GREG PUCIATO

LIFE BE­FORE, DUR­ING AND AFTER THE DILLINGER ES­CAPE PLAN

Kerrang! (UK) - - Welcome - WORDS: KI­RAN ACHARYA PHO­TOS: JONATHAN WEINER

The first Dillinger Es­cape Plan song that Greg Puciato heard was The Mul­let Bur­den, in 1998, long be­fore join­ing the band be­came a pos­si­bil­ity. He would later be­come syn­ony­mous with Dillinger’s un­matched in­ten­sity, his lyrics the per­fect coun­ter­part to the stabby mal­ice of the band and Ben Wein­man’s non­pareil riffs and mu­si­cal in­ven­tion.

Their first record­ing, in 2002, was a cover of Black Flag’s Dam­aged, Parts I & II. Two years later, Miss Ma­chine be­gan a run of con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing al­bums cul­mi­nat­ing in Dis­so­ci­a­tion (2016) and their farewell shows in De­cem­ber 2017. Greg says that he’s dam­aged his body plenty from the forced con­fronta­tion of their shows – a bro­ken wrist here, or dis­lo­cated fin­gers there.

The toll, how­ever, has mostly been emo­tional, psy­chic and in­ter­nal; some­thing that he’s only now iden­ti­fy­ing, treat­ing and tak­ing own­er­ship of. It’s hard to tell whether the work caused the strug­gle to cope, or whether the strug­gle re­sulted in the work. But his hope is that now, open­ness and can­dour around his hid­den dif­fi­cul­ties might help oth­ers.

“When it all hits you, the re­al­i­sa­tion that you need help is in­escapable,” he says. “It’s al­most emo­tion­ally over­whelm­ing. At least for me it was, and it was very cer­tain.”

What hit Greg, in a process of recog­ni­tion that be­gan only in the past five years, was that un­re­solved trauma was mak­ing him al­most ir­repara­bly reck­less and that he was com­pletely in the dark with re­spect to un­der­stand­ing him­self. This led to, amongst oth­ers, a di­ag­no­sis of at­ten­tion deficit dis­or­der (ADD) and sub­se­quent med­i­ca­tion which is, for the mo­ment, help­ing. His ini­tial re­sponse to this in­ter­view re­turned 12,000 words on email, in an un­prece­dented dis­clo­sure, then speak­ing fur­ther from Los An­ge­les where he’s pre­par­ing, with band­mates Joshua Eustis and Steven Alexan­der, to re­lease the sec­ond The Black Queen al­bum In­fi­nite Games.

Greg de­scribes ex­pe­ri­ences of de­pres­sions and joy, anx­i­eties and de­pen­den­cies which have run unchecked, panic at­tacks on tour and ul­ti­mately the

nec­es­sary de­ci­sion to seek help. “I got off the bus and im­me­di­ately called a ther­a­pist near where I lived to make an ap­point­ment,” he says. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever spent time or money on.”

How did you dis­cover a con­vic­tion in art, mu­sic and per­for­mance at nine years of age?

“Well, as far as age goes I don’t re­ally per­ceive time that well. As I’ve got­ten older I’ve learned that it’s a com­mon side ef­fect of ADD, and some other things that are par­tic­u­lar to me. The age of nine was piv­otal for rea­sons no­body knows about. I’m not gonna waste time here and bull­shit, but I was a gifted kid. I was lan­guage and read­ing and sound gifted, sim­i­lar to hy­per­lexia. I was read­ing real books at two years old – not ex­ag­ger­at­ing or brag­ging, just giv­ing con­text. With sound, I could mimic things I heard. I heard words like mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. If some­one said some­thing with a weird in­flec­tion or pat­tern in a movie, I would re­mem­ber it. I would re­mem­ber ca­dence and the rhythms of appliances like wash­ers or dry­ers like turn sig­nals. I could sep­a­rate what dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments were do­ing in songs re­ally young. I couldn’t get enough of words, ei­ther writ­ten or spo­ken, or sound. So with all those things hav­ing a hold over me, and be­ing a re­ally hy­per kid too, mu­sic and per­for­mance re­ally grabbed me. Things that were high-en­ergy, and es­pe­cially things that felt de­fi­ant.”

How did that epiphany hap­pen in some­body so young?

