Greg Puciato, lead singer of Dillinger Escape Plan, has a lot to talk about. The band has a new album out, Option Paralysis, and it’s the first on the band’s own Party Smasher label. They are offering numerous ways to purchase both digital and physical copies of the album online. They are also embarking on a year-long tour, including a Coachella appearance playing alongside Jay-Z of all people. After an hour’s conversation on an unusually rainy day in Southern California, a couple weeks before the album’s release, I’m still not sure we covered everything. But with topics ranging from the current state of the record industry to the band’s strange influences to whether they will ever work with Mike Patton again we definitely covered a lot.
mxdwn: So the new album seems like a good place to start.
Greg: Kind of new, feels old now. We’ve been finished with it since November ’09. This is like a really long delay between the time we finished the record and the time it’s coming out so it seems a little strange to me. I keep forgetting it’s not out until March 23rd.
Why is that, why such a delay?
Well, I guess this is the way it’s supposed to be but we’ve never really operated like this before. We always run really late with everything that we do. So whenever we make a record and the record company tells us something like, “It’ll be out November 10th, you guys have to be done by July 1st,” we always get done, you know, like September 1st and then they’re just rushing to try to do everything, and we end up half-assing a lot of our release. We’re just used to doing it that way because we always take too long and this time we didn’t, and that was kind of strange for us.
We ended up finishing the record and we already had the release date as March 23rd, but we finished it in like the beginning of November and we were like, “Oh wow, this is cool. Instead of making the release date sooner, why not make sure we have every I dotted and T crossed, and actually release an album that we feel has the right amount of time behind it to promote it properly, and put ads in magazines and whatever else is going on right now that I’m not aware of.”
It’s kind of cool but at the same time its nerve-wracking, because I think everyday for the last three months, “What if it leaks today?” Because its been going out to press and stuff. The longer the wait, the higher the odds are that someone’s going to leak it, you know?
I’m wondering who leaks it.
It’s journalists, but not just them. It’s interns too, just like random people. Someone that works at your record label that’s like 20 and is an intern and is psyched. All it takes is one person, and it’s probably not even that person either. They probably have a best friend who—they’re like, “Dude, I know you’re not going to give this to anyone, here’s the new Dillinger record.” And then that guy gives it to someone because he’s like, “I know you’re not going to give this to anyone,” and eventually, 3 or 4 people down the line, someone who sits on message boards all day and wants to be the cool guy on his message board gets it and he’s like, “Hey, check it out,” and then it’s over.
Because I’m a journalist obviously, but there’s no way I would do that or even be savvy enough to do it. I do everything via internet, and they send me links to tracks that if I sent them to someone else and they accessed it you guys would know, they can track it. I guess maybe it’s people who get a physical copy of the CD, because I noticed the record companies are being stricter with physical copies of unreleased albums.
That’s cool, but yeah. I mean, I don’t know, I’m kind of getting psyched on actual physical things again, so I think it’s kind of cool to have an actual CD. We’re selling a lot more physical stuff, we’re doing box sets and weird digipaks and vinyl and stuff for this record, and they’re actually selling pretty well considering the fact that I can’t imagine anyone these days buying CDs. But I guess maybe people are starting to feel somewhat nostalgic for the feeling of actually buying records. I don’t know, it’s weird to me.
Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. There’s like 6 different pre-order options for this record, right? Is that why you did that, because you wanted people to have a physical thing they could buy for this record?
To me, I feel like it’s a reality that people aren’t going to buy albums for the most part. I feel like the whole record industry’s strategy, trying to continue to drop the price point of CDs and be like, “CDs are only 8 bucks now, they’re only 5 bucks now,” it’s like, guess what? CDs are free, I can get it online for free, and you can’t compete with free. For a record company to continue to offer basically a small storage format for mp3s, because that’s all a CD really is, if you can get that MP3 for free on the internet why would you spend your money on a CD? But I think the answer to that is to make the CD something that appeals to collectors, people that are into having a thing, and that’s not going to be your average person.
