The Dillinger Escape Plan Hazard Warning
Published Jun 17, 2013While heavy metal comes with a host of occupational hazards, from excessive consumption to accidents on tour, the physical toll that being in the Dillinger Escape Plan has exacted on members sets the band apart. The experimental math-metal group have left a swath of broken bodies in their wake, with injuries suffered ranging from a torn rotator cuff and broken foot to spinal injuries and gunshot wounds. Despite this carnage, they have managed to produce some of the most exciting and challenging music in the genre. Known as much for their contorted, highly technical guitar work and explosive, even dangerous live performances, complete with death-defying acrobatics and fire-breathing, the Dillinger Escape Plan have consistently challenged themselves and their audiences throughout their storied career. Despite a litany of injuries, line-up changes and an ever-more demanding performance schedule, sole founding member, principle songwriter and guitarist Ben Weinman and company have remained committed to creating challenging, intense and mercilessly aggressive music at any cost.
1975 to 1992
Ben Weinman is born on August 8, 1975 in Morris Plains, NJ. Dimitri Minakakis is born on June 16, 1977 and grows up in Morristown, NJ. Chris Pennie is born May 31, 1977. Weinman says that his parents musical tastes were uncommon and that they "didn't like anything that people of their generation were supposed to like." They introduce him to Broadway musicals and show tunes, which instils in him a deep appreciation for musical theatrics, complex scoring, and dynamics. He finds himself drawn to darker musicals, like Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Chris Pennie takes up drumming at the age of 13. At the age of 15, Weinman drinks alcohol for the first and last time. In his early teens, Weinman is introduced to extreme death metal through a friend's older brother's extensive tape collection. In 1992, while sitting in his car outside of a party in Hollywood, CA, future bassist Jeff Wood is shot in the head. He recovers from the injury, though part of the bullet will remain in his brain for the rest of his life and gradually bring about a complete personality change.
1993 to 1995
At 16, Chris Pennie decides to pursue music as a career and joins New Jersey band Prozak. Pennie's father accompanies the under-aged teen to gigs at local bars so that he can play with his band-mates, who are nearly a decade older. By 1994, Ben Weinman starts to find death metal formulaic, though he still appreciates the dense technicality of it, and moves on to develop a keen interest in hardcore and punk, as he is exposed to New York hardcore bands playing alongside local metal bands. He is drawn to the unpredictability of the genre, as well as the ferocious energy. Chris Pennie leaves Prozak in 1995 and begins two years at the Berklee College of Music, earning a certificate in Music Synthesis (which focuses on electronics, sampling and effects). Also in 1995, Pennie forms short-lived pop-punk band Boxer with classmate Jeremy McDowell.
1996 to 1997
Weinman, Minakakis and Pennie, who all know each other through the local hardcore and metal scene, form the hardcore punk band Arcane, along with bassist Bruce Fulton and second vocalist Brad McMann. Arcane are an expression of the acerbic, aggressive political hardcore and punk rock they all enjoy, but is not an innovative project. Weinman describes the group as a "lost cause," an act of mimicry rather than an attempt to create anything new. After playing together for several months, they scrap their aesthetic entirely and start over. Ben Weinman enrols in the psychology program at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. By March 1997, McMann is replaced on bass by Pennie's friend Adam Doll, who is interested in the group's new, more chaotic direction; Fulton leaves as well, and guitarist Derek Brantley takes his place. Their new work is deliberately alienating and strange, technical and chaotic, with no attempt to be pleasing or easy to listen to. With this new aesthetic in place, they re-christen themselves the Dillinger Escape Plan, named after notoriously difficult-to-incarcerate American bank robber John Dillinger. The members consider it a purely artistic outlet rather than a career choice or attempt at mainstream success. The band are initially managed by Weinman and friend Tom Apostolopoulos, and release a self-titled EP in March 1997, which features complex and technical guitar work as well as unpredictable shifts in tempo and tone. The EP is released by indie label Now or Never Records, who send them on a club tour through the Northwestern U.S. later in 1997. Derek Brantley, who played guitar on the record, is replaced by John Fulton before tour. While on this tour, Dillinger begin to experiment with their stage show to create a sense of unpredictability and danger, something that Weinman always admired about the original New York hardcore movement. They do things like set objects on fire on stage; at one show, a friend of the band spontaneously sets of firecrackers in the audience, leading to rumours that it was a planned stunt. These early shows add immensely to Dillinger's reputation for shock and awe theatrics; some of the reports are entirely invented. After the tour concludes, their track "The Mullet Burden" is included on the Nothing Left Fanzine #7 CD compilation. Based on their first demo and their post-tour reputation, Relapse Records offer the Dillinger Escape Plan a long-term, multi-record contract; after a lawyer friend looks over the proposed contract, the band quickly sign.
