One of rock writers' favorite names to drop when discussing the cutting edge metal / heavy rock fringe and even more so a favorite among freaks for psychotic crossover noisecore, The Dillinger Escape Plan gives new meaning to the phrase over-the-top. Don't call what this New Jersey-area quintet does extreme; leave the pizza joints, video game ads and arena motorcross events to slobber over that word. One listen to Dillinger is like watching some TLC docudrama about the devastating impact of natural disasters. This is one band whose sheer existence is a pummeling vortex of sound that combines everything from steamrolling riffsquash, to lunatic banshee scream torture, to jazz-inspired flourish, to skitzoid mathematical song arrangements. If my senior ass stuck in an a sophomore-level algebra class had a soundtrack like this, maybe I wouldn't have skipped that high school class' entire semester. Since signing to Relapse and releasing 'Calculating Infinity' (an exhaustively-involved, thirty seven minute workout) in 1999, Dillinger has faced a variety of highs and lows. On one hand, there's been the blows to line-up stability. One in particular brought on by an unexpected accident that left an old bassist paralyzed, and more recently another that resulted in the departure of original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis. But fortunately, Dillinger has gone out on a major tour with Mr. Bungle, played selected dates on the Warped Tour and been involved with the majorly successful, inaugural Japanese BeastFeast concert alongside Slayer and Pantera. Armed with new vocalist Greg Puciato as well as an EP featuring, among other things, collaborations with Bungle/Fantomas' Mike Patton, DEP had a very active 2002. From a successful string of dates overseas opening for System Of A Down, to appearances at several international festival concerts and other assorted jaunts on the road it's been a veritable nonstop month-to-month whirlwind. However, just a couple weeks shy of Dillinger's first trek across the U.S., Resound sat down with guitarist Ben Weinman for some extensive discussion.
RESOUND: One major thing that has happened for DEP is the change in vocalists. When Dimitri decided to leave was it just a matter of, "Well, okay, let's just carry on and find someone new."
BEN WEINMAN: It wasn't like, "Uh oh, what do we do???" It was a mutual thing and really something we all thought was best, so before the final decision was made it was kind of like, "How are we going to proceed as a band from here on?" "Are we going to proceed with everybody being a hundred percent into it and continue on with this band as a focus?" We came to a point where we could go do another record, tour on it, do this full force and really take advantage of the situation or we could consider it a hobby. We came to an age where some of us had finished college, started jobs and it got to where the band had become too big to allow us to have a real life but not big enough to fully support us. We really had to make the decision to try and go full force with the band. Dimitri and us, we all decided that it wasn't on his plate for a career or anything. He had his mind on a lot of things. I don't think music was ultimately what he was going to do. It was time to turn this into something serious, and in that it was time for him to look into other things.
RESOUND: Dillinger has gone through line-up changes before and carried on, but did the fact that it was a vocalist position this time affect the band's decision in any way?
BW: Definitely, it was really hard. It's weird, we have gone through quite a few member changes and every situation has been totally different. One was because of the accident that occurred to our bass player which we had no choice [over]. Then our original guitar player just quit which wasn't a mutual thing because he left us hanging. The Dimitri thing was a life choice we all made. He's my best friend and we still hang out all the time. It was kind of brewing and we had to sit down and say, "Is this something you're into? You're not as involved with the writing process, and you've got you're mind on other things." I was at a situation where I was at a really good job, I had a girlfriend of seven years and I couldn't continue to do those things if I was going to do this band. So I was going to choose the band and go back to being poor with no girl. (laughs) I was just going to start playing music, go back to living life selfishly and I was certainly going to make sure everybody else was ready to do that as well. In that decision or analysis of the band it meant Dimitri kind of moving on.
RESOUND: When it came time to search for a replacement you put up one of your songs൳% Burnt" on the 'net that people could download and put vocals over. Was that just a way to make things easier for people who wanted to try out?
