Dear Guitar Hero: Ben Weinman
Originally published in Guitar World, February 2010
He was named one of GW’s 50 fastest guitarists and one of our 25 cult guitar heroes, too. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is…
I heard that Dillinger Escape Plan just finished recording a new album called Option Paralysis. What can you tell us about it? Are you continuing to move in the more electronic direction of [2007’s] Ire Works?—Gary Shultz
I think Option Paralysis is the most metal record we’ve written thus far. We’ve always been placed in the metal category, but I’ve never really seen us as a full-on metal band. But funny enough, just as people have finally started to accept how eclectic we are and give us our own place in the scene, we’re coming out with our most metal record yet. Electronic music is definitely something I’m still into, and it’s actually a big inspiration to my guitar playing. But that said, this record is a little less electronic than Ire Works.
It seems that a lot of metal guitarists tune down, but you play in standard E tuning. What’s the reasoning behind this? Are you worried that a lower tuning would give you a more muddy tone?—Ryan H.
That’s a good question. A lot of bands tune down these days, but I think some of the greatest heavy bands have played in standard tuning. Metallica and Slayer have written riffs that don’t rely on different tunings. Actually, many times they didn’t even have the greatest guitar tones. Early Metallica records aren’t known for having the best production value, and Slayer didn’t have the most distorted guitar tones, either, which is ironic because they’re one of the heaviest bands of all time. But those records sounded so energetic because every instrument had its own place in the mix. These days it seems like people rely on their tone to make something sound good. I’ve always tried to rely on creativity and songwriting rather than what gear I have or how I tune my guitar. Also, I learned how to play on a guitar that was tuned to E, and many of the first songs I learned were in standard E, whether they were by Cream or Stevie Ray Vaughan. So I guess I just continued to write in that way.
I love how beautifully intricate all your guitar riffs are. What is your process for composing songs? Do you write things down or just have an amazing memory?—Alec Lee
I don’t have an amazing memory for anything else in my life, but music is definitely in my soul. I’ve never written down one Dillinger riff or idea. Everything I do is kind of from muscle memory: once we write it and play it, that’s it. People always say we’re a “mathmetal” band, but I’m actually really right-brained when it comes to that stuff. I don’t think mathematically. We do write songs in which a lot of notes are played, but it’s all very musical and emotional to me. When something touches me emotionally, it just stays with me.
Dillinger are hugely influential in the extreme metal genre, and I think you guys should be much more commercially successful than you are. Is it just bad luck, or can you point to a reason why big-time success has evaded you?—Thom Bowjer
That’s a really good question. We’ve touched on so many spectrums of music in the few records we’ve put out, and the majority of our music sounds like the antithesis to commercial music. But I’ve also heard people say, “This should be a big hit!” about some of our songs. At the end of the day, the only reason we’ve created such a range of music and styles is because we want to have a long-lasting career and not be a one-hit wonder. We don’t want to get stuck in a box.
There was a time when a lot of major labels were coming to us and trying to buy us out of our contracts, and a lot of big bands were name-dropping us. But today we’re in a much better place because we never signed on. The industry has changed so drastically that the people who were in control of the “success” don’t really have a lot of say in anything anymore. Because we’ve never relied on guys in suits for the money we make or the songs we write, we’re in a great position. The music industry has been in a recession for the past 10 years, but it hasn’t affected us that much.
Dillinger have had many lineup changes throughout the years. How do you explain your crazy parts to all the new members? Do you write out tabs for them?—Adolfo Perez
I don’t write tab—but I invite anybody to do it for me if they want. [laughs] The new guys in the band have been Dillinger fans, and many times they’ve been friends of the band, so there hasn’t been much to explain to them about our ethic and attitude. But as far as teaching them the riffs, I’ve videotaped myself playing and given it to the new guys, or I’ve told them to figure it out on their own and I’ll make corrections. Or sometimes I’ll just let them do their own thing entirely. [laughs]
I heard a rumor that you guys roll a pair of dice to come up with your odd time signatures. Is that true? If not, how do you create the complex rhythms in your songs?—Dan Zuffelato
That’s not true, but it’s an interesting rumor that I’ve heard before. Recently, our new drummer, Billy [Rymer], asked if we could write a song using Morse code, and we just laughed at him. When I’m writing music, I give a lot of thought to percussion. A lot of our complex, fast rhythms are really just based on Latin rhythms. People don’t realize it because we’re playing it so loud and aggressively, but if you slowed the songs down, you’d be able to hear the similarities.
When did you guys decide that your live shows would include so much energy and chaos? Or did it just happen?—Brandon Newberger
A lot of that stuff started very early on. I’m the only original band member, and when Dillinger first started playing we weren’t focused on “making it” in the music business. I was going to school for psychology, and the only thing I looked forward to was driving out to South Jersey or Pennsylvania and playing these little hardcore shows. We would just vent onstage, and we weren’t held responsible for anything that happened. Now we’re recreating the energy and unpredictability that was so exciting when we first started. That’s kind of what Option Paralysis is all about—that people are bombarded with so much information, on the computer, and from everywhere else, too. One result of that is you can watch a band play a thousand shows all across the world [on YouTube] before you actually go to a show for yourself and see them play live. There’s not too much unpredictability or danger nowadays, but that just motivates us to keep pushing things in our performances.
What is your main guitar, and how do you keep it in tune while you’re flailing around onstage?—Josh Newton
I use ESP guitars, and having a decent neck-through solidbody guitar really helps keep things in tune. I also use Sperzel tuning pegs, because they lock onto the strings.
Can you name a few guitarists that inspire you that might surprise us?—Paul Baker
I grew up listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. You can’t hear much of that in Dillinger, but it’s the stuff I first learned to play. Not only is their music challenging to play but it’s based on feeling. You have to play with technical proficiency, but to make the songs sound right you also have to put feeling into it. Later, I got into more fusion, jazz and metal. In Dillinger, we want to push ourselves musically, but at the same time it has to have that feeling. We like to think that’s what separates us from a lot of the other technical bands.
I’m trying to add some jazz flavor to my metal. Can you suggest a few artists to study that could help me to build phrases like the ones you play in the middle clean section of “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants”?—Julien
The Mahavishnu Orchestra, with John McLaughlin. Some of their records are so eclectic. The thing about McLaughlin is that, while he didn’t concentrate on being the cleanest guitarist of all time, his playing was really aggressive. His stuff is easily applied if you’re trying to add more fusion- and jazz-style phrasings to your heavy music. Also, check out King Crimson, with Robert Fripp. McLaughlin and Fripp are great transitional artists to listen to if you want to break out of your routine.