2020 saw two new albums featuring Greg Puciato, the former Dillinger Escape Plan and current The Black Queen frontman, as he released his highly anticipated debut solo LP, Child Soldier: Creator of God, as well as the sophomore release with Killer Be Killed, Reluctant Hero.  Metal Contraband’s Scott Sommer had the chance to talk with Greg Puciato about his solo work and Killer Be Killed collaboration, and more. Check it out below. 

Greg Puciato (Photo Credit: Jesse Draxler)

First off, tell me about your new album Child Soldier: Creator of God, what does that album mean to you and what do you hope fans will take away from it?

For me, it’s a lot to do with integration and sort of not hiding from any part of yourself, self-ownership, just owning your shit. I have a real hard time with integration and compartmentalization, I compartmentalize a lot of parts of my life and parts of my personality, and bands I’ve been in. I kind of do that as a way of protection, because if a fire goes off in one area, then the rest of your life can be protected from it. But over time, it becomes really annoying for me to have to maintain these separations. So for me now, I just turned 40, which isn’t a real number that means anything, it’s made up that it has such significance, but it feels like it has some significance. So there’s just some dividing line for me, the record was coming out of me at the same time and I was like, “You know what? I’m not going to give any restrictions to this, I’m not going to second-guess anything, I’m not going to care about genres, or the “I can’t do this, it’s got to be more like that, save this for this other thing”. I just need to make a statement of complete freedom and complete integration. And if there’s people that like one song that can’t handle the next song, that’s not my problem. 

You touched on something interesting there, so I’ve noticed that some of the vibe on the solo record kind of overlaps with some of your work with Black Queen or Dillinger, how do you decide what material gets used for which project?

It’s kind of more of just a feeling of “this belongs here”. And the other aspect of it is, if you write something, what vessel that you put it in is going to be the best home for it? You know, there’s a song on the Killer Be Killed record for example, called “From A Crowded Room”, that I wrote 100% of, wrote all the music, wrote the vocals, wrote the other guys’ vocals, wrote everything about it. And there was a second that I was like, well that’s a solo song, you should just put that on your solo record, but then I was like, no, it sounds to me like it would make more sense on the Killer Be Killed record. So it’s more of just like a feeling you have of where something’s going to go that makes the most sense, it’s not so much a thought process or a strategy. But now that I have the solo thing, when I’m writing, I can see where things are going to go a little bit better, it made the boundaries of the bands more defined. In the past, I’ve had ideas where I really mutated some of them to be able to shoehorn them into something, like a Dillinger thing or a KBK thing, something that might have started out in one way, I really had to mutate to get into the configuration where it would fit in one of the vessels that existed. So now I don’t have to do that, and that’s nice to know. So now if I write something, like the other day I was playing guitar, I had to play guitar for like six months, I was so shot. I didn’t want to write anything, I just needed a minute. I started to play guitar, and pretty much right away I was like, “Oh, this is going to Killer Be Killed”, “Oh, this is a solo thing”, and everything has more of a definitive thing now instead of, like I said, in the past I’d have an idea and say, this doesn’t fit neatly, now I’ve got to beat it up. I hear old things now, there are parts that I hear where I did that and it turned into something cool that I wouldn’t have naturally done, but there’s also things where I did that, and I still liked the original idea that no one’s going to hear, better. And I’m like, damn it, I had to beat that thing into this other thing that’s not going to be as good as the original just to get it to fit. And now it just creates some freedom for me going forward to be able to stick as close as possible to the original idea. 

Since you do kind of beat yourself up about some ideas that people might never hear, do you think you might ever consider putting out some album of conceptualized ideas from some of the other songs you’ve put out, or unfinished or reworked versions of tracks?