I think the average person listens to music casually, especially kids now because they grew up with access to the internet. They’re not going to buy the record, but that’s fine because they’ll probably download it and if they dig it they’ll come to a show. If they hadn’t downloaded it for free they would never have heard you anyway, so it’s a good thing. But I think for people who actually want the thing you have to make them extra cool, you have to give them tons of options, you have to limit everything because if something’s limited it’s inherently valuable. So if we do cool things like a box set or a DVD or a digipak that comes with a book, and with each one it’s like, “This one only has 2,000 available, this one only has 5,000 available,” when people have it in their hands they can say at some point in time this isn’t going to exist anymore.
If you’re a kid in school and you have the actual thing and there’s pictures, and a book, and it sounds rad, your buddy’s going to be like, “Where did you get that? I want one of those!” And you say, “You can’t because they only made x amount of those.” That’s frustrating for a kid because you want something cool that your friend had. I know me personally, I don’t own a copy of Appetite for Destruction on CD, I have it on my iPod, I don’t know how I have it but I have it. If tomorrow someone was like, “Hey, check it out, we’re putting out a version of Appetite for Destruction that’s like a CD and a book and some type of picture disc or something, and we’re only making 10,000 of them, and after that you’re never going to be able to buy Appetite for Destruction ever, ever again in any format, and its going to cost $100,” I would still buy one because it would sell out in a day and instantly they’d be worth $1,000 on eBay.
I know Nine Inch Nails have been doing a lot of that, did you get inspiration from them? I know you jammed with them on stage.
Yeah, it just made me realize—because being around record company dorks all the time, you kind of get used to hearing people still trying to live in the past. They’re all still trying to figure out how to save what they previously thought of as the “industry.” That’s why I hate SoundScan and people being like, “How many records did you guys sell your first week?” That’s really not indicative of anything any more. You can’t compare a band that was out in 1990 to a band that’s out today. A lot of these old guys were around back then and a lot of these bands are still around from back then, so they’re all going through this crisis realizing that a good week today is like a week that back then would’ve gotten you dropped from your label. They’re having a really hard time, and their response to that is to try to keep the numbers high, like, “We’ve got to find a way to sell more CDs.” I don’t think the answer is to sell more CDs. I think the answer is to give the people that are interested in having something cool something cool, because there’s nothing cool about something that’s going to be on a shelf forever. Who gives two shits about a record that’s going to sit on a store shelf forever? You have to make something cool that’s not going to be around all the time.
The reason why kids go crazy over Air Jordans is because they make them for one year and you can never buy that version again, but who would give a shit about the 1986 Air Jordans that sell for $2,000 on eBay if they still made them today? So yeah, that stuff with Trent [Reznor] and what he was doing with the different versions of that Ghosts record, and there was, like, a box set and a book and all this other stuff, a million different prices depending on how casual a fan you are or how obsessed of a fan you are. I think that’s the way to do it, let the kids decide what the level of involvement it is. If you’re a casual guy who’s passing through, who’s probably not going to dig our band in a year anyway, fine. Get it for free because it’s not worth anything to you anyway. But if our band means something to you and you want to have something rad, here’s something that’s 20 bucks, here’s something that’s 40 bucks, here’s a bunch of different things.
Yeah, and you can’t download a T-shirt or a concert either. Someone might download your album for free, but then if they like it they’ll want to go to your show and buy your t-shirt.
Exactly. That’s what drives me crazy about people going nuts about downloading, because what’s the worst thing that can happen? The kid’s going to download it and not give a shit about you anyway. The best thing that can happen is the kid’s going to download it, love it, come to your show, buy a T-shirt, come to your show again, and get a friend to come to your show. It’s a winning proposition at the end of the day unless you really give a shit that someone who doesn’t like you bought your record. And most bands today should be smart enough to know that you only get like two cents per CD anyway so it’s not a big deal.
