Dillinger Escape Plan have been called an experimental band, an art rock group, and purveyors of strange brand of hardcore called mathcore. None of those descriptions works when you think about the music on "One Of Us Is The Killer," the band's fifth album. The title track is a melodic track full of ambient verses while "Prancer," the first single embodies staccato bursts of guitar and maniacal vocals over a frantic track. Guitarist and mastermind Ben Weinman will tell you that the band have developed their own language and like anyone learning a foreign tongue, the longer you do it, the better you become. "There were certain things we were trying to do," Weinman says, "but a big part of Dillinger was always kind of these happy accidents because we were experimenting and trying new things. Sometimes it would be whatever - it could be jazzy or fusiony or Latin types of rhythms or distortion on a lot of cymbals (laughs). So yeah, a lot of that language did take time to develop and a lot of it was like these happy accidents we recognized as something interesting. That then became part of the intentional side of things."
Whether they were happy accidents or not, the music played by Dillinger Escape Plan sounds like nobody else. At times it is unnerving and ear shattering and almost impossible to listen to and at other times the songs soar melodically and harmonically. Here Ben Weinman talks about who the band are and how they got to where they are today.
Having "One Of Us is the Killer" come out on your own Party Smasher label must feel good.
Yeah definitely. We've been trying different kinds of label situations and partnerships throughout the years. It's been great to be able to kind of build the Party Smasher brand or umbrella if you will and continue to do things and push things in that direction.
Does having your own label give you even more license to push the boundaries?
We've always tried different and we've really tried to be creative with the way we do our business and we've always considered it to be definitely as important as the music and everything. We've learned a lot along the way. I think the Party Smasher thing for us is more of just a way to make sure we differentiate ourselves from whatever it is we do on the business side of things. Because we've never found a home we felt was 100 percent creatively representative of us and that's just logical you know. Obviously every band has their own personality and their own upbringing. It's just kind of a way for us to put a stamp and an umbrella over everything we do regardless of who we work with in the future. Like our last record was on a French label and now we're doing things with different partners throughout the world in different territories. The Party Smasher thing just gives us a way to tie it all together.
You've worked with producer Steve Evetts since the first EP. Why do you like working with him?
Number one, he's our friend and we've always been pretty tight. Even past members of the band are still great friends of the band and still even have involvement in the records in some ways. That's a big part and that's number one that he's kinda like part of the family. Number two because of that he knows us and he knows the Dillinger language.
There is a special vocabulary inside the band?
There really is almost like a language and once you speak the language and form sentences and then form paragraphs, it becomes songs. That communication is really helpful to be efficient in getting things done.
That language - heavy riffs and ambient instrumental breaks - can be heard on "Prancer," the first single from the new album.
It's funny because 'Prancer' is the first song most people are hearing and as diverse and crazy as it is, it is pretty much I guess a typical Dillinger song. That's one of the reasons why we chose to put it out there first because it really does I guess represent the fact we still have that same energy that we always had that made us write that kind of music. That stuff is throughout the record obviously and it's all over the record and all over our catalog. Yeah, I mean I think the fact that it is so diverse and at the same time it's pretty typical does say a lot about the sound and the vibe we developed over the years. We have had a lot of influences but our goal was always to incorporate those influences into something that becomes the song.
Dillinger were never a band to wear their influences on their sleeve?
When we were coming up there were a lot of bands putting hardcore metal or jazz and metal together or emo with hardcore. There were a lot of styles merging but there wasn't a lot of what's absolutely huge now. It was very clear that this was the part that was influenced by that and this was the part that was influenced by that. What we always wanted to do was take all the influences and just blend into something that's new. So all those different passages and vibes are just a part of us incorporating all these ideas and hopefully that becomes a complete picture.
"I dont even consider myself a guitar player - I consider myself a songwriter."
The title song is completely different than "Prancer" and has cleaner guitars and more ambient verses. There are like two sides of you.
