Interview with Ben Weinman of Dillinger Escape Plan: More Than They Were Destined For

A large part of the Dillinger Escape Plan narrative is the ever-present surprise that they exist—and thrive—in the chaotic environment they inhabit. With a roster of over a dozen beaten down players, four demanding full-lengths and several equally difficult EPs, and an unyielding commitment to experimentation and aggression that laughs in the face of commercial success, it continues to amaze that the New Jersey-based metal band is still going almost 15 years into their career.

The most recent brush with uncertainty came with their last full-length, Ire Works, which saw the sour departure of founding drummer Chris Pennie, a tour hampering injury of guitarist Ben Weinman and a lingering question about whether the band would soldier on and tour. Picking up Stolen Babies drummer Gil Sharone and touring consistently on Ire Works for two years, band veterans Weinman, singer Greg Puciato and bassist Liam Wilson, along with second guitarist and backup vocalist Jeff Tuttle, took some time to find a full drummer replacement in Billy Rymer.

That period of relative calm saw Weinman and Rymer move into a house together and practice in the basement—their own basement, this time—and start to lay the foundation for homebrewed Option Paralysis. Titled after a neologism meaning given too many options, a person will refuse to choose one, the album’s concept is loosely based around the idea’s larger implications for worldwide and local culture.

Weinman spoke at length about the more relaxed writing sessions, the ever-present member situation and the concepts Dillinger’s been mulling over.

Can you tell me a little about the writing process going into Option Paralysis? For Ire Works, you had—at least for the drum tracks—programmed the whole record beforehand because of everything that went down with Chris. Was it a little different this time?

Yeah, definitely. On Ire Works, we had the drummer situation that forced us into some different ways of doing things, but I also had an injury, which put me in a position where I couldn’t play guitar for a couple of months. So we were doing some things differently like writing stuff on the piano and doing a lot more of electronics and things like that. It definitely had an influence on some of the songwriting on this record, but I guess that main difference is that it was done a little more traditionally. It was pretty much written all at the same time for the most part, and that’s different for us, because we normally write while we’re on the road, go back and forth, do some songs, go away again, then come back to it. We pretty much finished the whole thing and recorded it all at once, so I think that definitely had an effect on the consistency of the record in general.

You feel the record is more consistent?

Yeah. It’s definitely a diverse record, but there’s an overall vibe to it, and it’s clear when you hear it that it was written all at the same time.

When I was listening to it, it sounds like much more of a ‘we hashed this out in a room’ record than a left-brain pre-composed idea. It feels a little more from the hip. Was that pre-conceived or was it just the way things worked out?

There’s really no right or wrong way for us, and there are always different circumstances surrounding the band when we go to make a record. This time, things were a little more convenient. I moved into a house and our drummer [Billy] moved in with me while we were writing. We had a set up in the basement, and it was much more organic as far as like “let’s not force anything.” If we felt like writing, we’d write, and if not, we’d go and do something else. It was a comfortable situation in that respect. We were trying as usual to incorporate new sounds into our traditional thing.

Also having a new drummer, we spent a lot of time training him in the language of Dillinger, which was many months before the record. He was learning our back catalogue, playing shows with us and getting to the point where you could take his training wheels off and write a record. That happened pretty quickly, but having him there, being able to get together, and go downstairs to work things out was a positive environment.

Was it more like writing a record when you were a kid?

Definitely. It totally was like when you into the garage or basement and just play with your friends. There was less pressure. It was a good experience. I think one thing we realized on this record was that you don’t have to be in a bad place to write this kind of music. It could be positive energy going on to make a record aggressive and dark. Once thing that I always feel is important when making music is that it’s not always that comfortable.

While we were in a really good place and there was positive energy, there was [still] a lot of pressure. Billy had big shoes to fill, and he was really conscious of pushing things as far as possible and really taking things to the next level as far as drumming was concerned. Again, just trying new things and getting better at doing that is what the challenge for us always because we don’t really want to stick to one way of doings things and keep making the same record. That’s always a challenge.

