Earlier this week, Greg Puciato released his debut solo song, the face-first ride through a blast furnace that is "Fire for Water." Best known as the former frontman for chaoscore venue-demolition crew the Dillinger Escape Plan, the singer had been indulging his mellower side since that band's 2017 dissolution, focusing his creative energy into his electro-pop outfit the Black Queen. "Fire for Water" marks a welcomed return to unfettered ferocity — as Puciato put it at the time of the single's release, "It's me reclaiming and owning the abrasive part of me." The song also notably sees the singer reuniting with original Dillinger drummer Chris Pennie, with whom he hadn't collaborated since 2004's Miss Machine.
"Fire for Water" represents the first thrillingly bitter taste off Puciato's forthcoming solo album, Child Soldier: Creator of God, due this summer via the singer's own label, Federal Prisoner, co-founded with fine artist Jesse Draxler, who also co-directed the song's striking music video. Our ears still ringing, we talked to Puciato about the song, the album, and the gravity of finally releasing music under his own name.
IT'S A BIG DEAL TO RELEASE MUSIC UNDER YOUR OWN NAME. WHY THIS SONG AS YOUR FIRST SOLO SINGLE? AND WHY THIS COLLECTION OF MUSIC AS YOUR FIRST SOLO ALBUM?
GREG PUCIATO Yes, it's a huge deal for me. Using my real name is intense, but it's absolutely an integral part of the way forward for me, artistically. Coming out from always being behind a shared moniker, and claiming responsibility for every single part of my release, that's a lot to stare down. But the creative freedom, and the future creative opportunities it creates, by building that house, are really exciting. It also offers a lot of growth ... a lot to learn ... a lot of ways to get stronger and develop more as an artist, as a singer, as a songwriter. Over the past few years, through doing different bands, I've grown to the point, artistically and technically, to where it just suddenly made sense and felt exciting. I never try to force anything. I only try to stay in tune with my inner compass. That's where it was pointing ... so I followed. It's been a really big undertaking ... but few things are as exciting to me as making a record. The chipping away at this big rock ... seeing the picture that starts to form ... the excitement when you hit various breakthroughs and start to connect different things ... all the twists and turns along the way to get to the end. Sometimes you lead it, sometimes it leads you. It's a love.
Why this collection of music? Because that's what I wrote ... that's just what came out. It's not a compilation of unrelated bits and pieces. It's an album. It's a thought. Just like a movie isn't a compilation of unrelated scenes. The album started, the thought started, and then when it was finished, it was finished. I didn't concern myself with things like needing a certain amount of songs, or a certain length of time. The thought just surpassed the point of being an EP, and then at a certain point the big picture was finished, and there was an album.
This song just felt like the song I wanted to lead with. It felt correct. I got off on the idea of hitting people with a haymaker that they didn't see coming, that would be the polar opposite of the last thing that I did. The idea of new people coming in and being super into the Black Queen and then being like, "What the fuck?" cracks me up. Where most people would try to get fans to keep liking them once they're into something you've done, I sorta like to dare people to hang in there. Otherwise, there's not a lot of analysis or strategy in this sorta thing for me. Like I said, you just stay in tune with yourself artistically and let the trajectory go where it's trying to go, and once you commit to where it's trying to go, you just do the best job you can ... to do justice to the muse so to speak.
HAS IT BEEN WEIRD KINDA SUPPRESSING YOUR "ABRASIVE SIDE," AS YOU CALL IT, AT LEAST PUBLICLY? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE IT BACK OUT THERE?
Not at all. I'm not a cartoon character. I wasn't suppressing anything. I just didn't have enough of it in me for it to need a creative vessel. It just wasn't there. I'm not trying to brand myself. I don't give a shit about being known for one kind of music or one emotion versus another. I'm not being led by any sort of past work or genre-based expectation. I just do what feels creatively and emotionally honest for me at the time, or what feels exciting to me, and just deal with the step that's happening as it happens. It's really that simple. I just have a certain emotional need, or I feel a spark of passion towards a direction and then I try to fan or follow that spark. The abrasive, aggressive side ... Look, the end of DEP was exhausting. The record was emotionally exhausting, the tour was physically and emotionally exhausting. Other things happening in my life were exhausting. So I just didn't really have much of that energy in me two years ago, and it had all sorta become married to the ideas of exhaustion and negativity. But then some time passed, post–Infinite Games and post–Separate the Dawn ... and I could feel the energy and love for this sorta feeling growing as the Black Queen tour was happening, but it felt like it was coming from a good place. It felt like a source of strength ... like energy was coming from it ... instead of it taking energy from me. It feels good. I feel very very me. And I feel very actualized and realized, etc., etc., and able to integrate everything now from a position of ownership and power. I think the people following closely, they could maybe see this happening ... things were sorta ramping up towards the end of the last TBQ tour. The ferocity. The animal was awake.
WHAT WAS THE FIRST THING YOU WROTE FOR "FIRE FOR WATER"? AND HOW DID THE SONG EVOLVE FROM THAT STARTING POINT?
