“When we first started, I didn’t hit any notes—it was just noise,” says Dillinger Escape Plan guitarist Ben Weinman. “I’m purely ear-trained as a player.” Photo by Chris Kies
There have always been little runs in Dillinger’s music that hint at you having serious jazz chops. I’ve always been curious: Is that something you’ve cultivated?
I never learned how to do it all the way. I had some basic blues lessons when I was young, but I’m purely ear-trained as a player. Most of the stuff I rely on, I heard in other music and learned how to do it. My natural tendency is to follow modes via ear. Later on, I started to learn that I do a lot of major scales and whole-tone scales, and chromatics a lot, and I knew that I liked that stuff from the fusion guitar I love, but I never studied it or knew what I was doing. But a lot of my answers to these kinds of questions come from articles in which someone else analyzed my riffs and explained them, and it’s like “Oh, so that’s what it’s called!”
Based on how cavalier the band is about throwing meter around, it would be easy to assume that Dillinger writes with time signatures in mind. Is that the case?
It’s all feel. There’s stuff on this album that you can’t fit into a time signature. There are certain people within the production world that want to lock you to a grid and there’s a lot of material on this album that cannot be locked that way.
I think it has something to do with my ADD as a kid. Rhythms and craziness are like meditation for me because repetition allows my mind to wander. The crazier something gets, the better it is for my mind. In transcendental meditation, you’re supposed to say your mantra at random so that you can’t start daydreaming or drifting too far while you’re doing it—it keeps you focused to do it at random. All of the chaotic things that go into Dillinger’s music keep me focused. I’m not worried about my day, I’m not worried about anything, I’m just in that moment.
So the band doesn’t track to a click?
Sometimes Billy does, but he’s really good at playing around it. If you put a click against these songs, it wouldn’t be on grid at all. The click would start and end in the right spots, but it would ebb and flow a lot in between. I think that’s the difference between a world-class drummer that has a great pocket and swing, and someone that’s just athletic.
The ultra-dissonant, penetrating dyads you often use rhythmically have become part of your signature as a guitarist, and something that has found its way into the vocabulary of countless extreme metal bands over the years. How did you discover those?
I heard some of the weirder old punk bands pull those chords. When I was coming up there were metal-influenced punk guys in the Jersey scene that were a little more proficient at their instruments. Bands like Deadguy and some of the bands on the Amphetamine Reptile label at the time that would be considered the early version of math-rock used that shape a lot, and that’s where it entered my vocabulary.
I’ve noticed that onstage you still seem to favor your old ESP LTD H1001-M over your signature model. Any particular reason for that?
Honestly, it’s just because it’s a little lighter and my back and neck have taken such a beating over the years and I’ve taken so many hits. The other thing is, the older one is already in rough enough shape that I can beat the fuck out of it. I don’t want to worry all the time about the signature models because I care about them so much. I’ve broken a few of them over the years and it bums me out when I do, so I don’t use the signature model for the entire set.
DEP perform Dissociation’s opening track and first single, “Limerent Death,” last summer at the Hi Hat in L.A.
The signature model has the scale length and neck style of the more metal LTD because I wanted the scale of a metal guitar to do the upper register stuff, but I wanted the diversity of sounds you can get out of a semi-hollow. Also, a semi-hollow body removes a lot of the weight and that compensates a little for the EverTune bridge I use, which is a very heavy, big piece of steel. I’ve found that this combination of scale length, semi-hollow construction, and bridge mass makes a sound I really love.
Your stage rig seems pretty consistent. Did you experiment with gear in the studio for this record?
We did a lot of experimentation and we used a mountain of amp heads in the studio we worked out of. There would be pedals scattered everywhere. For the core tracks, we used an ’80s Mesa/Boogie half-back 2x12 cab that was actually wired like a 1x12, and on the bottom we used a closed-back speaker I found at a pawnshop. We used a ton of heads and cabs linked up with a Bradshaw switching system, so we could swap things easily on the fly and have all the options we wanted.
There were times when I’d use four or five different heads on a single song, so I could never really recreate live what’s going on on the album. We used a lot of Dave Friedman’s amps, a Splawn Quick Rod, a Soldano, an old-school Peavey 5150, a Bogner Ecstasy, and of course, the Mesa Mark V that I use. My signature sound for the history of this band has traditionally been a Mesa TriAxis in the left channel, which I replaced with the Mesa Mark V for the past two albums, and a 5150 for the right channel. The 5150 has so much attack, and that percussive attack that’s a huge part of my sound comes from that.
One thing that strikes me about Dissociation is how seamless the transitions are between passages. Is there an overarching philosophy you take to structure?
Nope. However, I will say feeling is the most important thing with transitions, and it’s the most important thing to a song that those transitions feel good. Sometimes it’s jarring intentionally, but every single thing that happens in a Dillinger song has a purpose.