Dillinger Escape Plan Interview with Liam Wilson
Enjoy a new exclusive interview with Dillinger Escape Plan bassist Liam Wilson as these extreme music pioneers celebrate a fifth full-length effort, One Of Us Is The Killer, which debuted at #25 on the Billboard Top 200 in May to almost universal critical acclaim and is currently available via Sumerian Recordings and DEP‘s own label imprint Party Smasher. It’s been almost two years since we last caught up with Wilson for an in-depth interview. And ff you missed the first, be sure to check it out here.
In this latest chapter, Wilson is kind enough to go in-depth on the band’s writing and recording processes behind One of Us Is The Killer, working with producer Steve Evetts, signing to Sumerian Recordings, gear picks, staying up with new yoga practices and meditation, current music spins, and much, much more!
Without further ado, let’s hear from Liam!
Joshua BTS: Greetings! Thank you for taking a few minutes with Blow The Scene readers from around the world. Let’s kick off this interview by having you introduce yourself and your musical weapon of choice with the indefinable progressive punk unit, The Dillinger Escape Plan.
Liam Wilson: I’m Liam, and I’m the dude on stage left who plays the bass.
Joshua BTS: I’d like to start by honing in on the preparation for your latest LP, One Of Us Is The Killer which was released earlier this year via your own label imprint Party Smasher and Sumerian Recordings. When did the writing sessions first begin for this record? How active are you in the initial development of the song structures?
Liam Wilson: I would guess some of the writing started in 2011. My role has really never been integral to the initial ideas. Because I typically track last, I’m more of a “closer” pitcher, or maybe its better phrased that I’m a lineman more than a quarterback – I’m the guy on the team whose blocking for touchdowns, not throwing them. As far as my parts are concerned, I get a pretty open field to graze in and point all of my energy towards gluing all the parts together in the most objective and song-serving ways I can manage.
Some songs more than others I’ll make suggestions about how we could carve deeper into some of the details. I may bring in a riff that may bridge two parts if Ben is stumped, or recommend extending or changing parts once they’re roughed in, but for the most part, the main structures are already in place by the time I start working out my parts. I think its important – especially for bass players – to suspend disbelief and ego, and know how to stay out of the kitchen when there’s already enough cooks in there – so that’s what I try to do until its my turn to contribute.
Joshua BTS: One Of Us Is The Killer is dare I say DEP‘s most accessible album. Not to say the laser tight polyrhythmic blasts and radiant intricacies are vacant, but there is no doubt a lot more groove-oriented playing on this record than compared to that of your last several releases. Was this a conscious decision or the organic synergy of the jam sessions leading into this recording?
Liam Wilson: Its organic synergy, and a direct reaction to the way previous records were mixed or recorded. As far as the technicality – I still struggle to write and play this stuff, but in different ways than say the Calculating material. I think we have different things to prove to ourselves, and our fans with every new recording. As far as the groove is concerned, my sonic space is definitely more present live than its been on record, and consequently we all wanted to hear more bass on this new recording, so there’s more present in the mix this time through, which adds to the depth and feel of the grooves we write. Most of those kinds of decisions are considered or discussed going into it. Contrary to popular belief, there’s not a ton of group-jamming that goes into our writing process, so I can’t point to that being a factor in the development. Most of this stuff is created in a creative vacuum and shared later as the songs develop more of a stable structure.
Joshua BTS: So while most were enjoying some holiday slumber and festivities last December, DEP was buckled in with longtime producer/engineer Steve Evetts. No question Evetts does a phenomenal job capturing and projecting the DEP sound in all of its finite layers. Has the recording process with Evetts become formulaic? Do you all track separately around a metronomed drum track? Or do you approach each album and/or song uniquely? Are there elements to the recordings where you purposefully challenge yourselves and try to step out of the box? If so- What were some of those specific elements?
Liam Wilson: Because of the nature of our relationship with Steve, any time things start to feel formulaic, either he pushes us or we push him to do things differently. The things that stay the same are the things that work, or the things that have always been inherently unique to our process. We all track separately unless there’s a question about a certain detail in a song. Some songs have a tempo-map, some don’t. We’re not big fans of “quantizing” per se, but some songs do start with a click track for reference and we end up turning it off; others help make more sense of the madness of certain sections with it. There were times where we’d turn off the click just to see how close Billy was, and his internal metronome was so on-point it was downright freakish. In my opinion, we don’t need it, and most of us agree things sound better without one but on the other hand, with all the “ear-candy” electronic elements we add, it makes those extras easier to line up and drop when certain sections are tempo mapped; and that way we can use those same maps to incorporate samples into our live sets for the songs that employ those elements.
Joshua BTS: For Option Paralysis you signed a one record deal with Season Of Mist in conjunction with your own label imprint Party Smasher which we touched on in our last interview in 2011.. This, keeping with the hands-on presence DEP is known for. Based on this most recent experience- How did this affect the way you negotiated your terms with Sumerian? I know you’ve established a fond relationship with Animals As Leaders (also on the Sumerian roster) over the last few years. Did this play into your decision to work with Sumerian?
