Dillinger Escape Plan
just remember fading into the next song not knowing what to think. I wasn’t even sure if I liked it. It was loud, bizarre, six minutes long, and had completely ruined the flow of the set. And then the phone rang. Some kid called in to say he hated me and the song I had just played and abruptly hung up. It was the only time that ever happened to me as a college radio DJ.
I knew then that I was dipping my toes in some uncharted waters. The music was provocative and uncomfortable, enough so to elicit a visceral response from a listener. After the show, I took a copy of the EP to the station office and put on some headphones. A wicked grin began to cross my face. By the end of the week, I was on my hands and knees trawling the metal stacks for something—anything—recorded by that band.
That band was Dillinger Escape Plan, an East Coast beast of precision that defies the usual nomenclature, a strange hybrid of metal, hardcore, electronic, jazz, latin, and prog that transcends the scene and brutalizes the listener. They’re a metronome on acid, and they don’t give a fuck what you think. Possessed with a dogged work ethic, the band’s relentless touring and feral live performances have earned them a mythical status and a pile of doctor’s invoices. And you have to wonder why they put in all the effort when their output is so inaccessible in the first place.
Catching up on Dillinger has been a depressing exercise as of late. Brian Benoit, a guitarist with the band since 1998, semi-retired this summer after being on hiatus since 2005 for nerve related injuries. Perhaps most troubling of all, though, has been the shock departure of original drummer and core songwriting member Chris Pennie, who left the band for Coheed and Cambria before the recording of Dillinger’s new album. But like cockroaches scurrying around after a nuclear holocaust, Dillinger is soldiering on.
Dillinger is slated to release the follow-up to their 2004 effort Miss Machine on November 13th on Relapse Records. The album is called Ire Works, and the band will commence with perpetual touring soon after its release. I spoke with Liam Wilson, Dillinger’s vegan bass machine, before the release of their new album.
From your perspective, do you think Chris' leaving was fueled by creative differences, personality clashes, or other things?
Chris departure was fueled by a combination of a lot of these things. It’s hard to separate those things in a creative collaboration that has been going on for almost a decade. I think ultimately he just didn’t want to deal with the same sort of taxing situations for the next ten years. This band chews people up and spits them out. It has been a very complicated past few years, and I understand why Chris left. I just wish his timing and approach were more amicable and respectful to Greg [Puciato, vocalist] and I if his issues were mostly with Ben’s [Weinman, guitarist] heavy-handling of things during the past few years.
Has Dillinger sometime seemed more like a working machine than a band of brothers? Has there been more of a concerted effort by everyone to forge better relationships—both working and personal—during the past year or so, especially with the recent member changes?
We definitely describe ourselves as feeling like machines when we’re a few shows into a tour and feeling our flow and strength coming back. There is a sense of perpetual motion, constant shape-shifting that has always been there, and it certainly hasn’t lost any of its momentum lately. I think it’s been natural, but yes, we—meaning most specifically Greg, Ben, and I—have really taken a lot of big steps together as friends. I really see them as my brothers more so than my band mates since Chris left, and especially after spending three months together recording, which is a totally different vibe than spending that same amount of time on the road. There’s a more active sense of collective, creative consciousness in the studio. We had more time to just hang out and talk, go out together and eat or have a drink, a late night diner visit. Maybe it’s similar to touring, but we hadn’t done that in over a year. And although it felt different with one member all of a sudden missing, there is freedom in loss and we were all feeling great and everyone was feeding off that collective enthusiasm.
How are Gil Sharone [drummer, Stolen Babies] and Jeff Tuttle [guitarist, Heads Will Roll] fitting into the band? Are they viewed as temporary members, or something more?
I think we view them as welcome guests for as long as they want to stay. I feel like we’ve got a strong line-up right now, and I hope that they stick around at least long enough to write another record. Teaching people the old material is becoming very time-consuming and rather taxing, although we will do it again if we have to.
How do you guys manage to be a band when you live in different states?
Having an internet connection helps a lot. We demo a lot of material at home and send it to each other via websites like YouSendIt.com. When we get together, it helps that we’re already familiar with the structure of the ideas if not ready with ideas of our own to add. We can spend more of our time together, when we get time together, inventing new ideas, or going over the details of things that may not have been clear in the demos. I think the distance between us, the negative space, is part of what keeps us working without smothering each other—it’s not the spokes on your wheel but the negative space between them that keeps your tire rolling. It helps us maintain our integrity as individuals within the greater whole.
You mentioned this is the most prepared Dillinger record you've been involved with. How long has the writing taken, and what about the writing and demoing process has made you feel like this is a more focused or prepared effort?
The writing has taken about two years. Not being on the road for a large majority of that time certainly helped give us the necessary time needed to really fully develop these songs at a reasonable pace. Enough time to work on them, to walk away only to come back to them and push them even further after you’ve fully chewed and masticated your first few bites. This time around we all had enough home recording know-how and the means to exchange the ideas faster than we had before. I think we just got smarter and technology got better. I never thought to leave myself a voicemail of me humming an idea, or take a mpeg movie of Ben rehearsing a part that I wanted to double so I could not only hear it, but see it. For me, as with most people I’m assuming, being able to visualize something being executed is half of the learning curve. I think we were all a few years better than we were since we recorded Miss Machine, and even recording and touring on that record pushed our chops so much further that we really had more experience points, fresh tricks this time around.
Is there really a technology versus nature—or something to that effect—"theme" to the album?
No, it’s certainly not a deliberate theme. I think we humans—the animals who’ve self-appointed themselves at the top of the food chain—have a way of interacting with the world. A way of sleeping in the bed we made that is hard not to respond to creatively. I think it’s more about application and function, command, and who controls who? What inspired what? Did we set out to sound like a computer, or do we try to make computers and samples sound as life-like as possible? I think we’re aware of that aspect being an important consideration with the band, but it’s not a theme we’re conceptually connected to in our titles or iconography on Ire Works.
