Dillinger Escape Plan — one of the most genre-defying and genuinely dangerous bands in recent memory — are calling it quits at the end of the year after two decades of pushing themselves to the extreme, both onstage and off. In the studio, the group has captured some of the most insane musical performances ever recorded, none more intense than the vocal performance of frontman Greg Puciato on "Limerent Death," the lead cut off the band's swansong Dissociation. Stream his jaw-dropping isolated vocals above, and below, read how Puciato pushed himself to the brink — with help from longtime Dillinger producer/engineer Steve Evetts — while recording the song.
HOW DO YOU WRITE YOUR VOCAL PARTS AND PREPARE FOR VOCAL DELIVERY? HOW MANY TIMES DO YOU LISTEN TO THE TRACK AND WHAT IS YOUR MOST OPTIMAL APPROACH TO GO FROM LISTENING TO CREATION?
GREG PUCIATO There's no one way — some things happen really quickly and some things you really need to chip away at, line by line. Sometimes you'll hit a stride and a lot will come at once. Other times you get stuck and have to come back. I usually do two things, consistently: I'll write phrasings and melodies off of the top of my head during my first pass ever hearing the song, do it one more time on a second pass, and then I'll walk away from it for a bit. After that point I'll just listen to the song a lot, over and over, hundreds of times, in different environments, until it's in my subconscious at almost all times. Then it's just sorta looping in my brain all of the time no matter what I'm doing. At that point, usually some sort of breakthrough happens. When I first wake up, when I'm driving down the street, in the middle of the night, waiting on a street corner for an Uber, it can be whenever. Once that breakthrough happens, which can really just be a single line of lyrics, I know I've got the end of the string, to pull on, so to speak. It usually comes quickly after that.
WHEN FORMING THE VOCALS, WHAT COMES FIRST, THE PATTERNS AND RHYTHMS OR THE ACTUAL LYRICS? DO YOU BACKFILL THE LYRICS BASED ON WHAT VOCAL PATTERN WORKS BEST OVER WHICH PORTION OF THE SONG?
It is usually the main patterns and rhythms and melodies first, or a rough approximation of what they'll end up being, sort of a loose sketch of a skit instead of meticulously written dialogue. Occasionally you get the entire song front to back in some sort of phrasing/lyric combo deliverance. "One of Us Is the Killer" was like that; the Black Queen's "The End Where We Start" was like that; "Dissociation" was like that; "Milk Lizard" was like that. That's always a really good feeling, but it's super rare. But usually even if I don't get the full song, I get, like I said, a singular line, randomly, and that line is usually pivotal. On this last DEP record the big "Oh my God" eureka moment was the line at the end of this song. "I gave you everything you wanted, you were everything to me." I woke abruptly from sleep and it was just hanging there in the air, so I immediately got it down in my iPhone notes before it dissolved, and then when I sat down later, that line was the key to the rest of the song, and a lot of the record really. It just had so much power in it to me. It's such a loaded line, in addition to feeling really fluid phonetically. It really summed up a lot. Rage, sadness, frustration, desperation, resentment, disappointment, loss.
THERE ARE SO MANY TYPES OF VOCALS ON "LIMERENT DEATH" THAT VARY FROM SCREAMING TO KIND OF A ROCK & ROLL SLITHER TO MORE MELODIC VOCALS TO HARMONIZING LAYERS TO AN ALMOST FRANK SINATRA-STYLE CROON. IT'S ALMOST A SHOWCASE FOR YOUR VERSATILITY. WAS THAT PART OF THE IDEA, TO CHALLENGE YOURSELF IN THAT WAY? HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHAT GOES WHERE?
Honestly, I don't really think about style of singing at all now. I just don't leave anything out of the realm of possibility when it comes to vocal style, as far as getting what I want. I'm more interested in capturing the emotion of the song, the feeling, or amplifying it even, and whatever sound feels natural to me to do, that is what I'll do. It did take me a few records to get to that point though, where I can hear and approach the songs as a whole and not a collection of different parts. In the beginning, it was definitely more defined and thought about. "This is gonna be this kinda part … That's gonna be that kinda part …" etc. Somewhere around Option Paralysis/One of Us Is the Killer, I started being comfortable and mature enough with myself and my voice to not need to compartmentalize parts like that. The ability to utilize different vocal approaches changed from something I cared about delineating and showing off, to something I don't really think about at all. Now, instead of the song being a collection of parts or different rooms, I see it more as a morphing straight line. That's been really freeing because now everything's more natural and I feel far more emotionally connected to the songs.
