A Match Thrown On A Gasoline Field: Greg Puciato On Trauma, Dillinger And The Black Queen
Greg Puciato is prepared for battle. The Black Queen have just released their second album, Infinite Games, a record that brings new meaning to the word heavy in its vulnerability, depth, and breadth of expression. But despite the hero’s credit that Greg carries from the nonpareil trajectory of the Dillinger Escape Plan, maintaining a creative life has not been easy.
In an expanded version of the interview that appeared in K!1740, he goes into detail on the toll of working at such a pitch for so long, and includes a long reflection on the emotional, psychic and internal challenges that became unavoidable following the 2017 tour bus crash in Poland which left 13 people injured.
It’s hard to tell whether the work caused the struggle to cope, or whether the struggle resulted in the work. But his hope is that now, openness and candour around his hidden difficulties might help others.
“When it all hits you the realization that you need help is inescapable,” he says below. “It’s almost emotionally overwhelming. At least for me it was, and it was very certain.”
What hit Greg was a storehouse of unresolved trauma that made him almost irreparably reckless. He was in the dark with respect to understanding himself. This led to, amongst others, a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and subsequent medication which is, for the moment, helping. He describes dependencies which have run unchecked, panic attacks on tour and ultimately the necessary decision to seek help.
“I got off of the bus and immediately called someone near where I lived at the time, a therapist, and made an appointment for when I got home,” he says. “It ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever spent money or time on.”
How did you discover a conviction in art, music and performance at nine years of age?
Well, as far as age goes I don’t really perceive time that well. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that it’s a common side effect of ADD, and some other things that are particular to me. The age of nine was pivotal for reasons nobody knows about. I’m not gonna waste time here and bullshit, but I was a gifted kid. I was language and reading and sound gifted, similar to hyperlexia. I was reading real books at two years old – not exaggerating or bragging; just giving context.
With sound, I could mimic things I heard. I heard words like musical instruments. If someone said something with a weird inflection or pattern in a movie, I would remember it. I would remember cadence, rhythm. The rhythms of appliances like washers or dryers or things like turn signals. I could separate what different instruments were doing in songs really young. I couldn’t get enough of words, either written or spoken, or sound. So with all those things having a hold over me, and being a really hyper kid too, music and performance just grabbed me. Especially at that time. Things that were high-energy, and especially things that felt defiant.
How did that epiphany happen in somebody so young?
I know objectively that it’s not normal, but it didn’t seem unusual to me at nine to know what I wanted to do, and I just kinda never stopped doing it. The initial spark has been bearing fruit for a long time now. I can feel it in me even as I’m saying this. I can feel the same thing from nine still there. I see it like this glowing core that stuff is coming out of, and I’m either trying to deal with that stuff or form the stuff into something. Everything is a mix of nature and nurture, and I just had, for whatever reason, a combustible mix.
This also all goes hand in hand with mental – I don’t wanna say ‘illness’ – but being different. Anxiety, ADD, depression, perfectionism, hypochondria, panic disorder, body dysmorphia, delayed sleep phase syndrome, being in regular existential crisis, feeling the void super hard, those sorta things. Oh right: I guess people would call it illness. Well, whatever you want to call it, I always felt all of those things very extremely. Still do at times. Enough so that it’s occasionally a problem, but at least I’ve got them all named and identified, now. I see them. People like that tend to be involved in art or performance of some sort, and gravitate towards it and each other.
Being an only child contributed as well. Spending a lot of time alone. My parents having a toxic relationship, and me being an only child within that. Lots of things I’ve only really publicly touched on through abstract or artistic means. Certainly never really too much literally. All things I never really even started putting together until five years ago. Everything contributes.
