Interview: Greg Puciato of Dillinger Escape Plan Talks New Album and Side Projects
In Revolver‘s new February/March issue, Editor in Chief Brandon Geist interviews Greg Puciato, vocalist of Dillinger Escape Plan, for an in-studio feature about the band’s forthcoming album due out later this spring. Due to space constraints, we couldn’t print everything, but here’s the director’s cut, so to speak, of their entertaining chat.
REVOLVER Based on our previous conversations, man, I’m pretty fucking stoked for the Dillinger record…
GREG PUCIATO Ya know what? I hate to always be the person that’s like, “This is our best new album,” because I think every time it’s the best one. I’m realizing that all you can try to do is take an honest snapshot of where everyone is at the moment and hope that that place happens to be good when you look back at it. When you’re in it, you’re too emotionally attached to it to really gain any kind of hindsight to it. Now that we’ve been around for a while, I can kind of be a little bit more objective and see what records were the ones where we made big leaps–the obvious ones, like Calculating Infinity, was a big jump, and I feel like Miss Machine was a really big jump. I feel like our work on Option Paralysis was like us refining Miss Machine. It wasn’t like we were making colossal jumps. This is the first one since Miss Machine where I felt like, Wow, all of us as individuals and collectively are moving into, like, some other phase of our career.
I think we’ve all just gotten a lot better as individuals and we’ve already had our fucking growing pains and we’ve already fought our brains out. We went from being kids to adults together. We kind of all realized our strengths and how to leave one another alone and not have ego clashes. I think this record is the record where we’re like adults now. People have gotten married or we have serious girlfriends, like, really major shit has gone down in our lives, and it just seemed really…it seemed like less edge-of-our-pants, not knowing if we were gonna pull it together.
When did you guys really start writing material for this record?
I’d say we started in January  we started slowly piecing stuff together. Then, April was where it really started being like every day. We were firing on all cylinders. The other thing, this is the first time we had the same recording lineup for two albums in a row since Miss Machine. So I think for Ben [Weinman, guitar] to have Billy [Rymer, drums] for two straight records instead of being like, “OK, we need to find a new drummer.” I think that contributed to having a big creative leap too, not having to worry about teaching someone a lot of back catalog at the same time while we’re writing. Ya know, all that stuff.
Yeah, Ben has pretty much always played all of the guitar on the records, right?
Right, when we lost Jeff [Tuttle, second guitar, in 2012], in all honesty, we lost a live guitar player. But it wasn’t like he was a creative force.
Are you the kinda guy that’s always sort of working on lyrics or do you really start focusing on it when you’re really writing the album?
I’m always writing stuff, but I don’t tend to hang on to it. I feel like especially with music like this, I feel like Dillinger’s lyrics are somewhat different to me than I would approach another band. It’s very much a fucking therapeutic, like, subconscious type thing for me that I haven’t done in three or four years. So I really wanna get something out of me and, like, dig something out of my system while we’re writing. I can’t really feel that attached to something if I’ve already emotionally resolved it. A lot of times if I’m writing something, nine or 10 months later when we record it, I start to realize, Hey, I don’t even really care about this anymore. I already kind of worked through this in some other way besides screaming about it. I usually end up throwing a lot of lyrics out and writing everything really close to when we’re recording just because then I can feel attached to it still while I’m singing it. So it doesn’t become just consonants and vowels coming out of my mouth.
That makes sense. Were there particular things that you were working through with these lyrics?
A lot of stuff, pretty much everything is coming to terms with relationship issues. When you’re younger, everything is about external and “You are doing this to me” or “I’m pissed at you for this” or “You fucked this up and I’m mad about it.” I think as I’m getting older, I’m like, “Everything is my fault.” Even if it’s someone else that did it, you’re associating with that person. You’re the one that stayed in that relationship, and you’re the one that did this and you’re the one that did that. I think the older I get, the more I realize that all my lyrics are about me, even if I’m saying, “You.” It’s good, man, but the thing that sucks is that at some point, I’m not gonna be pissed about anything anymore, and then that’s really gonna be the issue, ya know?
I know. Once you find your Zen place, you’re fucked.
Yeah, exactly. I think once you cross the line of getting it all out of your system, then it becomes a real ethical issue like, Do I keep doing this because it’s my job and try to fool people? But I feel like it’s always really see-through. If you’re screaming and you don’t mean it, I feel like you can really tell.
It’s just funny to think that your job is sounding really pissed.