“I know ob­jec­tively that it’s not nor­mal, but it didn’t seem un­usual to me at nine to know what I wanted to do. The ini­tial spark has been bear­ing fruit for a long time now. I can feel it in me even as I’m say­ing this – the same thing from nine is still there. I see it like this glow­ing core that stuff is com­ing out of, and I’m ei­ther try­ing to deal with that stuff or form it into some­thing. Ev­ery­thing is a mix of na­ture and nur­ture, and I had, for what­ever rea­son, a com­bustible mix. This also all goes hand in hand with men­tal… I don’t wanna say ‘ill­ness’, but be­ing dif­fer­ent: anx­i­ety, ADD, de­pres­sion, per­fec­tion­ism, hypochon­dria, panic dis­or­der, body dys­mor­phia, de­layed sleep phase syn­drome, be­ing in reg­u­lar ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis, feel­ing the void su­per hard. Al­right, I guess peo­ple would call it ill­ness. I al­ways felt all of those things very ex­tremely – still do at times. Enough so that it’s oc­ca­sion­ally a prob­lem, but at least I’ve got them all named and iden­ti­fied now. I see them. Peo­ple like that tend to be in­volved in art or per­for­mance of some sort, and grav­i­tate to­wards it and each other.”

You recorded your first cas­sette at 13 years of age. What did the mu­sic con­sist of?

“It’s funny you ask, be­cause I just got ac­cess to that stuff af­ter not hav­ing it for years, and I com­pletely lost my mind. Me and my child­hood best friend were born 11 days apart. We started play­ing to­gether early. He played drums, I played gui­tar, we both screamed or sang at times. The sec­ond we wrote one thing that wasn’t some­one else’s song that was it, game over. That’s all we did, non-stop. We went from barely be­ing able to play, jam­ming The Breed­ers’ Last Splash, Me­tal­lica’s For Whom The Bell Tolls and Nir­vana to a pretty rip­ping thrash/grunge duo writ­ing orig­i­nal songs within a sea­son. Again, if it’s not ob­vi­ous, all times are ba­si­cally the same to me. I don’t feel any fur­ther from that than I do from Dillinger. There’s some fuck­ing le­git riffs in those songs, man. I’d fuck­ing rip ’em apart and use some of them now no ques­tions asked, but I’d never dis­re­spect our stuff like that. That stays in­tact.”

Can you de­scribe your child­hood? What was your ex­pe­ri­ence of poverty like?

“I lived in a neigh­bour­hood [in Bal­ti­more] that up un­til a few years ago you could still buy a house in for $25,000. I didn’t know that was poverty, though. I was just a kid, I had no ref­er­ence point. I ate at a restau­rant maybe once a year, heard gun­shots out­side my bed­room win­dow reg­u­larly, had to clean glass and the oc­ca­sional hy­po­der­mic nee­dle off the bas­ket­ball court be­fore we could play some­times. I had to be mind­ful of the op­pos­ing neigh­bour­hood ‘white van’ that would roll around packed with kids ready to jump out and start gang fights. But I mean look, that’s Bal­ti­more – it’s a fuck­ing war­zone there still. The last time I went back to my child­hood neigh­bour­hood I couldn’t drive down the street be­cause of cop cars, and some­one had lit­er­ally just been shot to death half a block from where I lived. It is what it is.”

How do you de­scribe your cur­rent re­la­tion­ship with the Dillinger al­bums?

“It’s pretty vague. I don’t re­mem­ber record­ing any­thing I’ve ever done, re­ally. There might be a smear of a mem­ory here and there. I don’t re­mem­ber that ear­lier 13-year-old demo tape get­ting made ei­ther. I can see the four-track on the floor of my friend’s base­ment and that’s about it. When I’m in a cre­ative or per­for­mance flow I don’t re­mem­ber much of it af­ter­wards, even if it’s a long chunk of time. It’s pro­longed hy­per­fo­cus, if you know about ADD at all. I don’t re­mem­ber much from cre­at­ing, I don’t re­mem­ber much from per­form­ing. Just a snap­shot here and there, a smear, a blur. I ob­vi­ously know that the al­bums were made, and some­times that’s jar­ring. I have to re­mind my­self. I don’t re­ally even re­mem­ber writ­ing or record­ing In­fi­nite Games that well, and that just hap­pened. I wish I could, be­cause then I’d be able to hold on to them all more, or feel more in­te­grated with my life. But I don’t. I’m happy to have got­ten them out of me, I’m happy that other peo­ple have them and re­late to them and en­joy them. I’m grate­ful to them for pro­pel­ling my life.“

Given the fe­roc­ity of your de­liv­ery, have you ever sus­tained any vo­cal in­juries?

