Since the Dillinger Escape Plan's breakup in 2017, frontman Greg Puciato's output has all been categorized by one thing: "resolute independence." He self-released a second album from his electro-pop outfit the Black Queen, 2018's Infinite Games, and a book of poetry and photography, last year's Separate the Dawn — both via Federal Prisoner, the record label he founded with heavy-music-affiliated fine artist and longtime TBQ collaborator Jesse Draxler (Nine Inch Nails, Daughters, Poppy, Zola Jesus).
In 2020, the label is set to shift its operations into the next gear, with a slew of compelling releases, chief among them, Puciato's debut solo album, Child Soldier: Creator of God. Today (May 1st), Federal Prisoner dropped the snarling, swaggering second single off the LP, "Deep Set," along with a limited-edition collection of apparel — a T-shirt and a hoodie, both designed by Draxler — available only for 24 hours via the label's store. As for the song, it was made available both digitally and as a hyper-limited 12-inch (250 copies).
Also in the pipeline is Draxler's innovative collaborative audiovisual project, Reigning Cement, in which he challenged 20-plus musicians, including Chelsea Wolfe, Trentemøller, Full of Hell's Dylan Walker, and Eric Ghoste, a.k.a. Ghostemane, to create "sound collages/songs" using only 34 sonic assets he supplied, with the option to add vocals if they so chose. Additionally, later in the year, Federal Prisoner plan to issue a vinyl edition of the instrumental score to former Nine Inch Nails art director Rob Sheridan's cyberpunk DC/Vertigo graphic novel, High Level, composed by the Black Queen's Steven Alexander Ryan and Polyfuse's Justin McGrath.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown, we caught up with Puciato, from his home in L.A., to get more insight into the inspiration and vision behind Federal Prisoner.
THE OBVIOUS QUESTION: WHY START YOUR OWN LABEL?
GREG PUCIATO For me, it was the obvious progression from self-releasing. As soon as we — namelessly — self-released the first TBQ single, back in 2015, and really with the first TBQ album, Fever Daydream, in 2016, I saw what we could do right out of the gate, on as large of a scale as a lot of labels could do, and how much more actualized and empowered I felt from that … and what I wanted to do better next time. I just sorta fell in love with not just the process, but also everything around it, and what it represented and encapsulated and brought out of me. How it made the creative process seem to continue beyond recording, and how the recording became a part of this larger whole. It was so gratifying and engaging to me, I was ready for and excited by the larger workload it required. So it really just forced its way in, took root, and started growing. It became impossible for me to imagine going forward big-picture without that component.
I was actually a little resistant to the label idea at first, just because I didn't see the reason why I shouldn't just keep self-releasing without some sort of larger moniker attached, but there were a couple of pivotal conversations with people around me that convinced me and helped to get rid of any doubts. The second the decision was made concrete, I knew it was the right one. Sometimes you really have to make the room for growth first, for you to be able to actually see what that growth is gonna be, or how it's going to happen, or to feel excited about it.
Also, I always dug, and still do dig, picking bands to take on tour. I always dug wearing a shirt onstage of a band I liked, because I knew there would be people checking them out from being at the show or seeing a photo. So the fact that I could use my output to help build something that would then be able to more directly shine light on other things ... and that I could use the things I was learning how to do ... to do that ... was really appealing. To be able to own and fully control my own output, while also using that output as a major structural piece of something else. There's just so much to love about it all, from the control aspect to the building a world aspect, to the addiction of learning and getting better at new things.
Creatively/professionally or whatever, I've gotten pretty good at recognizing not just repulsions and how to react against them, but magnetism, and how the feelings of correctness grow stronger when you start moving towards them. It just felt like that. And I have the right people around me who I feel aligned with, and who I operate easily with, a combination of strengths, at the right time. Also having a good audience of people paying attention without the need for a lot of immediate external awareness-building, that's a really massive element. It just all came together very organically, grew from a lot of different things being there at once.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR SOUND OR AESTHETIC THAT YOU HAVE IN MIND FOR FEDERAL PRISONER? OR CAN FANS EXPECT RELEASES TO RUN THE GAMUT?
I've never gone into anything with an intended trajectory outcome, that's a little suffocating. Overall, really in anything that involves some sort of created reflection of self ... just be honest, and stay far the fuck away from anything you don't like, or feel comfortable doing ... anything that doesn't feel like you ... and then on the other side run towards what you do like. If you do that, then what something represents and feels like, or sounds like, looks like, etc. ... will just be self-evident and manifest on its own. So people can expect us to do whatever we want, when we want, and nothing else, which is all I ever really want to do. If it's not fuck yes, it's fuck no. Everything you do or make is just an opportunity to document some sort of truth and then you can grow towards the next one.