I've been in this band a lot of years and I've been through a lot of stages of development as a human throughout the time I've been in this band. The truth is art should represent life - if it's real then you should be expressing your life and your feelings and emotions and all that's going on. Your world should come out in your art. That's really been a huge goal for us is to maintain that level and what we're doing is real and we're actually putting real emotion in this. It's not just us fabricating something that's become a job now. We never want to be an assembly line of riffs. In reality life is up or down; life is chaotic; and all you can do is jam with it and jam with life. Play jazz with it and improve and trying to make something cool out of whatever stuff is going your way. That's really what Dillinger is all about for me is having this outlet and trying to express the ups and downs and craziness and the chaotic schizophrenia that is the reality of the world.
"Nothing's Funny" is a great song that sort of coasts along until the 2:09 mark and then it goes into that heavy riff. Like you're poking the giant in the ribs to see what happens.
Yeah, I mean that's a pretty cool description I have to say. Again that's one of the cool things about this band is when you get to hear other people's interpretations of the songs and kind of reflect on it yourself.
Where did that crazy jazz section come from in "Paranoia Shields"?
Yeah, there's all kinds of sh-t. I actually had a bunch of horn players come in and play on this record. It was cool. We tried some new things for sure.
"We've always tried different and we've really tried to be creative with the way we do our business."
In 2012, Spin listed you in their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time and Guitar World recently named you alongside Eddie Van Halen and Les Paul as one of the 50 Fastest Guitar Players. What do those accolades mean to you?
There's two sides of that for me. In one sense I'm really honored and it's really great and it's cool because the credibility that Dillinger has brought to me has given me a lot of opportunities to do other interesting things - work with other artists, soundtracks and all kinds of stuff. Part of that is based off some of these titles that you get. I'm also a huge fan of a lot of the players that were in these magazines. Of course I love Eddie Van Halen and some of the people that are on these lists and they're huge influences on me. So yeah, obviously it's an honor and there are some cool things that come out of these lists.
What's the second side?
At the same time it's truly weird because I've never considered myself one of those guitar player guys. I don't even consider myself a guitar player - I consider myself a songwriter. We don't really have any rules to how we do things. I never sit down and practice licks and then say, 'How can I incorporate this into a song?' I know a lot of the guys that are considered really technically proficient and virtuosos in their guitar playing, they are guys who have spent more time practicing than working on lyrics. That's definitely not me. So I do feel a little weird sometimes being on those lists. Also I'd never want people to think that I think I'm one of those guys because I don't. I'm in a band but at the same time I guess it is an honor to be included on those lists.
When you first put Dillinger Escape Plan together, did you know what you wanted the band to sound like?
Yeah, I mean we definitely wanted to like push things. We definitely wanted to take our influences and run 'em through the distortion pedal. We wanted to make things extreme again. At that time the underground scene had gotten a little homogenized. The post-hardcore scene in America was very innovative and you had bands like Black Flag and the Bad Brains and then the start of the New York hardcore scene and stuff like that, which was a huge influence on me. But then the bands coming up after that were a lot of bands that were just trying to sound like those bands and they didn't really encompass the attitude of those bands.
"'Prancer' really does represent the fact we still have that same energy that we always had that made us write that kind of music."
You were really trying to start something new?
I wanted to stir things up and have real anarchy and really try things new and really push people and challenge people. That's what these guys in these bands to me weren't really getting. It wasn't about sounding like these bands - it was about taking that attitude and doing something new with it. That's really what we wanted to do and that was definitely intentional. We definitely wanted to take their heads off and be like, 'Whoa, what is going on here? Whether we love this or hate this, these guys are definitely making you pay attention.' And that was definitely a goal for sure.
"Proceed With Caution" was the first track from that first "Dillinger Escape Plan" EP. Was that song meant to introduce the band to the world?
