"I was not in the right mindset to be playing shows when we did the last Dillinger tour." So says former Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato when Revolver meets him at a café in downtown Los Angeles. "I was having a lot of anxiety, panic attacks, hypochondria — all these weird things that I've never experienced before. The band was ending and then things just kept happening. I didn't even think we were gonna get through it."
The things that Puciato refers to are the twin tragedies that punctuated Dillinger's final tour: a bus accident in Poland that the band narrowly survived, and the suicide of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell while Dillinger were on tour with them. In addition to our recent in-depth feature on Puciato's current project the Black Queen, which just announced its first, full North American tour, we spoke to the singer about Dillinger's harrowing last days.
TELL US ABOUT THE BUS ACCIDENT.
GREG PUCIATO I woke up about an hour before it happened. We were stopped and the bus would shake every time a car would go by. I knew we were definitely somewhere we shouldn't be. It wasn't a truck stop. I'm thinking, "Okay — we've got a flat tire or something." It's fucking freezing — we're in Poland in February or something like that. Nobody else is awake. I'm exhausted, so I go back to bed. The bus is still shaking as the cars go by and I'm starting to get a little freaked out. But I thought, "This is silly. I'm not going to wake everybody up over a flat tire." So I take a sleeping pill and wrote something down — I wrote a lot on that tour — about my worry about us getting hit by something. Then I fell asleep.
The next thing I know, it felt like we were getting hit by a fucking missile. I thought we were rolling down some European hillside or something, so I was waiting for the next impact. When you realize you're not dead, or that a piece of glass hasn't gone through you, you get up. I felt this searing pain in my leg, so at first I thought I broke my femur, but then I stood up and realized I could put weight on it. So I knew my femur was intact. People were yelling and moaning. I looked to my right. [Dillinger guitarist] Ben [Weinman] and his wife — who was pregnant at the time — were standing there in shock.I was in shock. And then it was a blur.
Within minutes, there were 50 Polish medics and police pulling people out of both doors. There was a fucking helicopter and ambulances. They cut off traffic. Me and [Dillinger bassist] Liam [Wilson] are outside in our underwear in the freezing cold with people trying to ask us questions in Polish. Someone's got a broken shoulder; someone else's neck is fucked up.
IT'S A MIRACLE THAT NOBODY WAS KILLED.
At first it didn't really dawn on me how fortunate we were. The guy that hit us was mangled. They had to use the Jaws of Life to get him out. He didn't die, but he ended up pleading guilty to falling asleep at the wheel. It turns out we had something on our bus that froze — that wasn't supposed to freeze — and the engine seized, so we couldn't get off the road in time. We were actually in the right-hand lane of the highway and the guy hit us at full highway speed in a fucking 18-wheeler.
Yeah. I remember Randy from Lamb Of God said, "This is one time where you should be grateful that the band isn't a little bit bigger. Because if you were a little bit bigger, you wouldn't have been pulling a trailer. Bands like us, Mastodon, Deftones, have a semi that carries the gear and merch. If you hadn't had a fully packed trailer, you'd be dead."
He's totally right. The back lounge of those buses is just a hollow sheet-metal box. Ben and his wife were sleeping in that lounge. My bunk is the bottom back bunk. So it would've ripped through them, and then chewed me up and everyone in the back bunks headfirst. It probably would've made it halfway through the bus.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
Liam and I were in a taxi later after we left the scene. Various people went to the hospital, but we were out pretty quick. So we're heading to a hotel in Krakow, and they have the radio on in the taxi, but there's also a TV screen. It's on mute, but it's showing the news. Suddenly we're looking at video from the accident with the name Dillinger Escape Plan underneath and some Polish text underneath that. Then the song "(I've Had) The Time Of My Life" from Dirty Dancing comes on. Liam and I looked at each other and started laughing and then started crying.
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU THOUGHT YOU MIGHT'VE BROKEN YOUR LEG. DID YOU FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO IT?
I tore a quadriceps. See that? [Points to a bump on his leg] I've got a bump in my leg that's like another kneecap. That's my muscle torn and rolled up. I waited too long to have it fixed, because it basically needs to be sewn back to your kneecap right away. If 72 hours go by, they need to re-tear it and pull it back down. By the time I got home from Poland, I didn't want to have surgery right away. I was having all these anxiety attacks and I wanted to be left alone. I got home from the bus accident and was like a leaf in the wind. I got prescribed Lexapro and Xanax because of the level of panic and anxiety.
THEN YOU GUYS WENT ON TOUR WITH SOUNDGARDEN, AND TRAGEDY STRUCK AGAIN.
