’s second album, ‘Infinite Games’ (out now via Federal Prisoner). Every album since Dillinger’s fifth LP five years ago has been a biographical release for Greg in many ways; a vehicle for the vocalist to deal with the personal baggage weighing him down behind the scenes. Whether he’s screaming over dissonant, mathy metalcore instrumentals (TDEP), or singing over moody electronics and ambient synths (The Black Queen), the consistent level of honesty in his writing is Greg’s main goal. No matter how terrifying that may actually be for him to offer up to strangers. 

Hearing directly from The Black Queen singer prior to the release of ‘Infinite Games’, he tells me that time passes and life goes on; how he spoke with Ben Weinman for the first time since TDEP broke up just recently; that his touring and writing approach hasn’t changed from band-to-band; and about how records are merely the tip of the iceberg for what someone is dealing with in their life. Hell, this little intro is merely the tip of the iceberg for the following interview itself!

So Greg, with the band heading to Europe soon, how is touring in The Black Queen different from touring in TDEP? Not just logistically, but also for you personally?

I’ve been doing this for so long that I have a very similar approach now. For me, it’s all about getting to that point where you need to be so you can go out on-stage. The only real difference is that sound checks are much faster. [Laughs] We don’t have a drum kit to go through, or a bassist or a guitarist. A lot of it is the same except for the people involved and the relationships. I also don’t need to worry if I scream too hard the night before and blow my voice out. That’s the small stuff, but it’s also very similar for me, honestly.

What you said about getting to the stage you NEED to be at before perform, a lot of artists would share. Yet with Dillinger, I always got the vibe that while you loved it, it was still a painful experience. Not the screaming intensity, just the destructive lyrical content about relationships and experiences that couldn’t be fixed; topics you’d bring up every night on a tour. Whereas The Black Queen and ‘Infinite Games’ are more hopeful and obviously more calming. With the full-time change from Dillinger to this band, has that switch affected you much, for better or for worse?

Well, when I go on-stage with The Black Queen, I’m actually a lot more scared, to be honest. The first few songs of a set are the scariest as I don’t have the aggression on my side. When I was in Dillinger, I could hide the nervousness and take control by being ultra-aggressive. When you’re ultra-aggressive, everyone is under your control; you’re the craziest person in the room. Which is true of me anywhere I go [laughs]. But with The Black Queen, there’s so much more vulnerability, as people are staring at me in a different way than when I was in Dillinger. Like I said, my approach isn’t any different now. My issue is that as long as I’m being open, honest and vulnerable, then I can be ready to go start tearing my skin off in front of people, basically. It’s almost like reading your subconscious journal entries to a crowd of people. It’s really fucking horrifying, man. Even if it’s all abstract. Well, if you’re being honest it’s horrifying, but if you’re singing about partying or some shit then that’s probably not that scary.

In that recent Revolver interview I gave, I mentioned how so much of what I dealt with in the last band was negative. Because I write my lyrics really close to when I record vocals, a lot of the things we come out with are really fresh for me. So when I go out on tour and play them, it’s like going from therapy straight to the stage. And I get kinda rattled, man. For that last Dillinger album cycle, I was trapped in it and I couldn’t get enough time away from it until the band ended. So I just felt stuck in that ‘Disassociation’ cycle. It’s like someone shoots a gun off next to your head, and then every night for the next two months you hear a really loud noise. You know it’s not the gun, but you just want the noise to stop so you can get past the gunshot.

The Black Queen, 2018. Left to right: Steven Alexander, Greg Puciato, Joshua Eustis.

I get what you mean, Greg; there’s very little time for the edge to lessen. While the end of Dillinger is still impacting for you – and even for the other guys in that band too, I’m sure – and with this new Black Queen record coming out, are you genuinely okay with where you’re at right now in life? I fully mean that too. I’m just honestly curious to hear.

Well, I actually just talked to Ben [Weinman, TDEP guitarist] for the first time since we broke up. I got off the phone with him right before doing this interview actually! I’m feeling pretty fucking good, man, all things considered. And look, time just passes. I don’t know who I said this too, but I would be doing the exact same thing if the band hadn’t broken up. We always took time off between records, and during those time periods, I would never really stop. I’m a gas pedal, so in between ‘One Of Us Is The Killer’ and ‘Disassociation’, I did both Killer Be Killed and ‘Fever Daydream’. They were only three years apart, so I was just rippin’ at all times. The second that Dillinger ended, I was in the studio with The Black Queen, which lasted until May. From May until now, it has been a lot of record and tour logistics. That would all still be happening now if Dillinger still existed. It’s not gonna start to seem weird to me until maybe a few years from now. Whenever I listen back to a Dillinger record, I feel… really good about where we left it. On ‘Disassociation’, right down to the final track, it all felt final. I don’t feel a need to make more songs that sound like that. It’d be like George Lucas putting more scenes in Star Wars: dude, you finished it, leave it the fuck alone. We may one day play celebration Dillinger Escape Plan shows, as we have six albums where we could play entirely different sets. But as far as creatively going, to scream more shit at people? Not right now.