I’m not really sitting around listening to those bands too often now, besides the Bad Brains now and then. I obviously appreciate what they all contributed and what they meant to me, but that was a long time ago. It’s like asking what I love about He-Man or The Goonies or something else from my childhood today. Whenever I hear that stuff I love it and it rips for sure, but I don’t deliberately put it on too often. I can say that if it wasn’t for Appetite For Destruction I wouldn’t be talking to you. That album encapsulated the attitude I felt when I heard it. I had so much ‘fuck you’ coming out of me so early on, and that was really the beginning of me hearing something I identified with as far as that attitude. When I saw them play with the largely reunited lineup, at Dodgers Stadium and at the Staples Center, both times made me well up a bit, more because of the between the lines things. Like, fuck, man – I’ve come a long way in some ways, and in some ways I’m still right there, that nine-year-old. Or knowing how much history there is onstage interpersonally and how much they went through behind the scenes to get back out there together again. They’re bonded for life whether they like it or not, you know?
But back to childhood, yeah: they were the attitude. And then …And Justice For All was the beginning of someone relating to bleak cold hopeless depression. If it wasn’t for I Against I by Bad Brains I would have missed a critical step in my vocal evolution. But those bands have honestly become overblown when people talk to me in interviews or what have you. It’s a bizarre focus that keeps me trapped in a false narrative a bit. I mean there’s a lot of records that have been just as equally impactful to me, that are frustratingly never brought up because they’re so far away from rock reference points. I wore Rust In Peace out just as hard. I wore the Baltimore urban music station 92Q out just as hard. The Maxwell record Embrya had just as big of an impact on me. Shout out to Maxwell, a super-huge falsetto influence. Philip Bailey. Russell Thompkins, Jr. Rick James’s performance on Fire and Desire blew my mind, Carl Anderson’s performance in the opening number Heaven On Their Minds from Jesus Christ Superstar had a massive impact on me. Kevin Shields had a massive, massive impact on me. Sade. Hope Sandoval. Keith Jarrett.
Really, everything I’ve ever liked I sort of make a mental impression of. A song or soundtrack or moment from a movie, or the way an entire movie feels, or simply the way an actor feels, the way a writer feels. I’m hypersensitive to the feelings of other people, and to the expressions of those feelings, if they’re pure. I can feel them… and intensely so. Talk to other adult children of alcoholism, or people who experienced any sort of parentification, and they’ll understand, particularly only children.
All of those things, those receptions, keep happening now. I never closed up. I’m pretty raw, really receptive to things coming in and unable to stop things from coming out. I’m aware of that and I protect it all, for reasons of artistic sensitivity and for reasons of empathy, but I also try to protect myself from it at times, and the side effects of being that way, to try and avoid misplaced guilt, or feeling responsible for problems that aren’t mine. I can feel emotion in people the way an insect can feel the air move in a room. I bring this stuff up because there’s so many equally important things, in my trajectory, as far as influence, and there’s been a sorta distorted narrow picture painted and perpetuated by lazy journalism.
You recorded your first cassette at 13 years of age. What did the music consist of?
It’s funny you ask, because I just got access to that stuff after not having it for years, and I completely lost my mind. Me and my childhood best friend were born 11 days apart. We started playing together early. He played drums, I played guitar, we both screamed or sang at times. The second we wrote one thing that wasn’t someone else’s song, that was it, game over. That’s all we did. Nonstop. We went from barely being able to play, jamming on the Breeders’ Last Splash and For Whom The Bell Tolls and Nirvana to a pretty ripping thrash/grunge duo writing original songs within a season. Again, if it’s not obvious, all times are basically the same to me. I don’t feel any further from that than I do from Dillinger. There’s some fucking legit riffs in those songs, man. I’d fucking rip ’em apart and use some of them now no questions asked, but I’d never disrespect our stuff like that. That stays intact.
Can you describe your childhood? What is your experience of poverty, if any?