Ya know what’s hilarious? I was sitting in a room with, like, a Dillinger part on loop and to a normal person it just sounds like noise. I’m screaming at the top of my lungs and it just sounds like racket and I’m like, This is my job! It was the most surreal moment. I’m like, Ya know, this was a hobby at some point but now that I’m, like, doing this–this is what, to some people, accounting or graphic design is.”
How many finished songs did you guys when you came into the studio, and how many of those songs are making the record?
We have 11. Sometimes we go in and have everything 80 percent done and we’re trying to wing it as we go. This time, everything was really fixed. We really had most of the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted ahead of time. It feels really like confident as a band to be like, “Yeah, we’re gonna go fuck shit up.” That’s a good feeling. We’ve actually never had a leftover song. We said, “Let’s not fuck around and spend all this time learning all these weird rhythms and trying to make everything faster, more aggressive, trickier, and all that stuff if we’re just gonna throw it out. Let’s figure out early on if it sucks and just get rid of it.”
So what can you tell me about what the album actually sounds like?
We made a really conscious effort this time to try to do some different stuff. I feel like, as any band that’s put out a bunch of records, we have our patterns, even if our patterns are a little harder to decipher. We’ve made a really deliberate, conscious effort to be like, “The first song is gonna start differently than any Dillinger record because every Dillinger record starts with like a train wreck and ‘Aaahhhh‘ right away.” We want to do it differently this time. Ya know, “Have we ever started a song with bass before? No? Well, let’s start a song with bass.” “Have we ever started a song with just drums? No, we haven’t done that? Let’s do that.” Just anything we can do to push ourselves into uncomfortable territory now because I think that’s necessary because no one else is gonna do it. We have to make effort to be like, “This is what we would normally do. Let’s deliberately not do that.” It’s actually made everything a lot more interesting for us. Those little things make a difference. We push each other creatively.
I saw the photo that your producer Steve Evetts posted of the studio mic after you mangled it. What happened there?
I just can’t record like a human. I just can’t do it! Steve is always kinda like, “Dude, you’ve gotta stop, like, I can hear the microphone. I can hear shit happening in there. Like, I’m not supposed to be picking this up on the mic.” And I’m like, “Dude, I can’t just stand still with my hands in my pockets screaming at the top of my lungs.” I don’t know how people do it. I feel too much of it physically. I’m so used to playing live that I cannot get this shit out of me without physically contorting and being somewhat violent. It’s honestly not even a conscious thing. It’s like, “This is what I need to do to get this much ferocity out of me. Let me be. If the microphone breaks or the gooseneck breaks or something, we’ll figure it out.”
He ‘s like, “It’s so funny, man.” He was saying the other day, “If I didn’t know what band was tracking, I could tell what singer is because the microphone is in no where near the condition or placement of where we started by the end of the night.” Whatever. As I said, I don’t want to fake anything. I can’t just be in a room and be like, “You want me to be more pissed off? OK, let’s try more pissed off,” and then have my hands in my pocket and be like, “Did that sound pissed?” I like to approach singing the way a guy like Daniel Day Lewis approaches acting. You’ve gotta really fucking think about what you’re singing about and get that emotion fresh again in your brain. Be pissed as if you’re screaming. If you were fucking yelling at your friend or fighting with your girlfriend. You wouldn’t be standing still with your hands at your sides and screaming at the top of your lungs.
Have you guys ever thought about working with someone other than Steve? It seems like a pretty typical thing for a band at a certain point to do when they say, “We need to mix things up. Let’s work with a different producer.”
Yeah, we thought about mixing with someone different because I think that mixing drastically effects the final sound sonically, but as far as engineering and producing, Steve’s been there since the first record. There’s a certain language that we kind of have to speak when we’re referencing these songs and he speaks it. It’s just easier now because Steve hears it instantly the same way we do. He knows. We speak gibberish in the studio, and we all get it. It makes it really easy to move quickly.
Are there gonna be any guest musicians on this record?
Yes, but I am not at liberty to say. I’m pretty, pretty sure we’ll have some fairly heavy hitters on here, which is pretty cool because I think it’s…we’ve had Brent [Hinds, Mastodon guitarist] on Ire Works‘ “Horse Hunter.” I think this time people are gonna be like, “What the fuck?” about some of the people.
I know that it didn’t really affect the recording of the album, but what happened with Jeff leaving the band? He went to film school, right?
