The Black Queen: How Dillinger Escape Plan Singer Found New Life in Electronic Music | Revolver

The Black Queen: How Dillinger Escape Plan Singer Found New Life in Electronic Music

Following DEP's grand finale, Greg Puciato talks trading nihilism for optimism with new project
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The Black Queen, (from left) Steven Alexander Ryan, Greg Puciato and Joshua Eustis, New York City, 2018
photograph by Stephen Odom

The Dillinger Escape Plan is dead. Long live the Black Queen.

It's 7 p.m. on a Wednesday night in Los Angeles, but Greg Puciato has only been awake for about five hours. He says he suffers from delayed sleep phase syndrome, which causes him to stay up late and wake up even later. "I was getting up at noon for a while, but lately it's been two or three o'clock, which sucks," he laments. "It's been a problem my whole life."

Puciato's condition has only been exacerbated by the 16 years he spent onstage with the Dillinger Escape Plan. "For years and years I was used to having the most energy imaginable at 11 or 11:30 every night, so whenever that time comes — even if I only got three hours of sleep the night before — I really start to ramp up," he explains. "I don't think I'll ever be able to get out of it."

Though the Dillinger Escape Plan played their final show in 2017, Puciato's career as frontman, vocalist and lyricist continues with the Black Queen, the electronic music outfit he started in 2011 with former Nine Inch Nails touring member and Puscifer collaborator Joshua Eustis (also of Telefon Tel Aviv) and NIN/Puscifer tech Steven Alexander Ryan. Until Dillinger folded, the two groups overlapped. "It's easy for me to flip between the two," Puciato says. "Both bands are very me. I just have to turn this knob up a little bit, and I'm in Dillinger mode. If I turn this other knob up a bit, I'm in TBQ mode. I use each band for a different set of emotions."

Where Dillinger's violently acrobatic guitar/drums/bass formation delivered dizzyingly complex albums and ferociously unhinged live shows, the Black Queen pulses and broods with a dreamy synth-driven backdrop. And while Puciato spent most of his tenure in Dillinger screaming his face off, he solely employs a pensive clean singing voice and come-hither falsetto in the Black Queen. The trio's second and latest album, Infinite Games, accentuates Puciato's artistic volte-face with dance beats and the aqueous feel of Eighties new-wave synth lotharios like Depeche Mode and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Lyrically, Puciato uses the Black Queen to explore the optimistic inverse of Dillinger's romantic alienation. It's a topic he's rarely discussed before, in interviews or otherwise. "Nobody knows anything about this, because I don't fucking tell people," he says. "I'm ready to now, because Dillinger is over."

As it turns out, delayed sleep phase syndrome isn't the only affliction Puciato suffers from. "Most people don't know that a lot of Dillinger lyrics deal with intimacy disorder, and the frustration that comes from not being able to get close to people or to resolve a broken relationship," he reveals. "Things like co-dependency and toxic relationships — and the cumulative long-term effects they have on you — have always been a recurring theme. The Black Queen kinda deals with the opposite of that — the glimpses you have that might not be your fate, and celebrating the times you felt connected with people. A lot of it comes from hopefulness that I have for intimacy."

"There's some sad stuff on there, too," he adds. "But it's done with a more hopeful shine to it than the nihilistic, 'Everything is fucked' approach [of Dillinger]. And I feel like as a person, I swing back and forth between those two mindsets."

Puciato tells Revolver this as we sit at a café in downtown Los Angeles, where he eats a salmon salad and waits on a cup of tea that takes nearly 30 minutes to arrive. The piped-in soundtrack varies wildly from Latin jazz to flimsy modern pop music to the Bee Gees' mega-platinum disco anthem "Stayin' Alive." He rolls his eyes at this last track and asks if the music is too loud to record the interview. Then he suggests we go across the street for a drink.

Though Dillinger's demise was carefully plotted well in advance of the writing and recording of Infinite Games, Puciato says his knowledge of his former band's dissolution didn't affect his approach on the Black Queen's latest. But it may have affected the outcome. "I got so much catharsis out of me on that last Dillinger record," he offers. "Lyrically, it was a really depressing album. I have a hard time even reading those lyrics. The whole vibe was so bleak that the Black Queen record kind of became the counterpoint to those emotions. This record was like a reprieve."

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Puciato and Ryan, Los Angeles, 2018
photograph by Stephen Odom

As if the band's looming extinction wasn't enough of an emotional albatross, Dillinger's final tour was punctuated by two horrific events: a terrifying bus accident in Poland that the band miraculously survived, and the shocking suicide of Soundgarden's Chris Cornell while Dillinger were opening for the grunge legends. "I didn't even think we were gonna get through it," Puciato says. "I thought we'd have a plane crash before we finished the tour. The sentiment in the band was like, 'Where is this going? Are we even gonna make it to the last shows?'"

Through sheer will and perseverance — and, in the case of the bus accident, plenty of luck — they made it. Dillinger played their final show on December 29th, 2017, at Terminal 5 in New York City. Puciato woke up the next morning with a huge sense of relief. "I felt fucking great," he enthuses. "Which is funny, because I felt horrible for the whole cycle. I felt horrible when we were making our last record, and I felt horrible when we were making the record before that, because that's when I first knew we were ending the band. And then you go on tour and you're dispelling all this raw, toxic energy. People don't realize that — they think you're the ambassador for a room full of excited people. But it's like ripping a scab off every night."

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Eustis, Los Angeles, 2018
photograph by Stephen Odom

Meanwhile, Puciato was coming to terms with the end of the band he'd spent most of his adult life in. "You're dealing with that and what it's doing to everybody behind the scenes and how it's changing the way you interact with each other," he offers.  "You have feelings of guilt and resentment and it does weird shit to your head."

In that sense, Puciato sees Infinite Games as much-needed closure to a tumultuous four-album, five-year cycle that began with Dillinger's penultimate album One of Us Is the Killer and continued through the Black Queen's debut Fever Daydream and Dillinger's finale, Dissociation. "It feels complete to me now," he says. "It feels like morning."

Still, his former band isn't completely in the rearview. He says he has yet to arrive at anything like a post-Dillinger mindset. "I won't feel Dillinger end from a creative standpoint for another year and a half or two years, because I'm doing exactly what I would be doing even if Dillinger was still a band right now," he explains. "Maybe then, if I have some venom in me, I might need to start a new project."