Sleeping Giants in the Storm
CoC chats with Liam Wilson of The Dillinger Escape Plan
by: Jackie Smit
Gaining success on anything other than their own terms has never been an option for New Jersey’s The Dillinger Escape Plan. Innovators of the jazz / metal marriage years before the popular media chose to label the genre as "math-core" -- unsurprisingly off the back of a phalanx of imitators -- the quintet have cemented their reputation as one of the genre's most frenetic and, at times, unhinged exponents both on and off record. While their haywire antics continue to propel them to greater height of frankly astonishing commercial acceptance, it has also managed to drop them into trouble on more than a few occasions; just ask the road crew on this year's Gigantour. DEP bassist Liam Wilson was on hand to explain.

CoC: I guess the first place to start is with your thoughts following the Gigantour, which you wrapped up a couple of weeks ago. What was it like being part of a bill where you were probably the odd band out in many ways?

Liam Wilson: It was weird at first; we were playing at about 17:30 every day to a 9-to-5-ish crowd, so the buildings were usually in the midst of filling up as we were playing. At the start of the tour we were just checking out the situation and thinking to ourselves that the tour was going to be brutal, but the people usually started to warm to us eventually. It was still kinda weird though, because we don't do support tours all that often anymore. We like doing them, because to progress with a band you need to be playing on somebody else's turf. So at first we felt like it was huge arenas, maybe one third full, groups of people scattered around in twos and threes, and it felt like we were watching ourselves about as much as they were watching us. But as a band in that situation, we've always just turned it up and we've always done what we've had to do. We had the microphone for a half an hour every day and if people didn't like it, that's tough. So we had a good time. During the course of the tour we had problems with some of the stage hands; they didn't give overhead monitors, they took away some of the microphones from the drums -- basically anything they thought we could break, they were taking away. <laughs> And you know, anytime something like that happens, it just pisses us off even more. If you're going to treat us like brats, then we're going to act like brats -- and as crazy as our shows are, we aren't new to this, we aren't unprofessional, and if something breaks we pay for it, and if someone gets hurt, we deal with it. So it was a little weird getting everybody used to what we were doing, because most of the other bands on the tour, in comparison to us, were very safe.

CoC: Who were the musical highlight of the tour in your mind?

LW: I think Nevermore were definitely the best sounding band on the bill every night. They slayed -- just fucking killing it every night.

CoC: Being the stand-out band on a bill for the reasons that you guys often are seems to be something that befalls you on a fairly regular basis, and I remember an interview around the time when Dillinger Escape Plan was touring with System of a Down where you were talking about how you enjoyed playing to a crowd that didn't like you. What is it about that hostile environment that turns you on?

LW: I think it's just the challenge that we're subconsciously drawn to; not wanting it to come easy. There's something about that, which makes it just a different kind of reward than if you're playing to your own fans. When you're playing to your own fans, you know which songs are going to go down really well, and you know how to do your setlist so that you get the best possible response from the crowd. When you're playing to people that don't know or don't like you and you're out there just wanting to destroy, in a sportsman-like way, what the other bands are trying to do -- for those thirty minutes that I'm up there, I'm trying to make Megadeth look stupid, I'm trying to make Nevermore look stupid, I'm trying to make every other band not want to go on after us. And I feel like everybody in the band shares that, and anytime that there's any inner-band turmoil or anything bad happens before the show, you can go up there and just blow off steam. You can feel like the world hates you and the people in the crowd are going to hate you and you can just go out there and torture the audience.

CoC: What's the roughest show you ever had to play in terms of audience hostility?

LW: I would say probably Gig on the Green in Scotland one year. We were like two songs in and people were just picking up handfuls of sod and launching it at us. It was completely ridiculous, and at that point we were just like: "Bring it on!" We were swinging our instruments around like baseball bats. But even there, about five songs later, it felt to me like the whole crowd was with us. We sort of incite it and we just feed off it. And if things are really bad, we just stay in that mind frame of: "For the next thirty minutes, it's our show and it's our stage." I mean, not that we're oblivious to things not going our way, but we want people to respond in any way that they want.