Yeah, I think it’s possible, especially in The Black Queen, that there’s going to end up being…maybe we’ll release deluxe versions or something of those two records with the demos from them in some of their earlier forms, because there’s definitely versions of songs on those two records that we liked better than the finished ones that we always begrudgingly shelved or went away from. It’s interesting, because to me I’m like, sometimes the finished song is so different from the original that it’s almost like two separate songs with the same name, and now me and Steve are like, “wouldn’t it be kind of cool if we released some of these other ones, because they’re so different that we can almost finish them as they were originally started”. Or, release them as is from back then as demo versions, which is more interesting because it will kind of show people some evolutionary process, so I do think that’s going to happen. We’re actively talking about reissuing Fever Danger right now, and what we would do if we were to do that, kind of going back and revisiting some earlier versions of things is definitely part of that. 

As a fan, I can tell you that would be super freaking cool, man, and I would love to hear that stuff. 

That’s rad, thanks. 

Definitely. And back to the solo album, presumably you had complete control over the finished product, as opposed to some of the other stuff you worked on. Was it easier or harder to complete this album because of that?

Oh, man, well, it definitely made me…I’m so excited about bands right now, it took so much out of me to do this from a writing perspective, from a musical and artistic perspective, it took so much out of me from a logistical getting everything done, playing all the instruments, everything. But it feels fucking awesome, and it feels personal and close to me and like I really needed to do that to open up this avenue for me moving forward, so that I do have more freedom when I’m writing. But it really made me, as soon as we got done, I’m like, I can’t wait to do band stuff again. You have someone else to bounce ideas off of, or you have someone that makes you react to something instead of just having to be the genesis of everything. But, it was difficult in a way that a band isn’t. The thing about a band that’s difficult, it’s finding the common ground in everything, and you kind of go back and forth from…you’re fighting over the steering wheel with some other people, but you have to find a way to do that productively, and that’s the trick with being in a band is how to collaborate peacefully with somebody without conceding. Because you don’t want to concede too much, because then you resent the other person if you just completely abandon your idea for someone else’s. So you always are trying to find that happy middle, and you hope that happy middle happens naturally and doesn’t become too much of a struggle. But you learn so much from learning how to collaborate and one of the things about your own record that can really screw you, is if you have full control over everything, to the degree where you become a dictator who’s not allowing anything new to happen, and you’re hiring everybody, and you’re hiring the producer…you see it all the time with people who used to be in bands and now they’re a solo artist, and their solo stuff is good, but they just get to the point where they don’t want to hear “no” from anybody, and they hire a producer who, the second he gives them an idea that’s different from their own, they fire him, they bring in a new producer. And to me, I don’t like that, I like to be pushed, I like to be challenged, I like someone to tell me that it would maybe sound better like this, I want to go home and pout and whine about it, and then come around to it and be like, “no, that guy’s right”. That’s what you’re missing not being in a band, but the producer that I worked with did a really good job, and it’s interesting because we weren’t close going into it, so he had no way of knowing how much to push me. He could have very easily been worried about keeping his gig and not push me, but he came at me pretty hard a few times on the record, drastically altered the outcome of certain songs to the degree where I would not have, where the songs wouldn’t sound the same with a different producer. It wasn’t just like hitting record, it was completely changing the way I thought about a song stylistically or something like that. And that helped me a lot to be able to have that, because he gives you the tension role a little bit, you have to have a friction role in anything you do a little bit, for it to get anywhere interesting, otherwise you’re just talking to yourself, and that’s boring as fuck, no one wants to hear that. 

And I think it shows, I think him pushing you really shows, because this album is just so dense, there’s so much there. So let’s talk Killer Be Killed, this is a heavy metal masterclass, you guys are some of the most talented musicians in the game right now, and this became one of my most anticipated albums of the year, even though it seemingly came out of the blue. What was it like recording this sophomore album, Reluctant Hero, with the Killer Be Killed guys? 

