Interview: Ben Weinman – The Dillinger Escape Plan

By: Ben Hosking
[Click here to listen to the audio version of this interview]

In a scene where many bands tend to follow the latest musical trend and the industry doesn’t know which way is up, The Dillinger Escape Plan stand clearly out from the crowd.
THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLANFormed in the late 1990s, the group has gone from strength to strength thanks to an unwavering self-reliance and unique ability to churn out some of the most twisted, ugly riffs available. Founder member and guitarist of the New Jersey band Ben Weinman (BW) talks to LifeMusicMedia’s Ben Hosking (LMM) about band dynamics, society’s relationship with technology, illegal downloading and their new album ‘Option Paralysis’.

LMM: How’s the tour going?
BW: Pretty good. Everybody’s a little sick, but we’re holding it together.

LMM: Too much partying or more a case of ‘one guy gets sick, we all get sick’?
BW: I think it’s the latter, man. We’re all on a bus together, so when one person starts hacking up a lung, it just spreads like wildfire.

LMM: How was the recording process for ‘Option Paralysis’ with new member Billy Rymer?
BW: It was great. One of the great things about this situation is that Billy, our new drummer, moved into my house with me. So it was really efficient and easy when you bunk together. It was great. It wasn’t forced at all. We just played when we felt like it and came up with some stuff that we’re really happy with. I think it was a really efficient and focused effort.

LMM: You would have got to know Billy pretty fast that way as well.
BW: That’s definitely true.

LMM: There’s a bit of an age gap between Billy and the rest of you.
BW: There is, but I try not to accept that. I’m trying to stay young as long as possible. Being in Dillinger is like being in Neverland; we’re all like Peter Pan. We can’t accept that we’re getting older.

LMM: So you all still act like you’re 20 years old?
BW: When you’ve been doing the same thing for over 10 years – exactly, every day pretty much – it’s hard to know. Sometimes you go on tour year after year and then you come home and you look at your friends, you realise, ‘Wow! They seem really old’. Then you’re like, ‘Wait, I’m the same age!’ I guess I’m old, too.

LMM: Have you discovered a new dynamic within the band with Billy’s influence?
BW: Well, not really. Other than the fact that we all get along really well. I think that having someone who’s really appreciative to be in this position and really excited to not only prove himself as a drummer but also fill the shoes of the drummers we’ve had in the past and help take things to the next level is really exciting and adds a great energy to things.

I think any time that you have people in a band that are still excited and aren’t jaded by the business and by the experiences is always refreshing.

LMM: How did you find your new drummer, Billy Rymer?
BW: We were trying out different drummers for a number of months. Some were just people sending us YouTube videos of them playing our songs, some were people we knew, some were people from other bands and he was really the last guy that we tried out. He just had something special about him and we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to give him a shot. I’m happy that we were right and that he was the right guy for the job.

LMM: The situation with former drummer and fellow founding member Chris Pennie got pretty bad before his departure, with Greg (Puciato, Dillinger’s singer) calling it “a vicious tornado of animosity”. Just how bad was it?
BW: Well, I mean, it’s difficult in general just to be in a band; especially when it starts to get serious like Dillinger have. We never thought this was going to be our full-time career when we first started, and now it is. It’s really hard, especially when we run things on our own and there’s very few middle men to get involved. It gets quite stressful in the world of Dillinger.

Chris was really just somebody that loved playing drums and didn’t really want to necessarily pay attention to a lot of the other details and it became a little bit of a problem between the band members. I think it was better off for everyone. I mean, sometimes things expire and he got everything he needed out of Dillinger and moved on, and that’s fine. And we’re still happy to be doing what we’re doing.

LMM: Is there a recurring theme that runs through your new album ‘Option Paralysis’?
BW: Yeah, the new record is basically based around the idea that we’re kind of in a time where people are a little bit lost. There’s just so much easy access to information and there’s so many new technologies that people are a little bit lost and don’t know what to do with it all.

For the first time in history, I think that technology has advanced farther than we know what to do with it. That’s a lot of what’s been influencing this record and the stuff that we’ve been thinking about. Especially being in a band for as many years as we have and seeing the process of how bands conduct themselves and different genres come and go and things like that through the years we’ve been doing this… it’s an interesting thing for us to see how culture has been affected by all these things.

