Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan
Doing It Live with Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape PlanInterview by Joshua Chaplinsky
Birthed out of the hardcore punk scene in beautiful Morris Plains, New Jersey, The Dillinger Escape Plan have been rocking balls since 1997. To describe their chaotic blend of anything and everything to the average listener is like trying to explain the splendor of the Grand Canyon to a blind person- not worth the effort. If you are are not already familiar with the storied past of these genre shifting face-melters, you might as well get it from their Wikipedia page, because the past is in the past. After testing out their spindly newborn legs and devouring their own afterbirth for sustenance, this forward-thinking band has done nothing but barrel headlong into the future. In fact, there's a good chance this interview hasn't even happened yet.
Having just finished up five and a half weeks of touring in support of Option Paralysis, Ben Weinman, frenetic stage performer and insouciant interviewee, kindly agreed to speak with me after much back and forth between a publicity go-between. I caught up with him via the modern miracle of Skype to discuss Bill O'Reilly, Shit Yeah, and all things Dillinger.
Joshua Chaplinsky: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me tonight.
Ben Weinman: No problem. Would you mind bearing with me if every now and again if I have to talk to someone real quick? Because I'm actually in the middle of getting tattooed right now. Other than that, you've got my full attention.
JC: What kind of tattoo are you getting?
BW: I'm getting an owl on my leg, that's on a skeleton hand. I dig owls. I got all these owls, like in my garden and stuff.
JC: Are you guys totally sick of doing press?
BW: You know, it's hard answering the same question over and over again. It gets a little bit... I feel like a robot. But it's died down quite a bit, so it's all good.
JC: How do you guys split up the promotional duties and decide who does what press?
BW: We split it mostly between myself and our singer (Greg), and when he doesn't answer the phone, I do it. (Laughs) I'm the original founding member of the band. I'm the main song writer, I manage the band; so a lot of the time it just makes sense for me to do the interview.
JC: Initially I was told I might be talking to Liam, so at first I was gearing my questions towards him.
BW: That's cool, I can answer those too.
JC: I was gonna ask him if anyone ever complained about having to interview the bass player.
BW: That's probably the only one I can't answer. He doesn't do a lot of interviews. He's the bass player, man. Come on. (Laughs.)
JC: You guys just finished up the first leg of your headlining tour in support of the new album, Option Paralysis. You topped it off with a performance at the Coachella music festival. How's tour been so far?
BW: It was amazing. It was five and a half weeks, and it went so quick we felt like we could go another five and a half weeks. We were just killing it every night. When you're killing it and you feel like everyone's on the same page, it's like an energy you can't describe. And then having things like South By Southwest and Coachella thrown in there, to kind of showcase the new songs in front of some new crowds, it was definitely a good run.
JC: Yeah, I saw you guys in New York. I think that was the first night of the tour?
BW: It was. We had a lot of kinks to work out that night, but we got through it.
JC: You had some crazy new lighting scheme going on.
BW: Yeah, the lights. That was the first time we even turned those things on, so there was a lot to be worked out. By the end of the tour those lights were like, from another world, man.
JC: So are you guys exhausted after five weeks of that?
BW: Not at all. We have more energy right now and more excitement in this band than we have in a long time.
JC: Are there any other standout anecdotes or craziness that went down on tour? Any shenanigans?
BW: Shenanigans? I don't know, man, we're in our thirties now. It's not like we're at truckstops taking dumps in urinals any more.
It's funny, I've read the Motely Crue book and the Marilyn Manson book, and honestly, those guys were pussies. Half our group is straight edge, and our stories are so much crazier than that shit. Alright, we know- did drugs banged a slut, did drugs banged a slut. Overdose, did drugs banged a slut. OK, we get it. Who cares, you know? I mean, we used to be horrible. There were times, especially when we used to stay in people's houses... it was bad. We were bad people back then. I recall a couple limited edition Nirvana seven inches that ended up in my collection from some poor girl's house. I think every one of her shoes wound up in a tree. A lot worse things happened. But now we really just focus on the music.
