One of the things that has made Dillinger Escape Plan so successful is their perfect conflagration of the most visceral elements of punk rock, hardcore and heavy metal. No band in heavy music more adequately reproduces the chaos of their albums live than Dillinger Escape Plan. Between a disorienting light show and an unmatched level of on stage energy from the band, performing takes a physical toll. And we’re not just talking about sore fingertips and sweaty jeans; we’re talking about busted shoulders, bloody appendages and fractured skulls.
The band’s remaining founding member, Ben Weinman, has endured the brunt of Dillinger’s live brutality as the group’s main creative force. More than 15 years into his career, Ben still expresses bewilderment at the new ways he manages to hurt himself. As he explains in the interview below, he’s not really in control when the show starts; he might be steering, but the brakes don’t work.
Dillinger are slated to headline the annual Summer Slaughter festival, but their inclusion on the bill was not without some untimely drama. In context of the litany of injuries Ben has sustained—which includes the aforementioned fractured skull, a broken neck and a torn rotator cuff among many others—one of his more innocuous sounding injuries forced the band to cancel shows for the first time in years, and it raised serious questions about Dillinger’s ability to go through with their summer plans.
At the time of our interview, Ben’s broken right wrist required surgery and he couldn’t be sure if he would be physically able to play guitar in time for Summer Slaughter. Fortunately, all went well with Ben’s rehab and the band has since recommitted to their spot on the bill to promote their latest opus of pandemonium, One Of Us Is The Killer.
Even the day before surgery that could forever change the way he plays the guitar, Weinman was good-humored and keen on recalling some of his more perplexing falls from grace, physical and otherwise.
You dropped out of some shows in the spring because you had surgery on your wrist. Over its career, how many shows has the band had to cancel due to various maladies?
We pulled out of some Gigantour dates a few years back when I had surgery on my shoulder, so there was that. Most of the time we try to pull through. The only reason I had to have that surgery was because I didn’t take care of the problem when it happened.
I was playing for at least two years with a torn rotator cuff and it got to the point where my arm was falling out of its socket. There was no choice but to have it clamped back together. We really try not to ever stop. And that’s probably the reason we have so many injuries.
What’s your routine when you get to a venue before a show? I ask because every time I’ve seen Dillinger Escape Plan, one of you has done something really dangerous and stupid but awesome. Do you and Greg [Puciato, vocals] walk around earlier in the day and decide what you’re going to climb or jump off of?
(Laughs) Well, Greg doesn’t even sound check, which is always crazy to me. Sound check is really important for me; it’s like in Gladiator when he goes to the battlefield beforehand and picks up the dirt and runs it through his fingers. I want to get a feel for the room, the air. Sound check is, of course, for the sound guy to make sure everything sounds good, but it’s also for me to feel comfortable in my shoes and feel like I can have that free expression without worrying that I’m going to fall off the stage, which still happens. I fell off the stage two times on this last tour.
There’s something about just getting your footing, and it’s never the same once the show starts and the house lights are off and things are happening. Also, it’s not like we plan antics either. Every night I say, “Maybe tonight’s going to be the night I just kind of relax and play well and see what happens.” But once the adrenaline starts and you hear the sticks click, there’s just no other way to do it.
Anyone who’s seen a Dillinger show has seen one of you guys jump off the stage. So if you fall off of it, can’t you play it off like it was intentional?
(Laughs) That’s actually happened to me. I literally fell off the stage and I had to make it look like I was just super pumped, like, “I don’t even care!” But, man, I really just fell off the stage.
I’ve seen you at shows around Jersey, just there as a fan. But being that you’re around heavy music so often, what does it take for you to see a show during a break?
Well, I definitely don’t go to a lot of shows. Just every once in a while I do when it’s close. Sometimes I’ll go because I’m friends with the guys in the bands. I love going to Wellmont since it’s close.
Do you try and get away from loud music off tour?
Well, honestly, when I’m on tour, I don’t listen to music at all. I just want silence. At home, after I’ve been home for a little while, I’ll listen to music. I’ll put on my iPod or start listening to the radio. I listen to the radio a lot, actually. After being on tour so long in such a subculture of music, I like to know what normal people are hearing.
To what stations do you listen?
I listen to a lot of classic rock stations, especially because now bands like Stone Temple Pilots are on them, you know? (Laughs) I listen to 89.5FM WSOU sometimes to hear what metal they’re playing. I listen to a lot of classic rock, a lot of ‘80s stuff. One of my favorite bands is Depeche Mode.
How finished are Dillinger songs before you get into that first hour of studio time?
We have completely detailed demos musically. We don’t have a lot of vocals going on because Greg doesn’t like to demo vocals that much, but musically they’re very detailed demos, down to sound design and solos and stuff. Some of that stuff changes when we get into the studio. I’ll try different chords or go with a feeling. Solo stuff is often very improvised.
You’ve had a number of lineup changes over the years and your stuff is so complex. How long does it take for you to feel like a new member gets your style to the point where he can contribute creatively?
Well, it’s hard. Sometimes it depends. If the person has been a fan and they know that band, it’s easier. Our drummer [Billy Rymer] is a good example because he was someone we didn’t know before he joined the band. He played on the last two records, but before joining, I don’t know if he’d ever seen our band play. But he was a fan of the music. He told us that he did think to himself, “Can I play this Dillinger stuff? I don’t know. I’ve never had the reason to really take the time to learn it.”
So when he heard we were looking, he decided it was his chance to sit down and learn the stuff. That way, even if he didn’t get the gig, he’d definitely learn a lot and be a better drummer because of it. That’s what happened.
He sat down and started learning our catalog. Once he started getting it down and picking out little details, he started understanding the language.
And that’s really what it is: it’s a language. Once you know the words, they start to form sentences and paragraphs. It just took time from learning our catalog… He’s become the most solid drummer we’ve ever had.
What tracks off the new record have you been playing live?
We’ve been playing “Prancer” and “When I Lost My Bet” for a while and we just started playing the title-track, “One Of Us Is The Killer.” We’ve already practiced a couple other songs, “Nothing’s Funny” and a couple of the heavy ones.
By far “When I Lost My Bet” has been the most fun song to play of any new song in a long time. That came out and it immediately felt natural.
Do you ever write something and then think you bit off more than you could chew when it comes to performing it?
Yeah, definitely. There’s definitely songs where I’m like, “Okay, let’s just get this done and we won’t play it live.” But then we always end up playing it live.
Do you ever have to go back to a record and relearn something?
Yeah, there’s a lot of things that I don’t remember. Our new guitar player James [Love] is really good at learning new songs. So often I ask him what I played and he teaches me (laughs).
Dillinger Escape Plan will headline the Summer Slaughter tour, Aug. 4, at The Trocadero in Philly, and Aug. 7, at Best Buy Theater in NYC. For more information, go to dillingerescapeplan.org.