We’re a band that benefits so much from technology, so a lot of things that this record touches on are just the fact that people are a little bit lost and they need to refocus on what’s important.

LMM: How much does technology affect what Dillinger does?
BW: We’ve embraced technology a great deal and it’s an extremely important part of our band, especially considering we’re so into experimentation in the way that we make our music. But also because of the fact that we’re not some giant band on a label with a lot of marketing a lot of people running things. I mean, we do everything on our own and technology and the internet has been a really important tool for us. However, the difference is that it IS a tool and you shouldn’t use it as a means to an end.

You should use technology as a source of inspiration. The fact is that everybody out there can find a blueprint on how to do things on the internet or on TV or anywhere else in about five seconds. We feel like that has definitely been a negative effect on cultures.

We just try to continue to push people and push ourselves and try and create some level of unpredictability. We try not to use other bands as a guideline; we try to do things our own way and push ourselves. That’s what we’re really all about.

LMM: Speaking of experimentation, how do Dillinger go about songwriting? What process do you use for coming up with such off-the-wall riffs?
BW: Normally, being the main songwriter from day one it usually starts with me having some kind of either guitar ideas or drum ideas or rhythms – stuff that I’ve messed with often while on the back of a bus while on tour or something like that. Those are often the starting points for the songs that we then jam out and work on and flesh out.

The next step is usually myself and our drummer just kinda working on the ideas and jamming them out and coming up with skeletons of songs and then the other guys can come in jam and eventually, we have a record.

LMM: What kind of influences do you bring to Dillinger?
BW: Well, we all listen to a lot of different things. God, anything from the old music like David Bowie or King Crimson to newer stuff like Animals and Leaders – they’ve some great guitar work happening. I listen to a lot of old music.

LMM: You often use unconventional time signatures and beat accenting. Where does that come from in relation to your influences?
BW: A lot of that comes from the older influences and fusion music like King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra or Frank Zappa to electronic music which is often unconventional or sporadic. A lot of what has influenced my guitar style has been people who use computers and synthesizers to create music. I tend to attribute that to the weird chords and noises I make. Often a rhythm that sounds random is often just inspired by a lot of these sequences and stuff like that that I listen to.

LMM: Did your choice of gear for recording ‘Option…’ vary much from your live rig?
BW: One main difference was that I used a Mesa Boogie MarkV, which is a fairly new head that they‘ve released. Their MarkIV was a popular head for a very long time. This MarkV was amazing. They lent it to me for the recording and it’s literally the best sounding head I’ve ever used and I’ve used different brands and mixed it up on records in the past, but I think I ended up using this head 90% of the recording. It’s just so diverse and really love that head.

I haven’t been using it live yet, but I’ll probably incorporate it into my live setup as well.

LMM: What are you using live?
BW: I’m using a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier. I’ve been using that for years and they’re extremely reliable.

I tend to go with things that are simple and easy and reliable considering the chaos that happens when we play. I try to keep things as simple as possible.

LMM: How important is the quality of the gear you’re playing on to you?
BW: I think it’s important to have high quality equipment and stuff that sounds good; especially with the music we play which is so chaotic and fast and there’s so much going on that you have to really try and have a clear tone and have things work.

Something that is more important is your technique and how you pick. I think the most tone is in your wrist and in your hands. I play very aggressively and I use my pick very specifically, in a way that I feel brings the attack and definition to our music – it’s very strategic in that way.

You often us an LTD 1000-series on the road. That’s a little different from many other guitarists who seem to go out of their way to get the most prestigious models they can.

At the moment I’m using both a regular ESP and an LTD on the road – and I used them both on the record, as well as a Gibson Les Paul on some parts and a semi-hollow Gibson – but the truth is that there were certain times where the LTD just sounded better. They’re really great, sturdy guitars.

I use EMG 81s (pickups) which produce a pretty specific sound regardless of what guitar they’re in. But generally speaking, the LTDs take a lot of abuse which is important for me and they also have quite an aggressive sound. Like I said, there was often times when I was using a much more high-end ESP and I switched back to the LTD because it just sounded more aggressive.

