#10 The Dillinger Escape Plan - Interview with Ben Weinman
A couple of months ago The Dillinger Escape Plan released what is in my opinion the most diverse, energetic, and technically destructive album of their career. One of Us Is the Killer has been playing non-stop in my regular rotation since it's release. Since the album's release in May the band has been out doing what they always do... Touring non-stop and going berserker on stage every night. Later this summer Salt Lake City will be fortunate enough to have Dillinger destroy us as the Summer Slaughter Tour arrives mid-August. In my early preparation for the show I caught up with founding member Ben Weinman (guitar / electronics / keyboard/ etc.) to get the details on the new album, the tour, and to ask if he'd be down for a secret handshake (of course after his broken hand is all healed up).
TDEP tour dates here
Purchase One of Us is the Killer pretty much everywhere.
When did you first decide that you wanted to be in band and play guitar, was there one single moment where you were like, "this is what I want to do!"?
I think anybody when they go to their first concert, that's the special moment when you feel the energy and power of music. My fist concert was Journey and it was super powerful and loud and the energy was just so big. But, I never thought I'd be doing this for a living. I was just going to school getting a degree while I was playing in Dillinger and I was just planning on going and getting a regular job. I always thought of the band as just self gratifying and I never thought it was something that was going to have any success.
What were some early guitar influences?
My earliest influences were mostly blues stuff like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn and being from Jersey I got into hair metal bands like Skid Row and all that. Though living so close to New York City I kind of got into the New York hardcore stuff, all the underground stuff, like punk and the D.C. Scene and stuff like that.
Dillinger were one of the first bands to combine the more technical elements of metal and mix them with jazz fusion type stuff. What lead the band to their initial sound?
There were a few bands that were trying to do a fusion thing. Then in the 90's there was this horrible explosion of all the bands trying to do rap metal. But we started trying to play jazz and tried to blend more punkk and hardcore with traditional metal and stuff like that. There were other bands doing that too, but it was always pretty clear to hear which parts were which. You know there's this really great band called Candiria, they were doing really cool parts, but when they went into a jazz part they sounded like a jazz band, the death metal part, a death metal band. But what we wanted to do was blend all our influences and truly and create something new. It was more like this punk and heavy aggressive band that sounds different. So eventually what we started doing was listening to all these fusion and Afro-Cuban rhythms and trying to figure how to make them sound grimey and punk.
I’ve often heard you guys being credited with inventing mathcore. Do you agree with that?
It used to kinda be annoying back in the day. Because we didn't want to be labeled or defined by one genre. But now that we're are a little bit older its more like if you can't beat it, accept it. I guess it's flattering to be considered the founder of any kind of style. It's pretty rad when other bands consider us an influence and people say that we created a certain type of sound. That's pretty amazing. But I don't necessarily agree with it when I hear another band that people say sound like us. At any rate, if we helped start something that influenced people and pushed boundaries that's pretty cool.
I guess it would be pretty cool to be credited with creating a certain genre of music. (laughs).
Yeah but being credited with creating a certain genre of music is going to make a bunch of other people broke you know? (laughs)
Dillinger has had so many members come in and out of the group. Do you keep in touch with any your former bandmates?
Oh yeah. Pretty much aside from our old drummer Chris (Pennie, drums 1997 - 2007), I'm pretty much still friends with and have kept in touch with every single person. I still hang out with our original singer Dimitri (Minakakis, vocals 1997 - 2000) and our old bass player Adam (Doll, bass 1997 - 1999 / keyboard 2001 -2002) . Or even just guys who were crew and hung out with the band, or were a part of the band. It's kinda like a family. We've always been a very, "you're either with us or against us" type of crew. We are all pretty tight.
You mentioned that you no longer talk to Chris. Was it just kind of a creative differences thing? Is there a reason you guys aren't in touch any more?
