In 2012, Greg Puciato vanished from social media. As one of the most outspoken figures in music, he was becoming increasingly frustrated seeing his opinions turned into headlines. Words like “distracted” and, most worryingly, “paralysed”, were bandied around in The Dillinger Escape Plan man’s explanation of why. Around the same time, he underwent a highly publicised “Total near-death experience”, as chronicled with typical honesty in his blog, after experimenting with hallucinogenic substances.
“I’ve had a lot of major stuff in my life, and that period was the transition for me from the beginning of my life to the next stage, where you have to overcome a lot of issues,” Greg tells us today, reflecting on the past four years. “I’ve had to deal with a lot of things that have been self-destructive and have hurt a lot of people without knowing it at the time…”
What he’s been doing since 2012 is The Black Queen – an ambient, electronic, more melodic project than we’re used to from him. Their debut album, Fever Daydream, is finally ready to see the light of day and has been the one recent constant in his life.
“Some songs were finished, recorded and mixed in 2013,” says Greg. “This has been an incredibly long process. For the last three years, there hasn’t been a day when I haven’t worked on that record. It’s been a giant part of my life without anybody really knowing about it, apart from my closest friends.”
Those friends were former DEP tech Steve Alexander and Joshua Eustis, previously of Puscifer, Nine Inch Nails and his own Chicagoan ambient techno project, Telefon Tel Aviv. Despite everything, Greg felt the need to push through with The Black Queen at all costs, and feels the emotional growth he experienced has been captured on the album.
“I still feel the need to express myself creatively, but as you get older your emotional dynamic range increases. You’re not just full of piss and wanting to flip the world off. You have other needs you’ve not explored. That’s what this is – it’s a needs-based band.”
The starting point of The Black Queen’s coronation was down to two chance meetings. The first was with ex-DEP tech Steve, who was in a similar musical headspace to Greg.
“I’d had demos and ideas for music that were more melodic, shoegazy and dream pop for the last five years,” Greg tells us. “I bumped into Steve, who I think is a creative genius, in a bar. He’d heard some of the material that I’d been working on and he had a bunch of stuff, too. He said, “Why don’t we get together and see where the intersections are on this stuff?’ So before I knew it, Steve was living in my living room and we were working on stuff all the time.”
When they were a handful of demos in, Greg bumped into Josh Eustis at a Mastodon and DEP show at the end of in 2011. Puscifer had asked to come along to watch, but Greg didn’t realise Josh was playing with the band at the time.
“They hung out after the show,” recalls Greg. “Steve asked me, ‘Did you talk to Josh?’ I said, ‘Yeah, why?’ and he said, ‘It’s Josh from Telefon Tel Aviv.’ I went, ‘SHIT!’ and ran after him to tell him, ‘I love you guys!’ We started to hang out, and he heard our demos and said, ‘Man, I want to be a part of this.’ He was living at [Puscifer mainman and Tool legend] Maynard James Keenan’s house, so we moved to the studio at Maynard’s house. We ended it by recording in a warehouse in Skid Row. So it was an interesting process…”
Interesting is one word for it. Intense, challenging and problematic are others. Put plainly, you won’t hear many albums in 2015 that have had quite so much emotion poured into them as Fever Daydream.
“It’s a labour of love,” sighs Greg. “We spent so much time working and living together, we have literally lived this album. Me and Steve ended up in therapy the last few years, and Josh went from living at Maynard’s house and being in Puscifer, to being in NIN, to living on Skid Row and being unemployed. This record kept us going. The fact that I recorded the last Dillinger record and toured it, and came back and was working on this record, means that there is so much that has been put into it that would never be there if we’d just booked a studio for six weeks and recorded it. It’s self-financed; every penny we had has gone into it. We aren’t going to make any money from this.”
Looking at the mix of bands on the guys’ CVs, you’d be brave to guess what they would concoct. Fever Daydream is a far cry from the noise of Dillinger, pushing into the more ambient corners of Puscifer and NIN. But, as with DEP, there are experimental elements, and you’ll hear sonic references to everything from games to films.
“I had no idea where the music was going,” admits Greg. “I just knew it wasn’t as aggressive. I couldn’t tell if it was going to be more like My Bloody Valentine… but some of it sounded like Massive Attack. Once Steve got on board, he has a knack for writing this dreamy, like, Final Fantasy, Nintendo 64, anime music. The best way to describe it is like 80s movies, kind of like how the [2011 Ryan Gosling thriller] Drive soundtrack feels. Then this R&B element crept in… I’ve no idea where that came from. But it felt natural so we went with it.”
So does music of this ilk have a place in Hammer? Metal it may not be, but, as Greg tells us, heavy it certainly is. Perhaps just not in a literal sense.
“You learn as you get older that heavy has nothing to do with how low your guitar is tuned or how slow the riff is; heavy takes on a whole new meaning,” he tells us. “The things you cry about when you are five years old are not the things that make you cry at 35. The things that hit you, that devastate you, when you are a kid, are trivial, and when you’re a kid you couldn’t even comprehend the kind of things that make you feel like that at this age. It’s about being honest with yourself.”
If anyone has had a hard look inside themselves these last few years, it’s Greg. For him, music is a release – a necessary purging through creativity that can provide focus, strength and direction.
“You have to be open enough not to be dishonest with yourself,” he closes with. “There’s no point hiding behind some aggressive cartoon character. Or inside you won’t be happy. I want to know that if I’m still doing Dillinger when I’m an old man, then I’m still jumping off speaker stacks because I feel it, not because I’m having money thrown at me like some performing monkey.”
We don’t doubt it for a second.
A release date for Fever Daydream has yet to be confirmed