It was Music Vice’s honour and privilege to interrogate The Dillinger Escape Plan’s guitarist and longest-surviving member (or “sole remaining sucker”, in his own words): Ladies and gentleman…Mr. Ben Weinman.
Michael Bowser, Music Vice, Melbourne – So Ben, as the sole remaining member of the “original” Dillinger line-up, how do you feel the band has evolved since its humble beginnings through to the new album, Option Paralysis?
How has the band evolved? Let’s see…ah, after I go to the bathroom I leak more, no matter how many times I shake…I walk with a limp…pretty much just about everything else is exactly the same! It’s like I’m in high school, still playing shows, jumping around, making flyers on the copy machine! (laughs) It’s odd, y’know, ’cause when we first started we had no idea that we were ever gonna do this for a living, ’cause this was nothing that we thought was possible. We were playing music that was the opposite of marketable…computer marketing and stuff like that wasn’t really big, so there weren’t a lot of outlets for promoting your own band back then, other than just kind of walking around town putting flyers up, so…for us, being in magazines and being on TV and making videos and travelling the world was unfathomable. So we literally made our music with the purest of intentions of just starting a ruckus and having fun, and having an outlet to shake off the day of being in class or work or whatever…and here we are still doing it! So obviously things have changed, and some of your intentions and some of the things inspiring you obviously change as you get older, but we’re still kind of doing the same thing, which is really…just trying to introduce some level of unpredicability and some element of “uncomfortableness” in a scene that’s so predictable, where everything’s so easy and acceptable…and it’s not easy when you can see Dillinger play FIVE SECONDS after we played, on youtube, on your iphone, but at the same time still, to this day, I have NO idea what’s gonna happen every night, so I can’t expect the crowds to do so either…
So things haven’t become too predictable over the years, you’ve got that spontaneity and so on still there?
It really IS, y’know. Obviously there’s certain things that become repetition, but…every day is a surprise for me, I have no idea what’s gonna happen, whether at the show, or that I’m gonna get a phone call, or I’m gonna be on Fox news or…(laughs). Recently we’ve starting doing things like playing kids’ basements last minute, and just…having fun, bringing it back to the old-school like that. Or even just, y’know, opening for a bigger band every now and again, and being in front of a lot of kids who have no idea who we are and have no idea what a band like us is like. We’re always put in some interesting position that makes things…continue to be INTERESTING, I guess!
While I suspect it’s business-as-usual by now to see yet another line-up change between albums, how would you say the new line-up’s going, and also, as best as I know Jeff didn’t actually play any guitar on the album, all the guitar was yourself or..?
Yeah, I mean, most of the guitars on all of our records historically have been me, but…everybody has a role, and the band couldn’t happen without everybody, but historically, I’ve been writing the music and it’s just been more efficient to handle most of the guitar duties. But what Jeff has done…before this record, he started doing a lot of back-up vocals live which was really helping us recreate a lot of the things that were on the records more accurately. So we then started to incorporate that onto this new record, recording-wise he was doing a lot of back-up vocals and things like that, so that it would be authentic when we did play live, so that I think added a huge, very important element to the band that we didn’t have before.
How much of a contribution to the songwriting process and album’s sound did new drummer Billy make?
Well, I mean, as you said, I’m the original remaining member of the band, I’ve always been the main songwriter, so…that’s enabled us to have some level of consistency, even with all these line-up changes throughout the years. Every new member has some effect on the sound and things like that, and how they colour the songs and what’s going on and…initially, I was probably bringing a lot of the drum ideas to the table, but it wasn’t long at all before Billy really just had the Dillinger vocabulary down and started to present some good drum ideas. I think he had a HUGE impact on the record, you can hear it!
Yeah, absolutely, and he had some pretty intimidating footsteps to walk in…
He really did. You know, he’s also kind of young, and…he’s a very nervous and paranoid type of guy. That really had a positive effect on the sound of the record, because it really brought back some of that nervous energy that I think we had in the beginning days of Dillinger, when we really felt like outcasts. And I really think Billy brought a lot of that back into the band.
Ire Works was, I thought, most notable for introducing a really decent slab of piano playing into the Dillinger sound, and I believe at that point it was played by yourself…but I hear that on Option Paralysis, Mike Garson did a fair bit of guest piano on the album?
Yeah, Ire Works definitely was cool because we did try new ways of making music and piano was one of them, and there was a decent amount of piano on this record, which I…I still played most of it, but having Mike come in and colour some of it, it definitely took things to a new level. I mean, it was amazing to have someone like him come in and play my stuff, and give his interpretation of it. Initially there may have been some piano that I had done: What we did, was we played it for him for, like, ONE time and then pulled it out, and had him really just do his version of it on a few spots on the record. It was really cool because vocally Greg had written the lyrics to my playing, and then when we pulled my piano out and put his in it really added a whole other dimension to the melodic content of it, so it was a really cool experience. It’s pretty much me playing piano everywhere except for the spots where you’re, like, there’s NO WAY that’s him playing piano (laughs)!!