The Dillinger Escape Plan release the Under the Running Board EP, their first for Relapse, on October 22, 1998. The record is more experimental than their debut EP, featuring more fractured song structures. Fulton leaves the band very shortly after the release, citing creative differences. Pennie and Weinman write the vast majority of Dillinger's early material collaboratively and refer to each other as "musical soul-mates." Because of his education and expertise, Pennie is also responsible for many of the effects while on stage, triggered by foot pedals.
While in the planning stages of their debut full-length, Calculating Infinity, bassist Adam Doll is involved in a minor fender-bender shortly before the recording can begin. Because he is bending over to pick up a CD when it happens, the bump results in a freak injury, in the form of a spinal fracture, paralyzing him from the chest down. As a result, Weinman performs both bass and guitar on the full-length, though Doll is credited extensively for his role. The record is even more avant-garde that their last EP, and is a much-lauded critical success. Prior to touring for Calculating Infinity, guitarist Brian Benoit (ex-Jesuit) takes the role vacated by Fulton and Jeff Wood (ex-M.O.D.) replaces Doll. Calculating Infinity catches the attention of Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton after Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance sees them perform live and introduces their material to his band-mates. Patton invites the Dillinger Escape Plan to tour with Mr. Bungle. During this tour, Dillinger incorporate a light show, fire breathing, and samples into their performance. Future vocalist Greg Puciato attends their show in Baltimore, MA and buys Calculating Infinity from current vocalist Dimitri Minakakis; he will become a fan of the band and continue to follow their career. Calculating Infinity goes on to sell over 100,000 copies, making Dillinger the best-selling band signed to Relapse Records at the time. Dillinger also release two split EPs in 1999, with Drowningman and Nora, released on Hydra Head and Ferret Records respectively.
After touring for months, including appearances on March Metal Madness and Warped Tour, Jeff Wood departs the band in 2000. While it is not explicitly stated at the time, Wood's departure is in part due to the bullet wound to the head he suffered in 1992, which is having an ever-greater effect on his personality. He goes on to found Shat, a gonzo/porno grind act, and frequently performs covered in dildos, has women pee on him on stage and ensures every single one of his album titles contains the word "cunt." Wood will tell Vice in 2013 that, "I was a sick kid before the bullet, but it definitely changed some parameters in my life at that point." Wood is replaced by Liam Wilson (ex-Starkweather). Ben Weinman graduates from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ with a degree in psychology, begins a Master's degree in corporate communications, and starts working at a web company.
Vocalist and founding member Dimitri Minakakis departs Dillinger in 2001 to focus on art, photography and graphic design, though he will remain close to his former band-mates. The band perform an entirely instrumental set at the Exclaim! anniversary party a few weeks after Minakakis's departure. Dillinger begin a search for a new vocalist, and do so very publicly. Via their website, they release an instrumental version of "43% Burnt" from Calculating Infinity and invite hopefuls to record vocals to it as an audition. In the interim, colleagues fill in on vocals, including Sean Ingram of Coalesce (who performs as the band's vocalist at Krazy Fest in Louisville, KY) and Mike Patton. While still searching for a new vocalist, Patton agrees to record an EP with Dillinger. Greg Puciato auditions for the role, sending in both a tape that faithfully reproduces Minakakis's performance, as well as his unique interpretation. He is invited to join Dillinger for practice sessions in September 2001 and officially joins the band with a performance at the CMJ Music Fest in New York City in October. With Puciato, Dillinger quickly go on to record "Damages, Part I & II" for Black on Black, a Black Flag tribute album. Now or Never also reissues their self-titled debut with additional bonus material. On his very first tour with the band, Puciato is hit the face with a guitar and shatters a tooth, requiring emergency dental surgery. By the end of the year, Weinman leaves his Master's program and quits his job to commit to Dillinger Escape Plan full-time.