Liam Wilson: We approached these negotiations in much the same way we approach any negotiations with “outsiders”, and made sure the Party Smasher imprint was a part of the deal. We’ve known Ash Avildson over at Sumerian for a long time, a lot longer than we’ve known any of the Animals As Leaders guys actually, so they didn’t play much of a role in us signing with them – although we did ask their opinions. In this arena, nothing is static, and practices in the industry change almost daily. As a result we tend to sign for one-record deals, sometimes with the option for more if both parties are still interested. We’re always looking for the people who understand what we do, and who don’t want to change it, and who seem to know the best ways to capitalize on our strengths. Ultimately we felt like Sumerian was the best label to take on that role and responsibility for us. They’ve got fresh, modern ideas that we felt like best paralleled our goals and ideas about how to push the band to new and old fans alike.
Sumerian Records are a relatively new label run by a bunch of younger guys we can relate to vs. some old-heads who are too stuck in their ways using dated models that you might find at other “metal” labels.
Joshua BTS: DEP is band that has built a reputation for overcoming what for most bands find insurmountable challenges. And it would seem this current tour cycle is no different seeing Ben Weinman break his hand just as you were about to embark on your Summer 2013 tours. For those just tuning in, Ben had rush surgery done and only missed a few weeks of road time. Your recent performance at Summer Slaughter in Philly didn’t seem to miss a beat though. Will Ben’s hand be a factor moving forward? And were there any other unforeseen challenges that stacked up with this release?
Liam Wilson: I keep telling anyone who will listen “Its not the hour we’re on stage, it’s the 23 it takes us to get there.” Anyone who has tried to form a band, or be in a band can attest to how difficult the whole process can be. You quickly realize its not just about who you know, its also who knows you. Working with other people who are equally driven can be a blessing and curse for numerous reasons. Trying to simultaneously keep egos in check, your personal life and band life balanced, gear working, body in shape, mind clear, crew happy, fans satiated, debts paid, labels on your side and the creative juices flowing is no easy chore — that said, there’s always unforeseen challenges; inter and extra-personal affairs that are working against you at all times…but without those, there may not be any coal to shovel into the fire, and at least as far as I’m concerned, our music probably wouldn’t sound the way it does. In regards to Ben’s hand, I think we’re all surprised at how quickly and seamlessly he healed and transitioned back into the warzone that is a DEP tour cycle. So far, he feels like he hasn’t skipped a beat as far as his playing is concerned – and his doctors recommended playing as therapy anyway…He’ll tell you its his handwriting and penmanship that suffering the most.
Joshua BTS: One thing we touched on in our last interview was the feeling of ‘Touching the bubble’ so to speak- Reaching the height underground status without sacrificing integrity. Now that the release cycle of Option Paralysis is complete- How much room for growth or development as band are you striving for with One Of Us Is The Killer? How does your relationship with Sumerian Recordings tie into these goals?
Liam Wilson: I don’t know if it goes without saying but I don’t think there’s any self-imposed limit on how “big” we want to be. If we can keep making music in an uncompromised way, then I have a perverse interest to see just how big and how far this could go. That goes for any recordings we have made or will make. That said, its really not up to us how fans or the press will react to our music, and if our past is any indication of our future, there truly is a bit of a glass-ceiling to how many fans our music will attract sounding the way we naturally do. The guys over at Sumerian understand who we are, what we’ve been through with other labels, where we’ve “left cards on the table” in our career up to this point, and where opportunities have been squandered or unrealized. They’ve been really open to working closely with us to change that in ways everyone is comfortable with and proud of. The longer we’re on this path, and the more we achieve, the more our goals have to change and our ethics have to adapt to our developing circumstances, and that can be an equally taxing and rewarding process.
Joshua BTS: You’ve been an outspoken vegan for some time now. You are also a proponent for Bikram yoga. You still keeping up with both practices? And have you worked anything new into your wellness regime that is invigorating you currently?
Liam Wilson: I’m still a advocate of veganism and Bikram Yoga, however, over time I’ve developed more of a love of alternate styles and approaches to yoga and a more open-mindedness so as to not turn into an un-relateable vegan “whacktavist”. Bikram was where I got the yoga-bug, so to speak, and I still love Bikram Yoga – especially when traveling around the world and taking classes in other languages, knowing the Bikram sequence makes that easier than more arbitrarily structured yoga classes. A non-Bikram studio opened near where I live, and I’ve been frequenting those classes a lot more recently. I’ve also spent some time at local Muay Thai gym in the neighborhood and I’ve really enjoyed the way that challenged me until touring got in the way of my training. I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation for a few years now and although I think the results are somewhat subtle and elusive, its something I really feel strongly about for reasons I can’t fully explain – and I kinda like it that way. As far as veganism is concerned, my attitudes and opinions about it are in a constant state of flux…and to get into that would be worthy of a whole interview in and of itself…I recently heard someone say “Veganism is a new-wave experiment,” and I couldn’t agree more. Like yoga, I tend to draw from all kinds of dietary approaches and cobble together something from all of them…I think our modern society has as much to learn from Paleo as we do from Raw and Macrobiotic diets. If the whole world were vegan, and everything mass-produced accordingly, I’d wager we’d have a whole new set of problems to deal with – and ultimately overpopulation is a much bigger problem than any of the ones veganism is trying to solve. Balance and flexibility, in both practices, is my primary goals – its not about being the best, or “winning” at yoga or being vegan, and I think a lot of people and organizations are giving good movements a bad name. Its ultimately not who I am or how I would like to be identified publicly, they’re simply some of the things I enjoy and seem to work for me…at least for now.