JC: Just concentrating on "doing it live," every night.
JC: You guys were recently on Fox News where you explained the whole inspiration behind "doing it live." Can you give a quick explanation for the uninitiated?
BW: Bill O'Reilly is a pretty interesting character. You can find him all over YouTube being pretty obnoxious. For one moment the world got to see him in his true form, which was him just losing it in front of the camera because the teleprompter wasn't working. So he just started screaming, "Do it live! Fuck it, do it live!" And when we saw that, we got so pumped, it made us wanna go play a show. We're like, Yeah! This guy rules! This guy is going on Fox News and ripping shit up, kinda like the attitude we have when we go out there. It kinda became an inside joke and became something of a slogan for us.
JC: You get any reaction from Bill?
BW: Not from Bill O'Reilly himself. The Fox News people are apparently not allowed to mention that incident or they get fired. So of course the first thing we do is try and talk about it as much as possible ON Fox News.
JC: That chick seemed to be a pretty good sport.
BW: Yeah, she was. I think she wanted to bang Liam.
JC: She looked like she wanted a piece of that hot Dillinger action.
BW: She did, man. Because, you know what? Even those conservative chicks, they still wanna rock with band dudes. We looked her up because we were like, man she's pretty hot, and she's totally... she's ready to go. (Laughs) She used to be a Victoria Secret model, and then she was a lawyer, and then she was married to some crazy politician or something. I think she wants to have fun and hang out. She wants to go on tour.
JC: You think she had any idea who you guys were before the show?
BW: Absolutely not. I think she probably thought we were like, you know... Coldplay or something. She didn't know the difference.
JC: My favorite part of that whole interview is when you quote Martin Luther King Jr. and you refer to your music as sounding like garbage cans rolling down stairs.
BW: We don't really take ourselves that seriously as you can tell by the way I described our music. That was basically me acknowledging the fact that to many people, that's probably what our music sounds like. And that's fine with me. Because we're not writing it for those people. But I do acknowledge that to a majority of people who hear a band like Dillinger, it probably does sound not much unlike pots and pans being banged against the wall.
JC: It is well known that Chuck hates the question, "Where do you get your ideas from?" Just so I don't ask any, what are some of your least favorite interview questions?
BW: These are probably pretty normal questions, but stuff like, what do you sound like? Describe your music, shit like that. That's the worst. Where did you get the name from?
It kind of sucks when people talk a lot about the violent nature of the music, because that's not necessarily what it's about. We're not violent guys, so it's not like we're stoked on talking about stupid shit. But at the end of the day, I'm pretty aware that it's part of the deal, you've got to talk about these things.
JC: Are there any questions you've never been asked that you wish someone would?
BW: Let's see... Why do you have such a huge penis? That'd be great.
JC: Well what's the answer to that?
BW: (Laughs) I never thought about the answer, I've just never been asked that.
JC: Good luck? Genetics?
BW: Genetics, yeah. Cause I'm Jewish.
JC: Any serious ones?
BW: People don't ask us much about the fact that we manage ourselves and don't have a lot of other people getting involved in our business. That's something I think we're pretty proud of. It's kind of different in this day and age, where any band is willing to sign on the dotted line of anything that's thrown in front of them.
JC: Do you think the traditional label system is dead?
BW: I think there's a place for it, but that's more of a music business thing, not an art thing. I think there's a difference between art and inspiration and pop culture, and sometimes they cross, but... I think there's always going to be the traditional ways of a major label. I think there'll always be a place for that when it comes to giant boy bands that need to be on posters and TV and stuff like that. But I think that deal, the old model, is obviously dead for artists
JC: You basically act as the band's manager. Is that out of necessity?
BW: It's an artistic decision and a business decision. I don't lie about the fact that even though we don't create music that's necessarily marketably viable, this is still a business. Artistically we obviously don't want some douchebag who doesn't know shit telling us how to do things, but on the business front it doesn't make sense unless that person is gonna at least double our income. Otherwise they're just taking our money. And at this point this band has kind of become it's own thing. We kind of exist outside of everything else that's going on. I know bands twice as big as us that don't make as much money. I don't understand where we fall because we do things completely different.