CoC: Getting to the commercial aspects of the Gigantour, a lot of fuss was made over the relatively poor ticket sales that seemed to dog the tour at the majority of its stops. Was that something that ever became a concern for yourselves or any of the other bands at any point?

LW: There was an underhanded joke being passed around among the bands where people were saying that it hadn't been the Gigantour; it had been more like the Giganturd. But from our point of view, we signed on knowing that none of the other summer tours had been doing that great. Sounds of the Underground hadn't done that great all things considered, and then you hear somebody like Dave Mustaine go off about all the things the tour is going to do and how he wants to the tour to feel. We even met him on a personal basis and he was saying how he wanted all the bands to come off stage feeling like this was the best tour that they had ever played, and that he wanted them to be able to get the most out of it in terms of merchandise sales and things like that. And then when the actual logistics of it broke down, it was like: "Well, this is what you're saying to my face, but why is your manager arguing with us over two designs selling at different prices?" So, we knew from the start that it wasn't going to be a flop, but that it was going to be inconsistent and disorganized, and that was fine with us. We didn't really care. We had a good time, because every night when we played there was at least four to five hundred and sometimes even a thousand people watching us. No matter what. The Gigantour's worst show wasn't anywhere near as bad as our worst show. As for the people that turned up early, well, maybe they did like us and they did want to come out and see us. Generally we didn't get a bad response at all; we didn't sell a ton of merchandise, which is sometimes the way to see how well you were received, but when our T-shirts are thirty-five bucks, I wouldn't expect to. I mean, fifty bucks for a ticket -- you do the math; it's crazy. So we knew what we were getting into. We didn't really have a better option for the summer and we knew that we were going to have to do a support tour at some point. We could have gone out and done a tour by ourselves and probably made more money, but for a summer tour -- at the very least it's a good story. I mean, some of the people on the tour, like the Dream Theatre and the Megadeth guitar techs, were so professional and so experienced, it was awesome just meeting those guys and catching up on a little bit of the life and the road lessons that these guys have to tell -- all that stuff made the tour more than just what it was supposed to be. So, yeah -- it was fun.

CoC: What is it like touring with someone like Dave Mustaine? As I'm sure you're aware, a lot has been said about his actions toward bands like Rotting Christ and Dissection over the last year, and he's been drawing a lot of negativity from a good many corners lately.

LW: Yeah, I mean, I don't want to step on the guy's toes, you know? To each their own, and whatever gets you through the day is your own business. The guy had a pastor on tour with him -- to keep him accountable, or so the rumour goes -- and that was all new to me. In fact, I think it was new to him also. You could see that he wasn't used to being humbled and living by the hierarchy that Christianity imposes on a person. You know, Dave wants to be Mega-Dave on tour, and when someone tells him that he shouldn't and that he's no better than anyone else, there's always going to be a bit of friction. So it was weird at first -- I mean, we were destroying the stage every night, and for a while we were thinking among ourselves that we were going to be kicked off the tour if we weren't careful. At the same time, you think to yourself: "Fuck, this is Dave Mustaine -- the kind of person who, for better or worse, I grew up looking up to." So, for him to think that what we were doing is crass, would have just been ridiculous. And he was also cool to us and would always greet us; not going out of his way to catch up on our life stories, but he was as genuine and sincere as he needed to be. But that guy... I think he has a lot going on. <laughs> I don't want to get into that now, but he seemed very high-strung. He's fiery. He has the red-headed temper.

CoC: You did drop off the tour a couple of dates early due to Ben's [Weinman, guitarist] injury. Was that a stage injury, or did he pick that up elsewhere?

