Intense, energetic, and unafraid to take on the conventions of what it means to be a ‘frontman’, Greg Puciato is best known as the face and lead singer of the much adored metal group Dillinger Escape Plan. While he’s been involved with the supergroup Killer Be Killed, (alongside members of Converge, Mastodon and Soulfly), it’s Greg’s latest project, The Black Queen, that has begun to turn heads.
Stepping into the realm of gothy, synth-driven electronic pop, The Black Queen is releasing their debut album Fever Daydream on January 29th (pre-order it on iTunes here!). Puciato got together with Joshua Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv, Puscifer, Nine Inch Nails) and Steven Alexander, and the trio began releasing music in 2105, offering fans a limited 12″ run of their first single, “The End Where We Start“.
Greg was kind enough to catch up with us to talk about Fever Daydream and so much more. It’s a longer one, but whether you’re a fan or an indie artist, it’s well worth the read:
Back in 2001, you went from fan to front man. As your career has evolved over the past 15 years, how has that history affected the way you connect with fans of your own?
Greg Puciato: Well I don’t know how much that has to do with this, or more because I was raised in really meager surroundings, but I never view the artist/fan relationship as some sort of hierarchy. I know it’s cliché to say, but we’re all human beings you know? Born with the same innate dignity. I have never felt entitled. Aware of protecting and nurturing what I value about myself, yes, but not entitled to any sort of special attention from others. I mainly feel acutely aware of wanting to connect with people, to reach from your innermost abstract being to theirs, a direct line, as a person and not a thing or a product, and to never treat people as below you just because they appreciate what you do or pay to see you.
To me art is a universal language to do that with. The people who have somehow found the other end of that connection….how do I say this…if you are putting something out there…you’re sending a signal out into the abyss. It’s like looking for aliens in space…if space was crowded with tons of other aliens all putting out their own individual signals too. So for someone to find your particular signal, in all the ones that are out there, and resonate with it, enough that they choose to respond to it…and then to go one step further and to pay long term attention so they’ll know when you put a new signal out? That’s incredible. It’s beyond an honor. This is the way I communicate, I didn’t really ask to communicate this way, it just always felt good to me. Made sense to me. I was never someone who practiced playing or singing other peoples’ music too much. From the second I could put two notes together or some words or a rhythm, I only really cared about outputting my signal, not replicating, so yeah…again…it’s just incredible that there are people who respond. Sorry I’m kinda off topic. ADD. Comes with the territory.
But I stay fans of people. I geek over people all of the time. Both big artists and niche artists that few people have heard of alike. So again, fan…artist…it’s best to make an effort to make sure you are nurturing both sides of yourself. I’m sure most people who care about things I’m involved in can do something that would blow my mind that I have no idea how to do and no skill at at all.
How did you originally link up with Joshua Eustis? Was the original goal to create new music?
Well this band started with Steve and I. It’s three of us, and Steve and I were already making the earliest crudest demos when we met Josh. Dillinger was on tour, we were in Denver, and Josh, who was in Puscifer at the time, was also on tour and they had a day off.
A bunch of them came to the show, we met backstage, exchanged pleasantries and so forth. I went out to the bus and was texting with Steve, and he said, “Oh that’s Josh from Telefon Tel Aviv”. Steve and I were both big fans of their music, I had actually been playing their latest record Immolate Yourself quite a bit at that time, and so I went back into the venue and re-introduced myself. We got along really well. People use the word ‘bro-mance’ so much…what’s it called when you have, like, an instant bro-mance? Like the friend version of love at first sight? Bud at first sight? Hetero-crush? I dunno. But yeah we discovered we both lived in LA, we were fans of each other, we knew some of the same people. It made sense to start hanging out.
Him being involved just came really naturally when the three of us started to hang out a bit. The cultural and musical influences all lined up uncannily well.
How would you describe the collaboration? What are some shared similarities in terms of creating music, and where do you feel you’ve learned from one another?
