The Dillinger Escape Plan Interview: ‘The only way to finish this correctly is to do it in a way that has a definitive end’

One of the most volatile and incendiary bands of the 21st century, The Dillinger Escape Plan have decided to call it quits after 20 years and six ferocious albums. Ben Weinman and Greg Puciato sat down to discuss breaking up on their own terms and the making of the band’s most subversive artistic statement yet

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On the 5th August 2016, The Dillinger Escape Plan announced their plans to go on an ‘extended hiatus’ towards the end of 2017. Once the touring cycle for their sixth album, Dissociation, is complete, one of the most progressive, explosive, inimitable bands in extreme music will cease to play shows or make new music. Embracing elements of mathcore, hardcore, punk, metal, jazz and even in some cases pop hooks, Dillinger have occupied a space that few bands have, managing to constantly progress and evolve their tsunami of titanic riffs and spectacular live shows without compromise. Through continuous evolution, they left other bands attempting to ape their sound choking in the dust. Their break-up, like almost everything else this extraordinary band have achieved, is on their own terms, seeing them determined to go out with a bang as opposed to a whisper.

As artistic statements go, there couldn’t be a more fitting finale than Dissociation; combining the heavy sonics that made 1999 debut Calculating Infinity such a kick in the teeth with the electronic leanings the band undertook on 2007’s Ire Works, as well as the melodic hooks that littered 2013’s One Of Us Is The Killer, the album serves not only as a full stop on Dillinger’s output but also as a summation and extension of their entire career. ‘We never have an agenda when we start writing,’ says guitarist and co-founder Ben Weinman, ‘we just want to react to the few years that have affected us in-between records and I think we’ve always, at the very least, tried to elaborate on things that we started working on previously. I don't know if that's a way of easing our fans in and then nailing them with it, it's not intentionally that way, but that’s tended to be a theme in our output. There always seems to be slightly different circumstances going into these albums and we often don't realise that until much later when we're able to listen back. It's very interesting because you can see where our collective heads were at once a record is finished.' 

If Dissociation is a reaction to the three years between One of Us Is The Killer and the present, then one can only assume these have been tumultuous times for The Dillinger Escape Plan; for a band infamous for releasing tectonic shifting spasms of chaotic dissonant riffage to release possibly their most dizzyingly mind-melting album as a sign off is the most inspiring and radical move of their entire career. ‘Your output reflects your input and in the last three years, we went through an extraordinary amount of implosion in our personal lives’ says frontman Greg Puciato. ‘That caused us to confront certain aspects of ourselves and do a lot of introspective work in an attempt to steer ourselves away from long-standing habits. When you start to change yourself as opposed to being pissed off at everything around you, you're forced to change things within you and that affects your output. You have to go through difficult stuff to get to a better place sometimes which made the writing of this record a lot more intense. You can't unlearn what you already know; there's a line on the record that says 'knowledge isn't just power, it's torture.' When you become aware of certain things, it's no longer a case of ignorance is bliss, you have to really f**king know what you're getting into. Writing doesn’t happen when you're playing guitar or writing lyrics, it happens when you're living. What people refer to as recording is actually documenting, it’s outputting your life through some sort of artistic filter and if you're honest with yourself, which you should be if you care about making art, it's very arduous to process those difficult things through your filter without hitting your gag-reflex a lot.’

By opening up and creating their most honest album, The Dillinger Escape Plan have made not only a record that is sonically raw, but emotionally vulnerable as well. ‘The truth is, as you grow older, you’re able to produce material even more honestly because you’re looking introspectively more’, says Ben. ‘It's much less, 'You did this to me' and more 'I did this to me!' That's the difference between being an adult and a kid; it’s taking responsibility for your own actions. We're growing and realising that we don’t want to be a parody of what we're supposed to be as a heavy band or extreme band; that's really important to us and that's one of the reasons why we feel like this is a good time to close the book. This is where we've been trying to get our whole lives, this is the point you strive to get to when you start being an artist.’

Which leads us, quite neatly, onto the attitude the band are taking with their split; for some, the decision might seem perplexing considering the material on Dissociation is some of the most thrilling and chaotic of their entire career. It certainly doesn’t bare any of the hallmarks of a band slowing down or diluting the elements that make them such a unique force in the world of contemporary heavy music. But in essence, that is exactly why this has to end now, before the band end up becoming a watered down version of their former selves. ‘We want people to feel like they witnessed something special, rather than it carrying on until it just turns into a f**king parody’ says Greg. ‘I don’t want to hear anyone ever say that none of us could hack it anymore, or that the last four albums were awful, or have no-one come to the shows; no one wants to see that. There's more power in being able to say, 'this was our artistic statement, and now that’s it!' If you let it just run and run, you become a theatre production, you’re just an off-broadway version of Cats that never f**king ends! I don't think that there's any real value in doing that. You're wasting your life at that point, you don't know what you would do honestly or artistically anymore, or you're too scared to find out because you're dragging this f**king corpse around. So many bands are just putting on this costume of their younger selves and trying to flog it. We’ve never approached it that way, we’re just not that band, the only way to finish this correctly is to do it in a way that has a definitive end.’