BW: Well, the whole idea of finding a vocalist was really tough. Not many bands go through that process without quitting and going on to something else. In most cases the vocalist is a big part of a band's identity. Maybe a little less in ours since we're more about the whole. We really didn't know to go about this type of thing, but we were willing to try and take things to the next level and make people accept it. We really didn't know what the process would be. I mean, all you can do is think of bands that you remember from the past that had singers you like but had broken up, or might be breaking up. Maybe those people might want to join another band? That didn't really go very far because it was either people who were completely done with music or still in a band. We figured the next best step was to let people come to us, and the only way to do that without having an overwhelming amount of things that aren't really worthwhile was to put up the MP3 with no vocals just to see what people would hand in. We got a lot of response and it was cool. Some people went to a studio and did it professionally, some people had it on a karaoke machine, some did it on the computer. We figured it wasn't the easiest thing to do. Not everyone has the equipment or tools, but it will, at the very least, give us an idea of the kind of determination the person has. Anyone who we'd really want in the band is the type of person who would go through the effort of figuring out how to do it. So that was a test in itself as well.
RESOUND: Were there a lot of things you had to search through?
BW: We got at least a hundred different submissions and on top of that there were people's CDs of their old bands. But we kind of knew right away when we turned something on if it wasn't something we were looking for. We didn't even know what we were looking for, we just wanted to be floored. The reason why we were so impressed by Greg was that not only did he send one version of him doing the song in his own way to show creativity and variation, he did it totally like it was on the CD. It was really important to us to know that the person could actually do it the way it was supposed to be done and could play the other older songs and stuff. Anyone can go off and do their own thing, but can they handle the structure and all the things that have been set already in our songs? After we heard the tape we had him come in to try out further and he sang the whole CD perfect which was really impressive to us.
RESOUND: Since you encouraged people to open it up to interpretation to a degree what all were they doing over the track? Was there anything totally off the wall?
BW: Totally. This one guy actually kept e-mailing us who really, really wanted to be in. And this was somebody who actually never heard us. I guess he was just this guy who was really into our label Relapse and heard some band needed a singer. He sang over the MP3 without ever having heard the way it was done in the studio with Dimitri. He had no idea about the personality of the band, anything about us. He was just singing with this crazy, deepest growl that I ever heard in my life. It had no bearing to time or anything. It was just thrown over it. It was amazing. (laughs) Aside from Greg, that was our second favorite just out of comical reasons. (laughs) He sang these crazy lyrics over it like, "Kill your mother into the fire. . ." That was real interesting, and he was like, "You got to give me a chance, you've got to." We were just like, "Dude, were not into it, you've never even heard us, you're not right." Then we got some guy who did this crazy electronic type thing with his voice. It was weird effects over the whole thing. There were a number of things like that.
RESOUND: For people that haven't heard Greg or seen him live yet, what can they expect?
BW: He's insane. He's one of the most impressive vocalists I've had the opportunity to hear or work with. He can really do anything. His voice is just amazingly strong and flexible. Like I said, he did ൳% Burnt" and it sounded exactly the same as the CD, including all backups and everything. He came in the studio with us and did the entire set and the timing was impeccable. That was really impressive to us because we know what kind of work it takes to get all that down. He's obviously a workhorse and a real perfectionist. He does some things with his voice that I've never heard even - some weird things. He really considers it an instrument which is something we were really looking forward to implement into our music. One thing is that he's not really coming from the music scene we're coming out of. He has no idea about the types of bands that are considered our peers, so he's almost like this undiscovered guy that was just out there. He's real young, like 21 and really excited to do this. The possibilities of him have only just begun. He's got that energy we have since he's so fresh and new. He hasn't toured or anything so this is all new to him and that's really what we wanted. He's just so psyched to be up there. Basically, his biggest influences are Bad Brains and all the Mike Patton type stuff. Supposedly he saw us with Mr. Bungle and after that we were his favorite band.
RESOUND: It seems like he fits in really well with the band personality-wise as much as he does on a musical level.
BW: His attitude is right and just like us he really doesn't give a shit about the hype or the competition. He's really just into pushing himself. It's funny because he hates talking about this, but he's really built and into fitness but totally not the type of guy who's conceited about it and very vain like some people are about that thing. He has no interest in that aspect of working out and that's how he is with his voice. He'll drive around the parking lot for hours screaming and singing, just working his voice. That's what I think The Dillinger Escape Plan is all about, someone with that work ethic. He's a cool guy too.