Well Josh is a scientist. He’s really really micro. He zooms way the f–k in. Just sub atomic levels of detail with what he does. I’m a lot more macro. I see things in big pieces, I move really fast, very instinctive, Josh is slower, really meticulous. We need both, and people’s strengths are most often the flip sides of their “weaknesses”. And if you go further with that, usually what you are perceiving as a weakness you really are just misinterpreting and it’s actually just a difference. People can be threatened by difference.
But if you are just looking for someone to have the same skill set as you, and you criticize someone with a workflow different to yours, you’re going the wrong way. Our musical similarities come mostly from our references. We have, like I said earlier, a really similar set of root level childhood influences. We aren’t the same personality-wise at all, and like I said he is more zoomed in and I’m bigger picture, as far as song writing and construction goes. But we’ve pulled each other a little closer towards the other’s direction over time…shown each other the benefits of the other side.
Steve is kinda the glue between the two, he’s sort of the free roamer who can speak both languages pretty well, the translator if we’re having a hard time figuring the other one out. He also has a way of Brian Eno-ing everyone in the band, getting us to look at things from different perspectives. His brain probably has psychedelic moss growing on it. Somehow all of the roles came together pretty smoothly and really work in tandem. If we were all only a couple of years younger in our development it probably wouldn’t have worked.
What kind of influences did you draw on in the creation of Fever Daydream that the average DEP fan may not have guessed you to have in you?
Well I’ve never really thought of genre when writing. That seems so weird to me. We never had an initial discussion where we said okay we’re gonna sit down and make a record that sounds like this. That’s like paint by numbers. Better to just rush in and get lost and find your way out on your own than to deliberately start off on an already existing path. Along the way though, influences come out naturally, and you see them, and you’re like, “Oh wow where did that come from? I completely forgot that was in there.”
From something I heard or a movie I saw when I was seven or thirteen or however old. Those kinds of things happen all of the time. With this there was so much coming out from our childhoods. Sci-fi/fantasy movies like Legend and The Neverending Story, The Last Unicorn…Alien…video games…Metroid. Kubrick. We talked about the “used future” element a lot. A neon bar in some Cronenberg-esque future that somehow also feels like the past. It helped that we were in a non-residential part of Downtown LA for a lot of the process. Our surroundings were a big inspiration.
That part of Downtown LA at night feels like someone put an abandoned modern city on the floor of a giant dumpster, very dystopian/cyber-punk vibe. Being mostly nocturnal, that was our background wallpaper for most of the record. Desolate ambience, some element of which is almost always droning in the background of every song. We’re all pretty high on the existential anxiety scale anyway. Nothing makes this life more simultaneously terrifying and beautiful than knowing it’s gonna end. We wanted some beauty/terror element to always be present, veering between the two in the background.
Then there was this other big thing coming through, this weird late 80’s/early 90’s RNB production element. Like a more brutalist Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Once we identified that as something that was coming out of all of us we started to hone in on it more. It’s great uncovering surprise things in your core like that. Like finding a bit of a dinosaur skeleton in a desert and then suddenly you’re all brushing away at it uncovering the whole thing. You end up being amazed at how much is there. That might sound strange to a lot of people but in reality the production on the Rhythm Nation album isn’t too far away stylistically from Violator or The Downward Spiral. Some of the kicks and snares and production nuances on those records are just unreal, from another world, and I think what Josh did on this record as far as those elements go – sound construction and absurd detail in final mixes – rivals any of those albums.
Steve’s got this really great knack for incredible single note melodic motifs as well. Very 16-bit Nobuo Uematsu-type melodies. Which also became a big part of everything. Just these big grand romantic hero melodies cutting through the fog.
As a songwriter, what have you poured into Fever Daydream emotionally?