You’re asking me a question here that if you knew me, would know would take a really long time to answer. The childhood question… that’s a lot to unpack. Especially if we’re talking about concepts, not just surface-level facts. There’s just too much to go into without marginalizing things. I lived in a neighborhood that up until a few years ago you could still buy a house in for $25,000. I didn’t know that was poverty, though. I was just a kid. I had no reference point. I ate at a restaurant maybe once a year. Heard gunshots outside my bedroom window regularly. Had to clean glass and the occasional hypodermic needle off of the basketball court before we could play sometimes. Had to be mindful of the opposing neighborhood ‘white van’ that would roll around packed with kids ready to jump out and start gang fights.
But I mean look, that’s Baltimore. It’s a fucking warzone there, still. The last time I went back to my childhood neighborhood, I couldn’t drive down the street because of cop cars, and someone had literally just been shot to death half a block from where I lived. It is what it is. You start to wear that shit like a badge. “My place is harder than yours”, “You’re soft”. Then you get what I call ‘hood guilt’. For succeeding.
That’s the worst part of being from an area like that. Really it’s twofold: first, you develop such a tough exterior, a walking attitude. You become a fortress. Your face changes. Your expressions. Your walk. Your temper. That takes a long time to realize you have, and it takes a long time to chip away at, and the gag reflex to getting rid of that never really completely goes away.
The second part is hood guilt. Similar to what we refer to as ‘punk rock guilt’, but worse. Guilt you feel for succeeding, or even for striving to actualize. You kinda just need to throw off a vibe of “I don’t give a fuck. I don’t care about shit, I don’t need to do shit, I don’t try at anything – I’m just here, fuck you – everyone can fuck off”, at all times. For your own protection. If you start trying to leave people, it throws their own shit in their face, their own inadequacies, their own lack of try, their own failed dreams. They don’t like that. Don’t ever, ever be better than anyone at anything. “Don’t you ever try to be more than you were destined for… or anything worth fighting for.” Those things chase after you for a long time until you break free from them, and then you just need to own yourself and your future and run as fast and as far as you can. I fought against those demons for a long time, and still do. Imaginary enemies, imaginary judgments. People that actually don’t exist now.
I tell you what, though, I don’t regret any of that. It made me exactly who I am, all of it, and a lot of things I haven’t gone into, and even if I’m not always happy or I’m ‘crazy’ or I’m dealing with shit internally, I am who I am because of everything. Just as you are who you are. And I feel blessed overall, no question. You change one thing in my upbringing or my chemical balance or genes or neurotransmitters and maybe I’m a janitor, maybe I’m a doctor, maybe I’m in jail, maybe I’ve killed myself, maybe I happily have a family and a nine-to-five. None of those are right or wrong ways, and they all happen. This set of variables is mine and I’m happy with it.
How do you describe your current relationship with the Dillinger albums?
It’s pretty vague – I don’t remember recording anything I’ve ever done, really. There might be a smear of a memory here and there. I don’t remember that earlier 13-year-old demo tape getting made, either. I can see the four-track on the floor of my friend’s basement and that’s about it. When I’m in a creative or performance flow I really don’t remember much of it afterwards, even if it’s a long chunk of time. It’s prolonged hyperfocus, if you know about ADD at all. I don’t remember much from creating, I don’t remember much from performing. Just a snapshot here and there, a smear, a blur. I obviously know that they were made, the albums, and sometimes that’s jarring. I have to remind myself. I don’t really even remember writing or recording Infinite Games that well, and that just happened. I wish I could, because then I’d be able to hold onto them all more, or feel more integrated with my life. But I don’t. I’m happy to have gotten them out of me, I’m happy that other people have them and relate to them and enjoy them. I’m grateful to them for propelling my life.
Which vocal injuries have you sustained over the years, and how have you healed?
Miraculously, none. I was blessed with really elastic vocal cords, and really strong vocal cords. One in particular is stronger than the other, if you wanna really get specific. I take care of myself now. I didn’t used to. I drink a lot of water. I used to rely really heavily on anti-inflammatories on tour, I don’t anymore. I just treat myself with more care. I don’t get fucked up all of the time.