TO GET INTO THE EMOTIONAL MINDSET TO PERFORM A SPECIFIC SECTION OF A SONG — WHAT ARE YOUR METHODS? WHAT ROLE, IF ANY, DOES STEVE PLAY IN THIS?
I record really close to the times I write, and I write what is relevant to me at the time. So it's not really difficult to still be immersed in the feeling that I had when writing. If I take too long in between writing and recording, the feeling has lost a little bit of urgency, and then it's more difficult. I'm really conscious of that and try not to let the time between writing and recording be very long. For Dissociation, the mood of the record and the lyrics, when I read them back, when I hear it all back, the whole vibe is just so bleak, so dark, this really thick heavy suffocating cloud. That was a very real, present, tangible feeling at that time, so it wasn't hard at all to tap into it … It was more impossible to not.
Steve Evetts is great because he's tracked me, fuck … for 50 some songs now, for 14 years of my life. He knows the little nuances and ticks of not just me as a singer, but he knows me as a person. We're good friends, so he knows what's happening in my life. That's important, because he not only knows what I'm trying to do vocally, but what I'm trying to capture emotionally. He's definitely tracked me more than any other singer he's ever worked with, so he's as protective of the quality level and the between-album growth as I am. Technically, we know what microphones to use on my voice in different parts of songs to get a certain sound, or which compressor or mic pre, which settings, is gonna get us the right sound. For example, "Limerent Death" is three different microphones, swapped depending on the part, drastically different compression settings throughout, different reverbs, etc. At the 1:45 mark, I'm singing through a guitar amplifier.
He's also tracked me enough to know when I've gotten the best out of myself. That could be one take or it could be 75. Usually the differences between them all are microscopic. Sometimes I'll track with other producers and they'll say, "That was great," and I'll say, "No, it wasn't. I need to do it again," and they don't know what I'm talking about, because I'm naturally really abusively hard on myself, and Steve has definitely honed that tendency of mine to a laser point. Thankfully, now we usually agree on what's a keeper and what isn't. In the beginning, I'd be furious and flipping him off in the booth and thinking, "What the fuck are you talking about?! They're all exactly the fucking same!" He always jokes around that if he's Phil Jackson, I've been, like, Kobe … When I was younger, I had the fire and attitude but definitely tossed up some air balls. Now most takes are at least close. If there's a total air ball now, it's usually worth immediately talking about ending the entire day and coming back the next, because usually that means that my headspace or actual physical voice isn't where it needs to be and "plugging away at it" is only gonna beat me up or get me really down on myself when I can't get what I want out of me.
A LARGE CHUNK OF THE TAIL END OF THE SONG IS THE FIRST AND ONLY TAKE. TALK ABOUT THAT? ARE YOU THE PERFECTIONIST TYPE OR MORE OF A "WARTS AND ALL" PRAGMATIST?
I'm a perfectionist, but after this long I know when the warts are good warts, the kind that add personality and character, and when they're just ugly fucking warts that you'd be lazy to not acknowledge. The 2:42 to 3:56 part was one take, yeah, a regular SM-58 into an 1176 for anyone who cares/knows about that sorta stuff. It was the last thing we recorded for the record. I wanted to save it for the end, because I really wanted to get a full genuine emotional exorcism recorded. I wanted to feel like I was transforming into a fireball. I didn't want to have anything left after that. It was the first take, and when I finished I was on the floor, nearly blacked out, eyes closed trying to calm the swelling migraine waves, drooling long strings of gooey pre-vomit everywhere. There was a moment of silence, and Steve said into the talk back mic, laughing, "You wanna do it again?" and I just croaked, "Nah, that's it," and that was the end of the record. That part was the wringing out of every last drop.