The Dillinger Escape Plan: Soundwave, NIN and what we learnt from Mike Patton

Ben Weinman, the self-described barometer of New Jersey’s The Dillinger Escape Plan, talks to JODY MACGREGOR about touring Aus, collaborating with Kimbra and why Mike Patton continues to inspire them.

The Dillinger Escape Plan guitarist and founding member Ben Weinman is in Arizona, enjoying a day off from a tour that started a few weeks before the mid-May release of their latest record, One Of Us Is The Killer. Their fifth album, it’s the kind you need to spend some time getting to grips with, one that’s full of surprises that slowly reveal themselves as you peel back the layers. But I was just as surprised to find out that Weinman’s climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge with Trent Reznor, and that he says he has a lot in common with Kimbra.

What’s it like playing the songs off One Of Us Is The Killer live? Have you had much of an opportunity before now to try them out and see how an audience reacts?

No, I mean these couple of weeks has been our first time playing them. I don’t think we’ve ever had a record out where the songs seemed so natural to play live before, right away. It usually takes a while. But these songs that we’re playing really fit in well, really conducive to the live shows, so it’s been great to be able to easily include them in our sets.

Fan photo from the Orion Music + More Festival

You guys go pretty crazy at your shows, Greg Puciato leaping into the crowd and stuff like that. Do you notice what he’s up to or are you concentrating too much on what you’re playing?

Occasionally I do. There are moments when we’re just gonna erupt and I think we’re aware of each other. But the other night, for instance, we were playing a song and we both jumped out into the crowd at the same time and were really surprised to see each other out there. Like, “Oh, what are you doing here?” There’s always surprising stuff like that.

I have to ask, when you played at the Reading Festival [in 2002], did you know he was going to shit in a bag and throw it at the audience?

I did not, no.

That was a surprise for you too then.

It was.

Fair enough. Now, how do you keep yourselves occupied when you’re on a tour like this? There must be a lot of time between shows when you’re just sitting in a van – do you have a van or do you fly?

No, we’re in a tour bus right now, which is convenient because I’m able to bring my computer and my recording stuff with me so it’s been productive in that way a little more. A difficult thing about touring is that an hour or two a day is productive and the rest is just, you know, napping. I’m trying to avoid that.

You work on new music while you’re on the road?

Sometimes new stuff but typically after a record’s done I personally don’t work on Dillinger stuff for a while. I’ve already got that out of my system. I’m collaborating with other artists, producing some things, soundtrack stuff. I’m always pretty busy and I don’t want to let a tour stop those things.


Collaborating with Kimbra

I heard that you’re collaborating with Kimbra on her next album, is that right?

Actually I just saw her last night. She was at our show, we’ve been discussing some music and file-swapping, stuff like that. It’s just music that we’re working on together. Whether it’ll end up being on her record or whether it’s something else we don’t know. But it’ll definitely sound awesome.

That might come as a surprise to some Dillinger fans, but I guess your music does have that jazzy element. Do you find you have a lot in common with her?

We do have a lot in common, our influences definitely. She’s someone who defies limitations based on genres. She doesn’t allow anyone to put her in a box or determine how she should make music. You know, she’s basically making pop music that’s really different and experimental, that was one of the things that immediately, when I first heard her, I really appreciated. There’s not that much creative, interesting pop music out there and she’s the real deal.

She’s very popular here and I think that “pop but with a point of difference” is a big part of it.

Yeah, you guys definitely are a lot more open-minded to experimentation. I always noticed that, even Mike Patton’s projects are much more accessible to crowds over there than they would be over here, which I always thought was great.

What they learned from Mike Patton

What was it like when you guys worked with Mike Patton? Were you a big fan of his before that?

Oh yeah, he’s one of the greatest influences ever. I guess the first time we crossed paths with him was when we toured with Mr Bungle in ‘98, I think it was. We were just finishing up our first record, Calculating Infinity, and we jumped on tour with Mr Bungle. Got to meet Mike Patton and spent two months with him touring the US. He was one of the first people to hear our record and he gave us some insight. We did know him fairly well by the time we worked on that EP but it was still such an honour.

Did he give you advice? Did you learn from him?

Yeah, man, I’ve used him as an example, a kind of a mentor in some ways for years on how to do it: Never compromise artistically, but take the business pretty seriously as well. It was great to see how he did things.


You’re touring the US for the next month I think, then doing a couple of festivals in Europe, but when can we expect you in Australia Next? Do you know yet?

We don’t have any solid plans but we’re hoping by early 2014 at the latest. Think we’re pretty much booked until December right now so that’s probably the time we’re looking at. Sooner rather than later.

When was the last time you were in Australia, Soundwave?

It was for the Soundwave Festival. I don’t remember exactly what month that was, that was in the middle of a whole bunch of touring for us, the last time we did some shows with System of a Down – sidewave shows.

What was Soundwave like then? This year was massive.

It’s great because there’s always a bunch of friends’ bands playing and bands we look up to. It’s great to be on the same playing field, hanging out and checking out a whole lot of music, stuff like that. I don’t know, it seems a little weird. We played one of the earlier ones [2009], one Nine Inch Nails played and Alice in Chains – that year was a little less nu-metal. I enjoyed it a little bit more, being there with Nine Inch Nails and Alice In Chains. It was a little more my cup of tea.