If I’m really damaged and the show must go on I’ll take some prescribed prednisone anti-inflammatories. Whatever, I’m not gonna lie about it. It’s pretty standard to do at a certain point, in everything from theatre to pop music. They’ve got their downsides but mostly they’re a godsend when used sparingly and in dire need. You do what you gotta do. I was dimed to my fucking eyelids on the stuff at the final Dillinger shows just out of precaution. Right now my voice is in the best shape it’s ever been in, though. I have the most control I’ve ever had over it, and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been. I’m lucky to have escaped unscathed from 17 years of regularly screaming like a man on fire, and from other things as well.
Do you feel physically worn when performing?
Not really, honestly. There have been times, but usually it’s because of things bothering me offstage that are carrying over onto the stage. Stress or anxiety or panic or what have you, exhausting me for some other reason. I’m in far better shape now than I was at 21, than I was even a few years ago. I could rip the living shit out of a place at any time still now. If the Dillinger drumstick count-off started in five minutes I’d be ready. I’m speaking in purely physical terms obviously. Physical conditioning isn’t a factor for me whatsoever in why Dillinger is done.
How important is physical fitness in your life?
I’m insane about reaching my potential at everything that I do, if it contributes to my passion or chosen pursuit in some way. One thing I really, really do not like is the idea of calling on my body to do something and having it not be ready. So because of that, hilariously, I’m probably in the best conditioning of my life right now to do something like play Dillinger shows, and I don’t really even need to be. I do so much and so many forms of cardio to such an insane unnecessary degree.
Does physical fitness relate to good mental health?
It absolutely relates to mental health for me. It’s a definite battle. I have a weird double-edged sword relationship with mental health as it pertains to fitness. I use things like cardio to skim the top off of anxiety. I have so much energy as a person, if I don’t hit my absolute maximum threshold, my maximum exertion level, in some way, at least like four or five times a week or so, I’ll get mood swingy or feel the panic disorder growing. Or the body dysmorphia, or the hypochondria. Mutations of anxiety. It also helps me to not feel chemical tour withdrawal too much, because for 17 years nearly every night on tour I expelled a small nuclear reactor’s worth of energy.
Photo: Jen Reightley
What is your experience with ADD?
Oh man, this could really be a long answer. Fuck it, let’s dive in. It took me a really long time to get to the ADD diagnosis, which is insane, because now it’s clear that it was right there all along. I was off thinking it was god knows what: schizophrenia, bipolar, borderline. You name it, I looked into it. I just couldn’t fucking figure it out. There’ve been times I’ve just felt completely fucking crazy and appeared fine, or on the flipside, felt totally fine but know that something I’m doing or saying is objectively fucking crazy.
So I’ve been trying, since 2009 really, to kinda get to the bottom of it. I’m completely owning of it now, though, the ADD thing. I’m fucking beyond happy to have gotten that part of it figured out. But ADD is just one of a lot of things that I deal with.
Have you ever resisted the label?
I will say that medically treating the ADD helps take the edge off of the other stuff, it really does. As does being away from toxic environments, as does therapy, digging up and processing and working through things, all of that. Medically, I’ve been on Adderall XR for a couple of months now. Again, not bullshitting you. No point. Who cares. I’ve been prescribed Lexapro, wouldn’t take it. Xanax, etc. But yeah, Adderall has really helped, so far at least, because the depressions aren’t as severe, the impulses to try and fill those holes aren’t as severe, and I’m having a way easier time with impulse control.
Oddly, the second you talk about pharmaceuticals people make their judgments on whether something is good for you or not. But isn’t it better to get a baseline of dopamine in your brain that way than wanting to stuff powder laced with whatever up your nose, or get regularly fucked up out of your mind? Or stay trapped in self-destructive habits or patterns? It’s new to me to be on medication, but I’m into it so far. It’s helping me at the moment. I’m not sure yet if I’ll stay on. If I feel like my emotions or sensitivities are getting too blunted I’ll come off, or maybe come off selectively for creative purposes. Right now though, at this particular general moment, it’s helping to make life refreshingly and consistently not just tolerable but livable and enjoyable, which is a nice break.