LW: It was one of those "landmine" injuries, if you know what I mean? Things that are just ticking time-bombs and are just waiting to go off on tour if they're aggravated. Some of it did happen on this tour, but most of it didn't. Ben's shoulder was screwed up, his neck was screwed up, and he had a torn rotator cuff before we even left on the tour, and while we weren't taking it easy by any means, it was like: "Thank God we only have to play thirty minutes". Because if we had to play full hour sets every day, we'd be killing ourselves. So, I think it got to a point where we were just all a little off it, and we were just anxious to be home, and at that point we were pretty close to home anyway, and more and more of our friends were showing up at the shows. And of course, Ben just went off. When you play your hometown and you know people are watching, you just want to put in that little bit extra; we just tried to put on a slightly more ridiculous show than usual, and I think that Ben just went overboard. I could tell something had gone wrong from hearing him on stage and thinking that something wasn't quite right. You could see it on his face too, and then when we got off stage and he was holding the same shoulder where he had the rotator cuff injury; that just sort of put things into perspective and made us think that we have to consider our tours that we have left for the rest of the year. I mean, if we hadn't stopped the Gigantour when we did, we'd have been sidelined until at least the end of November. And in retrospect, you know, I think we achieved what we intended to when we came out on the Gigantour, and just strategically from our point of view it was time to leave. So, that's pretty much what it was -- aggravated injuries that got re-aggravated.

CoC: You mentioned earlier about the stage-hands being slightly off-colour toward you guys during the tour -- was there anything or any incident in particular that elicited that?

LW: I think it was going to happen no matter what. If we didn't do anything, I think that we are still leaps and bounds past what they're used to. And when they started doing that stuff, we had to say: "Well look, indirectly we were invited here." I mean, if you know who we are, then you know what we do. I can't believe that at this point our live shows aren't as much of a talking point with us as anything else about us. Anyway, Ben had problems with one of the cabinets where it kept going off and only one speaker was working. So we had that thing set up every night and Greg one night just basically grabbed it and threw it into the part between the stage and the barrier. And Greg was throwing mic stands and he was throwing... Well, he was throwing pretty much anything, and every time he felt like people weren't paying attention he was throwing things at them, whether it be a water bottle or himself. And there was one night in particular where we chipped some kid's tooth. Another night they had all these cameras, because the Gigantour was being filmed for DVD and for a documentary, and we came dangerously close to destroying a couple of thousand dollars worth of camera equipment. And we broke other stuff like microphones, and so on. But whenever that happened, we would deal with it. I think from their point of view, they just wanted the tour to run as smoothly as possible, which I understand, but again it's a case of: "Well, you guys invited us here." It's not a schtick; it's just what we do. For the thirty minutes that we're on stage, we're going to do what we came here to do and for the rest of the time, we'll be as sophisticated as we need to be for you to give us the credit to do that. We're professional. We're not going to run away. We're going to see you tomorrow, if not at dinner in an hour. It was just a combination of a lot of things, and if anything they probably just also wanted to exert their authority. They didn't know who we were. They thought that we were these new kids on the block, who had been brought on tour by daddy's rich label or whatever, which couldn't be further from the truth. They thought that we were just a bunch of prima-donna brats. That said, after a while some of them started to see people like John from Dream Theatre, the guys from Nevermore and the drummer from Megadeth watching us every day. So once we got the respect from the other bands, that did help alleviate the situation somewhat.

CoC: The Gigantour aside, _Miss Machine_ has been a very successful album for Dillinger Escape Plan purely in terms of your overall sales. Are you surprised by how well it's done?

LW: Yes and no. It's hard to say, because in some sense I'm surprised that it sells anything at all. When I joined this band, it was just a case of me liking the band itself and not really expecting it to go anywhere. I mean, I saw it going somewhere, but I didn't see it going where it is. I didn't see us doing Download or selling a lot of albums or anything like that. You know, it creates a situation where I have to reset my goals on an almost weekly basis -- and that's been the same pretty much since I joined. In the same breath, I'm humbled by how great the response has been and that I can look at everything and say that I left school and my mom is still proud of me. But at the same time I look at the amount of effort that goes into this and I look at all the bullshit that's out there, and I think to myself that we should have sold three times as much as we have. It gets freaky when I look at it from that point of view, while my thirteen year-old self is stoked. And when I look at it from a business point of view, I think to myself: "OK, we sold 50,000 records, why didn't we sell more." And I don't do that for the money as much as to be devil's advocate and be your own worst critic and to help you be the best band that you can be. I think about what we can do on the next album, how much money we need to take out of our pockets to make our next video look even better -- things like that. It's always a catch twenty-two. But overall when it all boils down, I'm definitely proud. Not satisfied, but definitely proud.