In 2002, Dillinger are invited to perform at the Reading Festival in the UK. While performing, Puciato defecates on stage, puts it in a bag, smears some on himself and flings it into the crowd, proclaiming, "This is a bag of shit. I just wanted to show you this so you'll recognize it later on throughout the day." It would be one of the best reviewed sets at the festival, and would, in 2010, be named NME's seventh grossest moment in rock. On August 27, Irony is a Dead Scene, the EP Dillinger recorded with Mike Patton, finally appears. Recorded with Weinman, Benoit, Wilson and Pennie, the EP features three original tracks, as well as a cover of Aphex Twin's "Come To Daddy." It is released by Epitaph, while Buddyhead also releases a limited edition vinyl version. Original bassist Adam Doll also returns, contributing keyboards and effects to the EP.
A live record, Cursed, Unshaven and Misbehavin': Live Infinity, is released on January 3 by Relapse. Dillinger release the first original track to feature Puciato, "Baby's First Coffin," on the soundtrack for the supernatural film Underworld. Along with former members of Knives Out, former vocalist Minakakis founds the band Tokyo.
Dillinger record a cover of "My Michelle" for the Guns n' Roses tribute Bring You To Your Knees, as well as a cover of Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" for the Buddyhead Suicide compilation. On July 20, Relapse releases the first full-length record to feature Puciato, Miss Machine. The record polarizes fans, some of whom appreciate the musical evolution, which includes more melodic and jazz-fusion elements, while other revile it. It sells 12,000 copies the first week, and remains their best-selling release to date. Drummer Chris Pennie begins to take on studio work in addition to Dillinger, recording drums on hardcore band All Else Failed's 2004 record, This Never Happened. Later that year, Dillinger begin an aggressive two-year touring cycle that racks up a notorious litany of injuries. In late 2004, guitarist Benoit suffers nerve damage (technically brachial plexus neuritis) to his left hand; he briefly tries to continue in the band handling keyboards and effects.
After a few performances, Benoit finds that he is unable to continue to perform live. James Love (Fenix TX) fills in during the tour.
After securing a spot on Dave Mustaine's Gigatour in 2005, the band are forced to drop out early when Weinman fractures a vertebrae in his neck and requires seven staples in his head when he is injured while performing in Anaheim, CA. Later that year, Weinman tears his rotator cuff while on tour in Japan, but continues to play despite the injury. The band contribute a cover of "Honey Bucket" to tribute album We Reach: The Music of the Melvins.
Dillinger release a record of covers entitled Plagiarism, recorded with James Love, as well as their first DVD, a short to accompany Miss Machine. Weinman finally has surgery to correct his torn rotator cuff after being unable to delay the procedure any further. Dillinger are invited to tour with AFI and Coheed and Cambria in the summer of 2006, and accept despite the fact that Weinman is still recovering from surgery. The tour results in the deepest and most dramatic fracture in the band's line-up. After an extremely tense and divided tour, which sees Pennie and Weinman actively at odds with each other, Weinman flies home with four dates to go for what is referred to at the time as "undisclosed personal reasons." On August 4, Dillinger play as a four-piece, without Weinman, for the first time; they play a total of four shows without him. Weinman says in interviews that he briefly quit the band during that tour, immensely frustrated from playing with a still-injured and healing arm, and from dealing with the medical expenses from the surgery (which totalled over $30,000), in addition to friction with his bandmates. "I need to see if I can not be the Dillinger Escape Plan, if I can just be Ben," says of the incident. During the few shows Weinman misses, Coheed and Cambria ask Pennie to jump ship and be their drummer. Pennie accepts, but is forced to remain with Dillinger due to contractual obligations to Relapse. After the rest of the tour with Coheed and Cambria concludes, Weinman meets with the rest of the band and a mediator. Together, they decide to continue working together and start afresh, and Weinman returns to helm the Dillinger Escape Plan.