In the past I was pretty reckless with my coping mechanisms and completely in the dark as to my understanding of myself and how I felt and why. Not just chemically but because of experiences and whatnot too; things I was reacting against, or being negatively fueled by. I didn’t even start to begin to understand myself until 2013. That was the line. Before that, I was just getting more and more reckless, my impulse control became nearly non-existent, I was so extremely and easily emotionally triggered by so many things. I just swung really wildly from emotional and energy extremes. I had some… overdoses, with drugs, to put it bluntly, and some other really extreme experiences that could have left me or someone I loved dead, or in jail, or in a psych ward. It was getting to the point where those things were becoming actual valid concerns. My highs and lows were as extreme as a person could experience, and my chasing of those highs was only equaled by the depth of the lows that I was trying to counteract. The time period directly preceding that point sorta ended in relentless panic attacks, and PTSD-related symptoms. That was when I started to get help. When it all hits you the realization that you need help is inescapable. It’s almost emotionally overwhelming. At least, for me it was, and it was very certain.
I was on tour, and I woke up, into a panic attack. I was experiencing a lot of dissociation at the time, sometimes I would be unaware if I was alive or dead. I would really have to be convinced. Weird shit like that. Insane intrusive thoughts. Massive amounts of panic and dread for no apparent reason. Like something horrible was about to happen, or that it just happened and I was unaware of it. And this happened regularly. One time it just got too bad, and I had to get off of the bus at a truck stop to try and walk it off. It happened so much around that time that there were running jokes about it. Jokes that I was completely participatory in, hoping that would help me. I thought maybe I was losing my mind. But anyhow, I got off of the bus and immediately called someone near where I lived at the time, a therapist, and made an appointment for when I got home. It ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever spent money or time on.
One Of Us Is The Killer was the cusp of that time. Fever Daydream was sort of the aftermath. I thought I had everything licked and was in this sorta rebirth period. By Dissociation, it had all started back up again, and the anxiety had some new interesting tics to it, and reasons, and unresolved things, and there were some new triggers and major events that really set it all off again. Everything kinda came back in new mutated forms. I was using old coping mechanisms again pretty heavily, just not as extremely and not as obviously, because I already knew better at that point than to go too far. But yeah, the panic-hypochondria level began to reach a new really surreal point. Those three records, and Infinite Games, it’s all really one thing to me. For me, thematically, the lyrics, the titles and the moods are all related, and in sequence, and pretty directly soundtracked my life behind the scenes as far as being a real-time mental narrative. In hindsight I can very clearly see the beginning and end of a large time period, starting with One Of Us Is The Killer and ending with Infinite Games.
But yeah, OK: the Dissociation cycle… I started that basically in that raw state, coming right out of the recording, which is by far the most depressing record I could ever imagine writing. It’s hard for me to even read those lyrics or hear that record. It sounds like how I felt. It reads like how I felt. There’s just so much in there. I scraped the absolute inner bottom of my gut, the lining of the walls were under my fingernails. I got to some real and true core and dredged a lot of it up and held it in front of me. It’s more or less a furious lamentation. A mix of frustration, and mourning, and reflection. Then I had to immediately tour.
I just wasn’t mentally able to handle performing on command in that mindset, and with the band ending too. I felt like I was in a minefield, and on edge at all times. There were a few times I had small panic attacks onstage, a few that were so bad that I had to leave and come back. I wasn’t present for a lot of that cycle. I felt like a leaf dangling at the edge of a branch, ready to separate and fall. I was just dealing with too much internally. My sense of identity was really splintered because I had gone backwards and altered my opinions and understandings of so many things that had happened in my life, and when you do that it changes all of the subsequent consequential things that came afterwards too. So I didn’t understand anything around me at the time. I didn’t understand how I felt about it all. The songs felt different to me. It felt strange to be going through so much with nobody knowing, and having to keep emotionally connecting with songs and lyrics and emotions that were hard for me while people were amped on those things.
