Songwriter Interviews

Greg Puciato of Killer Be Killed and Dillinger Escape Plan

by Greg Prato

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Once upon a time, the phrase "supergroup" meant a band of renowned musicians joining forces to pay off the mortgage on their countryside castle or yacht. But there are also instances when a union is more for the music than the money - case in point, Killer Be Killed.

Formed in 2011, the band is comprised of several gentleman quite respected within the metal world: The Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato, Soulfly/Cavalera Conspiracy/ex-Sepultura/Nailbomb vocalist/guitarist Max Cavalera, Mastodon vocalist/bassist Troy Sanders, and former The Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch. In 2014, the group unleashed a fierce self-titled debut recording via Nuclear Blast Records.

In a chat with Puciato, we discussed how rock's latest supergroup came into play, the tricky business of fitting lyrics to music, and the stories behind both Killer Be Killed and Dillinger Escape Plan rockers.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): The most obvious question is: How did the idea come up to form Killer Be Killed?

Greg Puciato: Well, Max Cavalera and I had kind of known one another. Bad Brains is a band that he and I vibed out about a lot. We were at a Deftones show in LA and we started talking about common denominator bands that we were both into, like Bad Brains and Discharge. And somehow we got the idea of, "Let's do collaborations," and we started talking about why no one does it in metal. Like, why does no one do full albums? They get some songs, but in hip-hop and jazz, there are always people doing collaborations.

It seems like metal is so much more ego-driven and defensive - people don't want to deviate from the image that they've already garnered in whatever band they're in or they don't want to risk losing whatever they've achieved success in. And it's really strange that more people don't do it.

So we started talking about doing a one-off together and doing a whole album. That's actually a daunting thing to do - writing a whole record with someone is much different than writing a song.

A month went by and we reached back out to one another. I said, "Hey, if you're still serious about this, I've got some time off right now, you've got the time off right now, let's get together and see what happens." We took it from there.

Songfacts: How would you say writing lyrics for Killer Be Killed compares to writing lyrics for Dillinger Escape Plan?

Greg: Well, it wasn't different for me, personally for my part. I write autobiographically. There's no way I can write otherwise, even if you give me a topic to write about. You know, if you're a writer, unless you're reporting on something, there's something personal happening when you write, no matter what. For Dillinger lyrics, I kind of dig up my subconscious and then figure out what I'm dealing with or not dealing with in my life. It's what's in my psyche at the time.

For many of the members of Killer Be Killed, collaborating with other musicians is quite the common act: Max Cavalera has teamed up with everyone from Dave Grohl (Probot) to Fudge Tunnel's Alex Newport (Nailbomb); Troy Sanders has guested with the avant-garde metal band Yakuza; David Elitch has worked with such oh-so-metal artists as Miley Cyrus and Justin Timberlake, while Puciato has popped up on recordings from the Devin Townsend Project and Prong. And perhaps the genesis of the the idea for Killer Be Killed was when Puciato supplied vocals to the song "Rise of the Fallen" on Soulfly's 2010 album, Omen (a band that has been long-led by Cavalera).
This wasn't too much different than that. The only difference was that I'm only responsible for a third of each song, really, so the challenge became making sure that thematically I'm not talking about something completely different than whatever Troy and Max are talking about, because everyone wrote their own lyric. So that was more of a challenge.

I didn't have as much intense personal relation to the whole song from front to back. It was more or less like, "Here's an umbrella of what this song is touching on," and that way we're at least in the same universe when we're writing lyrics.

Songfacts: You said before that writing lyrics is autobiographical for you. Could you give some examples of some songs that you've written in the past that have been the most personal from a lyrical standpoint?

Greg: In Dillinger?

Songfacts: Yes. Dillinger.

Greg: Yeah. On One of Us Is the Killer, every single song. Our producer, Steve Evetts, is actually one of my best friends. He knows everything that's going on in my life. So when we're writing lyrics, he's always, like, "Wow, this is crazy. I know exactly what this is about. But other people..."

It's very abstract and it doesn't matter to me, as long as someone's able to reflect to something off of it of themselves. That way they can get something out of it.

But for me, pretty much every single Dillinger song is a reference to something. And it culminated in our last record, the entire record, really. "One of Us Is The Killer" is about realizing that a lot of self-destructive tendencies that I found in my personal life are a lot of destructive tendencies I was responsible for, and a lot of them were coming from my end unknowingly. And about "why is that happening?" "Where are they coming from?" "Do I need to go to therapy?" I need to figure out where this shit's coming from so I can eliminate it.

That record was written in the time of realizing that those kind of things existed, which was what the song title reference is. Killer Be Killed, the name is a thematic extension of "One of Us Is The Killer," as far as dealing with those things instead of just identifying it.

Songfacts: Looking back, which lyrics of yours has been the most misunderstood?

Greg: I really don't know, because I don't really talk to people about my lyrics too much, just because it's really tough to get into without starting to air your own dirty laundry. The point of art for me is to try to get something out of yourself and go through a process of self-discovery along the way and put it out in a way that maybe some other people will relate to. So I really don't know what other people get out of things.

The thing that bothers me, and it's not a particular lyric, but when the lyrics happen to be aggressive there are a lot of times where people think I'm talking about somebody in an aggressive way. I say the word "you" a lot in Dillinger, and a lot of times I'm referring to myself, I'm not referring to an outside person. So a lot of times people get the impression that I'm singing about some person that has scorned me or there's some sort of figure: "He's pissed at someone." But in reality, it's more or less just frustration and the "you" is an ambiguous term. It's not directed outwardly.

