Greg Puciato lurches forward. His eyes narrow, and he gesticulates wildly as the words spill furiously from his mouth, his voice rising in pitch and volume. He looks pissed off. Meanwhile, bandmate and guitarist Ben Weinman glares fixedly. One of his eyes is reddened, swollen and sore from a recent onstage collision with Greg.
If you’ve ever seen The Dillinger Escape Plan live, this scene will be familiar to you. The reason they have been revered for the last two decades is down to their drive to push themselves mentally, physically and emotionally to create some of the most awe-inspiring, challenging and confrontational music and performances in our world. But neither Greg nor Ben are onstage at this moment. They’re both sitting in a featureless dressing room backstage at Reading festival, fresh from their raging warm-up show three days earlier at London’s Old Blue Last. And Greg’s annoyance is directed squarely at Metal Hammer.
“We aren’t the ones that want to talk about us breaking up,” he says, taking a breath. “That’s you! This break-up is causing people to look for a lot of shit. When JK Rowling decided she wasn’t going to write any more Harry Potter books, nobody asked her to spell out why. It was just over. My biggest fear as an artist is misrepresentation; it would crush me for this record to be a side-story, and if all you’re going to do is look for clues as to why we’re breaking up, there’s not a lot that pertains to that, or to mine and Ben’s relationship, on this record.”
Greg sits back and sips a can of Coke. The Dillinger Escape Plan have just announced that their forthcoming sixth album, Dissociation, will be their last. But they’re not about to slip quietly into retirement…
To understand the band’s headspace today, you need to go back to the end of the touring cycle for 2013’s One Of Us Is The Killer album, where tensions between Ben and Greg were at an all-time high. They had become co-dependent, and grown to hate each other.
“I thought that would be the last album,” says Ben. “It was the climax of us being the most extreme versions of ourselves in terms of self-destruction. At that point, if you’d have asked if everything was alright between us, then I think we would have said no.”
“I don’t want to get into specifics,” Greg says, “but there was certainly some tension over who had their hands on the steering wheel. When you have people close to you, and those people hurt you, you begin to become paranoid about other people that maybe you shouldn’t be. You become very controlling, and the only way to feel safe is to make sure you don’t have to rely on anyone else. Me and Ben found ourselves in this thing that had become bigger than us, and became completely reliant on each other. And until you correct that thing in yourself that allows you to view things with a healthier mindset, the person you rely on bizarrely starts to look like your enemy through your twisted lens. Because we were both too stupid to recognise that, we let that run amok for a really long time.”
Observers would have been vaguely aware of the disharmony within the DEP camp at that time. Last year, when Hammer talked to Greg about his latest band – The Black Queen, featuring NIN and DEP associates Joshua Eustis and Steve Alexander – he told us cryptically that he didn’t know how many times he could keep putting his fingers down his throat to make himself vomit for Dillinger. At that time, Ben was already working on the songs for what would become Dissociation. “I guess I found out how many times I could vomit,” smirks Greg. “I guess this was the last time.”
“I felt confident that I could make a great Dillinger album,” Ben tells us, “but I wasn’t sure that everyone else felt the same. Greg needed to go and do The Black Queen; it was obviously important and necessary for him. At one point, he even asked me to join the band – it was almost as if he thought it would help us get through what we were going through. But I actually said no, because I thought it was important for him to do his own thing. At some point, you need to create independence. So I just carried on working on new material.”
During the time away, both men made conscious, yet utterly separate, moves to heal themselves and their relationship. Ben went through reconstructive surgery on his shoulder and Greg estimates that he spent between four to five thousand dollars on therapy down to, he says, “every imaginable thing, from relationships to health scares”. These changes sowed the seeds for a happier, more emotionally stable Dillinger Escape Plan. It is, as Greg puts it, “the best this band has been for a very long time”.
Watching the two interact today, there’s no sign of any lingering problems. There’s a telling moment when we ask Greg about the first time he auditioned for Dillinger and, after quickly telling us about how he just remembers nervously getting through it, Ben replies, “He’s being modest. He was awesome – he nailed it.” The depth of love and respect for one another shines through in a single glance.
“This is a one-off in terms of a relationship, working or otherwise,” Greg reflects. “I’ll never meet anyone else like Ben… we’ve both come to this conclusion [to break up] at the same time, without any provocation. We didn’t do this because of a conversation we had, and that’s really interesting to me, because it means we were fused in some sort of way; we were mirroring each other. There’ll never be another person that I can have this journey with.”
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It seems absurd that these two men would be willing to dissolve such a fruitful and long-running partnership. So, despite Greg’s reservations, we ask how the split came about. It transpires that as the recording sessions progressed, the band found themselves unable to settle in one studio, eventually using five different locations before the album was complete. It was during a songwriting break that Ben realised where The Dillinger Escape Plan were headed.