RESOUND: One thing I also wanted to bring up about the vocalist situation was that during the time you were looking for a new vocalist you played KrazyFest in Kentucky with Sean Ingram from Coalesce doing vocals. Then the word was being tossed around about you guys working with Mike Patton. Just from talking to people and reading stuff, I kind of got the feeling people were thinking Dillinger was going to have either of those guys fill the spot.
BW: The rumors were ridiculous. I heard everything from Patton was our signer, to Sean was our singer, to Faith No More was getting back together with members of Dillinger. There was some weird, crazy stuff and none of it was true.
RESOUND: It just seemed like there for a little while people were wishing things into a lot of ideas, y'know?
BW: Yeah, there's just also kind of like people out there who want to feel like they've got the scoop before other people, but they take something and kind of work the truth into it.
RESOUND: How exactly did playing with Sean come about? I heard it was pretty amazing from a few of my friends that saw the show. You've both been friends and peers for some time now, did that have a lot to do with it?
BW: Yeah, well Coalesce is a band that we totally respect and if it wasn't for bands like Coalesce we probably wouldn't exist. They've kind of paved the way for underground hardcore/metal bands with releases on Earache. Coalesce, and Sean especially, has been great to us and shown a lot of respect [back]. We knew that Sean was kind of out of commission with Coalesce broken up at the time. We were out of commission too and had the opportunity to play this great show, so we figured it would give both parties a chance to get out there and have some fun. It was kind of a cool way to share the stage with him one more time. At that point we didn't think Coalesce would be playing together again, and I think that having such a good time doing that show maybe had something to do with him getting back out there and getting the band back together.
RESOUND: Someone told me you guys totally broke into a Patsy Cline cover of "Crazy".
BW: Yeah, we busted into that song. It was Krazyfest, y'know.
RESOUND: The EP you did with Mike Patton ['Irony is a Dead Scene'], how did that come about? I know he's been a DEP fan for awhile and took you out with Bungle in the past. Was it an easygoing thing where you guys were like, "Let's do a record together."?
BW: Yeah, it was. The whole band has been a big fan of his for a long time. I listened to Faith No More and Mr. Bungle for the longest time and I just never, ever thought I'd even talk to this guy let alone work with him. He had gotten a copy of our CD through Relapse and asked us to come play the Bungle tour. I guess he thought it would be kind of funny to shock some of the kids, especially since the album they were touring on was kind of light. (laughs) I haven't heard about him being impressed by much. There's not a lot of bands out there Mike Patton parades, so I think the fact that he kind of likes what we're doing and the possibilities of this band had a lot to do with him wanting to work with us. He said, "I know you guys are going through some changes and stuff, you're looking for a new singer. If you need any help let me know." We're like, "Yeah, we'll take you up on that." Originally it was maybe going to be like a guest vocal thing. We had collaborated with him live a couple times and did some covers on tour and had a good time. So it was just kind of inevitable for us to work together. We had some downtime and needed some way to fill the gap while we didn't have a singer so he was like, "Yeah, let's do it."
RESOUND: So this EP is on Epitaph. That doesn't seem like an obvious choice, y'know? You'd figure Relapse, Hydra Head or Patton's label Ipecac or Ferret or something like that?
BW: It's weird huh? There was talk about it being on Ipecac and Mike really wanted that but we'd also already talked to Epitaph. They talked about signing us but we were like, "We already have a label, let's do something else." Brett Guerwitz who owns Epitaph and plays in Bad Religion is into the band. He said we reminded him of, like, the King Crimsons and the weirder bands that were out that were considered punk rock and underground when he was younger that were so inaccessible to many people but real musical. He said, "I consider you guys that for today and I'd really like to work with you." I consider that a great compliment. He was such a pioneer in developing the underground punk scene from the very start. That, and the fact that I've always heard such great things about that label from all the bands on it.
RESOUND: It just seems like the least obvious choice for a Dillinger record.
BW: Totally, but at the same time they've put out things like Tricky, Tom Waits. I mean it makes more sense after putting out a Refused album to put out a Dillinger album than Tom Waits. Those are the things Brett likes to do, put out a sampler with all this punk stuff and throw in a Tom Waits song. Everybody's like, "What the hell????" For us, though, I just think it was a cool way to try something new.
RESOUND: So what exactly does the EP sound like? Is it any kind of departure to what people might expect from Dillinger?