And I noticed that while we were writing the last record I made a conscious effort to write in first person and use more "I" instead of "you," because I realize that even saying "you" is a way of me not dealing completely with my own shit, so to speak.
Puciato's influences seem to run the musical gamut (although hard to spot, he's sporting a nifty Portishead shirt in the above two pix). All you have to do is track down the handful of tribute albums and soundtracks he has appeared on over the years - Black on Black: A Tribute to Black Flag (the song "Damaged, Parts I & II"), Bring You to Your Knees: A Tribute to Guns N' Roses ("My Michelle"), We Reach: The Music of the Melvins ("Honey Bucket"), as well as a cover of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" that saw Dillinger Escape Plan unite with PE's Chuck D, for the soundtrack to the video game, Homefront: Songs For The Resistance.
Songfacts: Did you ever come up with a set of lyrics that may have been hard to fit into a song? I remember reading an interview a while back with Geddy Lee from Rush and I guess it's a little different because he plays bass and sings, but he says he has to first learn how to sing the lyrics and then fit it to playing the bass.

Greg: There's a big difference between free-writing, or prose, and lyrics. With lyrics, one of the things that's a challenge is trying to find a way to marry something that you can read and something that sounds good phonetically and works in the phrasing of the song.

Like, you need a word that rhymes over here. And then you're like, "Oh, that word doesn't fit, now I've got to find this other word." I've really stopped pilfering free-written things for lyrics. I don't do it anymore. I don't write lyrics until I have the song and the phrasing already in mind. That way I don't hack my stuff up. If you write something ahead of time and then you hack it up to make it fit a song, you're always going to wish that you could have used the original thing. Because you're like, "Fuck, man, the original thing was better. That was what I meant to say. And I had to hack it up to make it fit this really obtuse phrasing that I had to use and now it's nowhere near as good."

So I stopped doing that. I still write all the time, I just don't use those for lyrics.

Songfacts: Tell me about the song "Wings of Feather and Wax" from the new Killer Be Killed album.

Greg: I only wrote the chorus of that song, but the chorus is a reference to a relationship I was in that I was trying to salvage and just didn't realize that the relationship had problems that were beyond my control.

The whole song is a reference to Icarus; getting too close to the sun and then burning someone to death. That was another tendency of mine: I've gone out of my way certain times in my life to the point of self-destructive co-dependency where I was trying to fix something or someone, or change something or someone, and I was hurting myself in the process. I took that to its absolute limit in a couple of personal relationships in my life around the time of the last year or two. A lot of the lyrics on the Dillinger record and in that song, "Feather Wax" references that. It's an inability to fix people's problems that aren't yours.

Songfacts: Could you name the Dillinger songs that you said fit that topic?

Greg: Yeah. "One of Us Is the Killer," it's actually very similar. Even the metaphor of the chorus is, "In the air we tried to be, but you shot your arrow through me. Now one of us must die, but the killer won't survive." It's a similar sentiment: you think it's a noble pursuit to try to fix a damaged relationship or something that's critically damaged, and you spend so much of your time and so much of your energy doing that to the point of self-destruction. Are you doing it because you're happy, or are you doing it because you don't want to let something go? Or are you doing it because you're scared of loss? What happened that made me think that putting myself in a destructive, damaging situation or an unhappy situation was a noble pursuit?

So many people do that, and I'm interested in finding out why people tend to make a virtue out of suffering or confuse pity with love or anything like that. So many people do it, and that was the sentiment in that song.

Songfacts: And then to go back a while, what about the song "Milk Lizard"?

Greg: I remember the song, because it wrote itself really quickly. That was a song that was written from front to back. "One of Us Is the Killer," too, they were written from front to back with no alteration and in kind of real time. As the phrasing was coming and the melody was coming, the lyrics came at the same time. But those are usually the ones that I end up feeling the best about, when they're not really labored over so much. But I don't really remember exactly what I was dealing with in that song - it was eight years ago!

Songfacts: What about the song "When I Lost My Bet"?

Greg: That song is actually a reference to living in LA and seeing people go from human beings to opportunists. The lyrics to that song are about people trying to "hang out" their way to the top, which is what you see pretty much everywhere in LA. What's really shocking to me is the people that are only fixated on who they know or being around some type of success, but not actually trying to do anything of their own to achieve that stuff. That song was a response to seeing so much opportunism all the time.

Songfacts: Would you like to see Killer Be Killed continue beyond this album?

Greg: Yeah. When I went into it, I thought we were just going to do a one off. But now that we recorded it and I've listened back to it, I'm like, "Man, there's a lot of avenues that I would like to go down with this." And I feel like we touched so many bases on the first album that now I feel like we could go down a lot of different paths. We could have taken a lot of different directions that to me are interesting.

It's a matter of logistics, really. I mean, it's such a pain in the ass to get everybody to have any free time at the same time. If given and the same thing with playing shows. If we have the time and we're all available, I would love to. And I know everyone else would, too. But again, that's kind of hindered by the logistical nightmare of it a little bit. I think it'll happen. But the good thing about it is it's not our main band, so we can do it when we feel inspired to do it, not because we feel like we have an obligation to do it.

For more Killer Be Killed visit killerbekilled.com, and for more Dillinger Escape Plan visit dillingerescapeplan.org.
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