‘It’s about going out under our terms’ Ben picks up. ‘I wasn't sure that I could continue to produce material knowing that there was no definitive idea or goal. I didn’t want this to become something that we do just to pay our bills; that sounded really depressing to me. It's not realistic to continue to be in a compromising lifestyle which is unhealthy, but most art isn’t any good if you're not challenged, so what are we going to do, try and create a scenario that's comfortable? That’s not going to work for the art that we should be creating in this band. The only logical thing would be to intentionally put an end to Dillinger but not when people don't care or when you can't make good music anymore or once an album's finished and you've become sick of each other. Going in to an album that we feel really proud of and doing an entire touring cycle knowing that this would be the end was scary but it sounded so much more exciting and meaningful than anything we had done over the past 20 years; how can you not follow that instinct once you realise that?’

So by extension, does that mean that the band feel like they couldn’t make a more open, honest statement than they have with this record? If, theoretically, they were to continue, could The Dillinger Escape Plan make a better record than Dissociation? ‘That's a fair question’ Ben muses. ‘I don't think any of us would defiantly ever say we could. The thing is, there are circumstances in the making of this album that were really difficult but if you took them away, it'd make for a completely different record. Some of the methods that went into the making of this album were ridiculous, but those methods created an album that doesn't sound like anything else in our catalogue or other anyone else’s catalogue. Ultimately, what seems like a deficit ends up being something that adds to the vibe of the whole thing, and if you changed any of those elements, you wouldn't come up with what we did.’

When pressed on these difficulties, both men are vague, but it ultimately comes down to the band remaining an insular unit and having faith in their convictions by not taking on any external input in so far as the ‘correct’ way to do things. ‘But that's how we started making music,’ Ben astutely points out. ‘Everything about Dillinger was incorrect, certainly in terms of theory, we went against everything. Calculating Infinity was us effectively ripping up the music theory book; if someone said 'don't harmonise with a second, it just sounds out of tune', then every single lead we did, we’d harmonise with a second. It sounded disgusting, but we did it, and maybe we finally took that to the nth degree with this album, we totally went against the rules. And that’s allowed for our personalities to come through much more on this record because we didn't let anybody sway us at all.’

This has led to the album containing some of the boldest musical moves of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s career; elements that have merely been hinted at on previous albums are pushed right to the foreground such as the stirring strings on the album’s title-track or the Squarepusher meets U.N.K.L.E barrage of electronica of Fugue. These elements have always been a part of the Dillinger puzzle, but never have they been the central focus. A song like Fugue may sound a million miles away from the band who released Calculating Infinity at the turn of the millennium, but it actually bookends their career perfectly. ‘I'd become a little desensitised to traditional heavy music,' says Ben. 'Whilst I was really into the extremity of it, I knew that it was guys like Aphex Twin that were really pushing the boundaries and were really punk. Things like that were a huge influence on us when we started this band and that music wasn't really accepted in the scene. We were kind of doing the guitar version of that, using certain rhythms and frequencies that seemed almost in-human, but made sense and had some purpose. It's a huge part of our history that stuff. The truth is, we don't think of our music chronologically, we think of it as a body of work and that leads to why this is ending. We feel that this album is the bookend to the beginning of one cohesive piece of work.’

Apart from touring extensively for the remainder of 2016 and well into 2017, there is one more enticing piece of information that may ease the sting in the tail for those despondent over the band’s hiatus. For the first time, Dillinger wrote and recorded far more material than has ended up on the record and Weinman is adamant that these songs will see the light of day at some point. Plans to release all the material as a double album were scrapped early on in the interests of making a cohesive album rather than simply throwing everything the band had available in to the mix. ‘I don't know why but I still really like the idea of an album as something that you can take the songs out of context and have them still make sense but they actually make more sense as a whole,’ says Greg. ‘That's still really appealing to me artistically. I like things that have layers to them and I feel like you have to give people the option to look for those things if they want to. You can still enjoy it if you’re not looking for that, but if people do choose to go down the rabbit-hole, we want to provide those layers.’

With the band calling it quits now, it gives them the opportunity to leave behind a perfect body of work, untainted by any self-fulfilling desire to drag around a bloated corpse that simply devalues the memories most have of The Dillinger Escape Plan. It’s an ethos that countless bands would love to adopt but most fail to. The fact that Dillinger have had such foresight in a musical climate that celebrates bands reuniting and charging extortionate amounts to see a flabby, bloated, inferior version of their former selves is something to be celebrated rather than mourned and may well end up being the boldest and smartest move of their entire career.

Dissociation is released through Party Smasher on Friday 14th October and is available to pre-order now. The band tour the UK in January.

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