JC: At this point in your career do you still have day jobs, or is the band your job?
BW: This is what we do, every day, all day.
JC: How do you feel about the illegal downloading? Has that hurt you or helped you?
BW: It's probably done a little of both. I think people make the mistake of thinking we have a problem with the digital age because we talk about technology getting in the way. The truth is, in our opinion, the downloading thing helps bands like us a great deal. When we show up on a playlist, we work very hard for people, whether they like it or not, to be like, I know exactly who that is. That's that band. When they see us live, you know, from a mile away- Dillinger's playing. I actually read some blog the other day about how a guy asked his nephew what bands he liked, and he said, I like Dillinger Escape Plan, and I can't tell you who else I like because I just like songs. And I was so proud of that. Even though I know he probably downloaded every one of our records for free, the fact that he knew who we were, that we had an identity and everything else was just songs, that told me that we're doing something right.
JC: The dictionary defines option paralysis as the tendency when given unlimited choices to make none. The first time I came across that term was in Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X. I wanted to know if that was an inspiration or if you were a Coupland fan.
BW: Yeah definitely, and it's definitely not the first time I've heard reference to that book. I don't think we're talking about exactly the same thing, but that term definitely means literally having so many options that you pick nothing. And that's kind of symbolic of the state of where things are culturally right now.
JC: Chuck is a huge Nine Inch Nails fan and he's gone on record as saying he wrote large portions of Fight Club while listening to The Downward Spiral. I know you guys are big fans and have cited Nine Inch Nails as an influence as well. You recently got to perform on stage with them during their final shows. Was that amazing?
BW: We've been very lucky, and one of the reasons we feel like maybe we are doing something important after all these years is the fact that some of our favorite bands and artists have taken notice of us and taken us under their wing. People like Mike Patton and Trent Reznor. So yeah, it was an amazing experience when I was on stage with some of the people he felt were an important part of the history of Nine Inch Nails- whether it be Dave Navarro or Mike Garson or Gary Numan. To be in the company of those people and to be considered important enough to come on stage and perform with him was unbelievable to us and we don't take that for granted.
JC: So are you guys tight with Trent Reznor now? Can you pick up the phone and give him a call?
BW: (Laughs) I've got him in my phone book, you know? It's kind of a crazy time in his life. He got married and took a break and finally said, I don't have to do Nine Inch Nails if I don't want to. I control my own life and I am not defined by this band. And I can relate to that. Obviously Dillinger isn't anywhere close to the size of a Nine Inch Nails, but i have been in this band for thirteen years, and it is important for somebody to be able to just stop and take care of their own lives. I think that right now is a time when the people who really care about him are gonna leave him alone and let him do his thing. He knows where to find us when he needs us, and he's had no problem doing that. But I don't sit on the phone and talk to him every night about Lost.
JC: Let's talk about lineup changes. I'm a fan of Heads Will Roll, and I was pretty psyched when Jeff Tuttle joined the band. I know you're the main song writer and you control the recording and the writing process, but are you ever gonna let Tuttle get a little guitar time on an album?
BW: Did he put you up to this? (Laughs)
JC: I know he sings on the new record.
BW: I'm sure he'll have some involvement in the music. At this point we kinda have a process and everybody's got a role, and everybody knows what their deal is. Pretty much, the way the process has gone is I come up with a bunch of ideas and start working on stuff, and then I work very closely with our drummer. Then the other guys come in and do their parts. Historically I've played mostly all the guitar parts on our records and it's been more efficient that way. Metallica's the same way. Hetfield plays 95% of the guitars on the records. It's not because Hetfield's a better guitar player, it's just because he wrote the songs, he knows exactly how it's supposed to go. We have never had the luxury of being in a position to experiment and have people just fuck around over shit. It's always been a strict deadline to get as much done as possible.
