For the unsuspecting listener, the sheer brutality of the Dillinger Escape Plan may appear way left of center -- a cacophony of instrumental extremities that seems to defy any explanation. But there is a purpose to the chaos, and DEP guitarist Ben Weinman thinks they're square in the middle -- not too constrained, certainly, but not excessive.
"You have bands that just kind of jam and you don't know where the fuck they're going, and the song is, like, ten minutes long, and it's considered artistic and avant-garde," Weinman explains. "And then you have music that's too calculated and precise. There has to be a happy medium."
In some warped universe, Dillinger Escape Plan is that place where mastermind and madness collide, where shredcore and intricate jazz-fusion movements merge to create the musical equivalent of a perfectly synchronized car wreck, violent in nature but flawless in execution. Weinman's view of DEP, consequently, is not too far removed from this scenario: "We look at this band as a big machine that trucks over you."
Formed from the ashes of several Jersey punk acts, DEP (Weinman, vocalist Greg Puciato, guitarist Brian Benoit, drummer Chris Pennie, and bassist Liam Wilson) initially traversed more familiar hardcore grounds until the band members brought in nonrock influences. "We never really thought anyone would take to this music at all," Weinman says. "We're just not really satisfied with what we're hearing out there these days." Deciding that the band could use a second guitarist, they added John Fulton before the first tour. DEP's testosterone-injected shows caught the attention of Relapse Records, which released the eight-minute-long Under the Running Board EP in 1998.
But what should have been a steady climb up from obscurity turned into a crash of complications. In August 1998, then-bassist Adam Doll was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. A month later, guitarist Fulton left the group. (He was later replaced by Benoit.) The walkout and the accident left some members of the band mired in shambles and uncertainty, although Weinman still expressed interest in continuing.
"It was really hard to see our friend go through something like that," Weinman remembers. "The frustration of the whole situation made me really want to play more. I think the stress of the whole thing made us much better."
After Doll's accident, bassist Jeff Woods (now replaced by Wilson) filled in for tours. Despite his injuries, Doll taught Weinman to play bass in preparation for DEP's full-length debut. The band released 1999's Calculating Infinity, which earned critical praise from critics and fans alike, both of whom took slowly to the band as it spent countless days on the road. "We felt like we had to work that album for a while," Weinman says. "Every tour we came off of, we always wondered, 'Should we write another album, or should we push this on more people?' There's tons of people who may not be ready for this kind of thing, since it's so different to what they're used to. We thought we should push this into people's faces until they accept it."
One person who took note of the band was equally warped singer Mike Patton, who gave DEP a slot opening for his band Mr. Bungle. (Later, Patton and DEP would collaborate on 2002's Irony Is a Dead Scene EP.) Additionally, DEP opened for System of a Down at several shows across Europe.
In early 2001, original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis quit the group, saying he was dropping out of music. "I think he lost some of that fire that he felt when we started the band," Weinman remembers. "And that's a big part of our music." When Minakakis left, the band spent a couple of months looking for a new vocalist, which they found in Puciato, who was also the only person the band allowed to audition.
The Dillinger Escape Plan is set to follow up its last 1999 studio full-length with a new album by year's end, and it also has a song ("Baby's First Coffin") in the soundtrack to goth-marred action flick Underworld that includes David Bowie, Trent Reznor, and Tool's Maynard Keenan. The tune marks the first time Puciato appears on any DEP recording. "It's exciting for him, I'm sure," Weinman says. "This has been like the Dillinger cover band -- the Dillinger karaoke -- for him, singing other people's music."
Although the number of studio releases may not reflect the time the band has spent together, Weinman says it's helped the band release albums it can live with. "It's really important for our music to be real and have honest aggression, as opposed to some [that's] fabricated," he says. "If I don't have anything coming out of me, I'm doing other things. But every now and then, that Dillinger bug comes out."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.