On the day of the Warsaw concert, Greg Puciato, Joshua Eustis and Steven Alexander had clearly defined plans: go for pierogis.
In addition to soundcheck and the interview, of course. I was lucky to meet Alex and Josh at the entrance to the Hybrydy club. I asked them where they were going and when we are about to talk. “Greg will answer all your questions,” Josh assured me. However, I had no plans to give up so easily, especially since I had some separate questions for Josh. As it soon turned out, my convincing was equally effective in English and after a quick cigarette we went down to the club together, collecting Greg on the way. It really is an amazing feeling to be able to talk to your idol, and although I was planning otherwise, I started with a trembling voice:
How do you feel returning to the country where you had an accident?
Greg: I am very happy that I came back to Poland. This is not my first time after the accident, we came back to Krakow earlier to finish the tour. I have always loved Poland, my family comes from here, this country is close to me. I remember all the concerts very well and I love to spend time here. That is why it feels strange that Poland has become a synonym for this accident, our problems. I myself do not associate PL with this event, I do not treat my return to this country as a kind of purification or victory. It could happen in any other country.
In many interviews you are asked about this accident. I wondered if this is a topic that haunts you.
That’s true, I’m often asked about it because it’s a very special situation. At the time of this accident, none of us thought about how big the matter would be. Few bands are involved in accidents, but at that moment we were just happy that none of us died … watching it later in the news was very surreal. I remember that the day after the accident, we traveled by taxi. There was a mini TV in the middle of which there were messages and suddenly we saw a video with our bus, some Polish subtitles and among them the name of our team. It was very strange.
I remember that on the day of the accident many of my friends sent me links with news about the accident. It was very surreal to me that you are suddenly in all media.
Yes! The police said that it was just that year there were not many accidents, certainly not on such a scale. That’s why ours was so blown up. You know, they’re full of them in the States. I suspect that in LA alone there are more accidents in one day than here throughout the year. So there, nobody would focus on it or it would be in the news for two seconds
I listened quite carefully to your new album, “Infinite Games”. After the hearing, one word came to me: self-confidence.
Alexander: The first album was a search. We tried to determine in which direction we are going. We knew our strengths and let ourselves be creative. It went much faster than the previous one. Everyone took care of their part and we put together the second album.
Greg: We trusted each other, none of us tried to control the others, no one did take more than he should. We also trusted our destiny – it turned out that if you just let go the steering wheel and get carried away it will turn out good. Half the job is really the trust – you bring something and you know that you will not do anything more and give it to your teammates knowing that they will do something with it that will turn out to be what you were looking for. It takes time to develop such trust. But once you get to this place, self-confidence comes. That’s why you can hear it on this CD. I agree with what you said.
Can you compare the work on the first and second album?
Alex: The first album was created awfully long. Each of us was on the road, busy with other projects. Very rarely we managed to find all three in one room. It took us a lot of time to finish it … about five years?
Josh: We started recording in 2011 and we finished in mid-2015.
Alex: And the album came out in 2016. So this time it went a lot faster …
Were you satisfied with the pieces that were made so long ago?
Alex: Yes! In the end it turned out very well, everything sounded like pieces of the puzzle, which we managed to collect into one whole. It still sounded like a unity, we had no problem connecting these songs.
Josh: From 2011 to 2013, we were constantly working on the skeletal tracks. And we still rejected these ideas. As soon as we finished something, we threw it in the bin, because we did not like it. Over and over – no, no and no. Finally, in 2014, we lived together. (to Alex) – You returned from the NIN route in summer 2014 … So in the autumn we already knew what our direction would be. Then we did huge amount of the work. In fact, it was three months of constant work. When one was sleeping, two were sitting in the studio and vice versa. Non-stop, around the clock.
Alex: The album number two went a lot faster. We were all in the same city, we had a lot of ideas that fit together very well.
Josh: 14 weeks. Much faster.
I hear a lot of Telefon Tel Aviv in the second album.
Yes, for example in the song “Lies About You”. This keyboard sounds very alike to “Birds”.
(shows on Alex) he wrote it!
Alex: Telefon Tel Aviv is a big inspiration for me and Greg, so I’m not surprised that this is on the album. We draw from each other handfuls – sometimes Greg will write something that is “my” melody,
Josh: (laughs) Yes, we’ll all get together.
Greg: We’re our fans.
Alex: But that’s great that you can hear it. It is very interesting.
Greg, does the experience from Dillinger Escape Plan helps in the creative process on working on Black Queen?