“I went away to Mexico,” he says. “It was the first time in as long as I can remember that I just went away and had some time to myself. Not with the band, not for any sort of work, just for my own enjoyment. And I was thinking about the band and everything we had achieved. I thought about the fact that we had never let our standards drop and that we were still putting on live shows that are better than ever. And I thought to myself, ‘Maybe we should just leave it here.’ There was no big drama, and I don’t even remember the individual conversations that we had after that…”
“When he told me,” Greg picks up, “I honestly couldn’t think of a reason for us not to do it. We all thought that it was perfect, actually. I think of this as less of a band and more of an art project. And it just felt like the perfect full stop.”
Dissociation is a stunning swansong. Aside from Dillinger’s stabbing, rhythmic twists, heard in such abundance on first single Limerent Death, there are Eastern-tinged, 70s guitar hero flourishes wrestling for space with broken electronic beats and orchestral strings. On top of that are Greg’s vocals and lyrics: savagely angry and yet heartbreakingly vulnerable. It might be their masterpiece.
“The reason that this album sounds like this is because we have grown as people,” says Greg. “Bands can practise their instruments and buy better gear, but the reason they are making albums that sound the same is because they are the same people. Once I fixed myself, I was suddenly able to access all of these other emotions and bring them to this record. I’m sure that once we made this decision, the incentive to leave you with the most insane artistic statement we have ever made intensified. We wanted to make sure we could wring out every last drop of what was left in this band. I know that I tried to get everything into the album that I could, and to say everything that I needed to say, because I didn’t know if I was ever going to have the chance to say it again.”
“So much great art is made from struggle and intense situations,” continues Ben. “We needed to know if we could still make this crazy music without that backdrop. And now that we’ve healed as people, we don’t need the band as a crutch. If we suddenly get the urge to play a gig in someone’s backyard in a few years, then I’m not saying that we won’t do it. But this album is so clearly defined as an end point. It’s an angry, pissed-off album because it’s the story of the band. But it ends with us in a good place. What more is there to say? It’s over.”
At this point Greg voices his concerns that the new album might be overshadowed by their demise. He’s quickly silenced as Mastodon’s Brent Hinds bounds into the dressing room to demand Ben come and practise with the rest of Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, the band they’ve formed with Alice In Chains frontman William DuVall, ahead of their live debut on the Reading stage that day.
Later, The Dillinger Escape Plan walk on to The Pit stage to a crowd fully expecting to see a typically unhinged show. But Greg sings opening song Prancer while lying back on a sofa, sipping tea and flicking through a newspaper. It’s knowing, amusing, surprising. It openly mocks the idea that they need to rely on climbing speaker stacks and shitting in bags to be heavy and intense. It’s typically Dillinger. If anything accurately sums up their appeal, it’s not their words to us, or their explanations of their death, but this – their art. They’ll be gone soon, and it’s all we’ll have. But Greg shouldn’t be pissed off, because he’s left one hell of a legacy.
Dissociation is out on October 14, via Party Smasher/Cooking Vinyl. The Dillinger Escape Plan tour the UK in January 2017
Ben already has projects post-DEP. Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, his collaboration with Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds and Alice In Chains frontman William DuVall, have played at Reading and Leeds festivals and released Broken Lines, a surprising debut full of intense, catchy dance-influenced modern rock. Ben and William reveal their hopes for GTO
How did GTO come about?
William: “I heard about this project that Brent and Ben were doing years ago. They’d always be mentioning this crazy name: Giraffe Tongue Orchestra. And Brent would be like, ‘Are you in?’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, sure,’ when I never really thought anything was going to come of it. But they’re great guys and great musicians, and I was just happy to be part of the conversation. It was originally going to be a different vocalist on every song. Every now and then, I’d get an email from one of them saying, ‘What about GTO?’ but we were all busy. But then one day I was sent the music, and I knew I had to be part of this.”
What’s the ambition for GTO?
Ben: “We’re just talking about this like a baby band at the moment, just trying to organise our jobs so we can get together and jam. Playing that first show at Reading went pretty well. Now we’re talking about, ‘What’s next?’ We just want people to hear the album right now. We’re taking it step by step.”
It’s quite different from your usual day jobs, isn’t it?
William: “It’s not the sort of music that I’m used to working with, but I love that. This is a chance for me to do something that you’ve never seen; to show a different side to myself. And I really wanted to let loose on this record. I’ve grown up listening to punk rock bands, and it’s that energy that I had to tap into for this.”
it’s being called a supergroup. How do you feel about that?
Ben: “We’re all recognisable from other things, and we all have our individual sounds and styles, so I get it. But I don’t want people to look at this like some kind of vanity project. It’s not just an attempt to pick up each others’ fans; we want this to live on its own. We put a lot of time and effort into this band to try and formulate our sound into something unique and real.”
Giraffe Tongue Orchestra’s Broken Lines is out now, via Party Smasher/Cooking Vinyl