Of course, I experience nightmares and recurring dreams. Right now I’m in a good stretch though. This whole year has been pretty fucking good. This is without question the healthiest I’ve ever been as an adult, both mentally and physically, probably the true best I’ve felt in as long as I can remember, or at least one of the better stretches.
In 2017 Dillinger experienced a bus crash in Poland which injured 13 people. Ben was lying next to his pregnant wife and mercifully avoided injury. What have you learned from the accident?
So, a few days prior to the bus accident, I had hit a pretty good clearing, a good breakthrough where the panic and anxieties, the feelings of being dissociated, didn’t have as big of a hold on me. I was actually enjoying the shows, the way I used to before everything got too heavy.
I remember before one show, a show or two before the accident, I smoked some weed with Liam beforehand and it hit me so hard that I didn’t think I was even going to be able to tie my shoes to go onstage. If you get high at all, then you know that if you get too high there’s really no way out but through, so I just figured ‘Fuck it. Here we go.’ I didn’t expect to even remember the words. It was completely overwhelming just to see people in the room, and then suddenly it was just fun and free and I kinda performed without caring about the words, just spit them out as if they were nothing, and that felt good, just to vibe with the positive energy of the people in the room. So I figured from here on out I’m not gonna be so internal — I’m just gonna have fun with this, I need to view these shows as celebrations, not catharsis, not feeling guilty of fraud if I don’t connect to the emotions of the song every night. That night felt like a big breakthrough, like the rest of the tour was gonna be fine.
I woke up in the bus and felt that we were stopped. I was the only one awake. I felt cars going past us. I got up and went to the bathroom, saw that we were on the side of the road. I didn’t notice that we were on the actual road. I didn’t see the driver, and figured it was being handled. Maybe a flat tire. I was a little worried, but that kinda shit happens. Went back to bed. Got an overwhelming feeling of something being wrong. Couldn’t sleep. Cars kept coming by too close, so close that the bus would shake. I wrote about it quickly in the notepad of my phone, because I write all of the time. I was writing a ton on that tour, more than ever. Writing and taking pictures, because creativity helps me. Anxiety and depression has a way of making you need that outlet more, if that’s one of your coping mechanisms. I wrote 100,000 words on that album’s tour cycle, took thousands of pictures. So I wrote about it, I wrote about worrying about being ripped apart, and doing that helped me to stop worrying about it actually happening. I took a sleeping pill called doxylamine.
The next thing that happened was me waking up less than an hour later to the sound and sensation that I can only describe as being hit by a missile. I instantly had a searing pain in my leg. I thought I broke my femur. I tore a quadricep. And then it was sort of a slow motion blur. I was the first person to stand up, in the bunk area at least. Ben and Jen were in the back. People were yelling and there was still a lot of accident-related sound. Then it was just a blur of stretchers and medics and people speaking Polish on the bus and ambulances and a helicopter. News vans. Being on the sleeping pill obviously didn’t help because I was sort of in a waking dream state anyway. Then there’s a visual of being outside in the freezing cold with Liam and a ton of police and medics, not wanting to leave the bus because we didn’t want our stuff to get stolen. Random people were beginning to circle.
I remember being in a cab later that day, Liam and I, and they had the radio on, but also a TV on mute in the dashboard that displayed video news headlines. Suddenly we were looking at footage and a headline ‘Dillinger Escape Plan In Bus Accident’, in Polish obviously, and at the same time the Dirty Dancing song I Had the Time of My Life started playing in the cab. Liam and I just looked at each other and started laughing and crying at the same time. It was as symbolic of literally everything as a moment could be.