Sure, it’s hard not to have experience after working on six albums – I’ve learned a lot. I would never be able to record a Black Queen album, for example in 2001. I grew up in DEP for 17 years. I’m much more mature on this album than on Fever Daydream thanks to Dillinger, you grow every time you record an album. I do not know what to say … of course my strengths here are completely different than on DEP, my role here is completely different. But it’s also the people around me who influence it. With other people you will not repeat the same conversation, you will not get the same energy. That is why external factors are completely different, but I do not think that I am different. My approach to work or writing is the same.
I wanted to ask you about the music scene in LA. King Dude said [read the whole interview] that this is a place where all strange, creative people come. Will you agree with this statement?
Josh: Totally! The LA scene is probably the best scene in North America. It’s real crazy. There is almost every kind of music there – from electronics to experimental music, everything. It’s really amazing. The best part is that everyone knows each other. It’s a huge scene – techno fans go to gothic events, goths go to party events, noise fans go to a techno party … everyone is everywhere. This scene is not divided, it’s all underground.
Alex: You go to a party and it turns out that all your friends are there.
Josh: (laughs) Exactly! Everyone is everywhere! There is a lot of good music in Los Angeles. The metal scene is great, very fertile.
And what about the industrial?
Josh: Of course! Youth Code and the whole new wave of industrial. In addition, Silent Servant, which – in my opinion – is responsible for introducing emb to techno. Nobody did it before! Of course, sometimes Richie Hawtin played Nitzer Ebb but you know what I mean … Vatican Shadow and Silent Servant have introduced a new quality on this stage. Suddenly everyone on the techno stage fell in love with EBM. It spread throughout the world. In parallel to this, Youth Code released their first EP, then they signed a contract with Dais Rec, they started to give a lot of concerts and it was a flash point for the new wave of EBM or industrial.
Do you have any favourite bands in LA?
Josh: Hide. They are fucking awesome. But they are not from LA … but they are really special and sound like no other.
Alex: We played a few gigs with them.
Josh, I did not know you were planning to release something as a Telefon Tel Aviv. Can you say more about it?
Josh: I’m working on it. Honestly, I’ve been working on it for about five years … Somehow, at the time of the Fever Daydream release, I had a ton of material I was constantly working on. I was constantly subtracting something, undressing it for the first part, re-assembling it
Greg: All in all you learn this job anew.
Josh: Yes, I’m working alone for the first time, it’s a completely new reality for me. I use completely different software, different methodology, without my partner … I am taught to work with someone, I have always had a partner. Working alone is like drawing a soul anew.
What made you decide to continue working as a Telefon Tel Aviv?
I thought about it for a long time. In fact, I decided a while ago that I would give up this project, I will not do anything new under this banner. But then I began to wonder if it is okay – to give up without a fight, to assume in advance that I will fail. I guess it’s better to try and lose than not try at all. Then I started working on the music from The Black Queen, from Second Woman and there was more and more material on my disk, which – quite by accident – began to make sense for Telefon Tel Aviv. It was too dark for Black Queen, and not too weird for Second Woman. So yes, it happens.
I keep my fingers crossed and I can not wait. Greg, I read your interview for Revolver Magazine about the fight against depression and panic attacks. Why do you now decide that you want to tell about it?
Greg: Because at last, there was space in my life. For years I have felt a strong detachment from reality. Especially during the tour with Dillinger, in 2015/2016. Nobody knew about it, and every day I had to go out on stage and present this self-confident beast when I did not feel like it at all. It was very strange, I felt farther and farther away from my reality. It was harder for me to function in my private life, I could not gather together as an artist or performer … I felt that people should know the context. I was going through really difficult moments, trying to keep these two parallel lives. I wanted people to know what I meant when I wrote the lyrics, especially on the last album of the Dillinger … they were interpreting them completely wrong. For a long part of my life I thought that people should not be given context to the lyrics. Everyone should have the right to interpret them in their own way. But the last years have been so damn heavy – the Dillngers’ end, the accident … it’s all outgrew me, it really was not good with me.
I just felt … you know, when people ask you “Hey, how are you?”, You can lie to them for a long time, but in the end it has to break. And finally, I asked myself why I just can not answer how it really is. And at some point someone asked me about it, and I just started talking. And I felt really good about it.
It does not mean that I’m in a bad place right now. Actually, now I am in a very good place. I do not feel anything like myself from a year ago. A year ago I had endless panic attacks, phobias, depression … it turned out that it is good to talk about it, open up. The reaction of people turned out to be the biggest surprise. They started to thank for what I said. Fans came up to me, said they understood me, now they see my band completely differently or they read my lyrics differently … and then you realize that this is ok. To show people that you are weak and sensitive is ok. For me it was really great step to admit I’m not strong all the time. Such a platform also changed me creativity, I found that I can show myself on the album as a more sensitive person, less emotionally protected. I believe that if you are honest with yourself and with people, it affects your creative process, your transparency as an artist.