I don't if we intentionally did that to make that statement but the second song on that EP ('I Love Secret Agents'), the main line that's being screamed is a line that says, 'We're not trying to impress you' over and over. That definitely was a big part of what we were doing. We were kinda sick of trying to become part of a clique and to write music that would fit into a theme. We didn't have friends in the scene; we weren't a band like that. We weren't part of the scene and we came from towns that didn't have a scene or any place for us really. So yeah, there was definitely the intention of saying, 'Look, we're not gonna fit into any mold. We don't care what you think of us. We're gonna push these boundaries and we're gonna do music we love. We're gonna try some new things without the intention of trying to fit into a mold.' So that was certainly a goal in the beginning.
You were definitely making different-sounding music.
But now it's very interesting because nobody's ever brought that song up in any interview ever. People have heard it - you obviously did - and I'm glad you brought that up. Because for those people who say, 'Wow, Dillinger is getting soft and they're writing songs that are melodic and that's not their sound blah blah blah.' I say, 'Have you ever heard the first song we ever put to the world? It's a Latin-influenced instrumental. When did we ever claim to be anything?'
"Have you ever heard the first song we ever put to the world? It's a Latin-influenced instrumental. When did we ever claim to be anything?"
On the "Dillinger Escape Plan" EP you were the only guitar player and then you brought in John Fulton for the second EP, "Under the Running Board."
It was about trying to recreate the stuff we were writing live and we needed a second guitar player. That was really the main thing you know. We were like we wanna have all the parts represented on our live shows so we really felt like we needed to bring in another guitar player. John had been playing in bands with the other guys (Samsara and Malfactor), Adam and Chris, our original bass player and drummer before Dillinger so it just made a lot of sense to have him join the party. Because Dillinger was becoming much more active than their other bands and he was already part of the family back then.
On "Calculating Infinity," the first full-length album, John Fulton has left and is replaced by Brian Benoit.
For one thing, John at the time was the best guitar player I ever met. He technically had a huge influence on me. He was a technical guitar player but I was just kind of like a punk guy honestly. I was just into punk and hardcore and he was listening to all this technical music. He would be putting all this stuff in front of me and I'd be like blowing my mind. Then I'd be like, 'Wow, we gotta use these ideas or something. This is cool.' So he had a huge influence on kind of like the technical direction of the band although because I was listening to mainly punk and hardcore stuff obviously the band maintained that level of energy and ferocity. But his influence in bringing some of these technical things to me really obviously had an effect.
How was working with Brian Benoit different than your time with John Fulton?
Brian was playing in a band called Jesuit that we were touring with and he was fully immersed in hardcore. So he was kind of more coming from my side of things and he grew up on a lot of the same music but then I would start introducing him to some of the technical stuff I was into at that point. It's almost like we switched roles - I became the guy who was introducing grind to a lot of this stuff that I'd gotten into since the start of the band.
Bassist Adam Doll had been hurt in an accident and you played bass on the "Calculating Infinity" album. What was that like?
I would have rather had Adam for sure but at the time it seemed like if Adam couldn't do it then we just had to figure it out on our own. Nobody knew the extent of his injuries at that point or how long he'd be out for. We didn't know if he'd get better. It was tough. I certainly realized that during that time a bass player is not just a guitar player that plays with less strings. That's something I learned really quickly. It was really difficult and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in this band was get through that.
"We definitely took risks in order to tell people, 'Hey, you're never gonna know exactly what's coming with Dillinger.'"
How would you characterize your performance?
I'm certainly proud of how it came out. Adam did have a big part in helping me with that by just kind of training me up and helping me come up with ideas and stuff like that. Yeah, I would have definitely rather have Adam play on that.
Putting down the bass and guitar parts with drummer Chris Pennie must have been amazing.
We grew up playing together. He's definitely pushed me in a certain way and I think we pushed each other in the right kind of way. I think just the tug and pull of our personalities was a big part of the Dillinger sound.
Did you know the music you wanted to make required a drummer with a lot of chops?
It was one of those things where again we were figuring it out together. He was kind of just like a technical drummer. It's funny because he was into a lot of technical playing but he didn't really hit his drums very hard. I don't know a better way to say it. He was very precise and very controlled. What I did was I came in and I said, 'Alright now take some of these ideas that are really much more advanced than most of the bands are using in the scene and let's make 'em sing. Let's bring some energy and attitude to it.'