BW: I expect people to hear lots of differences in the music. I think a lot of people are going to make the assumption that those changes or advances in the music are due to Patton's involvement. But once they hear our next record they'll realize it's just more of us progressing. He really didn't have anything to do with the music. We did everything and just sent it to him and he threw some vocals on it. We've explored a lot of new areas and with a vocalist like Patton who can do anything it was kind of interesting to write with that in mind. And with our new singer it makes sense that it's been conditioned into that type of thing. A lot of people are also thinking we're going to get lighter or not be as intense or crazy. All I have to say about that is that these new songs are definitely the most intense, craziest things we've ever written. We've kind of explored areas we've only touched on before a little bit deeper. The crazy parts are even crazier.
RESOUND: Didn't you do a cover of Aphex Twin's "Come To Daddy", is that on the EP as well?
BW: Yeah, we took that song which is originally electronic and added instrumentation to it. I'm really psyched about it because, in my opinion, Aphex Twin is the epitome of all electronic music.
RESOUND: That's such a good choice for you guys to cover. And what's this about someone from Atari Teenage Riot remixing ൳% Burnt"? Will that be on the EP?
BW: No, that was on a compilation. A thing called the "Do It Yourself" compilation, and we didn't really have anything to do with that. They guy who put it out just paired us together. I guess he was trying to get interesting things going on. I think Ani DiFranco's on it and all these people. So it was like, "Okay, the guy from Atari Teenage can do a remix, let's get Dillinger, that would be pretty crazy."
RESOUND: Have you ever thought about actually doing something with the guy behind Aphex Twin? More than just covering one of his songs?
BW: That would be amazing. I don't know if we'd ever be able to get that honor. The guy from his record label contacted us and we were all scared that he was going to try and sue us for the cover or something like that. But his response was just like, "I heard you guys are doing the song. I can't wait to hear it. You guys are crazy, it should be very awesome." So far there's a decent relationship between our party and their party so you never know. But, I mean, I don't think I could hang with that guy, he's nuts.
RESOUND: Is it pretty interesting or inspiring to make the music you do and create or collaborate with other musicians like you have recently? I mean, knowing how wild Patton is and how over-the-top Atari Teenage Riot is, to mix that in with what Dillinger is all about or to have another person equally intense interpret what you do has to be amazing.
BW: It's really awesome and definitely makes me feel like there isn't any limit. We definitely want to do more with the music we write and continue to look at as many aspects as we can. People like Mike Patton and Aphex Twin and all that are really inspiring. Just even using Aphex Twin as a reference point and covering one of those songs totally brings us into new realms of thinking differently about how we write our music. It's inspiring to be around all this music. We're attracted to the people who also have the attitude we feel we have, even if they're making a different kind of music than we are.
RESOUND: As far as the actual next full-length Dillinger album goes, how much of that are you ready to go into the studio with? Are you fairly prepared to begin recording? Do you expect anything to be released as far as a follow-up to 'Calculating Infinity' before the end of the year?
BW: We've kind of focused a lot on the EP with Patton and that's taken up a lot of our time. Then with not having a singer and not really having a reason to write we kind of got sidetracked. Now we're getting back into it and have a couple songs. When we get back from touring that's what we're going to concentrate on. We know it's been awhile so we really have to get something down.
RESOUND: Since you said the stuff on the Patton EP might be where you're headed on the next Dillinger full-length how do you think what you've done so far compares to or carries on from 'Calculating'. . .?
BW: Well, for instance one of our songs is, like, seven, eight minutes which is real crazy for us.
RESOUND: Wow, that's like the total time of your whole 'Under The Running Board' record!
BW: Exactly. That EP was a total of seven minutes. So this is totally different for us. But that's just because we went into things a little deeper. We go into more ambient or melodic parts that we'd only touch upon on the other stuff. We just kind of build on it a little longer. We're exploring a lot more electronics, synthesizers, anything that'll add new dimension to make it a new Dillinger record.
RESOUND: One thing I especially wanted to talk to you about was how Dillinger has been showing up in more mainstream or bigger magazines where there are features and highlights about less commercial heavy music. You've been mentioned in Spin and recently in AP. You've been brought up on MTV 2 as well. What's your reaction to all of that?