I think Jeff's an amazing guitar player and Heads Will Roll was awesome. And I encourage him, especially since he's got the platform of a band like Dillinger, I encourage him to continue to make his own music, so we can expose that stuff to all of our fans. I'm sure he'll play on a (Dillinger) record, but right now he's spent just as much time coming up with vocal parts while I was working on guitar stuff, and it just worked well.
JC: Then there's new drummer, Billy Rymer. He's a bit younger than everyone else.
JC: He's an awesome drummer, but I've got to admit, the first time I saw him play with you guys, I thought he was a snot-nosed little punk. Cut to a year later, and he seems to have matured quite a bit.
BW: He has.
JC: I remember reading somewhere that you were working him really hard and I want to know if you take credit for turning Billy Rymer into a man?
BW: I'm part of turning Billy into a man, but I have nothing to do with him being a great drummer. I can't say it wasn't great having someone so young and still kind of finding his way, but it wasn't long before that guy was coming up with ideas of his own, which were a big part of the record. There's a huge dichotomy with that guy, because not only is he young and he doesn't have a lot of experience, but he's also fucking freakishly talented. Especially for his age. Our old drummers, Gil and Chris, have ten years on him. I can't even imagine what he's going to be doing when he's their age. Yeah, he's got some big shoes to fill, people are very hard on him, you said yourself you were hard on him, as you should be. He does have to pay his fucking dues, the little punk. (Laughs) But, he certainly is working hard for this and he certainly deserves all the credit that he's been getting.
JC: When he joined the band, and when Jeff joined the band, you guys hazed them pretty bad, right?
BW: Greg kinda does that. I'm too busy worrying about getting them ready to play shows. Greg likes to do that. I feel bad. I never want to do that stuff. I got picked on when I was a kid, you know what I mean?
JC: I saw you guys one of the first times he played with you in New York, and they were stealing his cymbals after the show and he was outside running around looking for them.
BW: Yeah, Billy's like a seriously nervous dude. Sometimes I think that can come off as cocky, because he's paranoid as fuck, but that also leads to an amazing weird nervousness that I think made this record really awesome.
JC: I remember after that show, I left an obnoxious post on the MySpace about him being a young whipper snapper. He actually responded to me and tried to get my cellphone number out of me, presumably to spread it around the internet. I assume he learned that from Greg.
BW: You've got to understand, we're a drummer's band. Guys that have played in this band are some of the best drummers in the world. But for me it's like... everyone knows I'm that dude who has been doing this forever, nobody really critiques me personally. They critique these guys that come in and could fuck it all up. With someone like Billy, he's got to deal with people who really love the band looking at him under a microscope. Literally, I think people were sending him messages and calling him, saying shit like, if you fuck up Dillinger, we're gonna kill you.
JC: (Laughs) That's horrible.
BW: No joke, man. So I think he's taken it pretty well, considering. At the end of the day I think he realized that the proof is in the pudding and when we got into the studio he just dealt with it in that way.
JC: It seems to have been mostly Greg, but for a while there you guys were getting into feuds with shitty bands like Disturbed and Puddle of Mudd. Is that a thing of the past? Have you guys matured?
BW: Those feuds were never meant to be feuds. It wasn't like we were trying to, you know... We saw negative things from that, we saw positive things- like free publicity from bands that are much bigger than us. It's never been an issue of maturity, it's been an issue of, we didn't think bands like that would give a fuck. If somebody asks us a question and we answer honestly and these bands are gonna get upset, it's kinda hard to argue that. The truth is a lot of bands that we don't like (musically,) we end up being great friends with. The fact that we have similar lifestyles and passions. That we're doing the same thing and have the same kind of issues with our personal lives. We have more in common with bands we hate than with some accountant who likes exactly the same music as we do. But if someone like Disturbed or Avenged Sevenfold is gonna get all bent out of shape for somebody asking us in an interview what we think of them, there's nothing we can do about that.
JC: Former vocalist Dimitri Minakakis remains semi-affiliated with the band. He's contributed album art for the last three albums?
