Dillinger Escape Plan

Interview - Greg Puciato

From the frontline of the new hardcore movement, Dillinger Escape Plan are threatening an insurgence against the current metal scene. Alex Manford meets them on their UK tour

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Considered to be among the major players of the extreme metal scene, it comes as rather a surprise when Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato admits, "I’m not too big into metal." Having left a trail of destruction - and confused metal fans - in their wake since the release of their 1998 E.P. ‘Under The Running Board’, DEP are dragging the genre into directions it has never been before. Their latest album, 'Miss Machine', received rave reviews across the board, in both the metal press and beyond, drawing comparisons to Nine Inch Nails and even Radiohead.
I’m not really excited by anything new that’s happening in the metal scene," says Greg. "I like Converge, and a couple of other heavy bands. A lot of heavy bands only tour with one another. You read a lot of interviews on what people listen to, and they’re always like, ‘We listen to a lot of metal, we listen to a lot of hardcore.’ If you only play with one another and you only listen to one another, then you’re gonna end up sounding like one another."
We speak to Greg - easily as ‘pumped’ as Henry Rollins - backstage on the latest date of DEP’s successful headlining tour, that has taken them all over Europe and the U.S. In support are like-minded hardcore band Poison The Well. "We’re really good friends with those guys," says Greg. "We try to take bands on tour that have nothing to do with the way we sound."
Not that this always pleases the audience. In an hour’s time, Poison The Well’s melodic hardcore will be greeted with shouts of 'Pantera!!! Pantera!!!' from the more disgruntled factions of the crowd. Later on, Dillinger’s set is also met with confusion and, for the first half of the set, there is no moshpit. There is a noticeable conflict between the bands and the audience. However, for Dillinger, a band always "driven by hostility," this is nothing new.
"We played these festivals in Scandinavia with, like, PJ Harvey and Alicia Keys," says Greg, laughing at the absurdity of it. "We don’t think those musicians are amazing, but we realised a lot people that listen to them would think we’re terrible, and a lot of people that listen to us would probably think that they’re terrible. We just wanna show people that you don’t have to listen to just one thing. That there are other emotions that can be expressed through music, and it doesn’t all have to be a certain way."
Greg Puciato joined Dillinger Escape Plan in August 2001. By this point, the band had already released their seminal 1999 debut LP 'Calculating Infinity' which shifted the goalposts of metal, showing how it could benefit by drawing influences from different genres. Shortly afterwards, original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis quit, saying he was "no longer excited" by the band. The remaining members began the hunt for a new singer, putting an instrumental version of their track ‘43% Burnt’ on a website and inviting young hopefuls to supply vocals for it. Of those who rose to the challenge, only Puciato cut the mustard. He made his live debut with the band in October 2001, to glowing reviews.
By this point, however, DEP had already signed up with the legendary vocalist Mike Patton, to begin work on the ‘Irony Is Dead Scene’ EP. A cursory listen to 'Calculating Infinity' had drawn Patton to the group. "When I joined they were like, ‘We’ve already agreed to do the EP with Mike Patton, does that bother you?’" remembers Greg. "I was like, ‘Nah, it’s something you’ve already agreed upon.’ He [Patton] actually asked if I wanted to do backing vocals, and I was like, ‘I don’t want my first release with this band to be playing second fiddle to somebody else. Just do your thing, and I’ll do mine.’"
In the meantime, the new Puciato-fronted Dillinger supported System Of A Down on their world tour. "We did that System Of A Down tour and people hated us on it," smiles Greg. Nevertheless, Dillinger felt an affinity with the headliners. "I remember hearing SOAD’s early stuff and thinking, ‘Woah, dude, that’s intense! I think their early stuff sounded to the mainstream what our stuff probably sounds like to the mainstream now. We feel a strong kinship to them, and to bands like Tool and Nine Inch Nails that have come out, have defied odds. They’ve become huge entities on their own terms. I think that the point we’re at right now is a ridiculous accomplishment for how insane our music is to most people."
Dillinger have a right to enjoy their success. For a band so wilfully confrontational, and defiantly original, building up a steady fan base in the five-year gap between 'Calculating Infinity' and 'Miss Machine' is a major accomplishment. "It feels good, man, to know to these people have probably done some kind of work to enjoy this band. It’s not an easy listen. I think it’s kind of changed the way I feel on stage, to more of a celebration of knowing that we helped to change these kids’ minds a little, maybe."

In the five years since 'Calculating Infintity', how have Dillinger won people over?