Jeff is a really creative guy. I think he was like, “I’m killing myself onstage every night playing guitar in these other guys’ band and I’m not maybe utilizing all of my creative talents. I’m away from my wife, and we have a house together and now she lives in it by herself. Maybe I have to start doing what I’m gonna be doing when I’m 60 instead of doing what I’m gonna be doing for a few more years.” It was really amicable. There was no fight. We saw it coming. We could kinda tell that maybe his heart was starting to wander a little bit. He’s always been really into film. He stays up at night watching horror movies and knows every little stylistic thing about every weird horror director. So it wasn’t that big of a shock. I didn’t know there was a film industry in Detroit so that was the shock. I was like, “Wait, you’re leaving the music industry to go to film school in Detroit?” That’s like going to fucking lifeguard school in Alaska or something. What’s happening? He’s kicking ass at it.
So who’s the new guy?
We don’t have one, to be honest with you. We played that California Metalfest [watch the band's closing number from the fest above, which features Puciato showing off his fire-blowing skills] with James Love who was the interim guy from between Brian [Benoit] and Jeff. We don’t know if we’re gonna have him for the full record cycle or whether he can even commit to it. After six years of domesticity, it’s a little daunting to be like, “I’m gonna get back on the pirate ship for a few years.” We’re actually really not pressed about it. We know that the record is the most important thing. If the record is killer, the other stuff takes care of itself.
I guess the other big thing going on with you guys would be signing with Sumerian Records.
We’ve known Ash [Avildsen, Sumerian Records president] for a really long time, especially me being from Baltimore. He’s kind of always been in this weird, parallel trajectory to us as far as coming from a similar scene and having big aspirations of where he could go from where he started. It just made sense. That’s all I can really say about it. We had to mutually bring to the table for one another.
It was just nice to talk to someone who wasn’t 60 that owned the record label. They didn’t have to unlearn things. A lot of record companies have to unlearn all of these things because the paradigm shifted and now they’re trying to adjust. Whereas that record label grew up in the collapse of the record industry, so they already understand the differences between the old way of doing things and the new way of doing things. It’s just also, for me, really killer to have the guy that owns the label live a 15 minute drive away from me. We can go talk about shit really easily instead of last time where Season of Mist is in France and you have to send an email and they don’t quite understand you and there’s a language barrier. We can just go get food and be like, “This is what we’re thinking about for this video. I’m gonna bring my laptop and show you this guy’s videos.” You bring a laptop and show me some guys that you think are cool instead of just being like sending links, typing lots of emails. Everything just feels like when you’re a kid and you’re all in the same room together and get it done really quickly.
Are you guys gonna actually put out other bands on your Party Smasher imprint?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ben and I have been kind of stockpiling some side projects over the last couple of years. Ben has Giraffe Tongue [Orchestra, his band with Mastodon's Brent Hinds, Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery, and ex-Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore], and I’m thinking now we might do that on Party Smasher. I don’t know if my project with Max Cavalera is gonna come out on that. Then I’ve got another project with this guy Josh [Eutis], who is in Puscifer and does an electronic thing called Telefon Tel Aviv, and that’s called The Black Queen and that’s gonna come out for sure on Party Smasher. I think we’re just gonna start unloading now that we have a solid home for the label. We can just be like, “If I wanna do a weird avant-garde solo record and make 500 of them, here’s where it’s coming out.” It’s kind of a nice feeling.
Where does your project with Max stand right now? I’ve heard that Mastodon bassist Troy Sanders is a part of that, too.
It’s crazy. That thing is just becoming a big snowball of people. Me and Max started hanging out and we wrote really quickly and we were talking about all these old metal records and talking about old hardcore records and punk records and we had a lot of similar reference points. We were like, “We could make a pretty sick fucking punk, thrash fucking type album.” Then Dave Elitch [The Mars Volta] who’s a buddy a mine was like, “I wanna play drums on this.” For a minute, Nate Newton from Converge was involved and he just couldn’t do it because he was so involved in so much already. Then Troy expressed interest. It was kind of, like, a drunken party night type thing and he was like, “I wanna play bass. Can you imagine if all three of us were singing?” I’m like, “Fuck yeah!” Just like raging at 4 in the morning. Then the next day, I texted him and was like, “I don’t know how serious any of us were,” and he was like “Dude, I’m totally serious.” I was like, “Fuck. This has now just achieved…like, this has to be awesome or else we’re fucked.”
We’re gonna finish the Dillinger record and I think we’re going right into the studio the beginning of January and record this other album and hold it. We can’t put it out the same time as the Dillinger record so we’ll hold it for maybe eight or nine months, and at the end of 2013, we’ll move that thing. It’s really crazy. It’s really surreal. It’s just all fucking good. Life is good.