BW: Two of them. Miss Machine and Option Paralysis. But he did sing on Ire Works. He's been involved in pretty much every one of our full length records in some way.
JC: I think the Option Paralysis artwork is pretty sweet. Was it hard to trust Dimitri again after how ugly the Miss Machine artwork was?
BW: (Laughs) Actually, Dmitri didn't do the artwork for Miss Machine, he just laid it out. But the pictures and stuff like that was a friend of ours. I love Miss Machine, man. People either love it or hate it. I loved it, because it didn't look anything like a metal record
JC: You have no idea what you are going to listen to when you look at that, if you don't already know.
BW: Yeah, it's fucked up looking, you don't know what the fuck you're looking at.
JC: Did you guys discuss ideas ahead of time?
BW: It was one of those things where we had a couple people submitting ideas and collectively that was the one that made an impression. After seeing that we were like, whoa, that's fucked up. What is that? Is that a titty? I have no idea. There's a leg with teeth on it and shit. I'm not going to say everybody in the band loved it, but the majority definitely thought it was at least thought provoking. More so than the other things we were seeing.
JC: A while back you put out an EP of covers (Plagarism) and I wanted to know, how come you guys don't Dillinger-up your covers any more? You seem to be doing more straight forward renditions these days.
BW: We did do it with the 'Angel' cover, that was quite different. It wasn't Dillingerized necessarily, but it was definitely a different vibe. There was a Black Sabbath cover that was recently released. It was for some old comp that never came out. That was definitely pretty mashed up. It was like grindcore and swing. Somebody asks us to do a cover of a band and it's for a compilation? We're gonna change it up. The last thing somebody needs to hear is a whole record of Black Sabbath songs sounding exactly like Black Sabbath. There are enough bands that rip off Black Sabbath as it is.
When we started doing those other songs, that was just for fun. We never intended to put that out. That was us playing some other kinds of music, Greg getting some opportunities to use his voice in a different way. And us exposing kids to music saying, look, you don't have to always listen to heavy music. We think this shit is good. This isn't a guilty pleasure. This is in our playlist.
JC: A couple times when I've seen you guys play live, I've seen Liam warm up with 'Welcome Home' by King Diamond. You guys should totally cover that song.
BW: He loves that song.
JC: I'd love to hear Greg hitting the high notes on that one.
BW: If he put his balls in a vise he'd probably pull that off.
JC: Well, if he can do 'Jesus Christ Pose', I think he can get up there.
JC: Whatever happened to your thrash side-project, Shit Yeah? Was that just a complete joke?
BW: Nah, man. What happened was, we started joking around about, you got bands like Hell Yeah, and what could be better than Hell Yeah? Shit Yeah! You know what I mean? It's the next level of rock n' roll party music.
JC: Have you guys actually written anything?
BW: Our friend had a band he was recording that was total 80's cock rock and it was fucking awesome, but apparently they weren't that stoked on the singer. So we muted the singer and me and Greg went in and started doing this super killer Axl style singing. And we were like, this is actually kind of rad. These songs are awesome and you just wanna speed down the street, crack a six-pack and throw it at the car next to you, some girls titties flopping out the window, you know?
JC: Is that ever going to see the light of day?
BW: I think it will. We've just been really busy, making serious music. But I wrote a few songs, that we haven't recorded. I've got a couple of killer rock ballads, stuff like that.
JC: Speaking of cock rock, you remember Extreme?
BW: Yeah, I remember. Nuno Bettencourt.
JC: They've got this new song, the video just went live. It's called 'King of the Ladies', and it's this total good time party jam.
JC: It's so cheesy, but it's so incredibly catchy, after one listen it's in your head forever.
BW: I'm for it, man. I'm definitely for that.
JC: You should check it out, it's ridiculous.
BW: I mean, I wanted to hate Andrew W. K. for so long, but sometimes you can't. Sometimes shit is so fun and so positive and so killer- if you can't beat it, join it.
JC: That dude loves life.
BW: Exactly. You can't hate on that dude.