Former The Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato has a reputation for being a tad controversial. From his vocal opinions on mainstream politics and organised religion to his criticism of other bands, the singer doesn’t shy away from sharing his views.
But he also doesn’t shy away from self-critique and admitting his own struggles.
When Music Feeds caught up with him for a chat he was cheerful and friendly, openly discussing his rawest emotions and the motives behind releasing his two most recent albums (The Black Queen’s Fever Daydream and Infinite Games) independently.
His latest project, The Black Queen — an electronic outfit with Joshua Eustis and Steven Alexander — released its second album Infinite Games in September. Commenting on the new album, Puciato says, “I think it feels more conceptual as an album. It’s less a collection of songs and more about the front to back listen.”
The album also marks the first release for Federal Prisoner, a joint collective creative entity by The Black Queen and artist Jesse Draxler. The group are keeping the plans for Federal Prisoner close to their chest, with Puciato commenting, “Federal Prisoner won’t function like a typical label. It’s an expression of passion and individualism in a way that opens more doors for us to create and to own what we create with minimal compromise.”
During our honest chat with Puciato, he talked about his happiest memories from playing in bands, the link between his four most recent records and how he uses music to “try to break through” his struggles with intimacy and vulnerability.
Music Feeds: I’ve read that you guys have said this new album feels like a more delicate record. Was that an intentional move, or did it just organically happen?
Greg Puciato: Well, I just think as your brain gets older you have a greater dynamic range in emotions. If you’re growing as a person, psychologically, and if you’re growing as an artist, you’re gonna be bored by… say like last time you used eight crayons and this time you wanna use fucking 15 crayons. You feel like you have things that are more detailed to say, or you learn more vocabulary. Two years ago you knew 50 words and now you know 100 words. Like, things aren’t as obvious.
The more you work with people, the older you get, the more in-tune with your own emotion you get. Especially if you’re making music that enables you to get really small and really quiet, not just be beating people over the head with loud aggressive elements — which has its fucking plusses, obviously, too, I’ve been doing it for 17 years.
But like if you go in the opposite direction, just try to get smaller and smaller, and more and more kind of, detailed, you can express so many more emotions. I feel like it forces your brain to slow down, forces the listener’s brain to slow down and that kind of became the theme of the record: us trying to get as vulnerable and nuanced and intimate and detailed as we could, and stay away from like, really obvious elements.
If that means it’s gonna take people five times longer to listen to the record and like it or understand it, or it doesn’t hit people as immediately, that’s all a good thing because not every movie opens with a fucking action sequence, you know? 2001 [A Space Odyssey] opens with like, fucking 45 minutes basically of nothing happening. You have to do what you want to do.
MF: Were there songs on the album that were harder to write than others?
GP: Every song is hard for me. When you ask these questions, I’m thinking more emotionally. I don’t really think in terms of whether something’s difficult to write like, logistically, ’cause nothing’s that difficult, logistically. You can either do something or you can’t, and if you can’t, you learn how to do it, and you just fucking do it. Like, I didn’t know how to make music videos five years ago, and we decided we were gonna make videos, and then we learnt how to make them and we made them.
So, like, it’s not that hard to learn how to do something, it’s hard to access parts of yourself that you have difficulty accessing, or becoming more honest and more raw, because you lie to yourself and you say, ‘Oh, this sounds good.’ You have a phrasing in mind or a melody in mind and you’re like ‘oh, this fits! Moving on!’ and then you go ‘no, no, no, no, no, that’s not enough’, you know what I mean? I’m not saying anything. That means nothing. I need to rewrite that. Those lyrics mean nothing.
Then you write other lyrics and you’re like, ‘Okay, now I’m getting somewhere, but do I really wanna talk about this?’ On the surface nobody knows what the fuck I’m talking about, but all my friends and my people in my life and bandmates, they hear stuff sometimes and they’re like, ‘Are you fucking ser-… this is like your real life, dude, this is really raw!’ And it’s really rewarding for me to be as vulnerable and as honest as I can. You know, in Dillinger I’d try to do that every time, but it doesn’t get easier. The first thing you do as soon as you’re done a record is put all your walls back up again, and then when it comes time to write you have to tear them all down.
