Last Thursday, LA Music Blog presented a very special show at The Echoplex headlined by New Jersey’s finest chaos creators, The Dillinger Escape Plan. In the end, it was a typical Dillinger show. In other words, the greatest show on Earth.
With the aid of very a cooperative Echoplex security staff, the show became a crazy, freewheeling mess of stage diving, intense mosh pit action, and an awful lot of sweat. It ended with a huge stage invasion and guitarist Ben Weinman swinging shirtless from the lighting rigs that hung from the Echoplex ceiling. And for its duration, there was the band itself, which remains an extraordinary hybrid of metal, jazz, and brain-melting time signatures, played with seemingly impossible speed and ferocity.
Before the show, Ben Weinman kindly took the time for a chat on the tour bus, during which we delved into the philosophy of a band that has had an immense impact on my own music listening habits, as well as the perils of non-stop touring and other subjects.
I’ve been a fan for a while, but I saw that when you released your new album, One Of Us Is The Killer, last year, it landed in the top 30 in the Billboard charts.
Top 25. Not counting but…
Yeah! You never struck me as the kind of band to chase commercial success, so how weird was it to suddenly find yourself landing in the top 25?
That’s not necessarily commercial success. It’s funny because the industry’s changed so much that anything in the top 25 back in the day sold hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of records. Now you can sell, like, 15,000 records to be in the top 25 based on how the industry’s changed.
You know, that stuff is just data to me. It doesn’t validate what we do to me or its worth, but it does give me information to know, “Okay, we can continue to do this. We can keep hitting the road. People still care.” So it’s not like I do this for other people to validate it, but that stuff is good to know. It makes me feel good, not to stroke my ego, but to give me the information to know, “Okay, we still got more steam here. We can keep doing this.”
People liking what I do allows me the lifestyle I want to live, playing music, seeing the world…I met my wife in Denmark playing music, so that’s really what it’s mostly about to me.
You’re five albums into your career now, and you obviously have this reputation for pushing boundaries. What was the inspiration to get back on the wagon and do this fifth album? What was the driving force behind it?
It’s just part of the rotation. You just don’t stop. It’s been pretty constant over the past few years. It’s been almost like you put out a record, you spend a year figuring it out and recording it, you tour on it for two years, and then you take a year to write another one. It’s been this cycle where you just keep going. The lifestyle that we live is very conducive to creative inspiration. Being on the road and playing old songs, being in this environment, it’s great and it exercises a certain thing.
You need that cathartic and amazing free expression, but at the same time, you get anxious to be creative again. You’re not being creative necessarily when you perform. It’s a different kind of thing. After months and months and months of being on the road — playing songs and performing and being a jumping, bouncing monkey on stage for people — you sort of just want to go make music again. When you’re doing that, you go through this process: you work really hard, you make this music you’re really proud of it, and you can’t wait to go out on the road and present it. It’s this cycle that feeds itself.
You’ve been performing live for 15 years now. Do you find being older has given you a greater respect for your own personal safety or do you just still not think about that? I’m 33, and I struggle to get out of the bed in the morning sometimes.
I don’t know, man. Last night I jumped off like a 20-foot stack over the drums into the monitors, and I thought it was a good idea at the time until I slammed my knees into the front of the stage.
It always seems like a good idea at the time…
But there’s no other way to do it. I mean, the shows don’t get harder. We don’t know how to do it any other way. It just gets crazier. Our shows get more intense. We just get better at it and more natural. It becomes more second nature and just another part of free expression. It happens more naturally the more years that we do it, but it’s the days before the show that are harder. We don’t get paid for the two hours that we’re on stage. We get paid for the 22 that we’re waiting to play. Sometimes that’s hard. That lifestyle’s hard.
About the last album, the artwork for it was a really beautiful and disturbing image. I just wanted to know how that came about.
A good friend of ours did all the artwork for that. Actually, it was the same guy who did the artwork for our record Miss Machine. That album was mixed media, whereas this one was very different: it was all hand, pen, and ink. Everything was made with straight up ink.
It was cool to have the feather on the cover with the dripping…it could be ink, it could be blood. It really represents the dichotomy and the dynamic of our band where the lifestyle we live is very back-and-forth, with all these ups and downs and weird scenarios: being home for long periods of time and being away for long periods of time, dealing with relationships in the band, being away from each other for a long time, being together constantly 24/7, being away from our families or wives or girlfriends for so long, then just being at home, confused as to what you’re supposed to be doing because you are not out on the road.
