Dillinger Escape Plan's Ben Weinman: Organized Chaos

“MY GOAL GROWING UP WASN’T TO BE THE WORLD’S best guitar player,” confides Ben Weinman.
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“MY GOAL GROWING UP WASN’T TO BE THE WORLD’S best guitar player,” confides Ben Weinman. “I just wanted to have the best band.” Weinman co-founded the Dillinger Escape Plan in 1997, and is its sole original member, although vocalist Greg Puciato and bassist Liam Wilson have been in the fold for more than a decade. Drummer Billy Rymer joined in ’09, and second guitarist James Love re-enlisted for his second stint just last year. Whether they are the best band is subjective—but they are certainly talented in the extreme.

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“It is organized chaos,” explains Weinman who is an absolute animal onstage and on his instrument. How he manages to rip crazy chromatic runs and asymmetrical, off-the-wall rhythms while bouncing off actual walls, leaping from skyscraper speaker stacks, and diving headlong into mosh pits practically defies logic. But there is logic behind the pandemonium.

“We change time signatures constantly,” says Weinman, who has written nearly all of Dillinger’s guitar parts. I can’t really explain how that works, though, as I’m lousy at music theory and math. I work up demos with Billy, and then we give them to the other guys to figure out and add their own flavors.”

Dillinger recorded One of Us Is the Killer [Sumerian] with producer Steve Evetts (Sepultura, the Cure). The precision execution and sonic ingenuity evident throughout the diverse, dense, deadly metal might suggest inordinate amounts of studio trickery, but Weinman claims otherwise.

“I did some sound design using Steinberg Cubase, but there was not much editing,” he says. “It was all about performance. As we layered our final parts, Steve drilled us relentlessly until the performances were perfect, and by the time we finished recording we were ready to hit the road and go to war.”

Until recently, Weinman wore a wire into battle, but after building a wireless system into his guitar he now roams cable free.

What’s the story on your built-in wireless system?

Everyone kept telling me that, of all players, I should be wireless. I was getting tangled up in my 30-foot cable, and I also frequently broke cables off at the input jack. But, for those same reasons I had feared using an expensive wireless, especially since most bodypack units still have a cable that plugs into the guitar. One day, however, I discovered the solution by building a wireless right into my guitar. It was a Frankenstein mess, but it worked amazingly well.

What wireless did you use?

I used a Samson AirLine because it was much smaller than most. It’s a little transmitter covered in plastic with a right-angled plug that goes into the guitar’s input jack. I removed the end plug, broke open the plastic, and hardwired the transmitter into the guitar in such a way that I could still use the normal input jack and also turn the wireless on and off. All of a sudden I was jumping into crowds face first, and slinging my guitar around my neck and across the stage with zero problems. Then, I had a lawyer do a little patent research, and, sure enough, nobody had ever made anything like it. Eventually, I worked the wireless into my personal ESP guitars in a much more professional way, and now we are working together on a signature model with a wireless option.

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What guitars are you using with Dillinger these days?

I’m mostly using the LTD MH-100NT, but sometimes I also use the LTD H-1001 or a signature prototype. My signature model will be available soon. It’s called the PS-1 “Party Smasher,” named after our record label. That’s a bit confusing because it is based on the body shape of the LTD Xtone PS-1, though the “PS” part is actually just a coincidence. Mine will be the LTD BW-PS-1 or something like that, and quite different from the Xtone. I modified the single f-hole’s shape, and relocated the Volume and Tone controls so they don’t get in the way.

Why did you choose a semi-hollowbody guitar?

I wanted it to be great for everything from rock to metal to jazz because I love playing all that stuff. The Xtone worked well for me in every scenario, so I combined its body design with some of the LTD H-1001’s features, including a through neck with a 25.5" scale length, and EMG 81 and 85 pickups.

The guitar also has an amazing new, tension- based EverTune bridge that keeps it in tune under any circumstances. You set the tension, fine tune it at the bridge, and it remembers. If a string stretches for any reason, the EverTune automatically compensates and keeps it in tune. I was one of the original testers. ESP has limited exclusivity to the technology. Mine is going to be the first signature model with one. Well, we’re going to have two versions, one with the EverTune and one without.

What amps and pedals are you using onstage and in the studio?

Onstage I use a Mesa/Boogie Mark Five through a Rivera SilentSister isolation cabinet set offstage, and a 4x12 cabinet onstage that is essentially my monitor. I generally use three channels for three sounds: high-gain lead, dirty, and an aggressive clean. I run the lead channel at 90 watts, and the dirty and clean channels at 45 watts.

The clean channel coupled with a Way Huge Swollen Pickle Jumbo Fuzz is a monster sound that I use a lot live, along with a T-Rex Replica delay, a Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor, and a Dunlop Dimebag Signature Cry Baby wah. The Dimebag is very flexible and has an auto-engage feature, which is a lifesaver if you’re active onstage.

While recording One of Us Is the Killer I used a bunch of amps, including the Mark Five, which is on almost everything. That, combined with an original EVH 5150 on a low-gain setting through a Marshall cabinet, played with aggressive picking, is the key to the percussive Dillinger distortion sound. I’ll cut a take or two with the Mark Five, another one or two with the 5150, and then I’ll add another using a direct signal with lots of mic pre gain and compression to add that extra tacky attack for the really jabbing, stabbing parts. I also used a Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus miked in stereo for a lot of the really clean stuff.

As for pedals, the Electro-Harmonix Ravish Sitar was the significant new sound. I used it a lot because, besides sitar, you can get cool ambient sounds for moody stuff like the title track.

What are your thoughts on palm muting?

Most players use full palm muting to play heavy riffs these days, and it feels very calculated and sounds very chugga chugga. I’m proud that I didn’t use any palm muting to play the jabbing opening part to our new single “Prancer.” There’s something very liberating about not having your palm glued to the bridge.

When the vocal kicks in, your riff consists of bouncing between a low E and the 7, which sounds disconcerting without resolving on the octave or using the 3rd to fill out a major 7th chord. That also factors in on “Magic That I Held You Prisoner” and at the outset of “Crossburner.”

I do that a lot. I also use a lot of tri-tone chords, dissonant 2nd harmonies, and other stuff that shouldn’t really happen theoretically. The whole point of this band is to create tension.

On tunes like “The Threat Posed by Nuclear War,” you also employ crazy chromatic lead lines to achieve uneasiness.

I love using quick chromatics to build tension because they’re not melodically based. The sound is based on attack and emotion. I got some of that from listening to John McLaughlin with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and from jazz in general, where the idea is to make notes work. Wherever you land, just make sure you mean it.

Where are you heading with Dillinger in the future?

We’re looking at 200-to-300 shows to promote this record. If we thought about that, it would be hard to get through even one show because we put so much into them, and we never want to pace ourselves. As we get older the shows don’t change, though. If anything, they’re even crazier and more energetic. But my days get harder [laughs].

I’m injured right now. I broke a bone in my right wrist on the last tour, although I’m not exactly sure when it happened because the shows are so active that it can be hard to tell when things go wrong. I guess I zigged when I should have zagged. My fingers work, but I can’t grip a pick. I’m going into surgery to have the bone bolted back together. That’s where I’m headed tomorrow.