Man, that was the most fun I think I’ve ever had in any studio experience I’ve ever been in. That band in general is the most fun of anything I’ve ever done. We truly feel, whatever all our thirteen year old selves were into, regardless of our age differences – which isn’t great, you know, we’re within ten years of one another – when we’re together, it’s only our thirteen to fifteen year old selves hanging out. I don’t see Troy as Troy from Mastodon, Max from Sepultura, we’re just kids who are into metal and heavy music, and rock and alternative. Everything that, when I picked up the guitar as a kid, everything that I wrote, I wasn’t into other styles of music yet, I only wanted rock. I just wanted to rock and I wanted to play the heaviest shit, the loudest, noisiest, and everything I thought of was, “it’s going to be endless riffs and there’s going to be feedback, and it’s going to be fun!” Everything that you want to do when you’re a kid, this would have been the band that I wanted to do. So now, to have that band and to have it be with people that are just these massive names in the scene, and be able to look at them and be like, I can’t believe that we’re all in a room together. A lot of them, Ben and Troy, I’ve known them since I was 23 years old, I never would have thought that we would even still be professional musicians at this point in our lives, much less be in a band together. So it’s a really cool celebration of all of our earliest influences, and without any pressure too. Because we all have other things going on, it’s not like we need to do it, it’s not like we’re like, we’ve got to hurry up and make another record and do two years of touring so we don’t lose this momentum or so we can pay our bills. It’s like, no, we’re so stoked to do this, so stoked to hang out to the degree that when we write and when we recorded, we lived in an AirBNB together. Which, deliberately, we could have stayed in separate hotel rooms or something like that, at the end of the day going back to our little holes. But we just never stopped hanging out, we were like, where are we going to eat, what bar are we going to, what are we doing for breakfast? We were just around each other all the time like you would have been when you were a kid and you spent the night at your friend’s house because you wanted to rock, and you don’t want to leave. When you’re done rocking, you’re going to stay up and play Nintendo all night, it just felt like that every time that we were together. And it really translates, to me, to the record, because when I hear it, even though it’s heavy and some of it is a little more serious or darker than the first one, it sounds fun. Maybe it’s because I had so much fun doing it. It’s got a lot of energy to it. 

Yeah, and I notice that there seems to be, even though you guys are heavy as hell, there seems to be this sense of optimism and positivity woven into the singles you guys have put out so far. Is that something you guys set out to do, or did that sort of happen?

It sort of happened. I don’t know where that came from, I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because the thing feels so like, every thing around us is so much pressure, everything’s so heavy. For me at least, and I know Mastodon, too, we use those vessels – for Dillinger when Dillinger was around – we use those vessels for really heavy, thematic things. Mastodon’s gone with the really heavy thematic subjects that, a lot of the stuff is really dense and intricate. And Dillinger’s ultra-aggressive a lot of the time, and a lot of the subject matter for me is intensely therapeutic, and a lot of it’s really rooted in some sort of pure aggression, frustration, anxiety, or depression. And this band, maybe just from the nature of it, felt more like something that was a break from all of that. A break from those expectations, we had already established that that’s what those things were for us. Having this be something that pretty much only originates when we’re together, we don’t do anything separately. So it’s not like we’re writing all these demos and then bringing them together or something, we write a bunch of parts and then we get together and start jamming on them. So wherever we get together, we’re so excited to see one another, and it’s always fun, it’s always so pressure-free, and maybe that translates into the vibe? I don’t know, man, the more things I do, the more I just realize, if you let go of the wheel, these things will just take their own vibe, based on their roles in your life, and the people that are involved. The way that The Black Queen feels to me is different than Dillinger, different than Killer Be Killed, they all just kind of create their own vibe if you let them. 

Absolutely. Your music’s been getting me through this crazy shitstorm of a year we’ve been having, but one thing I love is to see the Killer Be Killed guys get up on stage and crank this shit out live. Have you guys discussed the possibility of doing a tour once those things can happen again?

Oh, absolutely, we’re 100% going to. We had plans – obviously, everyone had plans – but we had plans for 2021, I was going to juggle a bunch of stuff, solo shows, Killer Be Killed, The Black Queen stuff, and I was pretty much planning on staying on tour nonstop, and bouncing between the things. I was really excited for that, and now obviously none of that’s happening. But we, especially as this record’s getting ready to come out, we talk in our group text or wherever about how we can’t wait to play shows, already coming up with setlists and shit, kind of a drag because it’s so far out from happening right now, but we’re definitely, the second it looks like it’s clear, we’re going to do whatever we can. We’re telling the other guys in Mastodon and Converge, we’re not going to get in the way of those guys’ main thing, but we’re going to do whatever we can. 

