Greg Puciato: "We Are The F*cking Sorcerers… And Digital Platforms Are The F*cking Mailman"

Former Dillinger Escape Plan frontman Greg Puciato on album leaks, online middlemen, and the fate of independent artists…

Greg Puciato: "We Are The F*cking Sorcerers… And Digital Platforms Are The F*cking Mailman"
Kiran Acharya
Jim Louvau

Greg Puciato woke up after only a few hours' sleep to discover a year-and-a-half's worth of work undone. A single reviewer shared a link to his debut solo album, the intensely varied 65-minute Child Soldier: Creator Of God, ahead of release. He had to decide what to do.

The first single, Fire For Water, was released in February, setting up a year which should have concluded with Child Soldier tour dates stretching deep into 2021. But with the November release of the second Killer Be Killed album – which sees Greg combine forces with Troy Sanders, Max Cavalera and Ben Koller – he wonders how he would have handled all the work anyway.

"And then there's the fucking Twilight Zone hellscape that we all keep waking up in," he adds. "Jesus fucking Christ. We're coming apart at the seams a little bit over here. I can't imagine being young right now. People must just be like, 'Fuck, man: everyone's crazy.' This world that we're coming into is just a full-on insane asylum…"

With the Child Soldier leak you're rolling with the punches, but what kind of a bruise does it leave?
"I woke up that day and had people texting me that normally don't text me that early, like seven in the morning. I had only been asleep for a few hours at that point. It's like, 'Oh shit, your record leaked! Your record leaked!' I have a friend who works for a company that takes down links and sends DMCA notices. I hit him up and said, 'Hey, can you do me a favour and see how widespread it is?' He's like, 'Yep: I'm on it right away. I'll let you know in 24 hours how out of control it is.'

"The next day I asked, 'How are we looking?' 'Well, we've taken down 147 separate links in the last 24 hours.' Then he goes, 'And that doesn't include things we can't see, like people private messaging one another – which most of your fans are probably doing because they don't want to look like douchebags in public.' I was like, 'Yeah, okay, fuck it.' I hadn't even gotten out of bed. Just went to Bandcamp and hit 'release'."

What positives have you taken from the experience?
"That first day I was like, 'Fuck this, man – I'm never making anything ever again. I just spent the last year and a half working on this, other people are working, and everything's pointing towards this coordinated day. Fuck this guy, I'm not doing this anymore.' I went into a temper tantrum.

"After I got that out of my system, I was like, 'No: I'm fine. We'll see where we are tomorrow.' What I wanted more than anything was for the people that paid for it to have the highest-quality audio. My buddy told me the rip sounded like it was from a stream. We knew within 10 minutes; we traced the reviewer. But after releasing, I felt fucking great. Felt relieved. It just felt good, like 'Okay, it's out into the world.'"

What’s the difference between an album leaking in 2020 and, say, the year 2000?
"My initial thing was that it doesn't hurt me financially, at all, because it's not 2006 as if we're bleeding out iTunes downloads or anything like that. You're not essentially hurting anybody, download-wise or money-wise. You're just being a dick. So to me, I'm like, 'Why? Did you get some cool points? Is it really cool in 2020 to be the guy that pisses all over someone else's hard work? None of it's cool. You got nothing out of it, and now you're probably blacklisted from being able to write.'

"Once we pivoted and released the Bandcamp, I had so many people hitting me up saying how badass it was not give a fuck and take control immediately. And you know what? Let this be an example of being able to adapt quickly. If a road is closed, a road is closed – you can't sit around and holler at the weather. It gave me something else to be fired up about. It doesn't take much. If I just get a little whiff of something that can make me fucking attack…"

Is there anything flattering about the leak and the attendant buzz?
"No. I mean, if someone feels like it's so cool that they have to let everyone know they have the album… they're not even 'providing a service'. I don't wish death upon the guy, but I don't understand the rationale. There's nothing to gain except for being the cool guy on a messageboard or Facebook group for a day. But, again, it ended up turning into a positive. Anything for me to push against. Anything that makes me activate and feel like there's a reason to get fired up is good for me. I get bored easily."

Bandcamp have been waiving fees on Fridays, with direct-to-artist payments. But what's your take on the mechanics of Spotify, with respect to paying artists peanuts?
"Well, I mean, it's not exactly peanuts. It's not as black and white as people say, and I get really annoyed with the idea that Spotify and Apple are these demons luring artists into some kind of feudal system. It's not. They do pay out. The problem with Spotify and Apple is that the way they pay out is incorrect. The model they use is that everybody's money is in this pool. It's as if Justin Bieber gets a percentage of my sales. Right? But it's not actually fair.

