THE DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN
On the eve of their recent London shows, Liam and Jeff talk to us about everything from the ins and outs of Option Paralysis, an aborted guest appearance from Michael Jackson and the warm sensation of pissing on your own leg...
Photo by Pearl Draps
"We're trying to give people an option. A lot of music today, a lot of media, radio and MTV is very force-fed. All that kind of stuff is bought into, and I think that we're just trying to deliver an alternative or at least let it be known that you don't have to be this pigeonhole, cookie cutter, homogenous band. We're people who don't like Hollywood endings. We don't like obvious things. We don't want predictability," explains The Dillinger Escape Plan bass player Liam Wilson.
Certainly nobody who's followed the eventful career of this seminal, genre-smashing outfit can accuse them of being predictable. From their critically acclaimed 1999 debut Calculating Infinity - which for many people redefined what hardcore and metal could be - to collaborations with Mike Patton [RM Interview], right through to their last studio album, 2007's Ire Works which divided many a long time fan with its leanings towards more melodic territory, The Dillinger Escape Plan have never been ones to stand still or do what's expected of them.
Sat downstairs at the Barfly in Camden, Wilson is speaking to RM along with guitarist Jeff Tuttle, while the rest of their bandmates are engaged elsewhere around the venue, taking part in photoshoots for a variety of British music rags. You see these are busy times in the Dillinger camp, with their hotly-anticipated fourth full-length Option Paralysis only a matter of weeks away, the New Jersey five-piece are on the home stretch of a whirlwind trip around Europe, speaking to the European press in the day and then blowing away fans at night with a series of one-off shows in the kind of intimate venues they said goodbye to a long time ago.When Dillinger announced they would be playing not just one, but two shows at the Barfly in February, Dan Jones jumped at the chance to catch their matinee show and speak with the band beforehand about everything from the ins and outs of Option Paralysis, an aborted guest appearance from Michael Jackson and the warm sensation of pissing on your own leg...
So today you're playing two shows at the same venue, have you ever done this before?
Jeff "Last week we did it!"
Liam "Yeah, we just did it in Brussels"
Why did you decide to play such intimate venues, why not just play one evening show at a larger venue?
Liam "I think we've always done that, we've always played the Astoria and places like that. With the beginning of every new record and new membership, it kind of helps us to start from scratch again and to build up that vibe. Selling out a place twice, blowing it out, leaving them wanting more as opposed to having a half full venue I think this time around it just made more sense to start a promo tour this way."
How's the trip been then? It must be exhausting jumping from country to country only staying in one place for a day or so?
Liam "It's great. Every time we come to Europe it's a bit of a blitz. At least we're hitting major markets, it's not like there are any lulls or weird cities. Because we're playing smaller venues we're playing downtown so we get to see more."
Jeff "The shows have great, just the overall vibe of them as they're smaller more intimate shows the band has really responded to it. For the people that get to come to the shows, they're very grateful that we're doing these smaller shows."
Liam "We haven't really had any support on the whole tour either so you know pretty much everyone there is a diehard Dillinger fan. Because of that we have a bit more flexibility about what sets we play."
Is it difficult keeping up the intensity of your performances on tour? Especially on tours like Warped which I believe you're playing this summer?
Liam "I think it's harder to take a day off! It's like training for anything, once you build of your stamina for it, I miss it when I don't play, I feel weird you know? It's aerobic exercise on some levels, if you don't get that you start to feel rusty. Typically apart from Greg's voice I don't think anyone likes to take a day off, it seems like it's more of a lull than a rest."
Jeff "And something like Warped Tour we're only playing 30-35 minutes at the most."
Liam "It's like a sprint!"
Jeff "Yeah, compared to this tour when we're playing for about an hour and fifteen minutes, something like Warped Tour we can do in our sleep."
Liam "It's outdoors, it's in the summer, it's easier."
Ok, so you're over here to promote your new album, Option Paralysis, is this one of the most exciting times when you're in a band just prior to a major release?
Liam - "Yeah, I mean every time we put out a record we've been happy with all of them but when we come out with one we're like "This is the best one!" it's very clichιd but I think everyone is really pumped; everyone has a personal stake in it more than they've ever had before. I think it's our most complete, most mature, all killer no filler, most us record I think we've done."
Do you ever listen back to any of your old records then and think, "Oh, I wish we didn't do this here"?
Liam "It's kind of like the Persian stitch. You know what I mean?"
No, I have no idea!
