Dillinger Escape Plan: Multiple Choice
Originally published in Guitar World, June 2010
Do Dillinger Escape Plan have a new album, a new drummer or a new label? How about all of the above? Ben Weinman and Jeff Tuttle get quizzed about the group’s many changes and its latest schizophrenic effort, Option Paralysis.
There are two faces to Ben Weinman, Dillinger Escape Plan’s guitarist and main songwriter: the polite gentleman and the wild-eyed madman. Sitting in Guitar World’s conference room, wearing a longsleeve black-knit shirt and matching skullcap, Weinman is unassuming, soft-spoken and articulate as he discusses the dramatic changes that his band has undergone over the past three years.
But when he steps onstage at New York’s Irving Plaza hours after our interview, a startling transformation takes place. Armed with a black ESP Les Paul guitar and a catalog of jarring and jaw-dropping songs, Weinman becomes reckless and self-destructive. He collides with band members and punctuates rhythms by swinging his guitar in a downward arc, like a lumberjack chopping wood. During a musical vamp, he ascends a stack of amps and precariously spans a four-foot chasm to a platform high above the left side of the stage. Leaping to the floor, he rolls and rises in time to finish a skewed riff, all without missing a note. Toward the end of the show, Weinman takes a running leap into a solid wall and collapses in a heap.
Somehow, he finishes the evening without injuries. He hasn’t always been so lucky. Over the years Weinman’s antics have resulted in broken ribs, a torn rotator cuff (which required surgery), a broken foot, cracked discs in his neck, stitches to his face and staples in his head.
“There is something to be said for being onstage and tasting blood,” Weinman says of his erratic behavior. “I’d be lying if I said that feeling blood dripping in my eyes or mouth doesn’t give me an adrenaline rush. That doesn’t mean I enjoy walking around limping, but there’s something about that moment onstage where I’m in a different mode. I almost feel like I’m not giving it my all—not taking things as far as I need to take them—if I don’t get into those territories every night.”
Taking things as far as they need to go has been Dillinger Escape Plan’s modus operandi since they emerged from Morris Plains, New Jersey, in 1997 with an EP of spazzy mathcore and a diverse range of influences including Today Is the Day, Neurosis, Dazzling Killmen, the Jesus Lizard and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. When it comes to songwriting and performing, the words “safe” and “easy” aren’t in Dillinger Escape Plan’s vocabulary. For Weinman, specifically, the desire to create confrontational music was a reaction to his stable, secure upbringing.
“I grew up in this suburban lifestyle, where everything was normal and my overprotective Jewish mother used to follow me around,” he says. “From the very start, this band was an outlet to take on a whole other persona. There was definitely this dichotomy of us being these good college kids and going to class and then being able to go onstage and have 100 percent artistic physical expression and no inhibitions.”
Dillinger Escape Plan’s fourth full album, Option Paralysis, is even more schizophrenic and complex than 2007’s critically acclaimed Ire Works. The new tunes are packed with off-time rhythms, turbulent riffs that require frantic fretting and rapid alternate picking, atmospheric enhancements that would shortcircuit most bands’ pedal boards, and abrupt tempo and tone shifts that sometimes sound like the band has launched into an entirely new song. There are also colorful electronic and keyboard embellishments that clash with the arrangements as frequently as they work with them. And while the disc features more melodic vocals than ever, they’re frequently layered over aggressive passages, creating a dazzling duality of the tender and terrifying. As wild as the arrangements are, they hold together, and the music remains exciting throughout. It should be especially interesting to see how the Hot Topic crowd at this summer’s Warped Tour reacts to the band’s jarring display.
Weinman wrote a portion of Option Paralysis, including most of the haunting electronic-infused lounge ballad “Parasitic Twins” and the plaintive, piano-embellished “Widower,” over the past couple years. But he and coguitarist Jeff Tuttle (formerly of Heads Will Roll and Capture the Flag) didn’t begin to work on the album in earnest until the band returned from Australia in March 2009.
“We were passing riffs back and forth online, because Ben lives in New Jersey and I’m in Detroit,” says the somewhat laconic Tuttle, who replaced longtime guitarist Brian Benoit in 2007 after Benoit suffered severe nerve damage to his left hand. “Ben would come up with an idea, and I would usually expand upon it. The basic songs took us six or seven months to complete.”
Weinman came up with core riffs for the songs by running an ESP guitar through Line 6 simulators and into a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five amplifier. “Eighty to 90 percent of my tone is my technique,” he says. “You see a lot of metal bands that do a lot of flat picking and hammering on. Most of what we do is straightforward alternate picking, digging in hard, creating tone with the way your pick hits the strings.”
Tuttle, who provides the band’s most textural passages, played PRS guitars through a pedal board and into a Mesa/Boogie Road King amplifier. “For my signature tone, I like to use a combination of the Boss programmable wah, the Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail and the Boss digital delay,” he says.
Dillinger Escape Plan demoed Option Paralysis in the summer of 2009, recording the basic tracks digitally with ProTools and using outboard gear, including tube preamps and Chandler electronics, to thicken the sound. Afterward, Weinman plugged the basic recordings into his computer and tweaked them like a mad scientist.
“A lot of times I’ll track guitars using all kinds of analog gear, then I’ll work with various plug-ins to mess with things,” he says. “The only problem with that is you’ve then got to recreate it on the road.”