Joshua BTS: I know you are something of gear head like myself- What’s your current bass rig look like? Any new toys employed during this recording process or subsequent touring that have you stoked?
Liam Wilson: I don’t think all that much has changed since last we visited this topic. I’m still using Zon basses with active Bartolini electronics and some other custom tweaks, Ampeg heads and cabs (my main US head was manufactured around ’72); an Aguilar Tone Hammer; for my US rig I started using a rackmount Sansamp RBI in lieu of the Bass Driver DI pedal – which I’m still using overseas; for extra heavy distortions I’ve messed with stuff from Fuzzrocious, Empress and Dark Glass recently and have found something I love about all of them. I used the A Designs REDDI during the recording of OOUITK, but I was having some issues with feedback when using it live and ultimately decided it wasn’t necessary – usually less is more, and a lot easier to troubleshoot. I’ve been experimenting with stuff from companies like Source Audio, Digitech, Taurus and T.Rex but they don’t always fit what DEP is going for, or seem too fragile for the amount of abuse I’m going to give it. Despite having a relatively simple setup, I’m still chasing gremlins out of my setup all the time…Wireless units and their respective cables that don’t shit the bed under extreme conditions, corrosion as a result of sweat, and moisture in general are my biggest hurdles and haunts at the moment.
Joshua BTS: When you are not busy writing, performing and traveling with DEP– What do your other endeavors look like? Do you have a 9 to 5 or other artistic output.
Liam Wilson: A few years back I bought a fixer-upper house and I spend a lot of time working on getting that up to code.
When I’m not engulfed in that, I moonlight and freelance doing random jobs when I really need extra cash or just really enjoy the experience of whatever job it is that I may be asked to work on. For example, a few years back, because of my woodworking background, I was asked to help with the refurbishing of the worlds largest working musical instrument – the Wannamaker Organ, which happens to be located in Philadelphia. These days I focus more on teaching bass lessons locally and online, which is a skill unto itself.
I’ve been doing more writing assignments, mostly for www.thetalkhouse.com, which is another creative outlet I enjoy, as well as reading, which I can be pretty voracious about if given the time and space. I have other musical projects in the works – one specifically that has most of my non-DEP focus and I think fans of what I’m doing now will probably enjoy – but as of now there’s no name we’ve settled on or material we’re ready to release. Stay tuned.
Joshua BTS: What’s your current playlist look like? What bands/musicians are exciting you these days?
Liam Wilson: It seems like heavier music is getting more interesting again. Bands like Bloodbath, Extol, Gorguts and Deathspell Omega are satisfying the heavier end of my tastes. Otherwise, its bands like Wovenhand, Make Believe, Secret Chiefs 3, Daft Punk, and Thundercat that have kept me the most entertained as of late. I’ve also recently revisited Shudder To Think’s “Pony Express Record,” the first few Van Halen records and Portishead’s 3, amongst many others, and still find them satisfying and fresh.
Joshua BTS: What does DEP have on deck as we head into the latter part of 2013 and into 2014?
Liam Wilson: We’re currently in Europe for the first time on this record cycle, and it feels great to be here. I tend to focus on the places we’ve never been, and this time around we’re playing Zagreb, Croatia, which is something I don’t think my teenage self would’ve ever thought possible. We’ve got some other things in the works for overseas in early 2014, but nothing officially confirmed as of yet. I would really like to see us do more in Southeast Asia and South America. Seeing other bands hit places like China, India and South Africa makes me yearn to get us over there too, so we’ll see.
Joshua BTS: We really appreciate you taking a few minutes with Blow The Scene readers from around the world as we look forward to touching base soon! Any final thoughts?
Joshua BTS: First and foremost, thanks to you, Josh, for hitting me up again for another interview, and supporting me, the DEP, and “the scene” in such a direct and personal way. I always find your interviews insightful and your questions honest. After answering all of your questions, I feel like you’ve touched on, and consequently I’ve attempted to respond what I think the headlines are for each respective topic, which leaves me with little left to say. Thanks again to all our fans as well, I wish there were better ways to show each and every one of you how grateful I am for all the amazing experiences I’ve had as a result of your support. Until next time…
Interview by BTS’s Joshua T. Cohen
More info at DillingerEscapePlan.org
Tags: Aguilar Tone Hammer, Ampeg, Animals As Leaders, Ash Avildsen, Ben Weinman, Bikram Yoga, DEP, Dillinger Escape Plan, Dillinger Escape Plan, Evetts, Liam Wilson, Party Smasher Inc, Sansamp RBI, Steve Evetts, Sumerian, Sumerian Recordings, Sumerian Recordings, Summer Slaughter, Thundercat, Wannamaker Organ