Did the bus accident lead to any insights or conclusions that have a bearing on the present day?
That accident made all of the existing panic disorder and hypochondria completely worse. It was like a match got thrown on a gasoline field. That night I couldn’t deal, I drank maybe the most I had drank in years – I drank every single drop from the hotel minibar, straight out of the little bottles.
We went home and my panic attacks and hypochondria were just reaching an almost unlivable point. It wasn’t just a daily worry or struggle or sensation. It was the complete behind-the-scenes main thing happening in my life. It might not make sense, if I don’t go into another thing that nobody knows, that I didn’t know I was avoiding all this time, which was a truck accident that happened the day before my ninth birthday.
I was hit by a truck, in the face by the front grill, and was knocked unconscious for the greater part of a full 24-hour day. I came to for a split second in the ambulance, told my mother to tell people I loved them if I died. I have a vague memory of that which has been confirmed, and then I woke up on my birthday, the next day, and sat up and threw up blood and had no idea why I was there or what happened. I ended up just being happy to be off school for a couple of weeks. I never thought twice about it. I went my whole life never thinking about it.
A handful of years ago, I had some experiences involving losing consciousness, or extreme dissociation, de-realization – some of which were those overdoses that I told you about, that kicked the fucking door down to whatever mental room I had put that accident in. When you’re a kid, you aren’t able to handle trauma like that too easily, so you compartmentalize it. I was storing it up. When I had these other things happen, it triggered this massive amount of panic in me related to police, ambulances, something bad happening. I would feel so sure that something awful happened that involved injury that I would literally ask people around me.
I would wake up out of bed into it. Everything just began to feel like a dream at all times, with a looming dread sensation in the background for no reason. I began to think of the truck accident a lot. For the first time in 25 years or so. And then it started to come together. That a link had been formed. You put that together with having little control over your environment growing up, your surroundings, and you develop these freakish control mechanisms, safe zones within yourself. I had built of a lot of walls to protect myself. Intimacy walls, physical shells. I spent a lot of time getting past those things, through therapy etc, in 2013-2014. And then a lot of things aggressively re-aggravated them, the bus accident being a really direct and major one. I ended up being prescribed twice-a-day Xanax, which should be illegal to give to people on anything other than an emergency need basis, and got back in therapy.
Soon after that, Cornell killing himself while we were on tour with Soundgarden was the fucking final tipping point. The combo of that happening, and knowing that he was a person that dealt with mental health issues, and addictions, the subtext of that, the bleak outlook for the future… if even he couldn’t make it… It just completely shut me down. I had a complete meltdown of hope. I was as raw by that point as a person could feel.
By the time we got to Download Fest I was having mini-withdrawals from the Xanax constantly, which basically feels like sheer terror. I was having massive panic attacks in between doses. They were outpowering the Xanax. I would stay in bed a lot of the time, unable to go far, out of fear of one happening, just writing and listening to music or meditation apps in headphones. My system felt as fragile as I’ve ever felt in life, all of the time. Before we went onstage at Download I had to have three Xanax just to get me out of a big attack. I had an incredible amount of energy at that show and it was one of my favorites of the tour, and that was on three Xanax, that’s how dysregulated and loose and fast my central nervous system was running. I ended up choosing to taper off of them on tour, which was a delicate process and filled with horrifying ups and downs.
You ask if there are insights, conclusions, things I’ve learned, from the accident. Obviously and clearly. Nothing I can give bulletpoints of. I’m telling you all this depth because the answers to your questions aren’t simple. It’s been very disorienting to go through all of this completely behind the scenes. I’m only talking about this all now so that I don’t feel so disconnected. So the public me doesn’t feel so disconnected with the reality of the last handful of years. It gives context to a lot of the content of the releases, and maybe it can help some people who struggle with certain things to not feel alone. It all feels really far away from me at the moment, because I haven’t felt any of that this year, thankfully. Like I said, I’m in a good stretch right now. Otherwise, the accident gave me the typical takeaways. Don’t take time and people and health and life for granted.