Dillinger Escape Plan enjoy modern recording technology, just not in a conventional sense. While other bands rely on ProTools to fix imperfect timing and to layer passages, Dillinger use the program to make their unconventional music sound even more bizarre. “ProTools may allow you to digitally perfect your music, but that’s not anything we’ve ever aspired to,” Tuttle says.
“We don’t use technology as a crutch at all,” Weinman says. “We played everything that you hear on this record. We didn’t cut and paste. If there are 14 guitars doing the same thing, that guitar part’s played 14 times perfectly, even if it takes a week.” Adds Tuttle, “I think if you’re willing to go that extra mile and physically create every aspect of your music personally, that type of ethic and attitude shows through.”
DEP entered the studio with longtime producer Steve Evetts in September 2009. The tracking went smoothly, for the most part, but singer Greg Puciato’s decision not to add his vocals to the demos aggravated Weinman.
“Greg is stubborn, and he was just being weird,” Weinman says, a hint of frustration entering his voice. “In retrospect, I think he didn’t want to get his mind clouded by recording his vocals for the demos and then having to do them again when it came time to make the album. For the album sessions, he wanted to have pure unaffected expression of what he felt the music did for him, without any subliminal cues. He also tends to do his best work the first time. As he works on things, he second-guesses himself and goes on this weird path.”
As it turned out, Puciato’s approach greatly contributed to the spontaneous sound of Option Paralysis and the sonic dichotomy of some of its songs. In the beginning, however, there was friction and stress. “The first song we started doing vocals on was ‘Chinese Whispers,’ ” Weinman explains. “Greg came in and recorded his parts and then played them for us, and we went, ‘This kind of sounds undercooked. It’s not you,’ ” Weinman recalls. “He was really offended by that, and we all had a meeting. Steve [Evetts] sat us down and we hashed a bunch of stuff out, figuring out what was cool and what was weird, and Greg was defending himself. Then, while we were deciding what to keep and what to redo, Greg just walked over to the computer and, after two days of practically losing his voice doing all these harmonies and layered vocals, he deleted everything he’d done.”
It could have been the beginning of a nasty pissing contest. Fortunately, Puciato knew how to fix his mistakes and was talented enough to do so on the spot. “He pressed record and did the most awesome shit,” Weinman marvels. “He sang it again, and he was on fire. From then on out, it was an amazing experience.”
While Dillinger Escape Plan were dealing with their lead singer’s quirks, they were also breaking in new drummer Billy Rymer, formerly of the Rivalry. Rymer replaced Stolen Babies drummer Gil Sharone, who had stepped in to help the band record Ire Works in 2007, when longtime drummer Chris Pennie abruptly quit. Though Sharone was supposed to be a temporary replacement, “it worked out so well that he ended up touring with us for a year on the album,” Weinman says.
Following the tour, Dillinger put out feelers for a new drummer and, after countless auditions, chose Rymer. “Billy really forced his way in,” Weinman says. “He shot a video of himself playing some of our stuff and got it into my hands. We had almost selected somebody, but there was something about Billy. He didn’t know as much as the other people, and the parts he played weren’t as ‘right.’ But for some reason we knew he was the guy, so we took the chance and threw him into the fire.”
Rymer had his work cut out for him. Evetts instructed him to hit the drums harder than he’d ever played, and since the band didn’t tweak his performance with ProTools, Rymer had to redo everything that wasn’t precise. “Billy literally had to take two days off because his hands and arms swelled up like balloons,” Weinman says. “He was crying. He’s like, ‘I don’t know if I ever want to play drums again.’ He probably could have done everything in one take and then we could have quantized it, cut and pasted it and we would have been out of there, but it wouldn’t have sounded right and he’s a much better drummer now than when he went in.”
In addition to having a new drummer, Dillinger Escape Plan have a new label. The band fulfilled its Relapse Records contract with Ire Works, and almost immediately, large indie and major labels made enticing offers. In the end, the band signed to the small French indie label Season of Mist, home of Mayhem, Watain and Cynic. The move left some industry folk scratching their heads, but for Dillinger, who have never followed traditional routes, it made sense.
“We’re starting to develop a really good relationship with the French, considering they don’t like Americans,” Weinman jokes. “In general, the French have always supported the arts, and artistic integrity is important to them. Season of Mist came to the table with a scenario that gave us the most freedom. It’s for one album, we finally have control of everything, and we’re able to monetize without compromising. A lot of bands out there are being hit hard by the recession because they got used to having a lot of tour support and royalties and marketing and money. We never had that, so it was never an issue. We were always a band that made money by touring and selling shirts. And now we’re a band that tours and sells shirts and can put stuff out on our own and have total say on what comes out and what doesn’t come out. We’re in a much better position in every way possible.”
Weinman has also turned his efforts toward inventing. He created a wireless transmitter that fits inside his guitar, eliminating the need for dangling hardwire and wires. “I have a patent pending on it right now, so we’ll see what happens,” he says. “But it’s a great device for me, because I throw my guitar around so much. Having the transmitter in there, with absolutely no wires or anything plugged into the guitar, has made a huge difference.”
All things considered, 2010 could be a banner year for Dillinger Escape Plan, provided Weinman can remain healthy enough to stay on the road. “I broke my foot [in September 2007] and couldn’t tour for a while,” he says. “And that was just from an accident that happened during a video shoot. Onstage, anything can happen, especially when you play like we do.”
“The bottom line, is we are real,” Tuttle concludes. “We’re not fake. And with that realness comes a passion that’s sometimes pretty intense. But we’re absolutely not just some degenerates who love destruction. You’re not gonna see us trashing dressing room or hotels, that’s for sure.”