Arranging this interview took a while. I checked – I’ve sent my first message to Ben over a year ago. As you will soon see, he is a very busy man, so our conversation was extremely slow. In a way this situation suited me. Subconsciously I was glad that our interview was constantly postponed. Coming out of your comfort zone is reportedly good, but the thought of talking to Ben Weinman, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s mastermind, made my stomach ache. Eventually I forced myself and my interlocutor to do this… In the end it wasn’t too bad.
I’ve been meaning to talk with you for a long time now. I’ve been following your social media for a long time and I think what you are doing right now is really exciting and impressing! As not everyone is such a stalking master like me, I thought it would be great to talk about everything that you’ve been up to lately. It seems like you are faaar from being retired.
Haha! I’m retired from being on the road for nine months a year.
I gotta say. Your and your wife instagram is one of my favorite places on the internet.
Oooh that’s really sweet! You know, we’re just doing our thing, and everyday is an adventure.
You guys are running sanctuary for rescued animals. I would love to know how did it all happen.
You know… It all happened really fast. I feel like the whole experience from ending The Dillinger Escape Plan to my life right now is really magical. Because it just showed me that if you just open the door for new things, new thing just… present themselves, I guess? To be honest… I wasn’t very happy. I mean I loved playing shows, I loved making music, but being on the road that much didn’t allow me to do anything more in my life. So, whenever I got home from tour, I was very lonely. And even on tours your only existence, your only value was really determinate by how good the show was, how well you played, if people liked your new album. It was all about it, really.
I think that is why a lot of musicians have depression, that is why a lot of musicians have a hard time as they get older and their value changes. It is difficult because you get so stuck with this because you feel duty to your fans, you feel like you have a responsibility to your other band mates and it also becomes your financial need… So I realized we had to stop, otherwise we were going to the point where we would be doing it for the wrong reason. I always felt that if we could make it for twenty years, that would be a huge achievement. I looked at bands that’ve been around for twenty years when I started Dillinger and that was a goal for me.
We announced that we are ending our career as a band in 2016. I had nothing going on. And it was terrifying because I didn’t even know Jen yet, there was no animal sanctuary, there was no other musical endeavors, I didn’t see any other opportunities. But I just knew I need to close that door in order to open new ones.
And that’s what we did. Once we announced that, all kinds of doors started opening. A lot of bands started asking me if I will join them or collaborate with them, an artist that I worked with creatively asked if I will manage her, and then I met Jen, and we pretty much get pregnant within six months knowing each other. All tthese things were unexpected, really.
So to answer your question… [laugh] about the time the last Dillinger show had happened, we already bought a new house, had a baby, moved to new town and had 80 animals!
Typical American family.
Yeah, it goes really fast. We moved because it was closer to Jen’s work. To a house that had a barn with a lot of animals in it. The previous owner supposed to take the animals, but she had a stroke. She was doing her best, but the animals weren’t in a great shape. So she asked if she could leave them for a week or two, and we said yeah. She was coming with her boyfriend to take care of them once a day, and at certain point one week turned into two weeks, two weeks into three weeks and I just started taking care of them myself. We fell in love with them and realized that they needed a lot of attention.
So it all was a coincidence?
Yeah. It just happened.
Beautiful. But now, having all the animals, do you think about it as your mission? To save more animals, to educate other people?
I honestly don’t know. A lot of these sanctuaries you see online are massive operations. I give them so much credit, but for me I find it almost hard to publicize it. Because these animals are such a gift for me. Every day we get a new animal we feel like we shouldn’t take it because you know… my main source of income ended two years ago. [laugh] So everyday I’m trying to figure it out how to gain money without leaving the animals and my family. Which is difficult, because that’s really what I do. I tour, I play shows…
I’ve been trying to create new ways to survive without doing that. So that’s been a challenge! But the animals – they bring me so much peace, they teach me so much about myself. They give me the reason to get out of the studio, and they give me purpose. I don’t worry about too much anymore. I just worry if the baby goats are okay, are the chickens or baby ducks are okay, did the fox killed them, do I need to get out there. That’s what keeps me up at night. Not album sales or new t-shirts you know [laugh] I still work on these stuff because I manage artists and I play with Suicidal Tendencies, but that stuff doesn’t keep me awake at night anymore.
I feel the mission is to figure out how to continue taking care of these animals, raise enough money just to get them a good life. But it’s not the same as the other sanctuaries… to answer your question – everyday I think that we have more animals than we should have, and my wife just keeps rescuing them (day after the interview Ben and Jen rescued two alpacas – editorial note).
Have you watched Tiger King on Netflix? Maybe you should write a country album about your goats.
Oh my god! I was so disappointed when I found out that that guy didn’t really sing! Did you know that? He hired people to record the songs, and he just lip sync it. And I just thought – maan, he would have the Grammy for best country album in his pocket.
Back to serious business – you have a Patreon (link) to help you run the sanctuary.
Yeah. It gives a place for Dillinger fans and it really influences me to make music, to be creative. And it also gives me some money for the animals. The sanctuary cost me almost 40 thousand dollars a year. I haven’t been really putting stuff on Patreon ’cause I feel bad. Nobody can really afford anything right now. It’s a difficult time. Maybe it’s time I’ll make my country album.
About time! Anyways, you released a song with Dimitri [Minikakis – first TDEP singer – editorial note]. Everybody just went crazy about this collaboration. Was that just one time thing or you guys are thinking about releasing something more together?