Jeff "Liam's full of these weird literary terms!" [all laugh]
Liam "The Persian stitch is the idea of when they make a Persian carpet they would deliberately stitch one thing wrong so it wasn't perfect like God, they wanted to make sure that it was man made. There's a couple of those things which I think you have to live with, there's things where if we had time and money then maybe I would have redone that part, but at the same time it's like an exercise in commitment to listen to it and think 'that's where I was then, this is where I am today'. I can't necessarily put my artistic viewpoints of today on something we made three of more years ago."
Jeff "And it's always difficult to match what's in your head with what's going to go on the record. To do that is nearly impossible, there's always going to be things that get lost in translation or end up getting compromised for something else so I think there's always going to be that degree of I don't want to say disappointment but compromise more so."
Liam "Yeah, there's always things where you go into the studio like "I'm going to play this" and then Steve Evett's is like" [in disdainful voice] "'No you're not!'. Or you play it and then get the mix back and I'm the only one that knows it's there it's a bit like pissing on your leg, a warm feeling that only you feel" [all laugh]
I've not heard it yet so how would you describe Option Paralysis? Would you say it's the natural evolution from Ire Works?
Liam "Yeah, sort of everything has been a stepping stone towards the next thing. Some of the riskier ideas that we took on with Ire Works like the vocal stuff I think everyone's confidence level is higher this time around. You know what you can accomplish on every record, you're raising the bar then a guy live Steve comes in and pushes you that extra distance. This time around we knew where the bar was set last time and we're trying to raise it for ourselves - like I said it's all killer no filler - no interludes, no instrumentals. Not that those aren't important Dillinger elements, but I think it was easier this time to just make ten full, fleshed out songs, and again I just think the maturity level is there. The things that people perhaps saw as us taking a departure or some of the poppier, more accessible songs this time are more integrated a little more authentically Dillinger not as brazenly pop, perhaps a little bit more clever."
The Dillinger Escape Plan - 'Milk Lizard'
Those "poppier" tracks like 'Milk Lizard', 'Black Bubblegum' and 'Unretrofied', are these type of tracks more enjoyable for you to write, because it's not what people usually come to expect from Dillinger?
Liam - "Yes and No. I don't know if it's what people expect less at this point. I would hope that by this stage they either a) expect all of it, or b) at least expect something unexpected. I don't think that anybody ever expects us to put out another Calculating Infinity - intense from front to back."
Jeff - "I mean there definitely are those people and I hate to say it but those are the fans who I don't think we're writing records for. I mean anybody who expects you to just "cookie cutter" make records, I don't think is much a fan of what we set out to do."
Liam "I think any bands who stay narrow - I mean I love Pantera, I love Slayer and I love some of these bands who stick to their course - but even for all those bands I'll pick one or two of their records and I don't care about the rest and I don't really want to be that band. Really early on we made it part of our constitution that we're not going to paint ourselves into that corner and we don't have time for side projects necessarily. I want to do everything in this band, I want to have the membership be people who are never going to wince or be people who go, 'I don't know whether I can pull that off'.
"Everyone is constantly talking about the Mike Patton influence or the Faith No More influence and I think it's really important to say that the influence is mostly because their records were so balanced, and they had 'Surprise! You're Dead!' next to 'Underwater Love'. And bands like Queen and Led Zeppelin, they may have been known for something more so than something else - their fans may like these songs more than these songs - but they always took risks and they always had very wide influences on all those records when you look at their entire catalogues. I would rather be remembered or placed in that echelon."
'Farewell, Mona Lisa' was the first track to be unvieled from the record. Why did you decide to go with that track? Would you say it's a good indication of what's to come and bridges the two albums?
Jeff- "Yeah, I think it gives a little something to our range of fans. For the people who may be stuck on the "You guys should keep writing the Calculating Infinity records", you know those types of fans, but also those that have been receptive to the more melodic stuff that we've done. I think if you have Calculating as point A and Option Paralysis as point B, it bridges that entire gap."
Liam "It's the gateway drug. It's not such a departure that people who turn it one won't get it. I think any old fan should be able to latch onto what we're delivering but at the same time for new people for the first single it's sort of the crib notes, here's some of the ground that we're going to cover over the next forty minutes or so."
The album features some really interesting artwork, who was behind it?
Liam "I think indirectly all of us were behind the concept, but the actual layout was done by our first singer Dimitri."
What happened, then, did you all explain to him the concepts behind the record?