And you have to kind of stand on your music now with downloading, when people can get it for free it has to not suck for them to come to the show and buy the shirt, etc.
That’s what I think, too. It’s kind of weeding out the posers and pretenders. If you’re a band nowadays anyone has the same tools available to them. Anyone can make a MySpace page for free, put up YouTube videos; anyone can make a song on their laptop. If the playing field is even then it’s going to force people to be good or no one’s going to care.
And speaking of record labels, you guys are on your own label now, it’s backed by this French label [Season of Mist] but it’s still yours. Was that just because your contract ran out with Relapse Records or you wanted more control or what?
It was both. I mean, our contracted ended with Relapse and we’ve been around 12 years, we’re all relatively young because we started young, but we’re not stupid in a business way. We’re all pretty savvy. We pretty much learned over the years how to do every single thing and we’ve met every person involved and we don’t necessarily need a record company over top of us that was going to put us in a traditional contract. And I feel like the record industry, if it exists at all, is in such a chaotic state you need to be able to be flexible from release to release. The only way to protect yourself when there’s a storm going on is to pretty much do everything yourself instead of letting one person do one thing and another person do another thing, try to put everything in-house.
For us it’s been nice, and we have to do more work than a band signed to Sony does but we also enjoy way more benefits, not just financially but in terms of freedom. Like, we don’t get told what to do for anything. We can do whatever we want, spend the marketing money however we want, basically have a deal that’s extremely lopsided in our favor, and we found a label that’s willing to finance that because they trust our instincts and they know that we’ve been around long enough that obviously we’re doing something right. I think it’s going to work out for everyone, and the cool thing is we’re doing it on an album-to-album basis so if either party isn’t psyched after a few months of this record coming out either one of us can walk and there’s no penalty or anything.
I notice a lot of artists are doing similar things right now, where they are basically releasing their own albums.
Yeah, I think for young bands that have no idea what they’re doing, major labels and traditional contracts have a benefit because you need training wheels when you start riding a bike. But after a while, if you’re paying attention and you’re not spending every day that you’ve been a band having someone baby sit you should be at a point, if you’ve been around as long as we’ve been around, where you don’t need those kinds of things anymore.
I have a question about your unique sound. Do you sit there with every album and say “We’re going to do something completely different,” or does it just happen naturally?
I think we all have a natural tendency to not want to be pinned down. Maybe it’s somewhat childish but we all have a very natural gag reflex to someone being able to put their finger on us and be like, “I’ve figured you guys out and this is what you guys are.” If that means forcing your fan base to follow you when you make U-turns or hard lefts, that’s more exciting to me than putting out a record where kids are like, “I know exactly what this record is going to sound like.” There are bands that do that and that’s great for them. There’s bands like Slayer. You want a Slayer record to sound like a Slayer record, and if there was a part where some guy came and played piano you’d be like, “What in the hell are you guys doing?” That’s because they’ve established that for themselves and we’ve never done that. I feel like we’ve always taken people on a crazy ride, and we’re not the most difficult band to stay on board the ship with.
We’re a marketer’s nightmare because they don’t know quite what to do with us, because they can’t put us on an Ozzfest because two or three songs in the set we’ll be playing piano and Latin drum parts. But they can’t put us on some indie-rock fest because half of the set’s grindcore. So we’re probably shooting ourselves in the foot, but at least it’s fun.
That brings me to another question then. Do you worry about fan response when you write an album? It seems like with each new release the fans are polarized. Some love it, some like the last album better.
It’s fun for me to watch because it’s like creating a small frenzy. Just reading the YouTube responses to our video that we just released two days ago, it has everything from “these guys are the second coming of God” to “these guys haven’t been good in ten years.” “This shit sucks,” “this shit’s amazing.” It’s kind of nice because at least you know you’re causing a reaction in people. If someone’s sitting on the internet talking about you, regardless of what it is you’ve provoked them in some way, which is good.
