There is nothing staler than groove music or straightforward music that feels robotic
I was aware of the fact that Ben Weinman - apart from a talented musician - is a super cool guy, so, the chance to speak with him about the amazing debut album of Giraffe Tongue Orchestra got me excited. We talked about the formation and the music of this new supergroup he formed with Brent Hinds of Mastodon, but also about the decision of The Dillinger Escape Plan to close their circle. I think he proved to be even better and cooler than I expected...
Hey Ben! I am very happy to have the chance to talk to you right now
Well, thanks for your interest all the way from Greece.
I want to start a bit different than I had planned. Last time we conducted an interview with you was three years ago, in Glasgow, Scotland with my good friend Jason in your tour bus. The interview started trying to say some words and expressions in Greek. Wanna try again?
Maybe "me ti mana sou", "skata" (laughs). Is that what I said?
Yes that was exactly what you said (laughs). Now, congrats for the album you’re about to put out with Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, it’s fucking great. How do you feel about it?
I am very happy with it. It’s been a lot time coming, we have written so much music and we had so many ideas over the years. Finally we had the right group of guys in the room and became easy all of the sudden. But it was interesting to see how it has developed as a whole record. I am very, very happy with it, I feel we accomplished our goals.
First of all, how do you feel about the term "supergroup"? It’s even used on your official site, so I guess you kind of accept it...
Well... I mean, there is nothing wrong with the title, by nature, I guess. But the problem with that is that people assume that it’s not like a real serious band when they see a supergroup. Some of that is because many of the supergroups out there haven’t been very good. But a lot of it is because when people from other active bands get together to make a project they don’t have a lot of time. They are typically using the time they all have off to finish the project, and that could be a month or two months. But we have worked on this thing for years. We have literally refused to finish it and put it out until we felt it was right. Listen, I don’t think this is by any means a typical supergroup, if it must be called. We never titled ourselves that. If it was labeled like that it was for marketing, you know... (laughs)
I guess. You’ve been through a lot of changes through the years as you’ve already said. Can you tell us how the line-up finally settled down? You know it’s an impressive combination of musicians that we hear in this album.
I think we started this band very similar very similar to how most start a band; have a group people they know play music, they jam out and see if it works, if the chemistry works and then when something clicks they just make a band. That’s what we did. The difference is Brent and I who started that band we are around all these great musicians all the time because we are on tour, we play at festivals and we have just known all these guys for so long. And in a way that’s the reason it is called supergroup. Because to us it’s just a bunch of our friends that we just want to play music with and enjoy, but to other people, it’s people from other bands that they enjoy.
The main difference is that these are all serious people who have accomplished serious amount in music. So there is a certain level of professionalism that we hope to have in this combination of players. But essentially, it’s Brent and I. We jammed with some people. Some people weren’t on the right direction, some people didn’t have the time. We played with Jon Theodore in drums for a while; he actually appeared on the record on two tracks, but got busy playing in Queens Of The Stone Age. And Juliette Lewis did some guest vocals with us, there was some talks on her being full time singer, but she was busy with her project and some TV stuff she was doing. But the first singer we had talked to was William, many years ago. He was very interested, we sent him some demos and then we continued to evolve the sound and change it. By the time the songs came to him they were already very different. Again, it was just a timing thing. Thomas was available and we always wanted to play with him, Pete was available and he was already playing in another band with Brent and I have been talking to William so it was just a natural progression.
Also, I’d love to know where the bizarre name came from. I’d vote for Brent’s suggestion if I had to...
(laughs) Yeah, well Brent... He just likes giraffes. He just likes giraffes and so do I. We have this thing in common, this semi - obsession with giraffes. He was at a zoo and saw this giraffe, just grabbed a banana from the hand with his tongue, like peeled it with his tongue. And it was like "this was the most amazing thing"! So, he was like "let’s call our group giraffe tongue". And then we just made it giraffe tongue orchestra to make it "GTO". (laughs) So that’s the reason way we called it. We didn’t think too much about it, we just liked the idea of the drive of this giraffe, the willingness to get the job done.
No offence to the other two guys but we get Alice In Chains, Mastodon and Dillinger Escape Plan and the mix is delicious. What ingredients from each band did you try to mix for this album?