BW: It's really cool, really unexpected. In one sense it's really an honor for bands like us - bands like Converge - to be accepted and sell a decent amount of records and play decent shows, especially in this time when this kind of music is so unacceptable to the mainstream and doesn't get radio play. At the same time, even though we've been mentioned in Spin or whatever, we're not doing as well compared to bigger, mainstream bands. There's no comparison. We still are just an underground band, y'know, that [might] sell even 80,000 records. Those bands sell that in an hour. In a sense it's really awesome to be put on a level with these bands that are selling so many records, but it's nothing like that for us.
RESOUND: Well, maybe it's just that certain writers and fans are getting tired of the same rehashed, cookie-cutter stuff and are hungry to find something new, so it's it's, like, there's this whole bunch of bands just waiting to be checked out.
BW: Definitely. It's funny, because the industry knows it too. I think a lot of kids just don't have access to this stuff and when they do find it they're excited. We're continuously seeing more kids who would normally be into just bands like Slipknot or something into us because they never thought there would be anything crazier. I think a lot of people really respond when they hear bands they're into talk about favorite music. We've gotten a lot of respect from some bigger bands which is really cool because even though I might not respect their music they don't have to talk about bands like us. It doesn't do anything for them. We can't help them. (laughs)
RESOUND: Have you been able to tell how much some of this wider exposure has helped Dillinger out or directly affected the band in a positive way?
BW: Well, I don't think a band like Dillinger could ever be mainstream because we started this band with the whole intention of being the exact opposite. It's definitely not music for the masses and not easy to listen to pop stuff. However, if for some reason people do start to get sick of what they're listening to and it does get to a level where a large amount of people can like a band like Dillinger, then I think that the people got wiser. There's always a possibility of underground bands getting bigger because the way it seems to go is the big bands of tomorrow are always the underground today. Bands like Blink 182 and Green Day, Nirvana, even At The Drive In were just hitting the underground for so long and then all of a sudden became the biggest thing. But we do see an impact and do see kids that have looked us up on the web or whatever because of some of these mentions in magazines or by bands.
RESOUND: When you did part of the Warped Tour what was the reaction like there? It's not an entirely different thing for you guys to be involved with, but Dillinger is still pretty intense and drastic for that kind of scene.
BW: It was cool to be part of something that big and being around that many bands. We only played a couple shows and they were in markets that we're used to playing. We did really well and I think it was kind of cool to show Warped Tour people - like the big men of the tour - that our kinds of bands can do well.
RESOUND: Did you play outside during the day or was it in one of the tents or something?
BW: It was on one of the side stages outside.
RESOUND: Wow, Dillinger outside in the daylight. I mean, usually it's dark and there's the strobe going the whole time you play.
BW: Ahh, y'know, we made due. (laughs)
RESOUND: Do you think DEP can be way too over-the-top for more than a few people once they check you out? A lot of what you do is real harsh, involved and more than anything just wipes people out with all the frenzy. It's almost too much for people to handle if they're not ready.
BW: Definitely. I know it because we just write music that stimulates us and gets us excited. And it takes a lot to get us excited. We've pretty much been desensitized to everything out there. We've listened to heavy music, crazy music for so long that nothing really shakes us. So in order for us to get excited we have to write music that's pretty over-the-top, and we understand most people aren't ready for that. Most people haven't been desensitized to the stuff we have been. I increasingly get e-mails from people saying, "When I first heard you I thought you guys friggin SUCKED." I'm like, "Oh that's nice." Then they go, "But now I listen to you everyday and for some reason I just was compelled to put it in again and again. Eventually it all made sense." That's the biggest compliment to me. For someone who we were too much for at first, or who isn't used to this crazy music to keep listening and see what the big deal is about and keep hearing new things, I'd like to think that maybe we changed the way they listened to music.
RESOUND: I remember seeing a lot of strange reactions from the crowd when you went out with Bungle. That was just as fun as watching you guys actually play.
BW: A lot of people would be waiting in line for hours to see Mr. Bungle, and the last thing they'd want to see when they walked in was a band like us. (laughs) It was funny because like the Bungle fans would rush to the stage to try and get their spot close upfront. Those were the kids who had to get subjected to us most and didn't want to hear us the most. We found that on that tour the people who were true Bungle fans appreciated us. The people who were there because they were only into Faith No More or who thought Mike Patton was cute or something, y'know they didn't like us. But who cares.