I played 2,000 shows with Dillinger, so how much more energy can I give? I’m like a nuclear reactor inside. How long until someone says that I have to deal with where this is all coming from? I’ve been in therapy for the last five years, and I’ve dealt with a lot of shit behind the scenes. Albums are like iceberg tips, little artistic tips, and underneath is a mountain of shit and you’re just given the cliff notes. That’s all stuff I’ve had to deal with and process behind-the-scenes. I just don’t have any more of it coming out of me right now.

Well said, man, and thank you for sharing all that too. And that “tip of the iceberg” idea? I fully get that with ‘Infinite Games’. For me when I first heard it, I felt that it was a soundtrack; a score to certain life experiences and events that meant a lot to you – good or bad. Then I read your Bandcamp page description about how it was all a time capsule and you’re now giving that to the listener(s). It was really interesting that I had thought about ‘Infinite Games’, and then more or less had it confirmed later on with that Bandcamp page descriptor.

For sure! Starting around the time of ‘One Of Us Is The Killer’, I became very autobiographical with my lyrics. So, that album, ‘Fever Daydream’, ‘Disassociation’, and ‘Infinite Games’ are all connected to me. They’re a part of the same story. And it ended with this new record. I know that it’s two very different bands that have nothing to do with each other, but they’re all connected to me and my life. To the degree where I even said the name “fever daydream” on ‘One Of Us Is The Killer’ [“I’ve manifested you in fever daydream” – ‘Paranoia Shields’]. I knew that when we finished ‘Infinite Games’ it would be the end of this arc for me. It’s been completely me, completely autobiographical. I don’t process things unless I make something out of them. I feel like when I make a record I can trap it and put it out into the world and then out of my system.

I feel that idea of “trapping” things onto a record could be best summed up as: you’re putting a message in a bottle, throwing it out to sea, but the bottle just keeps washing back up on the same shore you threw it from.

[Laughs] that’s actually really good. Man, it’s not a coincidence that I went off social media right before ‘One Of Us…’ too. Things all got really heavy right before that record and the only way for me to deal with it is to obsessively create records one after another. With or without Dillinger. I know that this new Black Queen record is a little more abstract and that it may take a few more listens but that it’s hopefully worth it.

That’s actually exactly how I put it in my review; that it takes a couple more listens to “get”, but that it’s absolutely worth the investment! In terms of how much you put into the record personally, there are two songs that really “spoke” to me on ‘Infinites Games’. They were the intro track, ‘Even Still I Want To’ and the second-last track, ‘Porcelain Veins’. There’s a lot of mystique and eeriness to those two songs, but also a lot of revealing lyricism in both. So, I’m just wondering if one day you’ll ever fully divulge who or what such songs were about, or if you’ll instead let those hidden meanings linger on?

Well, I can write about concepts or psychological issues that I’m dealing with, but I’d never talk about the people or personal relationships. As I don’t think that’s fair to those other people. It’s without tact, I guess. I’m giving people everything in the music, man. There’s a famous story, and I don’t even know if it’s a true, but here’s the gist of it. A pianist plays a piano piece, and someone says “Hey, that was really beautiful. What’s it about?” So the guy sits down and plays the exact same piano piece again. It is what it is. I’m telling everyone that this is my expression. No offence, but I do interviews as I have to but I already gave people everything on the record. I don’t want to explain it all. That’s pointless to me.

Oh, I didn’t expect you to straight-up tell me nor would I demand that you to tell me what ‘Even Still I Want To’ or ‘Porcelain Veins’ were actually about. Lyrically, they’re just two of my favourite songs from the record, but from their lyrics and other interviews that you’ve given, I could already tell that you’d be keeping those matters close to your chest.

That’s actually so fucking cool to hear you say that! You’re really astute, man. As those two songs are very emotionally intense to me. They’re some of the most ambient and… abstract songs on the new record. So for you to understand that their also two of the most poignant tracks is awesome, as I feel the same way. That’s so cool, thank you.

That’s okay, Greg! I think the way you sing and deliver those lyrics is not only amazing but also quite clever too. It makes the record that much more interesting and inviting.

Thanks, that’s really nice. You know, I’ve actually been trying to get more honest and more personal as I go on with these things. As I find that I feel more relieved when I do. And it seems like it translates more meaning to people. But it’s also scary to do so. I have an issue with vulnerability and intimacy and in order to beat those is to just become more vulnerable and intimate in my life. It’s all new for me.

The Black Queen will be hitting up Australia in January 2019 Australian for a tour with Drab Majesty. All dates are sold out!


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