Murder Ballads: Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato unveils Killer Be Killed
Having formed with some secrecy in 2011, Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato finally lifts the lid on long-incubating super quartet Killer Be Killed and tells us which one is 'The Riffpisser'
With a membership boasting Troy Sanders of Mastodon, Sepultura co-founder and Soulfly pilot Max Cavalera, ex-Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch and Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato, on paper it's tempting to consider Killer Be Killed as one of the most exciting heavy metal supergroups in recent memory. Their self-titled debut [reviewed here] is an enraged, riff-charged blend of blinding thrash and thrilling, melodic hard rock. The band has been working away secretively over the past few years, but it's only recently that concrete details of the project came to light.
Puciato starts from the beginning, outlining the collaboration's initial stages: “When we first started writing, I thought we were going to be making pretty aggressive, old-school thrash. When I was trying to think of a bassist that fits that attitude and that style, I thought Nate Newton [Converge] would have been perfect for that. He couldn't do it, and once Troy got involved – because Mastodon has taken such an interesting development from sludgy prog to almost like a heavy Queens of the Stone Age – he started introducing the kind of songwriting I wouldn't normally have considered, and we decided to just let go of the wheel and see what happened.”
Puciato of course has already dabbled in projects outside his day job, contributing vocally to songs by Genghis Tron, The Devin Townsend Project and Every Time I Die, to name a few. He also got together with members of Isis, Candiria and Made Out of Babies for the Spylacopa EP in 2008, but this is the first long-player he's been fully involved with outside of Dillinger. It will come as a surprise to many that he's also a proficient guitar player; with Killer Be Killed, he's stepping up to take on six-string duties alongside Cavalera.
"I think this ended up becoming a lot more than just a crossover thrash record” – Greg Puciato
Puciato discusses his musical inclinations in and outwith his main gig: “Dillinger is Ben [Weinman]'s thing musically and my thing vocally, so we don't intrude on each other's roles a whole lot, but I've always written music outside Dillinger that didn't fit into what that band already is. The fact that I play guitar isn't really well known, because I'm not exactly gonna get onstage with Dillinger and shred, but when I was a nine year old kid, that was my thing!” He harks back to when he was a teenager: “I was playing in a band with a friend of mine who played drums when I was thirteen years old. I started singing out of necessity, just because I didn't want anyone else to sing. I wasn't very good at playing and singing at the same time, so vocals became the thing I was passionate about. I wouldn't consider myself a 'guitar player' – I'm not Tosin Abasi – but I can play as well as Max can.”
So why is he only just getting around to releasing music he wrote and played? "It's not so much needing an outlet as I like the idea of collaborating and writing with different people," Puciato remarks. "When you put yourself into an environment like that your role changes a little bit, and in Dillinger we already have really defined roles.” He admits that it's nice to be able to flex outside of Dillinger's hyper-technical blueprint. “I'm just constantly creative. I can't switch it off. The Dillinger Escape Plan is such a precise emotion that I need to get out of myself; it's such a violent, aggressive band, and you have to be in a certain headspace to be able to write and perform that kind of music. I have a lot of creativity that isn't necessarily that all the time – if I was that emotional, I'd be fucking dead by now.”
As their initial statement of intent, Killer Be Killed is a fluid work. Album opener Wings Of Feather And Wax screeches into sight with Troy Sanders' freakish bellow accompanying a barrage of aggressive, fast-paced riffs before bursting into a soaring, melodic chorus spearheaded by Puciato. From the extreme roots of Sepultura's speed metal to the oddly accessible heaviness of Mastodon, it's all here, yet the quartet step into the arena with a distinct character of their own. “It wasn't too hard to get everyone on the same page, because we didn't really force anything,” Puciato attests. “We didn't try to appease any particular fanbase, like 'okay, this one needs to have a Dillinger part,' or 'this one needs to have a Mastodon part.' There was no real point for me in doing that, so we just wrote whatever came naturally. The crazy thing was how much people's voices affected what a part sounded like. If Max wrote and played back a riff, I'd be like 'Oh, that sounds like fuckin' Sepultura!', but then Troy would sing over that riff and it'd sound completely different. It was fun to be a part of, being a fan for two thirds of a song, in seeing what other people do differently, and then having to run with the idea for their part. It was a rewarding process.”
Instead of running with the gimmick of 'one song, one singer,' Killer Be Killed decided to do things a bit differently. There was only one exception to the improvisational nature of the recordings: “We established pretty early on that Troy, Max and I would all write and sing on every song – that's the strength of the band, I think.” Puciato unpacks this decision: “I wanted it to be in the spirit of hip-hop or jazz guys deciding to make records together. We were all in the room together at all times – we didn't send files to one another – everyone was running around and jumping into the vocal booth for five minutes to get ideas down. One thing would lead to another. We were spinning off of one another instead of writing separately. Any time we would argue or have any disagreements, it was in a positive way. There was no ego involved.”
Lyrically, each member had free rein. Cavalera's socio-political commentary is fierce as always, whereas Puciato's words come from a different place: “I write very autobiographically, though pretty abstractly. I just start writing, and I almost use it as self-revelation. I'll be like 'Oh, this is what I'm writing about. Why am I writing about that?' and then be like 'Okay, well there must be some kind of unresolved tension and dissonance between myself and that topic'.”
Although comprised of four distinct elements, Puciato confirms that, musically, the group reference the kind of metal music that was an influential common denominator. But one of the most rewarding aspects was the way in which the project brought less obvious ideas to the forefront: “The melody thing was a complete accident,” he claims. “When Max sits down, he basically writes thrash riffs. We call him the Riffpisser – that was his nickname – 'cause he pisses out riffs. [He laughs.] 'Every time you need a riff, just ask the Riffpisser and he'll piss one out for you,' we'd say. Every time you hear Max's parts, you imagine him screaming over it, so when Troy came in and started humming melodies over these riffs, it opened the door up to go pretty much anywhere. I do a bit of everything, Max is pretty much all brutal, and Troy has his one style of singing that doesn't sound like anyone else. I think that made the record a lot more dynamic – it ended up becoming a lot more than just a crossover thrash record.”
It may prove difficult for their schedules to align, but Puciato is adamant that the desire to take Killer Be Killed to a live setting is definitely there. “We definitely decided that we want to play. We have other bands that take up so much of our time – getting people to want to play shows during their week off when they have families and everything else. It'll happen man... just a matter of when and where.” For now, there's ample sustenance to be found on this fully formed debut.