RESOUND: Another thing about DEP that came up when I was talking to a couple people who like you guys and have been really getting into the band lately. . . we were sitting around going, "Man, just how do they pull off this stuff live when the music is so intricate and how crazed the shows are."
BW: I don't know. I mean, in one sense I feel like we don't pull it off. Like, we don't play perfectly and it's not really important for us because live it's more important to have fun and let loose up there. We totally appreciate the opportunity to express ourselves in that way. We totally take advantage of the moment. But in another sense we do pull it off because we just get so used to playing the stuff. I'll be watching videos of us and watching myself jump around and go, "Ooo, that's goofy," then start to feel my body jerking. It's like I'm totally conditioned. We've toured for months at a time and every night we play these songs. There's so much of it that I can't help now, it's just comes naturally.
RESOUND: It's like with prog-rock or real instrumentally-driven musicians, they a lot of times just stand there and look at their fret board. But you guys are all over the place going apeshit, falling down, hitting people in the head with guitars.
BW: Well technicality isn't the most important thing to us. That's just a tool that we have to play what we heard in our minds. Aside from that, the important thing is the energy.
RESOUND: Another thing in particular I think a lot of people don't quite pick up on about Dillinger is, personality-wise, you have a certain sense of humor. There a real tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic side to the band that doesn't really get noticed too much.
BW: Yeah, a lot of people don't ever catch that, and it's real funny you say that because once you get to know us we're not like people think we should be. We don't take ourselves serious at all. We've never understood being around bands that do that at all. We take the music and the band seriously, but it's all fun too.
RESOUND: It's like when this friend of mine came back with one of your shirts that looked like the Guns N Roses 'Appetite For Destruction' cover. I was like, "Ah, those crazy Dillinger dudes!"
BW: That's an awesome shirt. The 'Appetite For Destruction' shirt's awesome and I can't find one anywhere, so I was like, "Shit, let's just make one so I can have one." (laughs)
RESOUND: The reason I bring this up is because I've been getting into that website buddyhead.com lately that just rips on and makes fun of everyone. It's great man, totally hilarious, and from what I've seen they happen to like you guys.
BW: Yeah. Actually I do a lot for that site. A couple interviews and stuff like that. Those guys just came to see us play and interviewed us because they were into the band. They don't like a lot of bands, and they've made fun of us too. But it goes back to not taking things too seriously. Who cares, y'know, have fun. Don't spazz out about a bad review. I've personally got involved with the website a whole bunch. Me and my friend Tom - who's like our tour manager and stuff - have kind of become the East Coast representation of Buddyhead. (laughs) We did a Slayer interview that's coming out where the layout is all, like, flowers and hearts and stuff. Some of the bands that get ripped on do get it and Buddyhead just appreciates those guys so much. When a band can laugh at themselves, they're a Buddyhead favorite.
RESOUND: Since the last time we talked Dillinger went over to Japan to play the two-day BeastFeast concert. How was that experience?
BW: That was crazy. It was the second time we've gone to Japan. When we went there this time we got to play with Slayer and Pantera, all these bands, in front of thousands and thousands of people which was a totally different level for us. We'd never done anything like that so it was a cool experience. Plus, it's just really different going over there. It's like an adventure. It's like Mars. (laughs) We've been to Europe and it's exciting but Japan is like "Whoa!!!" It's a different culture completely.
RESOUND: Did you get to see any of the other bands you played with over the weekend? There were a lot.
BW: I checked out a bunch and actually interviewed Kittie for Buddyhead there.
RESOUND: Were they fans of the Dillinger?
BW: Yeah, that's how we started talking to them. They were like, "Oh yeah, we like you guys." So we asked them if we could do the interview and they were like, "We like Buddyhead, okay." So the first question we asked was, "How's it feel to sell records just because you're girls?" (laughs)
RESOUND: You've been in the media eye to a certain extent over the last year or so, and then you have the thing with Patton. Do you think it's all going to set up a lot of anticipation and interest around a new album when it comes out?
BW: That'll be awhile, we're going to be busy this year. I'm pretty excited. Things can change though, so you never know what's going to happen by the time our next record comes out. I think people are always going to be excited to hear new music, and y'know, things have to change so there's no telling how it will turn out.