By James Ballinger
The Dillinger Escape Plan have arguably been one of the most influential heavy bands of the last 20 years. From the frantic jazz-meets-hardcore influenced earlier days, Dillinger appeared much like their music– fast as fuck, with a precision and intensity that hasn’t been replicated since. When Calculating Infinity was released some fifteen years ago, it changed everything. These clean-cut looking guys from the east coast were playing faster and better than anyone else, and people took notice. After original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis decided to step down in 2000, new frontman Greg Puciato would split the fan base further. The bands first record with the new vocalist, 2004’s masterpiece Miss Machine, added other instrumental elements and experimental layers to the bands aggressive sound. While the band would continue to experiment on record over the next few years, live the band was always crushing. Some of the most insane and explosive live shows I’ve seen have been Dillinger shows, and it’s always impressive. I had an opportunity to talk to founding member and guitarist Benjamin Weinman, and here is what he had to say. Don’t miss them at El Corazon tonight with Trash Talk, Retox, Shining, and local Seattle band Grenades.
Seattle Passive Aggressive: I first saw you in 1999 at a small club in Tampa, FL and I had never seen anything like that as far as absolute intensity. Even seeing you last year, your stage presence is still high energy. Is this something you think the fans expect from you now? How do you keep that up night after night and year after year?
Benjamin Weinman: That sure was a long time ago. Seems like yesterday though. The idea of playing as long as we have is to just keep getting better at what we do. But part of what we do is very physically demanding. I have no idea how we do it to be honest. I have so many physical injuries that impair my everyday living. At the same time I feel like our shows are more intense than ever. I think it has to do with passion. I have a deep passion to deliver what we do at full capacity always. Both to people who expect it and people who have never experienced it.
SPA: With all the various line-up changes, what keeps you going? I’m sure some changes have been tougher than others, what pushes you forward?
BW: That’s a good question. I suppose at this point Dillinger is a force. It’s a ship that maybe I have steered throughout the years but it has a life of its own. As long as I can find people who embody what this band is all about, I know I can deliver the goods. I also refuse to let anyone who abandoned the band dictate its fate. When our original drummer left the band I realized something very important, everyone is replaceable if their heart isn’t in it.
SPA: How did you first come into contact with Mike Patton? After touring with Mr. Bungle, who had the idea to have him guest on the “Irony Is A Dead Scene” EP?
BW: It’s almost hard to remember at this point. I think he and I just discussed doing something together on tour at some point. When we were in the transitional period between singers I asked him if he was interested in doing an ep. He told me to send him the songs to see if they were something he thought he could do justice too. He was totally into it and started demoing vocals and ideas. Then we just got together in a studio and knocked it out.
SPA: I remember that tour came through Tampa at the time, and the show was delayed because the Melvins played there the night before and blew the sound system, causing you not to play that night, and Bungle going on late. Any other stories or moments to share from that tour?
BW: That kind of thing happened a few times. We didn’t mind though. We were just happy to be there and watch Bungle every night. I learned a lot on that tour. Mike and the band were totally DIY but at the same time super professional. He would set up all his own gear every night and they drove in a van. But he was meticulous about the sound and production.
SPA: After the departure of Dimitri, did you have any thoughts of calling it quits and starting something up different?
BW: Not really. Dimitri leaving was kind of a mutual thing. He loved playing music but wasn’t prepared to drop everything and hit the road. We were at a turning point where we had to make some big sacrifices and just put our lives into this band. We just all decided now is the time to put all the cards on the table and dive in headfirst and he wasn’t ready for that and we respected it.
SPA: The fan response to Dimitri leaving and Greg joining seemed pretty split at the time. Was that a indication of you making the right decision? Were you ever worried the dynamic of the band had changed for the worse?
BW: Of course. He was basically the opposite of Dimitri physically and didn’t really come from a punk rock background so we were definitely concerned with the transition. But at the end of the day Greg was so talented and so driven that we couldn’t’ pass up the opportunity to start fresh with him. And he totally was a Dillinger fan and respected what we were about so it just made sense. WE couldn’t get too hung up on what people thought we should be. That goes against everything Dillinger is about.
SPA: The Plagiarism EP is such a good vehicle to showcase Greg’s range. Was that the idea around it, or more of a fun thing to do?
BW: It was really just for fun. I had just started recording and wanted to practice self producing and it was a great opportunity to show our fans that we are not closed minded about music and they shouldn’t be either.
SPA: How has your songwriting process changed over the years?
BW: It hasn’t other than having more access to technology. We demo things out a little more detailed now before we hit the studio.
SPA: How has putting together your setlist changed over the last few records? With more material do you find it easier to build a set around a new record? Are there any songs you get sick of playing?
BW: It’s kind of hard now with so many songs in our catalog. We are definitely playing a lot of new songs these days and they seem to translate live really well which is exciting. Old songs sometimes suck at like soundcheck or practice but if the crowd responds well to them it pumps me up for sure.
SPA: Why am I forced to raise my fist every time I hear the “DEEEEESTROYYYYER…..” breakdown on Sunshine the Werewolf? It’s involuntary, and makes driving difficult sometimes.
BW: Ha-ha that’s Awesome. We don’t have many parts in our songs that you can easily nod your head too or even sing along so when we do POW!
SPA: Are there any guest musicians you’d love to work with? Anyone that you’ve worked or toured with in the past that really stands out?
BW: I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my favorites already like Kim Thayil, Patton, Kimbra. Even Chuck D. I think I would love to do something with Fiona Apple.
SPA: Do you have any favorite Seattle bands?
BW: Botch was one of my favorites. I have to admit though that I loved and still love all the Seattle Grunge stuff. I Know that’s a bit cliché but that stuff really led me down the rabbit hole of so much amazing music.
SPA: How is this tour with Trash Talk and Retox going?
BW: Great. All the bands really have their own thing but there is also this tie that binds us all that really makes sense. That is what a tour package should be like in my opinion.