Liam "It was actually a bit of a headache trying to visualize what Option Paralysis looks like and I felt it was like a curse to hand that to artists and say, "Here, make something", because it's difficult to make it into something simple and iconographic and you know, obvious.
How would you explain the title Option Paralysis then? I've heard it described as when you're presented with too many options that you freeze and can't pick one.
Liam "It's like the sensory overload, a musical reflection on the over-saturation and over-stimulation."
Would you say the rise in the internet has led to this over-saturation you speak of?
Jeff "Yeah, social networking, the MySpaces and Facebooks, YouTube, when anybody in the world can be a critic, or when anybody in the world can be an artist or musician, you've got millions and millions of bands to choose from, it becomes very difficult to know what to choose for the people of a younger generation who are growing up in this environment. For people our age, we know what it was like to grow up without the internet so we have more direction."
Liam "It's the fact that everything's so transparent, there's very few secrets, that everything is accesable. Anything you can imagine, any forbidden fruit is available, drugs, sex, it's all two clicks away. It's interesting and kinda scary".
The Dillinger Escape Plan - 'Panasonic Youth'
The album saw you work with Steve Evetts yet again. Why do you continually work with him? Are you comfortable with the way he works?
Liam - "It's kind of like an uncomfortable comfort. To be completely honest the guy's a complete arsehole in the control room" [all laugh] "but the guy gets it, he gets music. He's one of the few guys who we can play our stuff for and he just feels it intrinsically. He's a multi-instrumentalist, really understands his craft and knows us well enough from recording and touring with us. He really understands where we are as musicians and knows how to get incredible performances from us, knows how to push us the right way. There's definitely a bit of abrasiveness to him, but I think that the overall product is worth it. I think vocally he pushes Greg in ways he can handle but may not have thought of. As a bass player, he's a bass player so he's constantly really tooling me on things that most producers who be like 'Oh, that was great.' While he's like" [abrupt voice] "'Do it again!' He really has an ear for it, he's like the silent sixth member and I think it goes both ways too, the way that we push him, the way that we're demanding of him when the mix has come around, we're just as picky. I think it's a mutually symbiotic thing at this point."
I read a recent interview with Ben in Rocksound where he said the album features a couple of guest appearances from "completely different worlds to Dillinger", one is Bowie keyboardist Mike Garson, and who's the other one? >
Liam "Nah, I think that's really it."
Liam "Yeah, the rest is rumour I think, am I right?"
Jeff "I've heard that from a few people!"
Liam "There was someone else we were trying to get but his tracks didn't quite [work]."
Jeff - "Oh yes! That's right."
Care to say who that was?
Liam "No, I would never."
Jeff "It was Michael Jackson but then he died before it was finished so we had to scrap the whole thing" [all laugh].
How did Mike Garson's appearances come about then?
Liam "We played Nine Inch Nails last show in LA and he had played on The Fragile and had also done some stuff with Smashing Pumpkins and Bowie, like you said. I'd never met the guy or heard of him, but when he got up and did his part in that show that night I think all of us were just a little bit like, 'holy shit dudes, who's that guy?' And he was a character. We were all sharing the same area backstage just sort of shooting the shit and he just seemed to be the type of guy who out of everybody there we sort of related to this late 60's year old rocker more than others [who were there] like Dave Navarro or Gary Numan. So when we were talking to him it came up late in the night, 'hey maybe we'll find a way to collaborate'. And as the record was coming together we started to hear places where we had planned to do some piano stuff or maybe some piano stuff could be cool, and we thought it was a shot in the dark, but we'd call him up to see if he's interested in coming down. The next thing we knew he was in there listening to the songs and in one or two takes just ripped through this stuff. I know you haven't heard the record yet, but the stuff he's laid down is just really classy, technically really over the top, and again a guy like Steve who's worked with a lot of musicians was sitting in the studio just as dumbfounded as the rest of us when this guy started playing, it was just some serious virtuosity."
Nine Inch Nails - 'Wish' - Live with The Dillinger Escape Plan
You just mentioned that show with NIN - how did you end up playing those farewell shows?
Liam "Again, we've always sort of had to greater or lesser to a degree contact with Nine In Nails and Trent, he's been a fan of Dillinger and has come to see us play. When we found out we were playing Soundwave in Austalia this time last year they invited us to come and play some songs with them and again when their last shows came up they invited us again. It was very casual to be honest, there wasn't a lot of pomp and circumstance to it, they're fans and they respect what we do".
Your started your own label, Party Smasher Inc, which is a collaboration with French record label Season of Mist to put out the record. Why did you decide to go that route?
