|Photo by J. Hubbard|
Five teens from upstate New Jersey decided they would give punk a make-over. It was about eight years ago, and punk had already undergone several face-lifts, but the fellas in what would become the Dillinger Escape Plan had a different idea: reduce the genre to its barbaric extreme and at the same time subject it to the rigors of Juilliard boot camp. The result veers too close to non-fans’ pain threshold, but at the same time, jaded heads deem it the thing hard music most needs. Ergo, you either dig ’em or despise ’em.
“Metal is a type of music that’s easy to do badly,” says Greg Puciato, who replaced original singer Dimitri Minakakis a little over a year ago. “It’s the style everyone first learns — a few power chords and they think they’re in a band. Dillinger were the only ones around doing something not heavy like heavy metal, but just loud as fuck but also keeping it technical.”
The “technical” Puciato is talking about has more to do with tonal palette than playing lots of chords really, really fast — although Dillinger does that, too. With the exception of the 2002 one-off EP Irony Is a Dead Scene (produced by Mike Patton), past DEP albums have been chops-heavy razzle-dazzlers, but the new Miss Machine’s Dadaesque spazz has its unifying threads: Ben Weinman’s high-pitched pinpricks of guitar humanize the white-noise wall of Brian Benoit’s riffs; Chris Pennie’s ride-snare-kick rat-a-tat backlights the telescoping zooms of Liam Wilson’s bass; the apoplectic shrieks of Puciato, mixed up-front, are a de facto fifth instrument.
“The Dillinger recording process is not fun,” says Puciato. “We’re all perfectionists, but [producer] Steve Evitts is insanely perfectionistic to the point where it’s like ‘We’re gonna do this take 75 times.’ His critical ear is really great, though. He pushed us to a new level, and we’re people you’d think that would be impossible to do that to, because we’re already really strict with ourselves. He just shook everything up and made everyone hate him for a few weeks.”
It’s nothing short of miraculous that Dillinger’s bracing metalcore style coheres so well, since the band don’t practice together. With Wilson living in Philadelphia, Puciato based in Baltimore and Pennie-Benoit-Weinman in Jersey, the individual members do what’s necessary to keep their game tight. “Sound check is our practice session,” says Puciato, “and if someone hasn’t been keeping up, it’ll be very obvious.”
While the now-departed Minakakis’ Arthur Janov–approved scream therapy was the blueprint for the incoming vocalist, Puciato’s lung-bursting power is richer and rangier — and more important, the kid can write. It’s not just pent-up anger you hear on Miss Machine, it’s sound and fury signifying everything: human frailty, innocence-vs.-experience, nameless dread, and any other cosmic quandary you wanna throw into the pot.
“I noticed,” Puciato remembers, “that every song dealt with the issue of being in a situation you don’t know how to handle. And so me and Ben, we’re really thinking you could apply that to anything. Everybody’s got something in their life they have great expectations for, but human beings are notorious for trying to put themselves in a better position, and just end up shooting themselves in the foot.”
A performance like Dillinger’s takes it out of you, so clean living is highly recommended. Their daily regimen is austere: Two of them refer to themselves as straight-edge, two more are teetotalers, and one is vegan. What’s more, Puciato’s torso is cut like a Gold’s Gym trainer’s, a nice symmetry given his simian antics onstage. “I started lifting, I think, because I was such a small kid. But now I just do it because it feels great.” The DEP dudes dress like unassuming Midwest preppies yet frighten the complacent metal/hardcore establishment — an irony not lost on Puciato. “We don’t need any of [those headbanger trappings]. People might think we don’t look the part, but take the average metal band with a bunch of tattoos and piercings, and let them play either before or after us. You’ll hear the difference.”
Dillinger Escape Plan play the Troubadour on Saturday and Sunday, August 7 and 8, as part of the “Fucking With the Lights On” tour.