It’s the point of art in general. I think there’s a freedom in it, like I said from a business standpoint with the labels, but from a creative standpoint there’s a freedom in not having any obligations to your fans, as shitty as that sounds. We have an obligation to them in terms of the quality of the stuff we put out, but as far as what it’s going to sound like—you’re not the same person at 30 that you were at 20, you’re not going be the same person at 40 that you were at 30. I don’t ever want to be a theatre version of myself 7 or 8 years ago, feeling like I have to chase my own shadow constantly. We’re lucky to be able to make a living doing this. If one day we can’t because all this becomes too much for everyone, we still did it for a little while.
So you guys are on tour, right? I just saw a few dates posted on your site. Is this just a small tour? Is there going to be more?
It goes from March 11th to April 16th.We finish in Southern California with Coachella. And then we have a full North American tour—we’re not hitting every hole in the earth but we’re getting all the major cities. From there we go to Australia in May, then we have some European stuff in June, then we do all of Warped Tour. We pretty much have our whole schedule booked until December. This whole album run probably won’t wrap up until September of 2011 so my life’s about to get sucked into a black hole.
But you look forward to touring too, right?
Oh yeah, I love it. I love playing shows, I love the traveling. Once it gets in your blood, it’s in your blood. Some people are not meant for this, and that shakes out a lot of people. It’s really difficult to make the transition from living a normal home life to leaving all the time and living out of your suitcase. It makes it very minimal as far as what you really care about. It makes it so the things you care about, you really care about them, but it reduces the amount of things you really care about.
It simplifies my life. A lot of people think it’s complicated, but I find it simplifies things because it’s impossible to care about too many things when you’re traveling all the time. But obviously we love to do what we do. We don’t have to do this, we’re not doing this because we need to be employed. We have other things we could be doing for a living if we were so inclined.
That brings me to a question about new members. You guys have had a lot of member changes, hectic touring schedules being one of the reasons. How does that affect the writing of each album with each new incarnation of the band?
Yeah, it’s actually another thing that people think would be is a negative, but in a way it’s become a positive because the main creative force is still there. Ben [Weinman], Liam [Wilson], and I have been the writers for the last ten years so most of the people that we’re losing or lost over the years, with the exception of Chris Penn—he’s like the first drummer we lost that was extremely involved with the creative process. But for the people that choose to leave—because there’s been two people that had injuries and they couldn’t continue—but the people who chose to leave or got kicked out or whatever, those were people that were dead weight.
If someone’s not psyched about being there any more and they’re going to be a downer constantly and their heart isn’t in it, I’d rather replace them with someone who’s 100% psyched because it’s only going to make us stronger. It’s a pain in the ass when we have to find those new people, but once we have them it’s a gazillion times better than having someone on tour who’s complaining all the time or being bummed about being there. You can look at someone and tell their heart isn’t there anymore. It’s not a bad thing, it just means you have to be honest with yourself and just get out of it.
So that’s the core group that wrote this new album then, I’m assuming. Is songwriting a fairly democratic process, at least with the three of you? Do you get in a room and just jam? How does it work?
It’s getting more democratic I think, as we start to trust one another more. We don’t fight as much creatively. We’re all very bullheaded people when it comes to creating things and we all try to control every aspect and make it our own. But this time around, maybe because we’ve been around one another so long we trust each other’s instincts. It’s become much more—it wasn’t intentional, but it’s just become more organic. No one’s insecure about their role and no one’s ego need to be stroked. So it’s like, if someone tells someone else, “That part’s not that great, I have a better idea,” it’s not offensive to us anymore. We’re not 20. We’re not out to prove to one another that we’re such badasses that we can’t take criticism.
Well that’s really cool that you’ve been able to create that dynamic even with all the member changes.
Yeah, it’s like getting married to four other people and having a couple of them change every couple years. It’s honestly probably harder for the new people because the longer we go, the three of us have created such a dynamic not just creatively but in terms of personality. I just hope that the new people don’t feel like outsiders.