As you described before, you wanted to sort of put the drums through an - imaginary - distortion pedal.
I remember specifically sitting in a room with him and him doing some of these things that were Latin-based that he was learning in an Afro-Cuban drum book. And being like, 'Alright, do it on a China cymbal and speed it up like a 1,000 times.' I remember him being like, 'I can't play that fast. It's impossible number one and number two a China cymbal's only meant to be hit like once. You can't play it like that.' I remember being like, 'F--k that, yes you can.' He's like, 'I cant. I can't.' And I'm like, 'Yes, you can' and within a week it was a very different animal. Those were the kinds of things I think were interesting between the two us and us kinda adding those two things.
"Working with Mike Patton was a huge, huge thing for us. I grew up listening to Faith No More so yeah, it was unbelievable."
Singer Dimitri Minakakis left and you brought in Greg Puciato as a replacement. Did you know what you wanted in a singer?
Good question. Well we had done an EP with Mike Patton ("Irony is A Dead Scene") right after Dimitri left so that definitely had an impact for sure.
That was a great record.
Thank you. Yeah, that definitely had an impact because obviously we had someone whose known for being one of the greatest singers of our time and definitely one of the most diverse singers singing over our music. So we knew we needed someone who was just as diverse and could handle everything we had done in the past but could also bring new things to the table. We certainly didn't want someone who sounded exactly like Dimitri and we didn't want someone who sounded exactly like Mike Patton. But we knew we needed somebody who could cover the range of stuff we'd done.
Was that a good experience working on the "Irony Is a Dead Scene" EP with Mike Patton?
Yeah, oh yeah. Obviously it was a huge, huge thing for us. We were a huge fan and I grew up listening to Faith No More and Mr. Bungle so yeah, it was unbelievable.
There was a different sound than the first album working with Greg Puciato on the "Miss Machine" record?
Yeah, it was interesting I suppose when you hear that on our second full-length record. That was gonna kind of determine the rest of our career really and how we approached it. We very consciously wanted to make it very diverse so we could create a scenario where we could be a band for many, many years and not get bored and not be pigeonholed and stuff with different sounds. We could grow and mature in the band and still enjoy it. So yeah, we definitely took risks on that record in order to tell people, 'Hey, you're never gonna know exactly what's coming with Dillinger.'
"'Plagiarism' EP was really just for fun. We also wanted to tell the metal community that it's OK to listen to other music."
In 2006, you did a covers EP called "Plagiarism" and reworked songs by Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden. Were you a fan of grunge?
Totally. That EP was really just for fun. People ask, 'Why did you do this covers EP? Why did you even stay so true to a lot of the sounds of the songs? You're Dillinger so you should have made this stuff unintelligible.' Honestly we were just doing that for our own fun. We were playing with those songs at practice and messing around by covering them. We just decided, 'Why don't we just put it out there to further let people know you can't really know what to expect from us?' We also wanted to tell the close-minded metal community that it's OK to listen to other music (laughs).
Which is why you covered Justin Timberlake's "Like I Love You"?
Exactly. We were all kind of listening to that record and going, 'Oh, this is really good. It sounds like early Michael Jackson and there are some really interesting things going on here.' So we started jamming on it and said, 'Let's just cover it.'
On "Ire Works," drummer Gil Sharone has come into replace Chris Pennie?
It was a huge turning point for me personally. For one, I didn't know if I could in this band with anybody besides Chris. Yeah, it was a huge turning point for me and my confidence moved forward. It was really a time when I realized Dillinger isn't about any one person really - it's about the attitude and still feeling passionate about doing this. I realized everybody's replaceable (laughs). If their heart's not in it then you don't need 'em.
Brian Benoit hurt himself and you ended up playing all the guitars on "Ire Works"?
I pretty much played most of the guitars on all of our records basically.
Even though you've always worked with a second guitar player, you covered all the guitars yourself?