(laughs) I think everyone just added their natural thing. I mean, similar to Dillinger I was often the starting point. I had some ideas and put them together, and track down Brent wherever he was in the world and he would throw some guitar ideas on top of what I did. So I had more of these more angular, I guess aggressive, riffs and he would put the more fingerpicking type of sound that he is known with Mastodon, and then when we put that all together it sounded something very different from both of our bands, but at the same time I think that you can still hear our distinct sounds.
With this band I really wanted to enjoy it, I didn’t want to overthink everything. But I think there is a natural tendency for me to push things a little bit and some little more progressive even without trying. And then there is the love I have for some straightforward kind of groovy type of music, funk and staff like that that I grew up to. But by the time we got it over to William we had no idea what was going to happen, how he would sing over this staff. And both of us knew that he was in all kind of bands back in the day but for the past ten years the only thing anyone has heard of him is Alice In Chains and basically most singing old songs Layne Staley songs. We really had no idea, but I really was excited for people to see the range I knew he has that maybe they weren’t hearing in AIC. And he really stepped up and did a great job.
I totally agree. Now let’s move on to the songs. The album starts with kind of a punkish song like "Adapt Or Die". Did you want to start with something in-your-face? Also, who needs to adapt?
(laughs) That was actually William. He really wanted to start with this song. I actually didn’t want to start with this song. Because I felt like if people get to one or two songs on an album that sometimes do, I don’t think that this song is not representative of the band as a whole, but at the same time is energetic and fun staff like that, so I think that’s why William wanted to start with this one. It was a good introduction and easier for people to digest I suppose. I really feel that this album is a body of songs, a body work. I don’t think any song really defines GTO.
"Crucifixion" was the first single/video and it seems to me like a perfect recipe of how you turn a potential commercial hit to a really interesting song. Do you agree?
Well I don’t know about that. But that was actually one of the only songs that we brought to studio altogether and it felt representative of the band and band members. Also, when we sent the songs to William, we sent him all the songs at once and this happened to be the first one he did. So it was interesting that it was the first song we wrote altogether in one room and the first song he chose to sing at. So we thought this song was perfect to represent us.
Surely one of my favorite tracks of the album is "No-One Is Innocent". This song has such power and a great chorus. It’s the only track that Brent sings a bit. Why only on this one?
I don’t know. William did so much vocals that there really wasn’t a lot of room for more. But we felt that there was something in that part that I said to William why not try some new ideas, "I liked what you did but maybe we could expand some more". We tried some new ideas. Since Brent was in the studio we all thought it would be good to add his voice into the mix and that was a perfect opportunity.
"Blood Moon" should already be a hit in my opinion. You have this commercial side of yours as it’s shown on some Dillinger Escape Plan tracks, so is this fantastic song mainly your contribution?
Yeah! I mean, that song I wrote from begging to end! Drums and everything... And it was just something I had fun with. It was my attempt to make a song based on one riff, because it was so the opposite of what I do in escape Dillinger. So, I tried to write a song that was essentially just one or two main themes and tried to make it compelling all the way through without having to make it over complex and overly dense. It was partly inspired from things like The Prodigy and some great pop music. So that was what it was. And William knew that and he had to step up too, because there wasn’t a lot going on and he had to make the vocals interesting and compelling. So I think, you know, I had a really good time with that one.
It turned out fantastic. Now, "Fragments And Ashes" has so many fucking ideas in less than four minutes and yet stays solid. Especially the hook in the end is fantastic in my opinion. How did it end like this? Didn’t you consider to take some ideas out of it and form different songs?
"Fragments And Ashes"... I can’t remember what song it is. (laughs)
The one that has the line "Flying to the rising sun..." in the end
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Actually the first song written for GTO. And that was another one I kind of wrote from begging to end. I just sat down... That was the first idea in my head of what GTO would be and I just wrote the whole thing out. And I even tracked drums and everything on it, I just had the whole thing in my head. And it was really interesting that we tried a lot of staff that didn’t make it on to the album, but that one did. And I would have thought the first idea would not really end up working as a whole, but by the time everyone played on it just had such a great personality on it. And it is also a good example how William can really handle many different ideas and make the kind of catchy and solid even though there a lot of different ideas going on.
Another standout track is "Back To The Light" which in my opinion is also a another potential single, groovy with a kind of twisted funky tune, especially in the end. I think this song has something special. What is it in your opinion?
