Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato is widely acknowledged as one of the best frontmen in metal right now, if not the single best. Fans will point to his Mike Patton–esque vocal range and his daredevil antics amid the glorious chaos of DEP’s live shows, but really, it all comes down to intensity: few singers live, breathe and often literally bleed their art like he does. Such commitment comes with a price, however. Like an actor losing the line between a role and reality, Puciato found the destructive energy and emotion he tries to exorcise through Dillinger Escape Plan instead boiling over into the rest of his life. That’s when he knew he had to explore another musical avenue.
That avenue is the Black Queen, Puciato’s long-rumored electronic outfit, which also features sometime Nine Inch Nails and Puscifer member Joshua Eustis and former Dillinger, NIN and Kesha tech Steven Alexander. The group has finally released its first single, “The End Where We Start” (check out the song, which is available now on iTunes, and its video below), and is set to drop its debut album, Fever Daydream, this fall. Dillinger Escape Plan have covered many electronic artists since the group’s 1997 formation (Puciato joined in 2001), including Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin and Massive Attack, and fans will no doubt hear echoes of those musicians in the Black Queen. But there are strong R&B strands to the band’s DNA as well: Alexander cites, in particular, the influence of Boys II Men and Janet Jackson production team Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, whose songs, he says, “always sounded aggressive but in a pop radio format.” More than a product of the group’s influences, though, Fever Daydream is an expression of the emotional turmoil that the trio went through while working on it.
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For Puciato, a long simmering desire to make music that isn’t “rooted in aggression” was intensified by the making of what might be Dillinger’s most aggressive record: 2013’s One of Us Is the Killer. The singer describes that album as “the absolute height of toxic energy in me and around me,” and while he thought the experience of “vomiting” out the songs would be a cleansing one, all the hostility and anxiety that were plaguing him quickly returned once the record was completed.
“It is very easy for me to turn into a complete savage,” confesses Puciato in a not particularly shocking admission to anyone who has seen Dillinger Escape Plan live. “I can look around and very quickly want to destroy everything around me. I needed to be able to control that, because I was losing control of that. It was no longer on stage and on record. I had some scares. Some massive panic attacks. Found myself in some situations that I was, in all seriousness, fortunate to come out of alive, or not in jail or in a psych ward,” admits the singer, who lived through a well-publicized psychedelic meltdown in 2012. “I don’t like feeling trapped, or feeling like things in me are trapped. I had these other influences and emotions that were trying to manifest, that I couldn’t fully explore artistically in DEP. . . other deeper things like beauty or sadness or love or lust or hope or depression. . . I feel like I’ve hinted at certain elements in the past that I really got to fully explore, both emotionally and musically, with this release.”
The roots of Fever Daydream stretch back to 2011, when Puciato and Alexander began writing and recording together informally, experimenting with more melodic, shoegazy and dream pop–ish music than the singer’s main band is known for. Then later that year Puciato met Eustis backstage at a Puscifer show. The DEP frontman was already a fan of the multi-instrumentalist’s solo electronic oufit Telefon Tel Aviv, which, he says, “always had this sort of ache about the music, this kind of yearning-in-the-dark quality. . . that I really related to emotionally.” The two hit it off quickly – Eustis, like Puciato, grew up as a metal kid who secretly listened to R&B. (“It was rare to find someone else who I could talk about Death, Leprosy, with as well as a New Edition song,” enthuses the singer.) As it turned out, they also lived not far from each other in L.A. It was only natural that they start making music together, and when they did, the project took on a new life.
“Originally we had envisioned this project being something much more gauzy and probably guitar-oriented, but at some point it just took a left turn and became very electronic,” Eustis says. “I think that’s mostly just playing to our strengths, in all honesty. But the thing to avoid there, that we’ve been conscious of this entire time, was to avoid being comfortable – we needed to take ourselves out of our respective comfort zones and try something exciting that we maybe didn’t fully understand.”
The trio would be taken out of their comfort zones more than just creatively, however. On a personal level, “all three of us hit bottom,” Eustis says bluntly, though he declines to go into specifics.
Puciato alludes to “really heavy relationship transitions” and says that all the band members – who, besides making music together, also moved in together in early 2013 – went nearly or completely broke while working on Fever Daydream. “It was more or less a three-year process of us just propping each other up,” he says. “Dealing with past shit together, depression and anxiety and addiction and love and loss and feeling as high as can be and as low as can be.” According to Puciato, the “really crazy, very visceral rollercoaster of a time period” culminated early this year when the three musicians moved out of their shared place and their fully packed moving truck was stolen. It was found the next day empty.
From losing their material possessions to losing it emotionally, all the tumultuous experiences of the last few years went into Fever Daydream, an album that, the singer says, is more closely tied to his personal life than any other he’s been part of. “The record is meant to kind of be this bizarre dream you slip into and then suddenly come out of,” he explains, “which coincidentally is what all of this ended up feeling like.”
Conspicuously absent from the album’s wide range of emotions is the vein-bulging rage that Puciato is most identified with. For that, he still has Dillinger Escape Plan, who are currently in the midst of a short string of U.S. shows. But he’s eager to bring the Black Queen – which he, Eustis and Alexander see as a full-fledged band, not just a side project – out on the road at some point soon as well. By that time, he hopes, the craziness of the all-too-recent past will feel not only like a bizarre dream but also a faded memory.
“Now it feels like we are emerging from that whole period,” he says of his new band, “and with something that means a lot to us to show for it.”