Yeah, I mean it’s interesting because technically, at one point early in the band’s career, you were a new member, and now you’re part of the core. What was it like for you when you first joined?
You know what, at the time I felt new but when I look back on it now, time is such a strange thing. When I joined Dillinger they had been a band for three years, and when you’re 20 three years is an eternity. So I was like, “I’m new, there’s no way it’ll be around for another three years. People are always going to look at me as the new singer.”
But now we’ve been around for 10 more years since then, and it’s weird to know that I thought it was intimidating because I was coming into a band that had been around for three years. It makes me really realize that when people come in our band now, this band has been around for 12 years or so and Liam and I have been around for 10 of those years, so it’s got to be insane. Like, our drummer Billy [Rymer]’s 25 years old and he came into a situation where all of us have been doing this for so long. I feel it must have been a shock for him, I can’t even imagine, because I definitely remember it being a shock for me and it’s got to be times 100 for him now.
It must be hard for you guys to find a drummer specifically because your music has beats that are so technical and hard to play.
It’s impossible. We went through, this last time, every known available good drummer. Guys that were in bands that were looking to jump ship, guys that weren’t in bands. Huge names, people that were extremely talented. We went through unknowns; we went through so many people. It’s a pain in the ass because it’s extremely difficult just to find people that can even play the stuff. That’s the first challenge. This is stuff that 99% of your average drummers can’t even begin to think about playing, so once we find the 1% that can play it then we realize most of those guys, their attitude isn’t right or their head is in the wrong place and we would never be able to write songs with them, so they can only play the old stuff. Then we have to find the guy we can get along with and not want to kill if we were in a room or bus trapped with them for a year-and-a-half. I’d love for this to be the last time we ever have to do that because Billy is a wunderkind, an absolute diamond in the rough, so I really hope we can keep this going for a while.
That’s awesome. So are you looking forward to playing the new material on tour? I’ve heard a lot of bands talk about how the fans love hearing the old stuff, but the band love’s playing the new stuff because they haven’t already played it 5,000 times.
Yeah, it’s great! We just got back from Europe, we were there for like two weeks. It was just a really short thing, and we played three of them and even though people didn’t know them—well, they’re starting to know the one because it’s been on the internet for a while, but even though they didn’t know them it just felt so good to be playing songs we haven’t played 300 to 2,000 times yet. It was exciting! And they’re still so new that they take on lives of their own, so to speak, and it’s always more exciting to do something new than to do something old. That’s the real challenge of touring, is to make the old songs still resonate with you so that you don’t feel like you’re just pressing “play” and going through the motions. You have to somehow find a way to make something you wrote when you’re 21 still matter to you when you’re 30.
Well, you guys have a real intense stage show. That intensity must help that.
It’s kind of a thing we don’t really plan on doing. There’s never a time where five minutes before we’re playing I’m thinking to myself, “This is going to be crazy.” I never feel that way. I always just feel like I can’t believe that people came. I still feel that way, like, “I can’t believe there are people here.” And when I see videos of us when we’re not on tour, like I see clips on YouTube of us, it just looks completely insane. If I was just a regular person, not from our world, and looked at videos of us I’d be like, “What’s going on there? Is that a riot or something? What’s happening? Are these people having seizures?”
I never feel like that just sitting around, but there’s just something about our music when we play. It still just feels really exciting to us, and the day that doesn’t happen we’ll call it quits. Luckily we all still feel really passionate about this and it’s definitely not a shtick. I don’t feel obligated to go crazy when we play. I’d rather it not happen naturally then fake it.
I wanted to ask you about your influences. I know, like we mentioned before, that you guys jammed on stage with Nine Inch Nails, and you guys did a covers album where you covered one of their songs as well as a Justin Timberlake song and some others that all seemed like very different artists from yourselves. Do you really listen to all those different things, or were you just being funny, or both?
No, no, as much as we enjoy fucking with people I’m not a fan of humorous music or doing things ironically. Because when you’re ironic about something it’s very safe, you can always hide behind that. If you ever try to be serious and it sucks you can always be like, “Oh, we were just joking around,” and it’s a way to never have anything you do be taken seriously and be immune to criticism.