"What should happen is when people deliberately play tracks, their money should only be given to those artists. If I do nothing but play an artist for a month, then my 10-dollar subscription money should all go to that artist. They're Congressionally mandated to raise royalty rates, and we do have to hold them accountable, especially because there's no strong unions in music. But we can't gut them, either. You don't want to go back to torrenting. The only reason we got on top of torrenting is that something out-convenienced it. We're not there yet with streaming royalties, but it's not peanuts, man. As someone who releases my own stuff, I tell you, it's not peanuts."

Why has this conversation continued, and the impression stuck?
"Labels are more to blame than ever for maintaining that conversation, because labels are putting artists in deals where they're paying them peanuts from the streaming royalties. If the money was coming straight from Spotify or Apple to the artist, they wouldn't think it was peanuts. If someone like Rhianna uploaded just one of her songs on her own, she could live off of that streaming money for the rest of her life. Just one. And that's at current rates.

"But the problem is that people start conversations where it's 'The Man vs. The Artist'. Tech is inherently neither a good thing nor bad thing, but it needs to be held accountable. It's not just that these companies are replacing downloads; they're kind of replacing radio, the way that people find out about things. It's really tricky, and it's delicate – how do you grow something, and all the artists grow their royalties, without bankrupting the company? If we lose one, another has a monopoly. That's the problem; a nuanced conversation is difficult to have. It's a lot easier to be like, 'Fuck Spotify! They don't pay shit!' Well, yeah, they don't pay shit compared to a CD in 1995, and they don't pay shit compared to Bandcamp, that's for sure. But it's always going to be a struggle."

How do digital streaming platforms affect you with your label, Federal Prisoner?
"When you're dealing with companies that aren't artist-driven, the second you bring in stockholders and the ultimate goal is to increase shareholder value, you have to fucking police those companies. They need to be policed the same way that a Warner Brothers or a Sony would have been policed for royalty rates back in the day.

"Dude, I have friends that are gigantic rock stars that signed contracts in the ’80s and ’90s and got a giant amount of money back then, but their situation wasn't inherently any better than bitching about Spotify today. Once you involve anyone else – whether it's Spotify or a record company or a fucking T-shirt manufacturer – someone is always going to be trying to take some of your money, or position themselves so they can make you reliant upon them in a way that they try to dictate how much of your own money you're getting."

In your statement on the leak, you say the entire music industry has been bought up by people who will never be artists themselves. How can musicians avoid being exploited?
"It takes time. It took me 20 years to get to the point where I have enough strength and enough of a bond with my audience to create a situation where I'm able to to dig in a little bit harder. When you're younger, you don't know anything about anything. You don't know how to make a record, how to get it put out, how to distribute it. Largely, these tech people and record companies – tech is the new record company – they just have capital and knowledge that you don't. You don't care. You're just excited that your record's out and someone else paid for it.

"But you paid for it. It's coming out of decades' worth of your future profits. If someone tells you when you're 21 that you're signing your masters away for 35 years, it seems like an eternity away. So right now, as Federal Prisoner is getting off the ground, I'm becoming more fired up and passionate about not losing artist-owned artist-owned enterprises."

How does the perception of streaming platforms need to change?
"Artists should be having more say and more control. Not just some guy. A person that somehow tries to convince you that you need them is by definition a fucking crook; someone coming to you trying to fucking lie to you, convince you that they are the value, and that you need them. Somehow, the gatekeeper has become more important than the artist, or the gatekeeper has become the person the artist panders to, kisses their ass and acts like they need to fucking beg them for whatever, playlists, like these streaming people pretend are so important.

"They're just a mediator. They provide a service, for us. We're not the 'content' to drive the profit for their shareholders. We are not beholden to them. They are working for us, to deliver what we make, to people. We are the fucking sorcerers, creating something from nothing, and they are the fucking mailman, to get it to the fucking people. They're the fucking mailman, and that's it. We are valuable and the fan is valuable, and they are a fucking go-between. It doesn't mean that they have zero value, but it does mean that they work for us. That's the fucking thing that people need to remember."

It's been implied that musicians and artists need to 'retrain' for whatever jobs are going to be available. How can fans best support artists in this context?
"Well, that's ridiculous. That's obviously ridiculous. One of the most annoying things is that there's zero mainstream conversation about touring industries and artists. People only care whether or not they can go back to bars and restaurants whether sports happen again. Especially here [in the USA], no-one gives a shit as long as basketball and baseball and football are happening.

"People do care; they just aren't talking about it in the mainstream media, so there's no attention being spent on the fact that anyone that tours – not just musicians – but sound guys, lighting technicians, venue people, promoters, booking agents, managers, a fucking Broadway singer: all these things are just bleeding out, and it's going to accelerate the third-world artistic economy more than anywhere else. So these clubs, they're going to close for a month and then Live Nation is going to buy them. We're not going to not have bands anymore, we're just not going to have 80 per cent of them. Most people are going, 'Oh, is Taylor Swift still going on tour? Is U2 still going?' because most people are fucking dumb."

Child Soldier: Creator Of God is out now via Federal Prisoner

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