CoC: Well, you have quite a bit to be proud of, I imagine, with how well _Miss Machine_ has done. When you compare your situation now to when you guys brought out _Calculating Infinity_, how does it differ to be a member of Dillinger Escape Plan in 2005?

LW: I don't really know if I can tell you. The only reason why I say that is because I don't really try and pay a whole lot of attention to the details. I think that in some sense it's a little more comfortable. Not that I'm making a whole lot more money, but touring is easier. We're definitely playing to a consistent audience and a consistent fanbase, which means that there's less of a risk that we'll have a horrible show the way we did three years ago. And three years horrible, wasn't that horrible, if you know what I mean? So, it's really left us with the question: "OK, now what are we going to do?" What can we prove that we didn't do with _Miss Machine_ or with _Calculating Infinity_? What have we touched on, and from an artistic point of view, what we can we elaborate on? What are the things that we don't feel are very strong? What are the things that the fans respond to? What worked and what didn't? I'm constantly looking at it from that point of view. I don't really care that there are more kids or more girls or that our MySpace account had more views this week than it did last week. I don't really know about all that stuff. I don't let anything phase me in the creative process, because it's hard enough to keep things pure.

CoC: So speaking of the creative process, is there any way that you can elaborate on where things are headed on the next Dillinger album?

LW: Well, so far I'd say that we have about five to ten minutes worth of material. <laughs> That isn't a lot, but considering that most records are about forty-five minutes anyway, I'd say we're getting there. We have about two and a half songs started and hopefully that means that we might be able to play a new song live in November or December, or at the very least maybe start rehearsing a couple of songs. The new stuff is a lot more aggressive so far, in the sense that we wanted to write something that was a lot more along the lines of _Under the Running Board_; just come out of the gates and people will go like: "What the fuck?" And not that _Miss Machine_ wasn't aggressive, but we had a feeling like we needed to reclaim the crown. All these cookie-cutter bands are coming out thinking they can do it and people are falling for it. We need to come out and reclaim the crown and put people off the scent even further. So far, everything is a lot more aggressive, and certainly as technical -- though not more so -- as anything we've done before. It's a little bit more streamlined in the sense that _Miss Machine_ was. I won't necessarily say hooky, but it's head-nodding rather than head-banging.

CoC: Well, I think that the streamlined approach is definitely what made _Miss Machine_ so effective.

LW: Yeah, it's all about playing with dynamics -- the theory of negative space, where it's not the parts, but the spaces between the parts, that make them work, if you know what I mean. We've been trying to be a lot more clever in our writing and refusing to do things just for the sake of doing them. We're also going to be more patient with this one; not lazy, but definitely less erratic.

CoC: Before we close this interview, give me a quick rundown of what you have planned for the next few months.

LW: As of right now, we have a co-headlining tour with Unearth, a few days in Mexico and then a couple of dates with Slipknot. Then in November we're looking at doing something with Between the Buried & Me and Hella, and hopefully another opener. That brings us through to December when we'll start writing, and then next year around spring we'll probably be back out in Europe again. Other than that, I don't really know. I think it's all about writing at the moment, but at the same time we don't want to flake out on the record because we feel like it's still got some mileage to it.

CoC: It's likely then that we'll see the next album by the end of 2006?

LW: Possibly. We're hoping that by this time next year we'll at the very least be involved in some sort of process with the record -- either mastering it, or producing it or whatever.

CoC: Well, thanks very much for your time. Was there anything you wanted to add?

LW: No, just thanks to everyone for being patient and we hope to see everybody on tour sometime soon.

(article submitted 24/10/2005)


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