Yeah, definitely. Dimitri lives in Seattle and I live in New Jersey, so we couldn’t be further apart from each other. We already have some other ideas, and I think once this all die down, we’ll get together and release couple more songs. We are still best friends, it was fun to do that song and the reaction was really cool. I think the only thing that I don’t want to people to think, that this is some kind of replacement for Dillinger. We’re not trying to battle Greg or his projects [laugh]. I think that a lot of people automatically think it’s like some kind of competition to release the music and target it to Dillinger audience. For me it’s just fun and it’s good for the animals, you know. And it’s really great for Dimitri to get out there and sing again.
I think you have to make peace with the though that everyone will look at your or Greg’s project as some kind of replacement for Dillinger.
Heh, yeah. I am just really happy that all the guys from Dillinger are staying creative and doing cool stuff.
Okay, let’s move on. You are still running Party Smasher Inc. and managing Kimbra, right?
Yeah. I work with Kimbra and I started working with an artist called Mrs. Smith. She’s like a grandmother-guitar shredder. It’s an interesting project, she’s this intriguing entertainer, she did some stuff with Metallica etc. It’s just very different. I’m still working with God Mother, we’re working on new EP right now. Party Smasher doesn’t really have a purpose other than supporting interesting things. Sometimes it’s releasing music, sometimes is managing.
Okay. Last thing on the list of your activities: you are playing in Suicidal Tendencies. You were their fan since you were teenager, right?
Yeah. Honestly I had no intention of being in another band. I think Dave Lombardo told Mike Patton they needed a guitar player. Mike mentioned me and Dave was very excited. So Mike wrote me a text and asked if it would be okay to pass my number to the guys from Suicidal Tendencies. And truthfully that was a really important band for me when I was a kid. So I was like ABSOLUTELY! [laugh] I would love to talk to them! I want to see if Mike [Muir – editorial note] is really that crazy!
So he called, and told me: “Look man, I would love to do this, I don’t know if this is something you would do“. I feel passionate about Suicidal Tendencies, I care about the band, I relate to the music ’cause it’s something that influenced me and get me into heavy music. So I certainly could play in this band and believe it, feel it. But I said that I just really can’t be on tour too much anymore. It’s not really my thing: “I’d love to do it, if you need to fill in or something, but if I’d be you I would probably take someone who could do both”. So he said “Let me think about it”. So he came back to me and said: “Regardless I’d like to give it a try”. So I went out and did a week tour in Canada with them.
I met half of the guys on stage at our first show. I never rehearsed with them, so it was really stressful because we did one show that was the entire first album and went out for five days doing a regular set. So I had to learn to play the entire first album and the regular set, which had only two of those songs in it. It was a loooooot of music. I just had to went on stage and do it. We mashed really well. After that week, they did the European tour without me. And after that we did another show or two and Mike said: “Look. I rather do a less shows and have you in the band, than not have you in the band”.
WOW. Are you serious?
Yes! That was a huge honor for me. You know, you just do what’s right with you. I felt like the band was the best that it have been for a long time. Lombardo on drums, me and the guys – I just felt it had this chemistry and energy, so I said: “Let’s make it work”. So that’s what we’re doing!
You should be on your way to your European tour. For obvious reasons this is cancelled. What is your point of view on what is going on in music industry because of covid-19?
I think it’s going to be a really long time before things will be as before. I really feel like this remote kind of collaboration and online concerts – it will continue even after it’s over. Because I feel that people see the value of just staying connected and being productive without being able to travel. But I don’t see anything happening until 2021. And there’s going to be such a huge competition with all the makeup concerts, everyone will try to get the same venues, the same dates, and even then there will be a lot of people who will hesitate to go out and be near each other.
What is a positive in all of this madness is that the whole world has one enemy. In a way that’s almost a nice thing. Everybody has something in common, we are fighting together. But the reality for artists is terrible right now. Everything is wiped out and nobody knows for how long. I think anyway people can support artists, still buy merch online, sign up for virtual concerts they’re doing. It is a really great thing and it is really important.
I read an interview with you from 2018. You said, that the whole goodbye show at Terminal 5 is recorder and that you will release it soon. So, two years later…
It’s all there – It’s just a matter of going through all of it [laugh]! I think the biggest obstacle is getting everybody together to go through Dillinger stuff. The hard stuff for me is that I own the band, I own the name etc. I could continuously put Dillinger stuff out if I wanted to, but I don’t feel like this is the right way to do it. I’d like to make sure everyone feels good about it, that I have everyone’s blessing, I want everybody to be involved, and the truth is that keeping that communication with us living so far away is really hard. Greg lives in totally different world than me, has totally different lifestyle. And now the situation with the social distancing… it is really hard to get everyone on the same page. But eventually we are going to do something with that.
We’ve also been talking about putting out the instrumental version of Dissociation. I’ve been thinking about that because people have asked for that on every album for years, and that’s been always so difficult because of the record labels. And now that I’ve put Dissociation out on my own, it is something I can do easily. So maybe something like that will be coming out, maybe some additional tracks… There will be Dillinger content coming out for sure.
Okay, last question. With all that’s going on do you have time to just listen to music for your entertainment? To discover new stuff?
That’s a great question. I would love to have more time to get to know new music, but It’s tough because the days go so quick. I try to spend as much time as I can with the kids, so by the time I end my work it is hard to do anything for myself, you know. But I really love the new Fiona Apple. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for a long time.
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