The Dillinger Escape Plan: Infinitely Calculating
Words: Brian Giffin
Latest release: Option Paralysis (Season of Mist/Riot!)
Festival website: www.soundwavefestival.com
Just off a full US tour with good friends Mastodon, Ben Weinman from New Jersey's avant-garde supremos The Dillinger Escape Plan is preparing to begin pre-production for the group's new album with drummer Billy Rymer when I call.
"We’re about to start working out ideas and we’ll be doing that basically until we come to Australia," the guitarist says. "I traditionally come up with the start of most of the ideas and then myself and our drummer will kind of work on them and formulate songs and get the ball rolling."
Weinman is the musical nous behind Dillinger's breathtaking technical assault. He is also the band's sole founding member, co-manager and co-producer. Outside of the lyrics, virtually the entire creative process starts and ends with him. He admits that it's an exhaustive process.
"You know every time I finish a record I feel like I can’t make another one. I’m done. I have no more Dillinger in me," he says. "Then after a year or two of just touring heavily on that music, it just seems to come naturally, to start working on new stuff."
While Weinman is paired with Jeff Tuttle on stage with DEP, in the studio he records all the guitar parts alone. Along with the keyboards, pianos, sound design and electronica he also brings to the table - as well as being a producer - he spends a great deal of time getting his takes down.
"It takes a while. Because one of the things that we try to maintain is a certain level of… we’re pretty critical about how we record and the music we make," Weinman says. "Sometimes playing those guitars parts takes hours and hours because not only do we have to get it done once correctly – which is difficult enough – we have to do four or five more overdubs. It certainly can be pretty daunting."
Option Paralysis had a more organic sound than the previous two albums, which experimented with industrial structures and heavy electronics. Yet while there was less evidence of technology in the final product, Weinman explains that he still embraces it as a tool in his song writing and to experiment further with his music.
"There’s a lot less electronic elements on OP than there was on Ire Works, we definitely used it. We use computers quite a lot to come up with ideas," he says. "While we did a lot more traditional jamming-in-the-basement, so to speak, on that one, I definitely sort things out on computers a lot. Really try to look at things and try new things and push things and I’ve even used the computer at times to re-arrange ideas so they’re different to what I’m used to and take myself out of the comfort zone that I’m used to."
The Dillinger Escape Plan's original foray into the realms of electronic embellishment was 2004's Miss Machine, the first to feature current vocalist Greg Puciato. The band took a great deal of influence from Puciato's previous act Error into the studio, as well as inspiration from their earlier colloboration with Mike Patton. The experiment effectively split their fans, but unlike some bands, Dillinger kept on with the new direction, even incorporating drum n' bass and strings and brass on Ire Works. Tracks like "Parasitic Twins" and "Widower" from Option Paralysis emphasised the band's continuing prediliction towards the avant garde.
"From Day One we’ve always incorporated new ideas and new influences and never stuck to just the traditional metal sound that’s just stuck to a formula," the guitarist says. "It definitely created a scenario where we had a lot of freedom to be creative and enjoy what we’re doing and not feel that we’re bound to a specific style that fans are strict about."
"Widower" gave Dillinger an opportunity to work with jazz fusion pianist Mike Garson, best known for his long-time role with David Bowie's band but whose work has appeared on about 100 albums with artists as diverse at Stanley Clarke, Seal, Something For Kate and Nine Inch Nails among others. It was through NIN that the band and Garson came into contact, and Weinman was left completely in awe of the journeyman musician.
"Just because of the amount of stories that he has, just from being a professional piano player for… oh God, for well longer than I’ve been alive," Weinman says, reverentially. "I mean the stories are amazing, just sitting there… but also to see his enthusiasm to just sit down and play music. To be so enthusiastic about playing with a band like us, it was amazing. I mean, it made me realise that we can keep doing this as long as we want to. As long as our heart’s in it, we can continue to push ourselves and play and make music that’s inspiring and feels good. That was a great inspiration. But I have to say, I originally wrote that song on piano… having him come in and play parts of it, it really put me in my place, I’ll tell you that much. I realise that playing piano like that is like a superpower that I will never possess."
For those who have been left in awe at the level of technicality of Weinman's music and the insane acrobatic ability his band has to pull it off live, it's probably nice to know that he is only human after all. Australians will get to experience the full brunt of the Dillinger Escape Plan in February when they hit our shores for the Soundwave Festival, where they will again be on the road with Mastodon, who in their early days were opening for Dillinger.
"I’ve been friends with those guys forever," says Weinman . "I’ve known Brann and Bill before Mastodon was even a band; they played in this band called Today is the Day. And then they formed Mastodon with the rest of the guys and we’ve been touring with them since Day One. We took them out on tour when they were a new band. So to be able to come full circle and see how well they’ve done and go out with them again is sick."
It's been a while since their last venture to Australia, but Weinman is keen to return.
"Everytime we come it’s been amazing, and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it may very well be our favourite place in the world to tour," he says. "[Festivals] are really weird for us because it’s not typically what we’re used to. But it’s also a great opportunity for us to get in front of new people and show a whole bunch of people what we’re about, whether they like it or not."
It's precisely that attitude that's kept The Dillinger Escape Plan at the cutting edge now for over a decade. So as he prepares to go into song writing mode, how many ideas does Ben Weinman have to dazzle us with on the next opus?
"Oh God, um… at least zero!" he admits with a chuckle.
We're pretty sure that won't be the case for long.
The Dillinger Escape Plan play Soundwave 2012:
25/2: Brisbane Showgrounds, Brisbane- SOLD OUT
26/2: Sydney Showgrounds, Sydney- SELLING FAST
2/3: Melbourne Showgrounds, Melbourne- SOLD OUT
3/3: Bonython Park, Adelaide
5/3: Claremont Showgrounds, Perth