Dillinger begin work on a follow-up to Miss Machine, entitled Ire Works, in early 2007. Throughout 2007, Pennie also takes on extra studio work, like Idiot Pilot's Wolves album. He begins working with Coheed and Cambria in early 2007 and would have recorded their 2007 record, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow, if not for being contractually bound to Relapse Records. Pennie tells Mikedolbear.com that, "when I went to get permission to play on the record, I wasn't allowed to by Dillinger's label, Relapse Records, due to technically still being a member of the band and still being on the label." Instead, the role is filled in by Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters).
Despite the drama, Dillinger press forward with Ire Works, recorded with Steve Evetts (Sepultura, Every Time I Die) at his Omen Room studios in L.A Drumming is handled by Gil Sharon of Stolen Babies (though first, in desperation, Weinman tells Exclaim! in 2007 that he experiments with programmed drums using the program Drum Kit From Hell). Because of Benoit's injury and Love's unavailability, Weinman again handles all guitar duties. Original vocalist Minakakis contributes guest vocals to the song "Fix Your Face." In a 2007 interview with Exclaim!, Weinman says that the recording progress is so hellish, he begins to wonder if the band had been cursed. His suspicions seem founded considering the litany of woes they faced: "I threw up 40 times and was put in the hospital. I felt like I was dying. Our producer's back totally went out completely. He couldn't even move. The whole recording he was on pills and steroids and anything he could do to get through it. On our first day of recording, the engineer's assistant's car got broken into outside the studio, and everything inside it, including, for some reason, every CD he owned, got stolen."
Even after the recording is finished, their luck remains poor: while filming in-studio videos of the production of Ire Works, Wienman accidentally slams a guitar into his foot, breaking it and delaying touring for this record while he heals. Weinman tells About Heavy Metal he uses the injury to his advantage. "In a way, this time off with my broken foot has been great because it's allowed me to do a lot of press and really try to set up the record as much as possible. And we've been able to practice a lot more to be able to come out full force." Ire Works is released on November 7 and debuts on Billboard at #142 with 7,000 copies sold the first week; later it is discovered Relapse somehow forgot to scan pre-orders, putting the actual first week sales at 11,000, second only to Miss Machine. It will go on to be the band's most critically successful album In December, Revolver names Puciato one of the 37 greatest metal frontmen of all time.
Relapse reissues Under the Running Board for its tenth anniversary, including ten bonus tracks. Dillinger gain primetime exposure when the track "Milk Lizard" is featured on CSI: NY. The same month, Dillinger perform "Black Bubblegum" on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. Bassist Liam Wilson begins appearing in pro-vegan advertisements with PETA. A regular contributor to Bass Player Magazine, Wilson extolls the virtues of Bikram yoga as a bass-playing enhancement. In December, Weinman founds Garmutt, a heavy metal-inspired clothing company for dogs. The products are primarily modelled after band shirts but designed to fit canines and with dog-based puns worked into the logos like Master of Puppies or Muttallica.
At the beginning of the year, Gil Sharon leaves the band and is replaced by current drummer Billy Rymer. Dillinger are invited to play Australia's Soundwave Festival in February and March, where they join Nine Inch Nails on stage to perform "Wish" and "Mr. Self Destruct" during NIN's encores. On May 27, DEP announce that, with their contract to Relapse fulfilled, they are leaving the label. Weinman says that "being locked into multi-year, multi-record contracts no longer makes sense to us, considering the state of the industry," and Dillinger want to retain greater creative control moving forward. Ben Weinman founds his own independent label, Party Smasher, and plans to release their next record in collaboration with Season of Mist. They begin work on a new record, Option Paralysis, which is again recorded with Steve Evetts. Dimitri Minakakis provides the album art, and original bassist Doll contributes as well. Weinman tells The Aquarian that the writing experience was much more relaxed and positive. "It totally was like when you go into the garage or basement and just play with your friends. There was less pressure. I think one thing we realized on this record was that you don't have to be in a bad place to write this kind of music. It could be positive energy going on to make a record aggressive and dark." Dillinger tour North America to support the record in late 2009, supporting Thursday.
Dillinger headline a tour in 2010 with Darkest Hour, Animals As Leaders and iwrestledabearonce. During the tour, the receive a Golden Gods award from Revolver magazine for Best Underground Band. After the win, the band embark upon a relentless and seemingly unending touring schedule: in 2010 a short trip to Europe in the spring is followed by a run with Warped Tour from June to August, then a headlining run through Europe again.