“Mirac­u­lously, none. I was blessed with re­ally elas­tic vo­cal cords, and re­ally strong vo­cal cords. One in par­tic­u­lar is stronger than the other, if you wanna re­ally get spe­cific. I take care of my­self now. I didn’t used to. I drink a lot of wa­ter. I used to rely re­ally heav­ily on anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries on tour, but I don’t any­more. I just treat my­self with more care. I don’t get fucked up all of the time. If I’m re­ally dam­aged and the show must go on I’ll take some pre­scribed pred­nisone anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries. What­ever, I’m not gonna lie about it. It’s pretty stan­dard to do at a cer­tain point, in ev­ery­thing from theatre to pop mu­sic. They’ve got their down­sides, but mostly they’re a god­send when used spar­ingly and in dire need. You do what you gotta do. I was dimed to my fuck­ing eye­lids on the stuff at the fi­nal Dillinger shows out of pre­cau­tion. Right now my voice is in the best shape it’s ever been in, though. I have the most con­trol I’ve ever had over it, and I’m the health­i­est I’ve ever been. I’m lucky to have es­caped un­scathed from 17 years of reg­u­larly scream­ing like a man on fire.”

Do you feel phys­i­cally worn when per­form­ing?

“Not re­ally, hon­estly. There have been times, but usu­ally it’s be­cause of things both­er­ing me off­stage that are car­ry­ing over on to the stage. Stress or anx­i­ety or panic, or what have you, ex­haust­ing me. I’m in far bet­ter shape now than I was at 21, than I was even a few years ago. I could rip the liv­ing shit out of a place at any time still now. If the Dillinger drum­stick count-off started in five min­utes I’d be ready. I’m speak­ing in purely phys­i­cal terms, ob­vi­ously. Phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing isn’t a fac­tor what­so­ever in why Dillinger is done.” How im­por­tant is phys­i­cal fit­ness in your life? “I’m in­sane about reach­ing my po­ten­tial at ev­ery­thing that I do, if it con­trib­utes to my pas­sion or cho­sen pur­suit in some way. One thing I re­ally do not like is the idea of call­ing on my body to do some­thing and it not be­ing ready. Be­cause of that, hi­lar­i­ously, I’m prob­a­bly in the best con­di­tion­ing of my life right now to do some­thing like play Dillinger shows, and I don’t even need to be. I do so much and so many forms of car­dio to such an in­sane and un­nec­es­sary de­gree.”

How much does phys­i­cal fit­ness re­late to good men­tal health?

“It ab­so­lutely re­lates to men­tal health. It’s a def­i­nite bat­tle. I have a weird dou­ble-edged sword re­la­tion­ship with men­tal health as it

per­tains to fit­ness. I use things like car­dio to skim the top off of anx­i­ety. I have so much en­ergy as a per­son, if I don’t hit my max­i­mum thresh­old and ex­er­tion level, at least like, four or five times a week, I’ll get mood swingy or feel the panic dis­or­der grow­ing. Or the body dys­mor­phia, or the hypochon­dria. It also helps me to not feel chem­i­cal tour with­drawal too much, be­cause for 17 years nearly ev­ery night on tour I ex­pelled a small nu­clear re­ac­tor’s worth of en­ergy.”

What is your ex­pe­ri­ence of ADD?

“Oh man, this could re­ally be a long an­swer. Fuck it, let’s dive in. It took me a re­ally long time to get to the ADD di­ag­no­sis, which is in­sane, be­cause now it’s clear that it was there all along. I was off think­ing it was god-knows-what: schizophre­nia, bipo­lar, you name it, I looked into it. I couldn’t fuck­ing fig­ure it out. There’ve been times I’ve felt com­pletely fuck­ing crazy and ap­peared fine, or on the flip­side, felt fine but knew that some­thing I was do­ing or say­ing was ob­jec­tively fuck­ing crazy. So I’ve been try­ing, since 2009 re­ally, to get to the bot­tom of it. I’m com­pletely own­ing it now, though. I’m fuck­ing be­yond happy to have got­ten that part of it fig­ured out, but ADD is just one of a lot of things that I deal with.”

Have you ever re­sisted the la­bel?

“Med­i­cally treat­ing the ADD helps take the edge off of the other stuff. As does be­ing away from toxic en­vi­ron­ments, as does ther­apy, dig­ging up and pro­cess­ing and work­ing through things. Med­i­cally, the drugs I’m on at present have re­ally helped. So far at least, be­cause the de­pres­sions aren’t as se­vere, the im­pulses to try and fill those holes aren’t as se­vere. Oddly, the sec­ond you talk about phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, peo­ple make judge­ments on whether they’re good for you or not. But isn’t it bet­ter to get a base­line of dopamine in your brain that way than want­ing to stuff pow­der laced with what­ever up your nose, or get reg­u­larly fucked up out of your mind? Or stay trapped in self­de­struc­tive habits or pat­terns? It’s new to me to be on med­i­ca­tion, but I’m into it so far. It’s help­ing me. I’m not sure yet if I’ll stay on the med­i­ca­tion. If I feel like my emo­tions or sen­si­tiv­i­ties are get­ting too blunted, I’ll come off, or maybe come off se­lec­tively for cre­ative pur­poses. Right now, though, it’s help­ing to make life re­fresh­ingly and con­sis­tently not just tol­er­a­ble, but live­able and en­joy­able, which is a nice break.”

