Published Jan 01, 2006"The new challenge was just to write songs. We never really conquered that challenge of just writing structurally good songs," says the Dillinger Escape Plan's guitarist/mastermind Ben Weinman on the progression of their new full-length Miss Machine, the long-awaited follow-up to 1999's now legendary Calculating Infinity. "To have a song that's chaotic and crazy and incorporate songwriting and structure, it's not easy and that was the biggest obstacle we've ever had to overcome."
In 1999, this relatively unknown band from northern New Jersey revolutionised the aggressive music underground with their debut full-length on Relapse Records. A complex and dizzying amalgam of progressive death and thrash influences, hardcore aggression, jazz asides and barely controlled chaos, Calculating Infinity redefined what could be done in heavy music. In the five years since, spurned on by the band's frenetic, life-threatening live show and non-stop touring, Dillinger spawned the underground technical hardcore movement. They garnered accolades from media as diverse as MTV, NME, Guitar World, Spin and The New York Times while becoming the band to namedrop for any mainstream metal unit seeking a shred of credibility (Slipknot, Papa Roach, the Deftones). And they've shattered the glass ceiling of the aggressive music underground, flirting with mainstream notoriety and touring with the likes of Mr. Bungle, System of A Down, and playing massive festivals such as Reading.
But when it came time to release the follow-up to their genre-defining masterpiece, instead of trying for a new level of extremity or to out perform themselves, Dillinger opted for something unexpected: melodies and structure. "When we first started writing, one of the reasons it took so long was we wrote a bunch of Calculating-type songs and riffs," Ben explains. "It's easy for us to write those. We really struggled with not being caught up in what people were expecting, just staying true to ourselves, writing a record that was different and exploring new things that people may not expect from us."
What people didn't expect was that it would be a long five years before Miss Machine finally arrived. And while the band's constant line-up problems played a part (the band is currently rounded out by guitarist Brian Benoit, drummer Chris Pennie, bassist Liam Wilson and vocalist Greg Puciato, whose vocal range and ability to match Dillinger's dizzying musical escapades shine on Miss Machine), the question remains, what took so long?
"We're not in the business of mass-producing records, that's not what we do. Art is not the type of thing you schedule around tours. It's part of our package that it takes us a long time to produce music. There were a lot of factors: having new members, having a new singer, having an EP with Mike Patton [2002's Irony Is A Dead Scene]."
Another contributing factor was their not-so-secret impasse with their label, Relapse, which saw the band courted by majors and bigger indies alike while still under contract, even swearing they'd release their next record online before eventually reconciling their differences. "The Relapse situation was that we needed to find someone, whether it was Relapse or someone else, that could give us the resources that would allow us to take the opportunities that were coming our way and continue to let us grow," offers Ben. "In exploring other options we realised that most people didn't get what we were doing and weren't going to allow us to continue in the way we wanted. We ended up, by staying strong, working it out. It wasn't really about getting more financial gain as I sit in my parent's house in the bedroom that I grew up in but getting more behind the record."
Dillinger and Relapse are now back on the same page and fully behind Miss Machine. But the band now find themselves in a musical middle ground, too big for the underground but too extreme for mainstream. Ben doesn't disagree it's a dilemma hinted at by the album's title but he's not terribly concerned.
"Being trapped between the mainstream and the underground is fine because it's an alternative for everyone who doesn't want what's shoved down their throats. We're happy taking all the shit that's left over and trying to make a living off it. Don't like Korn, don't like Limp Bizkit? There's the Dillinger Escape Plan. Buy a shirt. It's not our goal to crack the mainstream. We want to progress and continue to grow, and if we can sell tons of records and make money that would be awesome. But I would just as easily quit and go do something else. I don't give a shit, I'll still write music."