That song structurally came out all at once. It's basically three acts: an opening, a middle, and an end. I was pretty heated about something, feeling a lot of "fuck you" energy towards a specific situation that day, and just felt a lot of fire. Whenever I feel really extreme emotions I always feel really grateful because that's a great time to write, to channel it into something. So I just picked up a guitar — I remember it was the mid-afternoon — and started thrashing on it, and that's what came out. Didn't take very long. Maybe 20 minutes, if that. The second riff is a faster variation of something that's been around for a couple of years — I just happened to naturally revisit it and play it a lot faster that particular day. If I'm inspired or excited by something or feeling some sort of extreme emotion, the big picture idea usually comes fast ... I'm just trying to capture that feeling and trap it into a form before it passes.
After that, the lyrics I don't really remember writing. I feel like they all came at once, too. Probably on a different day. This doesn't make for a great answer, but I really don't ever remember a whole lot of the creative process, to be honest with you. It's sort of a trance or hyperfocus state for me, and then it's over and I'm sorta just grateful that it keeps coming out, and I file it away and go about my day.
Then it's just rebuilding the song for real, in the studio. Loud amps, etc. The fun part. Chris tracked drums, and added some synth and orchestration and programming elements, which really enhanced the already sorta dystopian sci-fi vibe of the first part. I then re-tracked the bass first, and then the guitar ... then the vocals … you know the drill. Got it mixed, got it mastered, made a video, here we are.
NINE INCH NAILS, MINISTRY AND GODFLESH SEEM LIKE OBVIOUS TOUCHSTONES FOR THE SONG. ARE THOSE ON POINT, OR ARE YOUR INFLUENCES SO ENTWINED IN YOUR DNA THAT IT'S HARD TO SAY?
Yeah, I mean, that's cool to hear, but I don't ever think of other artists when I'm writing. Obviously those bands are all sick, but I've never thought about influences when creating. What's the point? I'm saying what I have to say, I'm not interested in deliberately continuing someone else's conversation. I dunno where specific things come from, I just try to let go and be free. It's more about mood for me. Do I feel a mood from it? Can I imagine a scene? I'm more internal when I'm writing music, just trying to let the subconscious do its thing ... it's not really rooted in thought for me. If there is any external element it's usually visual, so I'm sure in the beginning riff I was thinking about the idea of Terminator hunter killers roaming the post-apocalypse or something. It's always funny when I read articles and they use comparisons, because they're almost always stuff that I was never remotely thinking about. But yeah, I dig all of those bands, so that's fine. Whatever you wanna write, I don't really care, as long as I don't think the bands suck ... then I'd really have to re-evaluate what I'm doing.
THE LYRICS THAT ARE WRITTEN OUT IN THE MUSIC VIDEO ARE VERY STRIKING AND CONFRONTATIONAL. IS THERE SOMETHING IN PARTICULAR THEY WERE WRITTEN ABOUT?
Again, like with the music, I try to write from the subconscious, because it's more powerful and relatable and pure than anything else. Every now and then you get a line or something outta nowhere that feels absolutely right, like, "Fuck yes, that's it! The song feels like this line!" "Give your love to no one … if you can't control them." Like, it feels good phonetically and its also got some fucking weight to it thematically ... it feels like it matches the attitude of the song. It's got venom. When you get one of those perfect fits its just like, "Thank fucking god." I'm just happy to get one of those lines now and then that I can really dig into, lyrically and vocally, and build the song around. And then the rest of the song is sort of automatic, subconscious writing and riffing around that one line until all of the puzzle pieces feel right. Then you look at the puzzle and go, "Oh, I guess I'm referring to this." And usually there are multiple related things from my subconscious or personal life or thoughts, merging together in one song. But that's personal for me. The song is what I want to communicate. Everything I want to say I say. It's not for me to explain who it's about, what it's about, etc.
HOW DID YOU END UP WITH REUNITING WITH CHRIS PENNIE AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH HIM AGAIN?
Chris and I were always close in DEP, and we always had good creative chemistry, as well, similar ideas about things artistically. We can riff fast about a lot of things ... can go from talking about the NBA to Peter Gabriel really quickly. We had a decade or so stretch of time that we grew apart, didn't really talk, and then we reconnected at a TBQ show actually, in NYC, and it was sorta like no time had passed. Life is short — I wanna be around people who feel the way I feel. We had both developed so much as artists, grown and furthered our skill sets ... and our understandings. It was exciting to see what he did with the track, and how fast. Chemistry is what you're chasing in life, it keeps you going. Personal chemistry, professional chemistry, physical chemistry, creative chemistry ... chemistry is that weird intangible thing that keeps you going. So when you find it, it's worth exploring. When the music came out for this, we had been sorta going back and forth just about whatever: life shit, movies, music to check out, whatever ... and I just said, "Hey, I'm curious to get your immediate reaction to this," and so I sent him the demo, with programmed drums. He sent back his musical reaction in pretty much no time, maybe a day or two, and that was sorta it. Really fast, and exactly what the song needed.
WHAT CAN FANS EXPECT FROM THE REST OF THE ALBUM?
Fuck ... Well, it's 15 or 16 songs and almost 70 minutes long ... and people should know by now to expect the unexpected ... both with this and as a rule overall. Oh, and this isn't part of the answer to your question, but thanks to everyone out there who cares, or who checked out the song. The day that first song was released was one of the more gratifying creative days of my life. There's a lot more coming. There's a lot of shit going on in general, and I'm excited to share it all as it unfolds. Everything is very exciting right now.