For me, at least, my struggle is with intimacy and vulnerability. I have a real problem with it, so I use the records to try to break through that, and it doesn’t get any easier. I’m not sure if that’s what you meant by that question but it is difficult.
And it’s also difficult to like… I’m a vicious perfectionist, I’m a self-abusive perfectionist, so it’s very hard for me to accept that I’m good enough at something. So if I record a vocal, I’m like ‘I need to do it again, I need to do it again’ like over and over and over until someone stops me and says, ‘Hey man, these are great, I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ And I’ll have to just be like, ‘Okay man, whatever, fuck it.’ I can’t tell, and then later on I’ll listen to it and be like ‘yeah, I guess this doesn’t suck’, but in the moment I’m just like, ‘Not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.’
MF: What are the main differences between writing for Black Queen and writing for Dillinger?
GP: I mean, I approach it the same way, they all feel like one, like… ‘One of Us is the Killer’, Fever Daydream, ‘Dissociation’, ‘Infinite Games’, have all been linked, so… they’re all part of an arch. ‘Return of the Jedi’ is part of Star Wars; they’re all part of a thing. They’re not part of a thing to the other guys in The Black Queen, they’re not part of a thing to the other guys in Dillinger. They’re all part of a thing to me, they’re all part of an arch for me. Something started in ‘One of Us is the Killer’ and that thing ended in ‘Infinite Games’, and that is a period of my life, that is a narrative arch.
So, for those four records in particular, it’s the same approach, I have the same scrutinies, the vulnerabilities, I’m just dealing with different emotions that have arisen from the same situations behind the scenes, but they’re all thematically linked, so there really is no difference to me. Like, they’re all tips of the same iceberg, like if there’s an iceberg, it has four points coming out of it and you can only see the four points coming out of the water, you think they’re four different icebergs, they’re all points of the same iceberg to me.
MF: Tell me a little bit about Federal Prisoner.
GP: When we put out the first Black Queen record I didn’t want to cut any corners, but I also didn’t want any help. I was really starting to not be excited anymore about being a feather in someone else’s cap or being a trophy in someone else’s case. When you’re young, you’re just excited that someone is gonna put your record out; it’s a fucking mystery to you, you have no idea how records get made, you cant believe you’re ending up on shelves. And if someone hands you a little bit of money, and it’s a little bit more money the next time, a little bit more money the next time, they’ve got you on the hook. You’re like ‘holy shit, I’m gonna get a big chunk of money, the record’s gonna be everywhere, it’s gonna be sick!’ and you’re just like a child, you’re like a fucking child.
And look, I don’t think they’re these malevolent people. There are good record labels that are interested in partnerships with their artists, and growing them and kind of nurturing them, but I felt by the end of Dillinger that I no longer wanted them or needed them. I was growing very… I guess I didn’t feel secure in someone else owning my art and someone else owning it in exchange for money. It started to feel wrong to me, like I felt ,’I don’t need you anymore, I can do this without you.’
So, when we did the first Black Queen record, we did it ourselves and it felt so gratifying and it made me so protective and so passionate over every little angle of it, and it bonded me to the audience in a way, in a pure way. It forces you to get the best out of yourself ’cause you owe it to yourself, even more, because you’re not just handing someone a file and then they’re just selling it, treating it like they would if they were trying to sell fucking rolls of toilet paper at Target or something. You’re like, so connected to all of it that it all starts to feel like you.
I tell people all the time that if you’re an artist that operates, particularly without regard for genre, then the thing that people are a fan of is not just your skillset, it’s the way you feel. The way you feel is like your scent or your fingerprint or something like that, so when you do anything that corrupts that scent or your fingerprint, you’re fucking damaging yourself. The question is, is the amount of money that they’re gonna pay you up front worth it for you to fucking corrupt your scent to your audience? Especially if you’re an artist that has… you know, you have a strong scent.
So, I was like, ‘I can’t do it anymore, it’s fucking damaging me too much.’ The second record, when we did it with Fever Daydream, we had to create basically like an infrastructure that mirrored a small record label in order to get that out without cutting any corners. So, the next time I was like, ‘Okay, so how do we elaborate upon that? How do we make it even more legit? And how do we grow the infrastructural aspects of it?’