But don’t you think that there’s some kind of a cult of the suffering artist? The more you suffer, the better?
Okay. I do not believe in the suffering artist, but I believe in an artist who finds his way through suffering. I do not believe that you should stay in this state forever. In this case, the artist becomes exaggerated, caricatured. You can not be angry all the time. This is not developing. I’m not interested in it. I do not want to pretend I’m still 22 years old.
People who have not been through depression themselves, panic attacks, etc. They don’t realize that it is not fun. People who use these problems as their artistic trait are scammers. These people want you to believe that they live in endless grief, but usually these people create tragic music or art.
People who suffer from such problems don’t really talk about it … I suspect that there is really no artist in the world who would not have mental problems. But I think you should not stay there, your goal should be to get out of it.
Maybe for you, but for fans… I remember that after the release of one of the last NIN albums, fans wrote that Trent should have depression again, because then he was recording better things.
You know what, when you are addicted or depressed, your pits are really deep and the ups really high. It is a very fertile soil for art, but also a very easy way to commit suicide.
Alex: It’s very destructive.
Greg: Then you’re an asshole for other people, you’re fucking up your own life … I’ve done enough evil. Everyone who has been in such a place knows that it is hard to leave from there, but it is also hard to be there. The point is to be able to find the way to this place when you need it, but you can come back from there anytime. I have learned this, I can find myself in this state, recreate those feelings – depression, terror, rage – but I do not have to stay with them anymore. So the point is really to look after yourself. You will never get rid of it if you have it. It is in you, it grows with you. It’s about the ability to turn it into art, something positive and not letting it eat you. So when people wallow in their misfortune, they cherish their depression – for me it is a fucking facade. Or they just are lazy and do not do what they should – that is, deal with their shit, go to therapy or take medicine … If anyone needs help, he should go for it.
Alex: Artists and fans change, grow up. It’s probably obvious that something you liked when you were 20 years old will not be the same when you’re older.
Greg: But you can still create good art!
Josh: If Trent continued to record songs like Head Like a Hole, it would be as banal as a motherfucker!
Greg: Exactly! The guy is 50 years old. He SHOULD be doing soundtracks.
Josh: He develops, records and produces strange things, his writing is absolutely strange, the choice of instruments is incredibly innovative …
Greg: playing the saxophone …
Josh: He’s incredibly mature.
Greg: He knows he can not do the things he’s already done. I’d rather he start writing children’s books than pretend he’s always pissed off.
More and more musicians are opening up on mental health. What do you think about it?
Greg: that’s needed! See how many suicides it was … Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington… these things are happening all the time, so there has to be something, no matter if we talk about it or not. It is also the abandonment of this false male masculinity…
Alex: … a stigma that you must be strong all the time … but it is impossible.
Josh: This toxic male masculinity is a huge problem in our environment. I see it also in the DJ environment. “Oooo you can not party with big guys.” And now there are more and more female DJs in the environment who are sober, do yoga, sleep before their sets, play shows, and go back to sleep. It seems to me that this is happening. Changes are coming.
Alex: People must be more open about it! Do not answer that they are doing well if they’re not.
Greg: Yes, that’s the worst…
Alex: And sometimes just a conversation can help if someone is in the bad place. It is very important.
Greg: It grows in you and eats you from the inside. It’s very toxic.
Alex: Think about Chris or Chester, maybe if somebody said to them earlier – hey man, I see something is wrong – maybe it would all turn out different?
Speaking of male masculinity… Greg, weren’t you scared how would the Dillinger Escape Plan’ vocalist would be received when he confess that he had panic attacks?
Greg: Yeah! That’s why I kept it to myself for so long. When One Of Us Is The Killer came out I began to feel like I was trapped. Everyone wanted to see me bleeding on the stage, kicking people on their faces, you know what I mean? “Oh man, you have to see this band, their vocalist is fucked up!” And I just thought I could not take it anymore, that I could not be like this all the time. Because I’m not like this all the time… I started this band in such a place emotionally, but with time I grew up out of it, I grew out of this state of mind. So yes, it was terrifying. It was just as frightening to release the first album The Black Queen.
But it soon turned out that my fans are my fans because of my sincerity, and not because I’m a fucking cartoon. So if you have such fans, they will stick with you all the time, until you’re honest. They still have DEP records, concert memories. They can always come back to them. But if you are a real fan of the artist, then you are also a fan of its development. Together with him, you grow. That is why you are able to bear this transformation. Cartoons are for children.
Date of the interview: November 5, 2018
first pic: Steven Odom