Our music really represents that lifestyle. The dynamic in our music to us is real. If we were just playing straight-up thrash metal that sounds the same all the time, how could that be true? That’s not life. You’re not always angry. You’re not always at 100 percent. Without darkness, there is no light. It’s those dynamics in our music that really represent our lifestyle, and I feel like that feather on the cover is symbolic of what we’re all about.
I’ve always felt a real sincerity from you guys in regards to the respect you have for your fans, and I saw that you took part in that Converse Cons project in New York, which was kind of like a community artistic event. How was that, and how do you feel about doing that kind of thing the future?
I love it, and I’ve done a couple of things like that. I did that thing, and I’m doing another thing with this company CreativeLive. I’m going to be doing some sessions with our producer Steve showing how we make music, but what I really like doing is teaching the music business.
I’ve done a couple of master classes on that kind of thing, and that’s really what I love. I don’t need to teach you how to play guitar, but learning about the spirit and the ethic of what we do and really pushing the idea that people need to be doing things for the right reasons in order to influence the world and make an impact and make a difference, that’s what’s going to create success. That’s what’s going to create influence, not just copying something you think is good or doing it for chicks or money. Hopefully that’s the outcome, but that shouldn’t be the reason you do it.
I love talking to kids about that kind of thing because I can’t tell someone how they should make music. When Dillinger first started, there wasn’t a business guy or a guy my age who saw any business upside to the music we were playing. It just sounded like noise. Most people would say, “Look, that’s cute. You got a little band but don’t quit your day job.” Then here we are doing this for a living.
When we were on Relapse, we were the biggest seller on the label. If we had taken the advice of people my age at that time, we would’ve just gone and got jobs, done it for fun, and never really pushed it. There’s no formula, no secret to how to be successful or what kind of music you should make, but I think there’s an ethic and attitude that’s really conducive for making a real impact and creating paradigms within art and music, and then hopefully becoming successful financially from selling the byproducts of making something that’s honest.
I saw that ESP had announced a signature guitar for you. Is that the pinnacle? When you started playing guitar, did you ever think, “One day, I’m gonna have my own signature guitar.”
I remember when I couldn’t even afford a guitar. I also remember when I would work all week at a record store to then go play a show, break the crappy guitar I had, and then go to the store and try to buy whatever the cheapest, used piece of crap I could find was, play another show, break it, and use all my money to keep things going.
I was borrowing amps every show. I didn’t even have an amp. For the first couple of years, whenever the band was playing, I was like, “Can I use that thing?” I remember a couple of instances when I realized nobody wanted to lend me their amp. Having your own guitar that’s designed by you…sometimes I have to remind myself how cool it is.
It looks awesome.
You’re touring with some pretty insane bands on this tour. Who is THE crazy one out of the guys you’re touring with at the moment?
Every band definitely has their own thing on this tour. You have The Shining, who is this European band doing this weird experimental shredding on saxophone. Then you have Retox. They’re just really spazzy. They may disagree with this, but it’s almost like full over-stimulus at all times. No real hooks. It’s always just like, “AAAARGH.” That’s really refreshing to see from kids who are used to more predictability.
Then there’s Trash Talk. Maybe musically they’re not necessarily breaking any new ground, but they have the hip-hop thing going on, and they’re on the Odd Future label. Tyler the Creator and those Odd Future guys are really pretty punk. The way that they’ve done things is that it’s more about the culture, the scene, and the spirit of what they do than what’s cool.
That really embodies to me the ideas and the ethics of when I came up in punk rock and hardcore a long time ago where every band didn’t have to sound the same, but you had to have the same attitude. When they come out on stage every night, they just get the crowd worked up so much, and they really give the kids a good time.
Then you’ve got us, and we’re really selfish in a way. When you see Dillinger, we’re up there doing our thing. If there was one person at the show, it wouldn’t matter. Our show wouldn’t change. Our thing is not about getting the crowd going unless they feel compelled to do it. We’re up there to blow off steam and to have this free expression. Hopefully that translates to the crowd, and they can also benefit from that.
It’s different kinds of things, but there’s this tie that binds all of us together, and we’ve all had a really good time watching each other. I think we’ve all learned from each other, and it really is that they’re different animals. I think there’s this healthy competition where it’s not about one-upping, but it’s about being inspired, like, “Oh man, that was awesome. We gotta up our game!” We can’t get lazy, and I think that’s the way it should be.
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