Once we got those pieces in place, one of the other guys who’s involved, Jesse Draxler who does our artwork, was like ‘what are we gonna do with this besides The Black Queen?’ and I’m like ‘nothing, I dunno, who gives a shit?’ and he’s like ‘no, dude, you’re stupid. There’s a lot of things that we do and we’re into, and as long as we’re not operating from a capitalistic mindset, as long as we’re operating just from the mindset of it being like branches of a tee or furthering a world or an aesthetic. We can be really, really, really strict about what we release and put other things out too, like books or solo projects or records of bands that we like or friends that we have’.
And I was like, ‘Fuck, I guess you’re right!’ Then when we started really, really taking that seriously it’s like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’ Like, you have to create new avenues for yourself so that you’re not frozen, and you’re not boxed-in later.
Just like, singing on a Dillinger Escape Plan record 14 years ago eventually allowed The Black Queen to happen. The Black Queen happening allowed Federal Prisoner to happen, and now that happening is gonna allow us to do other things in the future. So, you have to make sure that you build doors for yourself in everything that you do.
MF: So, would you be looking to bring other artists on too and help them out?
GP: I mean, we have so much that we want to release internally that it’s not like, on the horizon right now. We have just like, a lot of things happening, that are already in the works that are going to come out within like the next year, and it’s a tonne of work.
In order for me to vouch for another artist with the same passion that I feel about what the four of us are doing, it has to be something that we all four overwhelmingly feel like, a passion for. I know who a lot of those people would be, but we have so much to do right now that that’s not really on the plate.
MF: What have you got coming up in the next year?
GP: I can’t tell you that.
MF: Ah okay, thought I’d give it a go!
GP: [Laughs] Nah, I’m not a big fan of… I don’t like to telegraph loops, I just feel like it’s weak, you know? I’m not a commercial for myself, so when they happen, people will know about them, otherwise, what’s the point?
MF: What are some of your happiest memories from touring and playing in bands over the past 17 years?
GP: Oh man, I mean, it’s just honestly like one big blur of amazingness. Even the bad things, when you look at them in hindsight, were so amazing. Like, The Dillinger Escape Plan, we had some times that were horrible, like fucking horrible, but one of the things that I’ve taken away from it is, and I tell people this all the time if they’re bitching at me about like, they’re in a band and it sucks right now, or they’re this a horrible situation and their van is broken down and they’re in some terrible area – I’m like, Yyou’ve gotta remember that you are in the time of your life right now. You’re gonna look back at this and it’s gonna make you who you are.’
It’s all been incredible, but there’s definitely isolated moments. The final three Dillinger shows were amazing! I don’t remember them individually, but as one blur they felt incredible. The Black Queen has been incredible, the early years of Dillinger Escape Plan. You know, it’s very hard to remember individual shows, individual moments, but it’s just more of like, a feeling. You remember a feeling, you remember people’s faces.
Melbourne: Killer Be Killed. The first show we played with Killer Be Killed was fucking crazy. There’s been certain times where you have to like, pinch yourself a little bit, ’cause you’re present all the time you’re not really logging it, you’re just trying to be present. So, every now and then you kind of have an out-of-body experience where you’re like ‘fuck, this is fucking crazy’, you know, and it kind of hits you how crazy it is.
Those are those times – the final three Dillinger shows, the first Black Queen show we played, which was nuts. That was my first inclination that maybe people were listening that weren’t just into Dillinger Escape Plan, which is a kind of overwhelming sensation.
The Dillinger Escape Plan as a whole, it felt like it was only like a year [laughs]. It was just one crazy, crazy, crazy thing. The highs and the lows were so severe that when I look back at all of it now, it just seems like fuck, what a weird, silly, hilarious, fun, crazy thing.
The Black Queen’s new album ‘Infinite Games’ is out now. They’re also touring Australia in January 2019 but all dates are totally sold out!
The Black Queen 2019 Australian Tour Dates
THURSDAY, 17TH JANUARY — SOLD OUT
BLACK BEAR LODGE, BRISBANE (18+)
FRIDAY, 18TH JANUARY — SOLD OUT
LANSDOWNE HOTEL, SYDNEY (18+)
SATURDAY, 19TH JANUARY — SOLD OUT
NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB, MELBOURNE (18+)
SUNDAY, 20TH JANUARY — SOLD OUT
NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB, MELBOURNE (18+)