Dillinger embark on another North American run with the Deftones, then a jaunt with Mastodon through the U.S. late in the year. In November, Chris Pennie leaves Coheed & Cambria to focus on new project Return To Earth with Ron Scalzo, and his production company Fight Mannequins; his departure comes very shortly after bassist Michael Todd was kicked out of the band after being arrested for robbing a Attleboro, Massachusetts pharmacy for prescription drugs. Dillinger collaborate with Chuck D on a cover of "Fight The Power" for the collection Homefront: Songs for the Resistance, and record a cover of "Territorial Pissings" fro Kerrang! Presents Nirvana Nevermind Forever. Weinman shutters Garmutt, his dog clothing company, after he is repeatedly threatened with lawsuits for using puns based on band names and album titles.
On February 6, Dillinger are featured on the final episode of Sam Dunn's VH1 series Metal Evolution, which names them "the world's most dangerous band." Dillinger continue to tour with the Deftones, joining them on dates in the UK early in the year. They make their second appearance at Soundwave and tour with System of a Down through Australia and New Zealand. They also make their first appearances in South America, Malaysia and Thailand, including Rock al Parq in Bogotoa, Columbia. In May, Weinman is named one of SPIN Magazine's 100 greatest guitarists of all time, and Guitar World Magazine calls him one of the 50 fastest guitar players of all time (along with Les Paul and Eddie Van Halen). Metalsucks bestows upon him the mantle of one of the best modern metal guitar players, and Alternative Press calls him one of their ten favourite "guitar slingers." In August 2012, at the end of this tour run, Jeff Tuttle leaves the band to pursue other projects in music and film. By November 2012, Dillinger sign to Sumerian records and announce that their next album will appear in the spring the following year. On the November 24, DEP play California Metalfest and audience members notice a "mystery" guitar player filling in for Tuttle; it is later revealed to be former touring member James Love, who re-joins the band.
Metalsucks names Puciato number one of the top 25 modern metal frontmen. In addition to writing music for Dillinger, Weinman contributes to the supergroup Giraffe Tongue Orchestra with Brent Hinds (Mastodon), Jon Theodore (ex-the Mars Volta), and Eric Avery (ex-Jane's Addiction). Weinman also writes the score for the feature film Project Blue Book: The Morris Family Abduction, a horror film that is still in production. On May 3, Dillinger perform "When I Lost My Bet" and "Behind The Wheel" (with Chino Moreno, front man of the Deftones, joining them on stage) at the Revolver Golden Gods awards in Los Angeles. During the show, Puciato is cut and bleeds profusely; he also breathes fire, jumps off stacked amps, smashes guitars and, ultimately, the drum kit. One Of Us Is The Killer is released as a collaboration between Sumerian and Party Smasher on May 14.
Calculating Infinity (1999, Relapse)
This debut defined their chaotic, unpredictable sound and established the band as an elemental force in experimental extreme metal. Benoit and Weinman display nearly superhuman technicality in the guitar work, which Minakakis' unrestrained screams give the record a raw and somehow unhinged counterpoint. The record also contains the startling changes in tempo and rhythm that become a staple of the Dillinger Escape Plan records.
The Dillinger Escape Plan with Mike Patton
Irony Is A Dead Scene (2002, Epitaph)
While only an EP and a transitional record, recorded before Minakakis would be replaced by Greg Puciato on vocals, Irony Is A Dead Scene not only captures this a sense of uncertainty and flux, but turns it into an art form. Patton's wild vocalizations and rich, sensual vocal tone dovetails with the finer details in the guitar work to illuminate the complexity even further. Pitchfork will stated that "the significance of this pairing goes beyond simple collaboration. It is historical," and for good reason. The combination of brutal technicality and visceral creativity is transcendent.
One Of Us Is The Killer (2013, Sumerian)
The work of an ever-evolving, ever-improving entity, the Dillinger Escape Plan's most recent record is unquestionably their finest. Puciato's nimble, seemingly indestructible voice is at the height of its powers, delivering screeches and cleans with equal artfulness. The technical proficiency of the guitar work is predictably dazzling, but even expected, the wizardry can still be breathtaking. The stirring, urgent drumming is also some of the finest ever showcased on a Dillinger record, and the songwriting balances aggression and finesse with enviable aplomb.