Well the last three to four years for all of us were pretty intense. I could write a giant book about everything in that time period alone but wouldn’t know where to begin. I guess the thing I would say…depends on whether I’m talking to someone on the “post” or “pre” side of the thing that happens. There’s a thing that happens that nobody tells you about. In life. You go through life thinking it’s about one thing. And then suddenly it becomes something else. And that change comes very suddenly, very violently, the severity of that depending upon how much of your identity is wrapped up in the first part. How much damage you’ve absorbed along the way, how much you didn’t ever stop to process and work through. Maybe you weren’t equipped to. You’ve developed mechanisms along the way, patterns, to not have to deal with things. Or you keep absorbing and accumulating pain and chaos and loss, not knowing why, not realizing that it has unknowingly become your comfort zone.
Then something happens, hopefully, for people, that pushes things into no coming back territory, and your shield shatters. Everything you’ve been piling onto it your entire life. Ego-death. I don’t mean ego in the “high on yourself” way, I mean ego as a construct, an exoskeleton. And at that point you are in the f–king void. That happened to all of us around the same time, which made the album have an emotional cohesion, because we were developing all these connections in what was happening in our lives and psyches, and simultaneously rebuilding and supporting and growing.
More important than anything identifiable musically, is emotional honesty and vulnerability. That’s the thing that gets lost when people are more concerned with technique and proficiency than self exploration. That’s what I’m the most proud of on this record. That we went in and pulled a collective feeling out that I can pinpoint when I hear us. That there’s a feel there that goes beyond external elements of sound. That if someone were to ask what we sound like, that is what we sound like. Not a list of particular traits or related artist examples. A vibe that exists on the album and consistently throughout every element of our presentation.
You’ve made some cool, limited promotional efforts over the summer. How has the reaction of your fans prior to this project been since you began releasing music as the Black Queen?
Well yeah, we really wanted to make this band and this release a feeling for people. Not just songs and a price tag. Something they can see and hold and feel not just hear. We wanted to create things so that we could be the most proud of them, not try to make the widest profit margins. Because really who cares. You’re gonna die. Making things of high quality with extreme attention to detail, and making those things finite, makes them valuable, and I don’t mean monetarily speaking. Things don’t have intrinsic meaning. They have the meaning that you infuse into them.
Our preexisting fanbases…you know it’s tough because I don’t know where everyone comes from. I don’t know how many are Dillinger fans, how many are Telefon fans, how many are both, or neither and came from somewhere else on their own. I do know though that the ones that come from Dillinger…it makes me really happy because Dillinger to me is not and has never been about a genre. It has been, again, about emotional honesty and having your art match the feeling you are trying to express. Trying to get to the source and then trying to get that source out of you to the listener without it becoming too indecipherable or compromised along the way.
So if someone follows that here, and can relate to this too…that’s really rewarding. If someone is a long term or observant fan of Dillinger, they can tell the feel. It’s like a scent or a fingerprint. If you’ve been paying attention for a while then I don’t think the feel from my end is all that foreign to you. The genre may be a surprise, but again, if you’re paying attention to non-surface elements… I think you’ll know what I mean.
Like I said….the last few years. The last Dillinger record was a really extreme catharsis. I already knew this was existing at that point. I referenced this album title in a lyric on that record, and that was three years ago. I try to pre-lead people a bit. The songs that would play during the 25 minutes or so before Dillinger went onstage on our last tour cycle were all picked to get people prepped for this vibe. The music that would play when we would finish was a 33 minute ambient loop that we mailed out to random people on a cassette release. That kinda stuff.
The last Dillinger record was me smashing myself apart and this on my end grew out from that. People don’t realize that screaming in most cases, if you’re not thinking of it in terms of genre, is born from pain or frustration or anxiety or panic or depression, a cry for help, a violent reaching for connection, even if you don’t realize that that’s the case. You think it’s just anger, some sort of rage, you convince yourself that it’s coming from a place of strength or defiance or rallying against something, but those are surface elements – and they can be deceiving.
You’ve chosen TuneCore to distribute the release. Has this been more of a hands-on, DIY process for you as a musician?