For one it has Juliette Lewis guesting on it, which is pretty cool. Not only for being one of my favorite actress, for one, she is also a great person, that I’ve got to know very well. It’s also one of our heavier songs on the album, but simultaneously it has a very cinematic chorus and it this James Brown kind of ending, which is some funky groovy staff that we have talked about. So, I think it is a special one based on the fact that it has all these staff.
You already said a few things about William’s perfomance. We kind of know what to expect from you and Brent in the contribution of the album, but I had only heard William singing with AIC and I was blown away. Sometimes he reminds me of Freddie Mercury other times of Gavin Hayes of Dredg, don’t know if you’re aware of them...
Is he really that versatile of a singer or what?
He is! I mean, he was really early on in a bunch of like punk rock bands in Atlanta or staff like that. He played also the guitar before he even sung. And then when he started singing, doing his own solo staff he would tour with that artist Jeff Buckley, when no one knew who Jeff Buckley was. So he has been around a long time and influenced by a lot of staff.
Also, I think Thomas’ playing in the drums is amazing. He provides this kind of groove and energy. He is a permanent member of the band, right?
What was his most valuable contribution in the album in your opinion?
I think for one his pocket, the feel he has. When you are playing music which is less complex it’s really important it feels good. There is nothing staler than groove music or straightforward music that feels robotic. It’s just the worst. (laughs) And especially now with the ease of computer technology to create production value, having a real drummer like that, like a solid great drummer who is just good at play anything and that he loves playing every note, is so valuable to stand out among all that crap basically.
I totally agree with you. You’ve just announced your first headline tour. What should someone expect from this band and how are you planning to fill the set? Maybe some cover songs or with songs from your basic bands?
We could just play our whole album and it would be a pretty good set, but I don’t know. Maybe... Probably we are going to add some covers in there, because a cover is something we would all love, having the opportunity to play music from some of our recollected favorite bands. But mostly I thing that it will be the new staff.
Now, I guess there are too many people telling you not to stop The Dillinger Escape Plan. I’ll be one more of them. Could something change your mind?
(laughs) Well, many people think that the Dillinger break up had something to do with GTO, but this is not the case. The Giraffe Tongue album was done well before we decided to call the Dillinger Plan quits and slow down on that. I think in general, with Dillinger I feel we completed the statement, you know. And thinking about how long this would go, it’s like we’ve been doing this for 20 years and every time we make an album we go on the road and we come home and we do another album, we go on the road forever. And the music and the shows are amazing, but all the time in between is just difficult at this point and not exciting and not stimulating and not challenging and not you know... any of that staff.
Unfortunately, in order to change that kind of comfort zone and try some new things we have to stop doing what we are doing and make it complete, complete the circle. And at the same time artistically I think we are at our hick, we’ve never been more prolific, our music is pushing boundaries, are shows are still pushing boundaries. We really wanted to intentionally end it while our music is still inspiring and exciting.
I can totally understand it and I respect it, but I’m pretty sure no fan of yours will feel betrayed or upset if you change your mind and make a reunion in the future, just saying...
Well, you know, maybe, when I am 70 years old they can prop me up on the ropes and swing me around (laughs)
So, what do you want DEP to be remembered for when they are gone?
I think I would like it to be remembered as a band that was never was affected by the trends and existed in its own world. We started in 1997 and here we are approaching 2017 and we have stayed true to just following our own path. We weren’t affected. We’ve been through many trends, when we started there was nu-metal, all these different stages and we never paid attention, we just did our thing to the very end and we were successful and we made a living out of it. I mean a made all of my living through art and music and people said it was impossible with a band that sounded like us. So, at the very least, whether people like us or hate us, I’d like us at least to be remembered as a band that accomplished something not very easy and on our own plans.
Personally, I know no one that hates Dillinger Escape Plan, only respect them.
Well you hang out with not so many people, huh? (laughs)
(laughs) What chances do we stand in this Eastern European country to see you with both DEP or/and GTO playing live?
With Dillinger before finish off, we’ll try to play as many places as possible. And Greece is definitely one of the places we feel that we need to go back to. So, we are definitely going to set up something in Greece eventually, before we do the final closing of the band. And with GTO... I have no idea, we have no idea, we take day by day, but we would love to though.
Do you have any more Greek words to close the conversation?
Let me remember, it’s been a while. [editor: Ben struggles to find a word for some time]
What about malaka?
(laughs) I love malaka. I have to come to Greece to refresh my Greek.
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