Dillinger Escape Plan

By Andy

Onstage, Ben Weinman, guitarist and producer of the Dillinger Escape Plan, is like a feral cat. Vaulting off bass stacks, jumping headlong into the crowd while still managing to play riffs at something approaching lightspeed, prowling around with a maniacal grin in his eye as his band raise hell alongside him. Covered in sweat with ornate tattoos glistening on his arms, his fingers are a constant blur as his guitar screams bloody murder – it’s fair to say that when playing live, Weinman is not to be trifled with. His music, as he will go on to say, is “intensely personal”, and the way he throws his body around only underlines his conviction. But offstage, in the less-than-opulent back room at the Camden Underworld he’s much more difficult to categorise.

The way he immediately shuts the door to block out Eden Maine’s soundcheck and the quiet authority with which he speaks suggests that Dillinger really is his life. “This business is a business, there’s a lot of politics that you can’t get round, and when you become a touring band that sells a certain amount of records, people’s paychecks are dependant on you. We maintain control over our band more than any other band this size, I’ve never even met a band that has more control over their product at this stage in the game.” Anyone that’s encountered DEP’s startling fusion of hardcore metal blastbeats, jazz intricacies and sheer balls-out imagination will know how unique they are, and their latest album ‘Miss Machine’ won plaudits from across the board because of its unusual inclusion of something hitherto extremely rare to Dillinger releases – melody.
“We didn’t try to do necessarily make it like that, but we wanted to create a much more dynamic piece. We’ve had a lot of dynamics in our songs before, like a lot of ups and downs and changes, but here we wanted to see if we could stretch that to an album, to make it more of a journey. There’s nothing worse than a band releasing a record that sounds like one big song. That was important for us, to create a single piece that still makes sense with all our feelings while we were making the record. Also, in the beginning, Dillinger was our outlet for our heavier side but we still listened to all kinds of other music, and as this band became the focus of our lives we wanted to incorporate everything into it.”

And success was all but a certainty, since everything Dillinger have put their name to, from their shockingly accomplished demo, ‘The Running Board’, to ‘Miss Machine’, has seen their stature grow and grow. Having said that, it’s not like they feel constrained by their past, as the sweeping choruses of ‘Setting Fire To Sleeping Giant’ and ‘Retrofied’ aptly demonstrate. “If we don’t incorporate these things into Dillinger then we’re putting ourselves into the category that we don’t want people to put us in, that there are strict guidelines to what we can do. Part of our sound is trying to create an element of surprise and unpredictability, and that’s what I feel is missing in music at the moment, both in the live form and recorded.” Do you feel like there’s a pressure to come up with more challenging music? After all, the NME said your band was better than the Beatles, so how do you cope with that? “Something we have done on the new record is having the element of Dillinger that people recognise, and then incorporate proper song structures so people can see that we’re not just doing random stuff, that there is a style and a purpose behind our work. We thought the best way to show that was to write songs that have a bit more of a typical structure but that still maintain elements that people like about us, that was the challenge.”

When asked if Dillinger has, in effect, been pushed into a corner by being so musically schizophrenic when creating a new album, Ben smiles as if he could only ever scratch the surface of what he wants to achieve. “ I don’t think we’ve even touched on a lot of stuff at this point. I think it’s obvious by our records that we would keep going if we could, we’re always pressed for time, maybe because of money or whatever. There’s so many tracks that were never used on the record because there just wasn’t time. We’re a lot more involved in the production than a lot of bands, sometimes we just do it all on our own. Up until the power was turned off on our console I was on my computer trying to work stuff out.”

Dillinger’s music is, to some, completely impenetrable. The unflinching assault of Weinman and Brian Benoit’s guitars (there is no single ‘lead’ guitarist, since both musicians are talented enough to play completely different, yet brilliantly complementary runs simultaneously), subtitled by Liam Wilson’s pulsing bass and marshalled by the brutality of frontman Greg Puciato soars over many people’s heads. When they supported System of a Down just after ‘Chop Suey!’ catapulted SOAD into the musical stratosphere, they had thousands of kids screaming abuse at them every night, but this doesn’t bother Dillinger in the slightest. In fact, it pushes them further: “We weren’t part of our music scene, bands we were in weren’t fitting in when we started, and that was what was behind us when we began Dillinger. There’s nothing greater than creating something out of nothing, so it was a combination of making something that we wanted to hear. Now it’s on a different level – we were the nerds, and now in our world we’re the cool kids! But we don’t feel that way at all. We have the same frustration, we’re driven to destroy, we’re really competitive. The thought that there’s someone out there that thinks Slipknot is the heaviest band in the world, or that to them Lamb of God is like how Pantera was to us…or Carcass or Entombed…stuff like that drives us to make sure that we can go on.”

What is most baffling about Dillinger’s rise to cult-herodom is their acceptance by the mainstream press. This gig was set up by Radio 1 and Kerrang so it would be free, yet their music is specifically non-commercial. “We always try to liken ourselves to bands that have artistic integrity but that have still set their sights high. Like Tool, they just had a song that happened to be good for radio, I don’t think that was their goal as such. Like Radiohead, they had such a cult following that they could continue and make music that they enjoy that isn’t exactly radio-friendly and still maintain their size.” In that case, how far do you think you can push Dillinger? “Becoming a bigger band isn’t something we’ve necessarily tried to do. We want to play in front of as many people as possible but we’d never sacrifice our artistic integrity to do it. We write music that we enjoy, and when we started our tastes were a little more weird and against the mainstream, but now I think there’s starting to be a middle ground.”

And then two hours after this interview Weinman is jumping off speaker stacks and kicking errant stagedivers into the crowd. Dillinger are adored by the few and misunderstood by the many – they’re not just noise, they’re a coherent attack on homogeneity and bands without imagination. Grab hold of them and don’t let go.

Try these three interviews

Interview: Greywind [Reading 2016]

Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]