Nine Inch Nails

You played with Nine Inch Nails, right? Part of the live band? On some of his farewell shows he [Trent Reznor] did, that one last tour before disappearing for a while, we shared the stage with him in Australia at the Soundwave shows. We played some of his songs with him. It was weird, it’s not like he took Dillinger out on the road, he just summons Dillinger to help perform his songs, which is kind of an interesting thing and certainly an honour, to be a part of that tour in some way.

How did he reach out to ask you guys?

We had a mutual friend. Atticus Ross, who is kind of his partner in crime with all the soundtrack stuff and the Nine Inch Nails stuff in the studio, is a good friend of ours. And we knew some of the other guys in the camp that works with Nine Inch Nails, so when we did Soundwave Festival with Nine Inch Nails he was checking out our set every night and hanging out every night. We actually went and did the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb together and spent some quality time together and bonded a little bit, so I ended up doing those shows.

Do you do a lot of stuff like the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb when you’re on tour, do you get to do much of that touristy stuff?

We don’t do much of that in US and the rest of the world but I think Australia, because we have so many days off and we’re in hotels and there’s less travelling going on because we do fly to most of the shows, we do tend to do a little more of that kind of thing. At the very least go to some beaches, snorkel – that’s always cool. That’s one of the reasons why we love coming to Australia so much. It’s such an amazing environment to play shows.

I’m in Brisbane and there’s a place here called the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and it seems like every touring band visits there. They even have a wall of photos where every touring rock band has had their photos taken with the koalas.


Did you guys do that?

Yeah, we did.

Did you get your photos taken with the koala?

Yeah, we totally did. It’s a nice band shot.

That’s a thing that every American does in Australia. I don’t know every Australian does in America.

Yeah, I don’t know. Go see deer or something? I don’t know what America has that’s cool.

We probably all go to the Grand Canyon. Actually, we probably all go straight for the junk food, all of the things that we see on television that people are always eating that we don’t have here.

You guys have everything! What do we have that you don’t?

We don’t any good bagels.

Yeah, that’s true, bagels. But you know what? California doesn’t have any good bagels or pizza either. In America you gotta be in the right places.

“There are moments when we’re just gonna erupt.”

I wanted to ask you about the place you’re from, Morris Plains in New Jersey. Was there any kind of music scene there when you were growing up?

None. It’s just a quiet little suburban town about an hour out of New York City and it’s pretty typical. I guess when I speak to people from different countries I can only compare it to ‘Have you seen American Pie?’ or something. Like, white picket fences, cheerleaders, football players, every house the same kind of thing. That’s pretty much where I grew up. But it was fairly easy to go into New York City, where there was an amazing amount of music and culture and art, so that was pretty much one of the biggest benefits of living there. You can go to New York and experience all that wonderful music and unpredictable things that are happening and then come home and have space and a garage and a basement to actually jam and make music with our friends. I feel like that was a huge benefit.

I grew up in a small town and it was frustrating that bands would hardly ever play there but when they did we went nuts.

I’m sure, yeah. Nobody in my town even listened to the kind of music I liked. I’d travel for it, but that made it even more special that you worked for it a little bit. I started getting into underground music before YouTube was happening and before MySpace and Facebook and there was very little social networking going on when it came to music, so we really had to go out and search for music, and meet like-minded people and spend time together and travel. That was some of the greatest times of my life.

Who’s the boss?

You get interviewed a lot by musician magazines, Ultimate Guitar and things like that. What sort of questions do they ask you that you don’t get asked anywhere else?

We’ll thrown in some technical stuff like how I tune my guitar or what kind of scales I like to use but typically I tend to talk a little more about the ethic of the band and how we started up and what kind of influences led to our sound mostly. Some of that stuff is similar.

On the other end of things I also saw that you were interviewed on Kids Interview Bands. I love those things, there’s another one called Ask A Grown Man, there was one where kids were interviewing Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich and a teenage girl’s asking them, “How do you tell boys you’ve got a crush?” That’s a fascinating insight.

I loved that, I saw it as well, yeah.

Do you enjoy doing things like that? You seemed to be having a good time.

Yeah, I personally do. I mean some of the guys in the band have different opinions about different kinds of interviews they like to do and what they don’t like to do, but I like those odd things that take me out of my comfort zone a bit and show people what we’re real people, that we take our band very seriously and the music very seriously but we’re pretty normal people otherwise.

You’re in that position where as the founder of the band, even though you’re not the frontman, in a lot of ways you are the face of the band, the one that we see most. You’re often the one doing interviews.

Yeah, well a lot of the questions people ask only I can answer I guess. History-based questions, music-specific or songwriting questions, it makes more sense for me to do those interviews.

Are you the boss of the band?

You know, we are an organisation there’s no doubt about that, but our business is selling the alternative to a lifestyle most people live and we don’t take that for granted, that we get to do that. We get to have creative expression and we get to create the alternative to music that people feel we have to make in order to please a certain crowd or please a record label, or a fan that only likes a specific kind of structure or style. We’ve created an open and free scenario where we can do almost anything and it’s accepted. That’s all we’ve ever wanted to do. As far as how we run the band some of that attitude and ethic and philosophy is also part of how we run the band. I do feel that being the original member and being there when the band started and we started to develop our sound I do have a responsibility to make sure that there’s some sort of quality control and we maintain that ethic and stay true to those ideals, so in that respect I think I am that barometer, but I don’t mean the boss of any sort.

The Dillinger Escape Plan’s One of Us is the Killer is out now via Party Smasher Inc./Remote Control.