LMM: You toured with Nine Inch Nails, often joining them on stage. Has there been any talk of collaborating with Trent in the future?
BW: Yeah, we played with them in Australia on the Soundwave Festival and we did a few shows with them in the states as well. As far as collaboration goes, he’s kinda busy having a normal life right now. I think he is already working on some music for something, I don’t know what, but we have talked about doing something in the future. Nothing specific though.

It’d be cool; I’d be into it for sure.

LMM: You started your own label before ‘Option…’ came out. What are your thoughts on the state of the music industry at the moment?
BW: I think it’s kind of like the Wild Wild West right now; everyone is trying to figure it out. But we’ve been lucky enough to never really rely on the industry that much through the way that we do things, you know. We put out records so that we can tour and sell shirts and that’s pretty much what we do.

We’re just continuing to do that very same thing. A lot of people get caught up in numbers, like who sells more or who’s got this bigger chart position or whatever and it just doesn’t matter to me. We’re on tour right now, playing our new record; kids are excited. Whether they got the record from a store or downloaded it or whatever, they’re excited to see us and the shows are going great and the energy around the band has never been better.

Regardless of the state of the industry, it doesn’t really matter to me. As far as my overall idea about it, I guess there’re just two different types of band: there are bands on one side who are still trying to worry about image major labels and the old way of doing things, following the herd. Then there’s the other side which is bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead and people like Mike Patton and hopefully bands like us as well who just kind of do things their own way and make it work for them.

LMM: You mentioned illegal downloading. Where do you stand on that topic?
BW: It’s hard because, you know, downloading doesn’t affect some big country artist or some pop artist as it does a band like us because to be honest with you, our fans are pretty savvy as far as computers go and they know how to get a record without paying for it. The only thing that sucks is that when people download your record there becomes less resources for you to make the next record. SO we do need to sell a certain number of records just to maintain a certain level of function.

But at the same time, like I said, if that person comes to a show and buys a shirt, I think that’s an equal trade, man – that’s fair enough.

Our true fans seem to be pretty supportive. They want to buy the records, they want to have the packaging, they want to come to the shows and they want to buy a shirt. I just hope that if people do download our music that eventually if they really like it and become a fan, they do support us in some way.

LMM: At what point in your career did you find that you could do this full-time?
BW: It’s kind of weird; you this band has never had some kind of moment, like, immediate success. It’s never been some kind of overnight thing for us. We’ve been doing this for over 10 years and it’s been a steady, slow climb for us.

One day, you know, I just kept taking time off from work to go tour and eventually I just never went back because the touring got so heavy and the opportunities were there. It really has been gradual.

LMM: You do seem to tour a lot. Is this because you love it, because of the reduced income from downloading or because it’s necessary to keep pushing the band forward?
BW: All of the above, really. Sure, I’d probably like to tour a couple of months less than I do, just because it gets tiring, but I do love going on stage every night. It really is enjoyable and we love bringing our music to people. Again, that’s what we do: we write records and then we go play it for people live.

LMM: What should people be expecting from the live Dillinger Escape Plan experience?
BW: That’s a hard question because I never really know what to expect myself. Every date is different, every stage, every support band. Every day something happens that I would never have expected and that’s the one thing I love about being in this band. So hopefully all I can promise is some level of unpredictability.

LMM: You’ve played over here a few times before. How do Australian audiences compare to those in other countries?
BW: Australia is awesome. It’s one of our favourite places to play. Australian fans have always been super accepting of diverse and interesting music. I remember very early on in our career, talking to Mike Patton when we toured with Mr Bungle him saying how supportive Australian fans were of his music and stuff like that. When we finally had the chance to get over there we saw just how awesome it was. We would play there all the time if we could, but it’s a little far away!

Dillinger Escape plan tour Australia in May and their new album, ‘Option Paralysis’ is available in store now.

The Dillinger Escape Plan – Australian Tour – May 2010 (TOUR DETAILS)
Audio Interview: Ben Weinman – The Dillinger Escape Plan *The Audio version of this interview*

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Interview: Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan by Ben HoskingLifeMusicMedia