I think Justin Timberlake’s rad. I think his records are really good pop records. We like Nine Inch Nails, they’re one of our favorite bands. Soundgarden’s on there, Massive Attack, those are songs that we really like. My favorite album this last year was by an R&B artist called Maxwell that half of our fans probably never even heard of, so it’s definitely not humorous to us.
It’s funny to me that people expect us to sit around listening to music that sounds like us constantly. It’s the last thing I want to hear after getting off stage and screaming until my head feels like it’s going to explode: some other guy screaming at me like his head’s about to explode.
That makes sense. I know a lot of metalheads who also listen to other things besides metal, and people may be critical of that if they’re not open-minded and are just militant about being “metal.”
That’s the thing about metal that’s weird, and I notice rap is like that a lot, too. With people that are super into it, sometimes it becomes a parody. They almost feel like they have to live up to these overly ridiculous, macho things, like I have to be metal all the time. You see bands doing photo shoots and as soon as the camera comes out they will never smile, ever. Everything is mean and serious, and if you listen to a band and ask, “What are your top ten bands of the year,” I mean, I don’t even know these bands that are like “Screaming Penis” or “Goretopsy” or whatever. Is that what you really listen to all the time? There’s a lot more out there than one color, there’s a whole crayon box you should probably check out.
So this is kind of a random question but a while back, right before you became the singer, those guys worked with Mike Patton as a guest vocalist. Obviously he wouldn’t sing, but do you guys ever think you’d work with him again as a producer or something?
Well, as a producer we’ll definitely never use anyone except for Steve [Evetts], who produces our records now. He’s done every single one of them, and at this point in the game he’s like the other member. He’s one of the only people that we will allow from the outside to tell us that we suck or to give us criticism that we really take seriously, because he knows what my best is and what Ben’s best is. He knows, and there’s no arguing with him. If I try to argue with him he’s always right. We would never not use him. But as far as Mike goes, I don’t think anyone’s opposed to doing some type of collaboration with him again. I just feel like we already did it, in a way. I think maybe it could happen. We’ve talked about it but I mean, he’s super busy, we’re super busy. We’ve done it once before so if we had an opportunity to collaborate we’d probably choose someone we haven’t done anything with, just so we could learn something new. If it was convenient for both of us I think we’d do it again, but like I said his schedule’s absolutely insane.
So there was no bad blood or anything there? Not that I thought there was, just wondering why you’d never tried it again. So it was more of a “let’s do something different” kind of thing?
Yeah, it was just a moment in time where we were on the same page, at the same time, in the same place, and it just came together and was very natural.
It was kind of weird though, right? Because it was already a done deal when you joined the band.
Yeah, it was strange because that album had been agreed upon before I was in the band, and then when I joined they were like, “Here’s the deal. So in a year from now we have to record an album with Mike Patton that we already agreed to do, so I hope you don’t feel bummed that the first thing that comes out after you joined has a different singer on it.” And I was like, “How could I be bummed? It’s not like a guy off the street, it’s Mike Patton.”
It was a really cool experience in general. He’s come out to see us play a bunch of times, and every single time he’s very excited. As soon as our new records come out he always e-mails and is like, “Guys, your record’s awesome,” and whenever I see him he’s like, “You’re a great singer, you’re killing these songs live.” To me, that’s rad to hear from a guy who I know hates almost everything.
Oh yeah, Faith No More’s playing Coachella, right, but a different day than you guys?
Yeah, what a bummer. We really thought we’d end up playing the same day. It would make sense for us to play the same day. We’re playing the Jay-Z day, which is not as exciting for us.
Well, it was really great talking to you Greg, I really appreciate it. The new album sounds fantastic and people should definitely pick it up.
Well, thank you so much. This is definitely one of the best interviews I’ve done in awhile.
Photos by Raymond Flotat