Would you guys consider doing a tour with bands like Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, or Gone Is Gone, or do you guys sort of want to move away from that whole “supergroup” aspect and just be a straight up band?

Well yeah, I just think of us as a band, I don’t think about the supergroup thing, for me it doesn’t mean anything. They just happen to be friends of mine that are in other bands. I feel like for the first record, there was a bit of a novelty factor, but now that there’s a second record I think it stands on its own. Especially for me, because Dillinger didn’t get a lot of the…like, we’re a weird band, our fans, by and large, didn’t come from a lot of the straight up metal scene. For Killer Be Killed, there’s going to be a lot of fans that are into heavier bands, stuff like Lamb of God, that couldn’t vibe with Dillinger that are going to hear this and be like, “Who is this? That’s that guy from that Dillinger Escape Plan band?”, I know this and I feel like for me, I think of this as a whole separate thing that has nothing to do with the sum of its parts, it’s just a band. When I think of going on tour, if we’re not headlining, I’d rather go out with a Gojira or a Lamb of God or something like that, just straight up with other heavy bands. I’m not thinking of this in terms of Gone Is Gone or Giraffe Tongue at all. It’s just a band, you know?

Right on. I’d like to talk to you about your book, actually, Separate The Dawn. So it’s a book of poetry and photographs that gives fans an intimate look at your writing process, but also a deeper dive into your psyche. And it almost felt like I was reading your private journal, and you seem kind of like a private person, so I was wondering why you wanted to put this book out there for everyone to see?

I don’t know, that time period was really intense for me. I don’t even relate to it, I can’t even look at the book anymore, I won’t look at it, it’s too much. I was depressed, really anxious, a lot of panic disorder, I was just not in a good place. I was using art, and the writing and photography was just sort of an outlet. A lot of the time that happened, I was on tour, and I had no ability to write songs, but I was just bleeding out and I had no other outlet, so it just took some other form, and that was the form that it took. Again, it’s kind of like a solo record, it just forced its way out of me, and I just had to do something with it. It is deeply, intensely personal. Once I’ve decided that something’s happening, I just can’t get past it. Releasing it kind of frees me of that time period of my life, and for whatever reason, the way I deal with life is by making stuff, and the second I make the thing, I move forward. I move through that time. And if I don’t do it, I feel like I’m wearing the same pair of clothes and I can’t change them, and I’ve got to get out of these fucking clothes, they start to stink, and like the second things are out, I’m done. The second my solo record came out, I was done, all I’m thinking about is Killer Be Killed. The second this Killer Be Killed record’s out, it’s going to free me from it, and I’m going to be like, cool, I’m done, and I’m going to start thinking about new The Black Queen. But if I don’t, I’m stuck, I can’t get out of that time period, and I just become obsessed with it. So, for whatever reason, once I got it in my head that that’s what was happening, that this was going to be a book, that I needed to release it, I couldn’t get away from it, and I didn’t think about it too much, I didn’t think about how private it was and how personal it is. And really, all the Dillinger stuff is personal too, it’s just hidden behind being in a song, so a lot of people hear it and they hear screaming and bashing and singing, and they hear the surface level elements of it. But for me, it wasn’t so much different, it was just more naked of a presentation, so it felt like a lot more. But that’s why I limited it, that’s why I didn’t make a lot of copies of it, I’ll probably never press copies again. But I don’t think I would have done the solo record if it was not for that. So everything that you do builds upon the thing before it, and I think that was just needing to get something out as my own name, to kind of soften the blow of the Child Soldier record, because the Child Soldier thing was really difficult for me too, I felt really naked about putting music out and not under a band name. Even though it would have been the same writing, the same lyrics, it just felt different to me to have my name attached to it, I couldn’t get away or hide from it, so I think the book kind of softened that blow up a little bit. 

Beautiful. Thank you so much for joining us, brother, really appreciate chatting with you.

You too, man. 

(Questions by Scott Sommer. Thanks to Greg Puciato for the interview.)