We went out with Soundgarden and things were going well. Then we had like three days off in the middle of nowhere because we were switching off shows with The Pretty Reckless, so I flew home. I went straight to some bar downtown, grabbed a drink and then got a text from a buddy of mine that said, "Cornell?" It made me think something had happened, but then I was like, "Couldn't be — I saw that guy yesterday." So I asked the bartender, "Did something happen to Chris Cornell?" And he goes, "Who's that?" So I immediately felt old. [Laughs] But I looked him up on my phone and he came up dead.
I went to [L.A. nightclub] the Lash and got more wasted than I got the night of the bus accident, which was more wasted than I had gotten in a long time. I woke up the next morning and I had gotten so fucked up that I couldn't remember if everything that had happened was real. I went downstairs and turned on MTV Classic. "Burden In My Hand" was on, so I just sat down and started crying. It was the weight of everything — the band ending, the record, plus the outlook for people with mental illness obviously being fucking terrible, seeing as how a guy who seemingly has it all had to hit eject by himself in a fucking hotel room in Detroit. I just had this feeling of like, "We need to get off this ride." Everything felt symbolic at that point.
IT IS PRETTY INCREDIBLE THAT BOTH OF THESE HUGE AND TERRIBLE EVENTS HAPPENED ON DILLINGER'S FINAL TOUR…
Everything behind the scenes with Dillinger has been really difficult for a lot of years. It's been an uphill struggle. There's been a lot of fighting together against external forces, but also fighting with each other even though we're on the same team. This is just shit that happens in bands — ask anyone who's been in a band for a long time. But that moment after the accident felt like, "That's it. Wrap it up, boys." But then the Cornell thing happened and it was like anything goes. You get a little turbulence on the flight back from Australia and you think, "This is the one!"
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT CORNELL'S SUICIDE?
It's horrible. He was an addict. He went through it, you know? But I think it's incorrect when people say addiction is a disease. I think it's a symptom of trying to cope with something else. Here's this guy with a beautiful family; he has his band back together, he has a solo career on the side, he looks great, he sounds great — he went through some shit and came out on the other side. I looked at him on that tour and thought he'd made it over the hump, you know? But then that happened and you realize nothing is as it seems, and this is gonna end poorly for all of us. We're all gonna be miserable forever or fighting something forever until it gets the best of us. That's what shook me — not the loss of the rest of the Soundgarden shows.
FROM AN OUTSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE, IT SEEMED TO COME OUT OF NOWHERE. THAT'S WHAT MADE IT SO SHOCKING. LIKE YOU SAID, IT SEEMED LIKE THINGS WERE GOING PRETTY WELL FOR HIM.
The thing about being a frontman is that it's not really healthy to have that much stress and attention — and the self-scrutiny that you end up developing. It's rough, man, to subject yourself to that. Whether it's fair or not, the singer gets the brunt of the attention, even if behind the scenes everyone's an equal. The singer is the guy who turns into a mascot. It puts a lot of pressure on you because you don't want to let the fans down. You know they're projecting onto you, and to them maybe you stand for something that isn't who you are anymore. You're carrying that and also the weight of standing for those other guys that you're in the band with. Your opinion kinda reflects the band and you don't want to say the wrong thing. So those people carry a lot of weight, and the more successful the band becomes, the heavier that weight becomes.
He also has the pressure of performing every night. If he doesn't sing well, that's the first thing people notice. Kim Thayil can play wrong notes all night long and most people won't notice. But if the singer has a mildly off night, people go, "Oh, his voice is shot. He can't sing anymore.'"
DID ANY OF THESE EXPERIENCES MAKE IT ONTO THE NEW BLACK QUEEN RECORD?
Oh, man. I wasn't ready for that question. But I can honestly say no. I don't think this record has anything to do with that tour cycle.
HOW ARE YOU FEELING ABOUT THE END OF DILLINGER THESE DAYS?
I knew it was happening during the last Dillinger record, so I processed a lot of it then. Dissociation starts really angry and then ends on kind of a mourning note. That was deliberate, to be able to pick up where One Of Us Is The Killer left off and kind of soundtrack the saying goodbye of the band. Then you're processing it every night on tour while everyone's acting like they're at your wake or funeral. That's what it felt like, anyway. Everything I loved about Dillinger shows was kinda taken from me because I had this mentality of, "We're gonna keep fuckin' shit up and you guys are on our team." It went from that to "I'm never gonna see you again. We're never gonna do this again. This is really sad." It was this barrage of emotions between doubt and certainty — "Are we really doing this?" "We're doing this." It was surreal.