For the first time, Dillinger recorded more ma­te­rial than nec­es­sary for fi­nal al­bum Dis­so­ci­a­tion. How would you de­scribe those un­re­leased songs?

“I never wrote vo­cals to them. They were left­over in­stru­men­tals. I don’t think of it as a big deal. There’s a ton of Black Queen shit we never used, and there’s a ton of Black Queen shit we’ve fully deleted. There’s a fuck-ton of lyrics I’ve scrapped and rewrote as far as Dillinger goes. That doesn’t mean peo­ple need to hear the stuff that didn’t get used. I don’t con­sider there to be any­thing un­re­leased. It’s just stuff we didn’t use, like a bunch of lyrics I deleted and rewrote. I don’t con­sider the ear­lier dis­carded lyrics to be ‘un­re­leased’. That’s my opin­ion of it, at least. That’s a weird men­tal­ity to me. If you’re chip­ping away at a block of wood or ice to make a sculp­ture, that other ice or wood isn’t some un­re­leased part of the sculp­ture – it just didn’t get used. I don’t think you need to re­lease ev­ery sin­gle thing you ever write. Once I don’t use some­thing, it’s gone to me. I don’t save any­thing once I de­cide not to use it. Delete that. Delete those lyrics. Delete that vo­cal take. Delete that file. Not ar­chive – delete.”

Can you de­scribe the con­clu­sion of the New York Dillinger shows?

“Again, as usual, I don’t re­mem­ber them too much. Only that I was in­cred­i­bly per­fec­tion­is­tic and fo­cused. I was breath­ing steam out of a mask for hours ev­ery day. I warmed up for­ever. I was do­ing shit-tons of car­dio be­fore those shows to get ready. My big­gest fear in the world was that some­how the last show would be a bad one, and that then I’d have to be like, ‘No! We’re play­ing an­other!’ The shows were fun. I had fun, I know that much. I felt good about how we sounded, how I sounded, and how I felt. I could do bet­ter, though, but I wouldn’t try. It sim­ply wouldn’t be the same. But I’ve grown from them, I know I’m bet­ter now and I know I could per­form bet­ter. I mean, you’re talk­ing to an ob­ses­sive, per­fec­tion­is­tic crazy per­son here.”

When do you feel most free in your life? Is free­dom some­thing that you ac­tively pur­sue?

“When I’m present in some sort of mil­lisec­ond to mil­lisec­ond way. When I’m trav­el­ling. When I’m in a ho­tel in a for­eign city. When I’m walk­ing around that city by my­self, tak­ing pic­tures of things. When I’m work­ing on a song, com­pletely en­grossed, or track­ing it, and re­ally on my game. When I’m on­stage and you and your band­mates are re­ally hit­ting some sort of mo­ment, some­thing tran­scen­dent. When I’m hav­ing an in­cred­i­ble time with an­other per­son or peo­ple in a way that you com­pletely lose track of time or sur­round­ings. When I’m awake by my­self or with one other per­son, rid­ing down the high­way on tour. If I’m driv­ing solo through the mid­dle of nowhere blast­ing mu­sic with­out any­one else with me to give a shit or share their opin­ion on it. Those are re­ally the things that keep me liv­ing. Just get­ting that feel­ing one more time. Be­ing out­side do­ing some­thing with­out a phone. Go­ing out and op­er­at­ing with­out a plan, if even for a day. Is it some­thing I pur­sue? It’s some­thing I ab­so­lutely pas­sion­ately pur­sue and vi­ciously pro­tect.”

If you could send one mes­sage to ev­ery smart­phone in the world right now, what would it be and why?

“‘I love you.’ What else could it be? With­out any knowl­edge of who it’s from, or why. That’s some­thing that every­one could use more of hear­ing in the world, whether it’s from some­one else’s voice, your own voice, or even your own in­ner voice.”

THE BLACK QUEEN’S IN­FI­NITE GAMES IS RE­LEASED ON SEPTEMBER 28 via FED­ERAL PRIS­ONER. THE BAND TOUR THE UK AND EUROPE IN OC­TO­BER – SEE THE GIG GUIDE FOR more IN­FOR­MA­TION

“I COULD RIP THE LIV­ING SHIT OUT OF A PLACE AT ANY TIME” GREG PUCIATO

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