It seems that particularly with all the line up changes that there’s always a period of relearning all the Dillinger material really quickly. With Gil, it seemed like he took to that right away, but there wasn’t really a certainty that he would. It seemed that he came on really late in the game for Ire Works. What exactly happened there with Gil? Did you get a feeling that he was a temporary guy?

Yeah, there was a lot of uncertainty in general on Ire Works because we didn’t know if we’d get it done, but we didn’t even know if we were going to be a band anymore even if we did get it done. We really were taking things step by step with Ire Works, and the first step was to finish the record without a drummer. That’s when we started programming and not knowing if we could have somebody who could come in and take care of that role.

When we met Gil and he started learning the material, we saw that he can do that stuff. We didn’t know how much of it he’d get done; we thought maybe some of it would be programming and some Gil’s. I mean fuck, I thought at some points I would have to jump on the drums and start beating shit. We were just going to get it done, one way or another. When he learned all the material, we thought, ‘Oh my god, we’re going to make this record.’ Not only were we going to make it, but it was going to be great and he’s going to be playing on it adding new sorts of vibes to the band based on the stylistic things going on from his end.

It was really exciting, and I think we had such a great time with it that it went a little further like, ‘We need to tour on this. We need to actually be a band and present this record to people.’ At first Gil wasn’t sure he was going to be able to do that because he had other things going on. He was excited for the challenge of playing on a Dillinger record and we got along so well and there was such great chemistry, so we decided we had to do shows. That turned into like a year of touring, and it was like ‘Alright, you’re officially part of the Dillinger family now.’ (laughs) ‘You obviously get it and you’ve been through this with us.’

But he’s definitely coming from a different place. He’s a Hollywood guy, and that’s the reality. He comes from a world of guys playing in their Hollywood garages and kind of just waiting for session gigs and getting a record deal before you play a tour. It’s a different world. He just wasn’t used to the lifestyle and didn’t want to tour as much as us and didn’t really like those kind of conditions. When it was time to start working on a new record, we all pretty much agreed including Gil that maybe now that we have a little time off we should look for that guy that’s going to be more of a permanent member, be a little bit more part of the group, can put in all his time and effort into this, and that’s what we did.

Have you ever seen anybody do a Dillinger family tree? Like those ridiculous Deep Purple ones? Has anyone ever coerced you guys to try to map it all out?

No. People talk about the member changes to me all the time, you know. I haven’t actually seen any family trees.

Maybe I’ll get to work on that.

Yeah, you should.

Where did you do the recording?

We did do it in the same place. We did go back to California where we recorded Ire Works with our producer Steve Evetts in his project studio. Greg lives there now, so he didn’t have to drive. Honestly, he just never left from last time. He literally never brought his car back: he just stayed there. (laughs) It was a lot easier for him this time. I got on a plane.

Is Jeff on this record or did you do all the guitar tracks?

I did all the guitar tracks, but Jeff did sing on the record. That was really cool.

Which track?

One of the things that since he joined the band that has taken things to another level for us live is the backup vocals that he’s brought to the table. In his old band he was a lead singer and a guitar player. Playing guitar and singing is pretty natural for him. Being able to pull off all the backup vocals and harmonies on our records with Jeff was really great, so when we started this record, we wanted to have him sing them for real so that when we’re playing live, it actually is him singing his part. There was one song that I had written that I brought to the table kind of later in the game that I had worked on on my own that Greg didn’t have anything for, so Jeff came up with a bunch of vocal ideas and we just had him do it, which was, ‘Parasitic Twins,’ the last track on the record. He did a lot of the lead vocals on that one. [It is] him doing the main verse and then Greg comes with a soulful chorus thing and it’s kind of both of them doing a bunch of harmonies after that. It’s definitely pretty cool. It’s pretty cool when the guest vocalist on your record is in your band. (laughs) It works out pretty good.