It's just personality mainly. He was always one of the guys that wasn't really able to deal with awkward situations or conflict. For instance our original bass player Adam was one of his best friends. He introduced me to Adam actually and after Adams car accident where he became paralyzed, he just stopped talking to him after that. It was just kinda weird. I think he's just one of those people that is kind of narrow minded and focused on drumming, or whatever he's into at the moment. I guess when he was done with Dillinger he was done with Dillinger. But that's fine. Ya know?
In some ways it was similar. I usually come in with the initial idea myself and then start jamming them out with our drummer(Billy Rymer). We kind of form demos and ideas and stuff like that and see how they feel live and we are always listening back to the demos making sure we are hearing stuff right. I guess the main difference this time around is we built a studio around our practice space. So we had drums and everything mic'd up at all times. So it was much more efficient in that aspect. Also, we really consciously tried to push ourselves into uncomfortable territory rhythmically. So a lot of times, if we were doing some kind of complex rhythm and we thought we were falling into a typical Dillinger formula we intentionally switched it up and made it more uncomfortable. Which created a lot of anxiety for me particularly (laughs). But it think it was really worth it in the end.
It probably made things a little more relaxed having the studio built around the practice space right?
We definitely do some pretty detailed demo-ing and a lot of it ends up on the record. We did go and record with a our long time producer and friend Steve Evetts. He's kind of like our coach. He really pushed us to really perform the stuff on record right. That's really important for all of us. We always come out of recording as better players because we don't really fake anything in the studio and he doesn't allow us to rely on any studio tricks. It's almost like a crazy boot camp for getting us ready to bring the new songs to the stage honestly.
My personal favorite track on the album is the title track "One of Us Is the Killer." Is there a particular song or songs that you are most proud of on this album?
I'm really enjoying playing "When I Lost My Bet." There is something that just feels really natural to play it live and I really like "One of Us Is the Killer," as well. That song was really organic. The record is really detailed, but that song was one of the last songs we wrote. It was more just jammed-out and not pre-meditated. We just started tracking it and Greg (Puciato) came up with the vocals super quick. It was just kind of one of those natural things that when you make a record, it's like almost like an exhale.
Can you give us any insight to why Greg is so pissed off on this record?
I think typically with a band like us he tries to speak about what's going on with the band and the frustrations that we deal with. A lot of the stuff is about the difficulty of maintaining relationships when you're in a lifestyle like this. Whether its outside the band or inside the band, we have a rigorous touring schedule. We go up and down so drastically. Every night when we go on stage we have to turn it on and go so hard every night and then we have to come down from that every night. It's a really schizophrenic lifestyle, ya know? So basically that's a lot of what the album is about. I think that as you get older and you're in a band that basically screams and stuff, you typically start pointing figures at everyone. That's kind of the immature younger teenager way of being in a band. Like screaming at your parents, you know? (laughs). But, as you get older you start to look a little more internal. It's a little more about introspection. So I think that was probably the inspiration.
I remember reading an interview with you back when Miss Machine came out and how you were quoted as saying that you encouraged Greg to sing more than scream. Is this still the case or does he just do his own thing?
He just does his own thing. Every once when in awhile I will have an idea for a song, whether it's a vocal phrasing or a melody that I think would work and we will kinda go over that. But one of the coolest things about the collaboration is I can hand in a song that is pretty much done as an instrumental which is kinda scary and violating. Almost. (laughs) Handing over something I have worked on for so long. But as a fan of his it's kinda exciting to hear what he comes up with. We definitely push him, like "you can do better, there's something more in you." But for the most part I just like to hear how the music affects him naturally without too much instruction. I just want to see what he comes up with.
It's probably really cool and a nice surprise giving the almost completed song and having him coming up with all these vocals. Almost like the cherry on top.
Totally! And also after being in the band this long he has the confidence to honestly express himself. Like you mentioned on Miss Machine it was more of him coming and filling in the shoes of the guys that came before him. So there was a lot of expectation. Now he just comes in and does his own thing which is great.