Yeah, with 'Calculating Infinity' Brian really didn't join the band until after it was almost done. He didn't play on much of that. It was just kinda like one of those things where the process was the process. Creatively a member change has had a huge effect on us but certainly as a band and a unit in our live show, it certainly has a huge effect.
"I wanted to stir things up and have real anarchy and really try things new and really push people and challenge people."
On "Milk Lizard" you played little piano fills and on the album you're credited with piano, sound design and programming. Do you dig that side of the recording process?
I love that stuff. Definitely when we started doing 'Ire Works', I had just had surgery on my arm and didn't have use of my left hand at all. A lot of that record was written with kind of one hand on a computer doing sound design and learning new tricks and things like that just to spark inspiration. And I've loved doing it ever since.
Brent Hinds sang backup on "Horse Hunter" and recently you put together a side project with called Giraffe Tongue Orchestra.
I've known him for so long. I've known those guys since before the band existed so it's been great to just come up with that guy. He's one of those true artists that is like the real deal.
Very talented musician.
Yeah, there's not many guys like that left. You feel like those guys who grew up in the '60s and '70s, it's like these guys just live to play guitar. That's him. I love that guy.
Have you been working on the Giraffe Tongue Orchestra?
Yeah, we've got a bunch of songs written. It's myself and Eric Avery who was obviously in Jane's Addiction and now in Nine Inch Nails and Jon Theodore from Mars Volta. We've got a bunch of songs and because of how busy everyone is in their own bands, it's not something we can schedule perfectly. But they'll definitely see the light of day eventually.
"Ire Works" was the most successful album you've done?
I don't know. That's a tough call. I don't know really.
Why do you think that record had so much success?
It was timing and the state of the industry. I mean it's all kind of things. In certain regions certain records do better because we have a stronger presence working in those regions. The kind of touring we've done and the kind of music and what was happening. It's all kinds of things and I stopped trying to understand it.
"It was nuts to see Mike Garson on 'Widower' who's been playing music for that long sit down and be so excited still to make music."
"Mouth of Ghosts" was the epic song on "Ire Works" at 6:49. Where did that song come from?
Yeah, it's funny a lot of those kind of departure songs on those last few records were songs that were never written for Dillinger. I was just making music just to make music. And things were like, 'Wow, we need more music.' I was like, 'Why not? Why not put it on there?' Just to further the attitude there is no specific Dillinger way - there's no right or wrong way of doing things. Let's just make it work.
"Option Paralysis" was the first album with drummer Billy Rymer. Did that change the musical dynamics for you?
It does, man. Gil Sharone represented us moving forward and continuing with it and triumphing over a difficult situation with Chris Pennie leaving the band. But Billy represented me playing with a drummer again that's solid and stable and wants to be in this band for the long haul. Just having a relationship again with a drummer. We live near each other and we get together and we jam and that kind of brought that back into the band. That was really important because able to have that synergy and he even moved into my house during the writing of "Option Paralysis." We just jammed and just like took it easy and it was really natural.
You thought the approach to "Option Paralysis" was less forced and more organic than the way you worked on earlier albums?
Yeah, it really was like that. It was much less stressful than we had in a long time. So we were able to whenever we felt inspiration, just make music. It was really cool.
"A lot of 'Ire Works' was written with one hand on a computer doing sound design and learning new tricks just to spark inspiration."
You brought in Mike Garson to play piano on "Widower"?
Yeah, it was nuts to see somebody who's been playing music for that long sit down and be so excited still to create and make music. It was really inspirational.
Were you a David Bowie fan?
Yes, absolutely. And I'd been listening to his catalog a lot during that time.
What are the plans for the band at the moment?
Doing a bunch of interviews (laughs). Getting ready to go on tour and getting ready to start this beast back up again really.
You're involved in all aspects of the band including the label and management. Is the music business healthy here in 2013?
I think it is. I think it's finally gotten to the point where people accept craziness and once you accept it it's a healthy scenario for sure.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"I think it's finally gotten to the point where people accept craziness and once you accept it it's a healthy scenario for sure."