Haha, that’s pretty much what I assumed once I saw that Mike was on it, yeah…
Yeah, so, I dunno, I’m gonna have to really…take it to the next level if I’m gonna play these things live!
That was actually gonna be my next question, was…are you gonna be playing some piano or keyboards on the tour?
Yeah, we already I are. I mean, we’ve been performing stuff off Ire Works for the past couple of tours now and…yeah, definitely, piano’s definitely become a part of our live shows now.
Another famous Mike that you’ve had guest for you is Mike Patton, so I was wondering are there any other “famous” musicians that you’ve got your eyes or ears pointed towards for future recordings?
I would LOVE…to work with Neil Diamond.
Heh, is he still ALIVE?
He is. But I dunno if that’s gonna happen. Maybe somebody knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who can make it happen, I dunno.
Okay…getting back to the current album…you’ve been quoted as saying that you believe this to be the band’s “most metal record yet”. I was kind of intrigued by that quote, because, really, what had struck me was that it was going even further in the direction of jazz, and a bit of pop, and a bit of rock…I really didn’t think of it as being as blatantly “metal” as your early stuff. So I was curious about that quote.
Yeah it’s interesting, and I actually don’t mind explaining that at all. When I talk about metal, a lot of people think of what’s considered metal today…and what’s considered metal today is really just a lot of rip-offs of what was metal yesterday. Nothing really new, nothing really extreme, because of the fact that we’ve heard it a million times, y’know…so it was more like I went back to the spirit of metal and thrash and things I was listening to when I came up, things like Napalm Death and Carcass and Entombed and the raw, thrashier metal, the stuff that to me when I first heard it was very extreme. A lot of it was based on conceptual things; they talked about politics, they talked about actual things…that were REAL, y’know! So, those were the type of things, having a concept in mind, and dark note choices, and energy and things like that…that’s what was really an influence on this…
On the subject of “metal”…Brian Benoit, he was the “other” guitar player in Dillinger for quite a number of years before an injury was reported as his reason for leaving just before Ire Works…it was Greg, I believe, who said something to the effect of him being welcome back into the Dillinger fold should he ever be up for it. Does this mean we may one day see Dillinger going down the Iron Maiden route, perhaps, and become a three guitar band, at least on stage?
(laughs) I don’t think so, I mean, we’ve always said that about our original bass player, Adam, who was paralysed and…I think it’s more of a statement that represents the fact that we are like a family, y’know? Almost everybody who’s ever been with this band, if it’s a tech or a guitar player or whatever, are still friends with us, they’re all very supportive of us…
Indeed, I see that (original vocalist) Dmitri still does artwork for you guys?
Yeah, he did the layout for this record.
Beyond the current tour what plans, if any, are on the cards for Dillinger in the near-ish future do you think?
Well, we’re pretty much booked ’til Christmas time-wise. I’d love to do an EP somewhere between now and our next project, and there’s also side-projects and things like that in the works. Hopefully we’re gonna be pretty prolific artistically from here on out…we’re excited: The future’s bright, I think, for us.
This has been the shortest wait we’ve had been full-length albums for Dillinger, so do you hope to keep up that momentum of an album every couple of years if that’s at all possible, or…?
Um…well, we’re definitely getting better at making music quicker, that’s for sure! Thing is, it was only two years before our last record and this one, and it was FIVE years between our first album and the second. We’re definitely focussed on being more creative…it is hard, we run the band ourselves, we do everything ourselves, we’re a totally do-it-yourself organisation, so a lot of our time gets taken up with the “business” of the band, but hopefully we’ll continue to put music out there much more than we have in the past.
Okay, just a final question, since this interview is for MusicVice.com: Apart from music, are there any other current vices you’d like to share with us?
Current vices? (laughter) Hmmm…coffee, ah…I’m pretty boring, man! I watch Lost…which does feature a lot of Australian information and culture and…I dunno, a lot of Australian things going on in that show! Um…I have a lifelong dream of…owning a Wombat…
Yeah. And actually STEALING a Quokka, and bringing it home with me!
A QUOKKA. Yeah, it’s like a little Australian critter. They’re amazing! They’re the cutest little things, they’re like little rats, but they stand on their hind legs. When I was in Perth, they all came out of the woods…one of them jumped up on our guitar player Jeff’s lap and grabbed the sandwich out of his hand, and then another one…I put a piece of bread in my butt cheeks, and it walked up and pulled it from my butt cheeks and ate it, with its little Quokka hands…
(laughing) So in short, I can quote “feeding Australian creatures with your butt cheeks” as a vice of yours?
Yeah, feeding Australian creatures with my butt cheeks…that’s definitely a hobby of mine…
© Michael Bowser, Music Vice
The Dillinger Escape Plan are currently touring the US, and will be terrorising Australian audiences (and Quokkas alike) in May – Dillinger may also be taking things literally when they come to hang-out Down Under (see pic below). Option Paralysis is out now on Party Smasher Inc. Records.