The video for "When I Lost my Bet," is nuts! Were you guys involved in the concept for the video at all? Is that really Greg singing in the video?
It's actually not Greg, we kind of assumed that most people were gonna think it was. It was made by a friend of ours named Mitch Massey, he's like this crazy genius. We got to talking about movies and stuff and I was like you should do one of our videos. He was someone that we knew we could trust and we wouldn't have to get that involved. That's something that we wanted to be more of a collaboration rather than us dictating it. It's by far one of our favorite videos that we have ever done. He did kind of go with the imagery of the album, with the umbilical chords and things like that, but he pretty much came up with the video all on his own. He's almost like a visual counter part to our music. He just gets it.
Cool. Now I want to move on and talk about touring for a bit. Do you guys enjoy playing the bigger music festivals or smaller shows?
You know, it's interesting. We just played this place called The Chain Reaction which is a small club in Anaheim that we used to play a lot. It was just out of control. It was insane. Greg and I were just talking the other night about how we feel like we've played 100 shows just in that one show (laughs). We were sore and it was so sweaty and kids were all over the place. It was really intense and awesome. But we kinda like playing the bigger rooms now too. We've gotten to the point were we feel confident playing on any stage. That wasn't the case though when we first started. When we played with a bigger band we kinda felt awkward being on a big stage and being so far away from the crowd. But we've gotten to the point where we pretty much feel comfortable playing anywhere.
I saw you guys open up for Deftones a couple years back and more recently open up for Mastodon. Are there any memorable tours or shows that stand out in your mind?
Touring with our friends is great. Like touring with Mastodon was great because we've known those guys for so many years. The Deftones tour was great and we're friends with those guys too. Playing with some bigger bands is awesome because we get the opportunity to play to a lot of new people. Plus we can tour with our friends at the same time. We did a lot of that on our last record. But trying to think of one show is hard because we play so much. Like we have like three hundred shows coming up right now. So its really hard to think of all the crazy moments and remember where you were when it happened.
The majority of your songs are so complex and technical. Do you or anyone else in the band ever find it hard to remember some of the parts to the older songs?
Maybe when we first start playing a song live, but for the most part the simpler things are it's probably the easiest for me to forget and mess up. My brain moves so quickly with this stuff, so if I have the opportunity to day dream at all, I just kind of lose my focus, that's when I mess up. Like a song that is less aggressive and complex is a song that is harder for me honestly. I guess we all mess up that's for sure.
Any guilty pleasure music that you listen to?
I don't think there is such a thing as guilty pleasure music. If it's good, it's good. Ya know? We've covered Justin Timberlake songs. I guess a lot of the people in my peer group would think that Coldplay was pretty lame, but I think they are a good band. (laughs)
Hey, Coldplay's first two albums were awesome. (laughs)
Yea, they write good songs and don't seem like douche bag's. I like a good Coldplay song. (Laughs)
Any newer band or artists out right now that you enjoy?
Actually, there is a band that opened up for us on our last tour called Royal Thunder and I think they are pretty bad ass. I'm really excited to see how they evolve as a band. They are really good and their singer is amazing.
You guys have are in the middle of a serious tour schedule that runs pretty much to the end of the year, any plans to write some new music? Do you guys write music while your’e on the road?
I have my computer and stuff in the bus so I am always working on stuff whether it's side project stuff or some of the production stuff I do. So I'm always working on something.
What’s the possibility of us meeting up during your show on august 17th in Salt Lake City and making up a secret Dillinger and Bearded Gentlemen Music handshake together?
(laughs) That interview with the kids was amazing because most of the bands are so tight with them. But you actually had fun with it.
Yeah it was rad. You want me to make up another handshake? How many handshakes can I remember? I've got to remember my little kid handshake...
I was just wondering if we could have one too? (laughs)
Alright man, alright. We can make up a handshake too. Don't worry man. (laughs)
I'll remember it and if we ever meet up again. I can just remind you and we walk through it.
Alright that sounds like a plan! (laughs)