Jeff "At this point I think that we've established the direction we want to go and the way that we want to get there. We didn't really feel that signing to a traditional record label would be the best thing for us because we've been doing this for so long. We don't really need somebody who's just going to put out the record, you know, on standard CD and get some digital music out there. We needed somebody who was willing to take a bit more risk with limited packaging and things of that nature."
Yeah, I've seen the box set of the album which looks great. [It comes with beanie, picture book, TV-B-Gone and tonnes more. Click here to take a look - Ed.]
Jeff "Yeah, and I mean a lot of traditional record labels weren't really willing to do that."
Liam "I think after this long, nobody knows us better that us and in that sense we figure that we can't necessarily do it by ourselves, we need some capital to start with and we need someone to help us distribute it and help us advertise it. It's always nice to have someone to back it, who believe in it, which is where Season of Mist came in. We feel that with a lot of other offers - we did dinners, looked a contracts - and nothing really made sense and in this day and age where record labels are like dinosaurs - they're probably going extinct - we didn't want to sign for a long record deal. Every major label knows that they are going extinct and thus is signing 360 deals and all these other things that really screw the artist, and it's taken us this long to emancipate this much creative space. So I think this time around we were like, let's make sure that we have a branding that is at least our sign of quality control and hopefully going forward, whether we're on a label or not, we can always keep that as sort of a quality sign to our fans and any other bands who may fall under this moniker."
Jeff - "I think every artist aspires to that kind of independence. I mean who wants to give up their creative control or any fraction of that? So to be able to move in that direction is very exciting for us. It's one step closer to that independence."
Liam - "We've always sort of felt like this band who has even more so lately has a mom and pop shop-ness to it, it's very much ours. We're very hands on and it was really difficult to find a label who would give us that much creative freedom and although Season of Mist pushes and pulls is in certain directions still, it's the most creative freedom we've had and after everything that we've learned through working with Relapse and dabbling in other things."
There were rumours that you were dissatisfied with Relapse's handling of Ire Works, was your decision based on that at all?
Liam "The contract was up and I think that we all Relapse included felt that we had hit the glass ceiling. I don't really think that we felt that we could get bigger, we were the biggest fish in that pond and we wanted to at least try it our way or at least make steps towards that. What Radiohead did with In Rainbows is very exciting for bands like us, then again we're not as big as them and can't exactly pull it off quite that poetically. But that's sort of the ultimate goal and bands like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have really set the bar for what's possible."
But do you not think you have to be a band of Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails' size for it to feeisbly work?
Liam "I think you have to think like a band on that level to get there. I don't think that their system wouldn't work for us. I mean ultimately Radiohead did sell it to a label, I don't know whether that was the plan all along, but maybe they realized it is [too] big. I mean I can't go to the post office every day and post out CDs."
So final question then, what are your ambitions for Option Paralysis? Where would you like to see it take you?
Liam - "I don't know, to its natural end? We think it's a great record and we hope that other people recognize it as more than just a metal record. We're trying to give people an option. A lot of music today, a lot of media, radio and MTV is very force-fed. All that kind of stuff is bought into, and I think that we're just trying to deliver an alternative or at least let it be known that you don't have to be this pigeonhole, cookie cutter, homogenous band. We're people who don't like Hollywood endings. We don't like obvious things. We don't want predictability.. At the same time we hope that you can catch onto it, I don't think that we've written anything that's absolutely over anybody's head or technical and complicated for the sake of it. Ultimately we just want to get to the next record and want this to be the stepping-stone for the next thing we do and hopefully creatively, financially, whatever, this provides us with that."
Jeff "I think each record that Dillinger has done has taken the band a couple of steps up the ladder. You know, with Calculating Infinity really redefining what hardcore music could be and with Miss Machine and Ire Works kind of taking it even further. Hardcore doesn't have to just be about yelling and screaming, it can also be emotionally heavy and we really hope that Option Paralysis takes us up another couple of steps and like he was saying, setting it up for whatever the next record it going to be."
Liam "Every time we're done we're like where do we go from here? Over the next couple of years we'll be figuring that out and hopefully this touring cycle will give us that insight. I guess for us and our fans we want to not destroy ourselves in the process of trying to get to the next record."
The Dillinger Escape Plan release their fourth full-length studio album, Option Paralysis on March 22nd through Season of Mist / Party Smasher Inc.
Click here for our Exclusive Live Gallery and Review of Dillinger Escape Plan in London.