Who came up with the title Ire Works?
That was my idea. It was a play on the words ‘fire works’ and a significant night of celebration after a show that in retrospect was the beginning of what I saw as the end of our tenure with Chris.
We had a band meeting after a show, and around the same time that we were wrapping up the conversation, someone started lighting fireworks. Seemed funny and ironic at the time, even more so now.
In some sense, I guess ‘ire works’ could be thought of as a utility company pumping fresh ‘ire’ into your home. Of the relatively few options we had been tossing around, we felt like that was the most ‘timeless’ or classic sounding title we had. I think the clearest meaning of the title is that these songs were crafted under duress; these are thirteen songs where the main inspiration, the main ingredient was our intense wrath and hatred, our ire, towards certain circumstances and situations we had been going through. Thirteen sections of a unified body of work.
How would you describe the album? Is it really the best Dillinger album yet?
I think it’s the full realization of where we are at this time in our lives and in our careers. I think where other records may seem undercooked in retrospect, we believe that we got the recipe right this time without leaving any cards on the table. We all had something to prove and we all pushed ourselves and each other to really bring our A-Game on this one. We all feel like this is the best Dillinger record so far; at the very least, it’s my favorite.
Ben mentioned that Chris was involved in the writing and development of the music on the album before recording. How did you work around his departure, and how did Gil fit in?
Originally we had decided to program all the drums just in case we didn’t find someone who could pull it off. Although we would’ve used them if we had to, I’m personally glad that we didn’t. There’s just something to be said about the ‘human’ quality of our music, no matter how artificial and antiseptic we sound at times. Gil fits like a glass slipper; if you’ve heard the record, you know what I mean.
What's your approach or process to tackling a Dillinger song? Do you view yourself as part of the rhythm section or something else within the band?
I guess I think of myself as something that’s a part of—but not limited to—the rhythm section, or the rhythm section alone. I like to think of myself as the guy blocking for touchdowns, keeping this thing weighted down—even if I am the lightest member of the band. I try to bridge the gap between the melody and the rhythm, and simultaneously be the fog that rolled in and obscured the structure enough to add that bit of mystery. Most bassists track right after the drums, but with Dillinger I go last, like Paul McCartney, and have the advantage and the responsibility of gluing everything together. When a part calls for it, I have the ability to follow a guitar line, or a kick drum pattern, or a bell pattern on the ride cymbal, or the bounce off the snare. Other times, I can climb with the vocals like I do during Brent’s [Hinds, Mastodon vocalist] part in [the song] “Horse Hunter.”
You guys keep mentioning that you're getting older in interviews. Do you think Dillinger is going to be phasing out some of the relentless touring in the coming years?
It’s hard to say. It really depends on the response to this record and how much we can all commit to touring. For better or for worse, our personal lives are still relatively flexible, none of us are married, no kids, so we can keep doing this for as long as our bodies hold up, which may not be much longer. I would love to make the tours more of a Pavlovian event by not touring as much and writing and recording more, but that’s not to say I don’t, or we don’t, still talk about touring as the real-deal part of who we are and what we’ve built our band up to represent.
You guys were working on a DVD a while back. Do you know when it will be coming out?
We’ve been talking about that for years. We’ve got tons of footage and we just don’t know how to string it all together. So much relevant stuff has happened in such a relatively short period of time. We still owe Relapse a DVD before we’re officially done with our contract, so we will have something come out. Whether that represents everything we’ve done in the first decade, or simply the making of Ire Works we have yet to decide, or even discuss.
So you’re almost done with your contract. Are you looking elsewhere or not even thinking that far ahead yet?
We’re looking ahead more so than elsewhere. Our options are open, and we’re going to keep them that way for now. We’re not disappointed with Relapse, but I think we’re ready to be something more than the biggest fish in the pond of bands that make up the Relapse roster. There are so many options available to us without ever even needing label support—take Radiohead’s In Rainbows for an example. I don’t want an unfair or unrealistic amount of money in my pocket, but I would love to get to the point where I can quit my day jobs and live to play and write more music and grow the band and make sure we have enough money to do what we feel like needs to be done to fully realize our creative visions and to be able to execute them on the scale they deserve. I’m beyond the worry of ‘selling out’; I sold out the day I signed my first contract. I think I have a responsibility to see just how fast and how high this roller coaster can really take us.
I'm sure there's been a lot of talk amongst the remaining members of the band about Dillinger's future direction or the overarching vision of what you want to accomplish as a band. What keeps fueling you?
I’ve always said that my main motivation is that there’s times when I’m scrolling through my music collection, or a record store’s shelves, and there’s this sound I’m looking for, but I just can’t seem to find it, I can’t satisfy that craving, and for as long as I can remember I’ve felt an undying responsibility to make that record. I’m getting closer, but I’ve accepted the fact that I’ll probably never feel like I’ve made it and thus keep attempting to ad nauseum.
Life after Dillinger...what would you do?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I’m sure I would still keep playing music on some scale, but that’s not exactly something I can plan for. Right now I can’t imagine myself doing something other than this band. Dillinger satisfies me, and we have the ability and the freedom to explore our ideas in ways that other bands only dream of. I’ve considered going back to school and finishing my woodworking/crafts degree. Perhaps I’d go become a bio-engineer and make prosthetic limbs, or study marine biology and find the one fish in the deepest darkest part of the ocean that’ll make you trip harder than anything Timothy Leary or Terrence McKenna could’ve ever imagined if you lick its back. Who knows? Chances are I’ll really just go build a tree house and eat nuts and berries until the revolution ends.
By: Julie Graf
Published on: 2007-10-25