I really love, more than anything, being artistically free, and what that provides me, and the way to further that freedom is through raw honesty and full immersion and commitment creatively. So I think our aesthetic is in there somewhere. Aggressive honesty and rawness, intolerance towards artistic compromise, resolute independence. Just intolerance of bullshit really, and a commitment to follow truth and passion wherever they go. All of those factors are important. I'm gonna be true to myself, we're gonna be true to ourselves, and if we put things out that don't directly involve us creatively, those things we release are gonna have that truth, too ... bullshit-free artists, I can promise you that. Bullshit-free everything. I just want to avoid anything that I have to roll my eyes at, or that causes me to die a little inside, at all costs. We'll have plenty of easy-to-feel personality because the people controlling everything have strong personalities, tastes and opinions. It's also important to me that things only happen when there's something to say. You don't have to constantly be forcing conversation. I see so much of that approach overall, and it's really insecure.
HOW DID YOU MEET JESSE AND HOW DID HE COME TO BE PART OF FEDERAL PRISONER?
I hit him up back in 2014 about artwork for the first TBQ single. Then we pretty much never stopped working on stuff together. So it was a natural progression. Things just sorta work themselves out in time. Who does what, where is the enthusiasm and drive coming from, who matches up taste-wise, work ethic-wise, all sorts of things. Who can you see this thing going forward with? Who has been involved in everything? Who can you not do this without? And obviously it's not just us — there are other really helpful moving pieces and allies. We're not literally doing everything ourselves. But the drive and the vision and the final say has to be unified at the head and core of whatever you're doing.
DID YOU GUYS SEE EYE TO EYE FROM THE START ON THE VISION FOR THE LABEL, OR HAS THAT BEEN AN ONGOING CONVERSATION?
I mean, we never really set out to do this. We just started working together and hanging out, and it's pretty rare to see eye to eye on a lot with someone period, just overall, and to feel on-the-level personally, to have similar approaches to work, similar attitudes about a lot of things ... and I think we just kept working together out of the progression of all of that, and this is what that grew into. Shit just makes sense when it does. For me, one of the coolest things in life, as I've said before, is chemistry. When you find someone you can be like kids with personally, and then if you can also really kill it together in some way creatively/artistically, and professionally? That's awesome. Those people are rare, and when you find them, you need to step on the fucking gas. Then the collaboration can be anything. A band. A label. Whatever makes sense.
THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN BOUNCED BETWEEN A LOT OF DIFFERENT RECORD LABELS. WHAT, IF ANYTHING, DID YOU LEARN ABOUT HOW YOU WANT TO RUN A LABEL FROM THOSE EXPERIENCES?
I've had albums out on so many labels, in multiple bands, in multiple types of deals or structures. It wasn't really about learning from any of them from their end, because as the artist you're always sorta detached from their side of things, regardless of how involved you make yourself. They're on one side, and you are on the other. The best experiences I've had were the ones where the most dialogue takes place, where you're the most involved, and it feels like two components of a team. But on a practical level, most everything I learned so far was just from diving in and getting my hands dirty on a release-by-release basis. There's no better way to learn than to do. And then from picking the brains of certain people around me, figuring out missing pieces each time we look back at something, or things we could have done better, or more fully realized, and then adjusting for next time.
I will say that I think, in general, one of the great things about being on an artist-driven label is that you know the people you're partnered with have fully walked the walk, and in our case continue to do so.
ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR LABELS OR CREATORS THAT YOU LOOK TO FOR INSPIRATION OR GUIDANCE WHEN IT COMES TO RUNNING FEDERAL PRISONER?
This isn't something that really started with any thought of any other labels, but I mean, now, yeah, it's on my passion radar, the history of everything ... and so, of course, there's ones ... both in existence and no-longer ... all independent obviously ... some artist-driven ... some not ... that we can learn something from. But overall, I think we're just fans of strong individual fingerprints in any discipline, and what it takes to make them, people that really carve out their own thing, so we're just fuckin' winging it, really. Trying to go our own way and learn and develop as we go ... to see what happens. I'm not looking for a blueprint and I'm not married to an outcome.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE UPCOMING RELEASES?
For this year, we've got a few things. Jesse's A/V project Reigning Cement, which includes a really stunning list of collaborators. My [solo] release, which is obviously a huge thing for me overall ... and there will be a bunch of singles ahead of those releases, and they take a lot of time and care depending on how much you do for them. Steve Ryan and Justin McGrath have done an instrumental score for Rob Sheridan's graphic novel High Level. We'll be doing at least the vinyl of that. All of those have concrete release dates, and those dates will be public sooner than later. That's really all I can speak on at the moment. But beyond those, we're into 2021 schedule-wise already on our end.
ARE YOU ACCEPTING DEMOS OR ANY OTHER FORM OF SUBMISSIONS FROM ARTISTS WHO WANT TO BE PART OF FEDERAL PRISONER?
Not at the moment. We've got more than enough on our plate right now, but there will come a time when that will be possible.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO ADD?
This is starting to turn into my version of Russell Simmons' "thank you all for coming out, god bless you, goodnight" from the old Def Comedy Jam shows, but yeah: Hey everyone. Thanks for giving a shit.