Absolutely. I mean 100% of the process has been us. Obviously there are people in place to help us, like you guys, or a publicist or manufacturer, like Pirates Press, but we reached out to all of those people. We coordinate everything. Every single thing. There isn’t some manager doing everything or talking to everyone. There isn’t a manager doing anything. There isn’t a single aspect of this that we aren’t fully in control of, and I truly mean every single aspect. At this point we are operating as both a band and a record label really. We are doing everything that a record label would have a staff of people doing. It’s just more gratifying. I don’t want us to pollute our aesthetic. Our fingerprint is on everything this touches. We have to be very careful with the people that we bring in to help, or people who we choose to work with.
In Dillinger, we are way more involved in everything than most bands are. Always have been. We have complete creative control, complete artistic and aesthetic control of that too. We’ve always chosen the people we’ve worked with. We’ve always done everything ourselves up until the very final step, the actual releasing, which is where a record label gets involved, and we’ve always had an outside producer in Steve Evetts.
But this is definitely a bit deeper down the DIY rabbit hole. I’m a control freak and perfectionist about everything I do. I mean if you have pride in what you do I don’t understand how you can be anything but a control freak. Who is gonna care more than you? We’re all that degree of crazy and when you aren’t paying someone you end up just spending an eternity obsessing over every detail, on the creative end and the release end, which is all fine by me. We enjoy it.
Overall, how different has the process of releasing and marketing an album like Fever Daydream been to an artist who’s been part of the music industry since the late 90s/early 2000s?
This is tough to answer because I’ve had the advantage of having a lot of traditional label releases with a lot of push behind them and moving parts, and so has Josh. Most new bands wouldn’t start with a pretty big pool of people already in their universe. So yeah it’s been different. But really the difference is that you don’t have to argue with anyone on the non-creative side. Because even with the best outside label situations, it’s always a struggle to get someone to see something exactly your way, or you end up having some t-shirts sold on a label site alongside bands you have nothing in common with, or you have to do promo stuff you don’t really wanna do.
They argue with you about the merit of doing things that sound insane. Like pressing bizarre quantities of a 12” vinyl for a single f–king song. Making six high quality videos before an album even comes out. Doing not just alternate vinyl colors, but entire alternate art and layout variations. Things that would just sound crazy and expensive, because they are. You end up having to use their channels for everything. There’s just so much compromise. With this we just do what we want and there’s zero compromise.
We don’t have to ask anyone to do anything. Someone doesn’t have the option to not do something, or to argue with us. We know what’s right for this. We aren’t a part of a formula. I don’t give a shit about what some guy who went to school for media marketing thinks about anything. His way probably works for the majority of things out there, but I know we aren’t one of those things.
I think if you have something you care about it’s best to be as hands on as possible with every aspect of it as long as you can. I’d have a nuclear sized freak-out over the wording or aesthetic of a mailing list email or a picture post or a merch description, or shirt material being wrong or “different” than I would have done it, so I’d rather just not have that meltdown.
“Marketing” to me is an unnecessary thought process if you give a lot of yourself to every aspect. “Marketing” makes me feel like you’re trying to figure out how you can trick people into spending their money on you instead of elsewhere. Like hiring a pick up artist or reading a book about tactics to help you meet girls or something. It makes my insides shudder. If you’re genuine and people can feel you, they respond to you.
On that note, whether they’re creating metal or electronic music, what kind of advice do you have for an artist who’s readying their first release?
Be yourself, fiercely. Don’t let anyone steer you away from what you know is right for you. Care about everything. A lot. People always say, “Ah I just don’t give a f–k…” as if that apathy and nonchalance is something to be proud of. There are some things you shouldn’t care about at all, but when it comes to what you are putting out into the world, you should give all of the f–ks.
What kinds of plans do you have for the Black Queen in the first half of 2016?
Getting this release out and getting ready for these upcoming Los Angeles and London shows, without having a breakdown. We’ll go from there.