GP: "I think maybe 'Calculating Infinity' was just far enough ahead of its time. I think if we had waited any longer, we would have been fucked, honestly. But I feel that the Mike Patton EP helped a great deal, man, bringing in listeners who have never even heard of us before, and I think if it wasn’t for it, it would have been career suicide, waiting five years between two albums. But the EP received as much attention as a full-length would."

It certainly did. The ‘Irony Is A Dead Scene’ EP is a lasting testiment to the possibilities of hardcore metal, with Mike Patton contributing his diverse vocal styles and influences to one of DEP’s heaviest offerings. Their cover of Aphex Twin’s ‘Come To Daddy’ attracted the most attention, forging a link between metal and electronica not seen since the Nine Inch Nails remix album ‘Things Falling Apart.’ Patton’s influence also provided a springboard for Puciato’s debut on Miss Machine.

GP: "It allowed me to do whatever I wanted on the album without people being shocked. He [Patton] came out and pretty much made every sound a human being could make over our music. I think he freed me up to sing without pressure, from worrying ‘what are kids going to think?’ Now, nobody has any idea what to expect from us, ‘cause I feel now that our past three releases have sounded completely different. 'Miss Machine' is nothing like the other two, so I feel we can go anywhere now. I think, artistically, it’s the best position to be in."

Miss Machine delves further into the other-worldliness of ‘Irony’, exploring the band’s love of electronica and other non-metal genres and - like kindred spirits Mike Patton and Mad Capsule Markets - introduces fresh influences to metal. The band’s use of laptops when recording ensures that even hardened metal fans will hear sounds they haven’t heard before.

GP:"Me and Chris [Pennie, drums] are huge soundtrack fans," explains Greg. "We actually do a lot on the side, there’s programming stuff and instrumentals. We just don’t want to try to fit it into this band. We can maybe sell it to a big video game company."

As well as it's numerous excursions into electronica and movie-like ambience, 'Miss Machine' also excites with its references to early-D.C. Hardcore, particularly in live favourite ‘Baby’s First Coffin’ (think Slayer’s ‘Reign In Blood’ crossed with Queens Of The Stone Age and the random cut-ups of DJ Shadow, and you’re part way there). For Puciato, a native of Baltimore, the influence of hardcore was inevitable.

"My biggest influence to start singing? That was H.R. from Bad Brains. But honestly, I probably listen to more Hip-hop and R ‘n’ B than almost any other type of music. I think it maybe just comes from growing up in a city, an urban setting like Baltimore. That’s pretty much the only type of music people listen to around there, so it’s pretty inescapable."

While ‘Baby’s First Coffin’ allows the band to exercise their Black Flag fetish, lengthy slow-burner ‘Phone Home’ has invited comparisons to Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, breaking from the confines of metal to create something textured and atmospheric. As a whole, 'Miss Machine' showcases a technical flair and creative spontaneity that eclipses anything the band achieved on Calculating Infinity. Meanwhile, the space left by Mike Patton allows Greg to explore a range of vocal styles that Dimitri would never have dared. Miss Machine is an album unafraid of challenging its audience, and he displays confidence and conviction throughout.
Amidst the apocalyptic madness of ‘Sunshine the Werewolf’, for instance, he screams the listener into submission with the line, "Without my existence, you are nothing!!" Greg insists that most of his lyrics are "inadvertently dealing with relationship issues," and with lines like "We fucked like a nuclear war release," and "Cracks slip between my desire to keep your broken heart bleeding," on ‘Phone Home’, you can’t help but wonder what his girlfriend makes of it all.
Among the surprises packed by Miss Machine, are the tracks ‘Ultraretrofied’ and the single ‘Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants’, which contain choruses and don’t threaten internal haemorrhaging to whoever hears them. This, along with nominations for ‘Best Metal Album’ and ‘Best Live Act’ at the prestigious Plug awards in the U.S., suggests that a cross-over (of some sort at least) might be on the cards. Not that appealing to the mainstream is part of the band’s agenda. For now, they remain devoted to their cause, backed by an ever-growing army of supporters who respect their mission to avoid compromise, never sell-out and push their music to its limits. As Greg says, "Dillinger is a name built on being confrontational."
"We just set out to be intense, but different, y’know," he says. "We wanted to write something where, even people who listened to some of the most brutal death metal at the time - or any death metal at the time - could hear this and be like, ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ I hope that’s still the case for a lot of people."

For Dillinger Escape Plan, it looks like confrontation is the way forward.
The Miss Machine LP is out now on Relapse

See the video for ‘Setting Fire To Sleeping Giants’ at www.mtv.com/onair/advance_warning

Interview - Alex can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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