Do you have a morning routine which sets you up for a good day?
This year I’ve been more routine than ever because I’ve been home for longer than I’ve been in a long time, and the routine has been health-focused. Unless some sort of creative idea gets in the way of this routine, I basically have an A routine and a B routine. The A routine, is wake up, shower, smoothie and coffee. Drink them, take a bunch of pills and vitamins, get started on the day. The smoothie and coffee are the fucking highlight days for me, haha! If I get those going right away I’m pretty good, barring some unforeseen disaster. The B routine is wake up, and immediately run two miles outside. Come home; shower, eat, get started. Unfortunately because of my schedule this is usually the early afternoon routine, not the morning routine. I wish it was a morning routine, but that’s really tough for me. I may only wake up in the actual morning 50 days out of the year. And that’s being extremely generous.
For the first time, Dillinger recorded more material than needed for the final album, Dissociation. How would you describe the unreleased songs?
I never wrote vocals to them. They were just leftover instrumental things. I don’t think of it as a big deal. There’s a ton of Black Queen shit we never used, there’s a ton of Black Queen shit we’ve fully deleted. There’s a fuck-ton of lyrics I’ve scrapped and re-wrote as far as Dillinger goes. That doesn’t mean people need to hear the stuff that didn’t get used. I don’t consider there to be anything unreleased. It’s just stuff we didn’t use. Just like a bunch of lyrics I deleted and re-wrote. I don’t consider the earlier discarded lyrics to be ‘unreleased’. That’s my opinion of it, at least. That’s a weird mentality to me. If you’re chipping away at a block of wood or ice to make a sculpture, that other ice or wood isn’t some unreleased part of the sculpture, it just didn’t get used. I don’t think you need to release every single thing you write. Once I don’t use something it’s gone to me. I don’t save anything once I decide not to use it. Delete that. Delete those lyrics. Delete that vocal take. Delete that file. Not archive. Delete.
Can you describe the conclusion of the New York Dillinger shows?
Again, as usual, I don’t remember them too much. Only that I was really really perfectionistic and focused. I was breathing steam out of a mask for hours every day, I warmed up forever, I was doing shit-tons of cardio before those shows to get ready. My biggest fear in the world was that somehow the last show would be a bad show, and that then I’d have to be like ‘No! We’re playing another!’ Ha. The shows were fun. I had fun, I know that. I felt good about how we sounded, how I sounded, how I felt. I could do better though, but I wouldn’t try. It wouldn’t be the same. But I’ve grown from them, I know I’m better, and could do better. I mean, you’re talking to a fucking obsessive perfectionistic crazy person here.
When do you feel most free in your life? Is freedom something you pursue?
When I’m present in some sort of millisecond to millisecond way. When I’m traveling. When I’m in a hotel in a foreign city. When I’m walking around that city by myself taking pictures of things. When I’m working on a song, completely engrossed, or tracking it, and really on my game. When I’m onstage and you and your bandmates are really hitting some sort of moment, something transcendent. When I’m having an incredible time with another person or people in a way that you completely lose track of time or surroundings. When I’m awake by myself or with one other person, riding down the highway on tour. If I’m driving solo through the middle of nowhere blasting music without anyone else with me to give a shit or share their opinion on it. Those are really the things that keep me living. Just getting that feeling one more time. Being outside doing something without a phone. Going out and operating without a plan, if even for a day. Is it something I pursue? It’s something I absolutely passionately pursue and viciously protect.
If you could send one message to every smartphone in the world right now, what would it be and why?
‘I love you’. What else could it be? Without any knowledge of who it’s from, or why. That’s something that everyone could use more of hearing, whether it’s from someone else’s voice, your own voice, or even your own inner voice.
WORDS: Kiran Acharya
MAIN PHOTO: Stephen Odom
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