By Mike Bax
Lead image: Johnny Buzzerio
I think it’s safe to say that everyone in Giraffe Tongue Orchestra (GTO) would quickly dismiss being addressed as a super group. Comprised of 5 very competent musicians, GTO is a project that has taken years to fully gestate into the recently released Broken Lines (Party Smasher Inc. / Cooking Vinyl US). The band is comprised of William DuVall of Alice in Chains, Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Brent Hinds of Mastodon, Pete Griffin of Dethklok and Thomas Pridgen of The Mars Volta. The album also features contributions from actress and musician Juliette Lewis and Queens of the Stone Age drummer Jon Theodore.
Maybe a ‘superb’ group is more of an appropriate descriptor, especially given that all of these members have managed to create a relevant album that sounds nothing like any of their respective other bands.
Released on September 23rd, Broken Lines features ten tracks that touch on all of the genres of music that one might attribute to the bands mentioned above. But with more weight on experimentation and jamming through different songs to find exciting musical ways to be great together.
With a two live shows in the UK already behind them, and a short run of eight US dates happening at the end of November and into early December, the members of GTO are doing their damndest to align their schedules to give Broken Lines the attention it needs to find an audience. These eight shows are in really small venues – don’t miss them – if nothing else, you’ll get a chance to see some great jams by awesome musicians up close and sweaty.
Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan) took twenty minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about GTO and Dillinger last week. (Full list of tour dates at the end of this interview).
Mike: This is busy times for you, Ben – two records to service (one Giraffe Tonge Orchestra album out and one Dillinger Escape Plan album only weeks away from release). You are touring heavily. Good on you.
Ben: Yes. Definitely very busy right now.
Mike: Can you talk a bit about the early days of Giraffe Tongue Orchestra? The early days of dialog and how the project came to fruition?
Ben: Yeah. It started with Brent and me trying to make a band together. We had flirted with the idea for a couple of years. We’d been touring together and had been around each other a lot. I think it turned into more of a reality when Brent talked about it in an interview. I didn’t know if it we were really going to do it or not. But once he did this interview, it gave us an incentive to get it done. From that point we started trying to play with people. I started making ideas and recording at home. Every now and then I’d run into him on the road or we’d be out on tour together and we’d track some guitars. He’d send me something on his iPhone and I’d try to turn it into something. We made a lot of ideas, worked on a lot of stuff and jammed with a lot of people, but we didn’t want to just put something out within the timeframe that we had available. We wanted to make sure everything felt right, and that the chemistry was right. So it took many years to have it feel like we had a real band. Something that we could be proud of and that we felt stood on its own feet. That is how we got to where we are at now.
Mike: Would you then say that the material on Broken Lines was generated slowly one song at a time? Or did you manage to get flourishing bursts of creativity that would yield three or four stems of potential material that you felt might be GTO tracks eventually?
Ben: Um, there’s some very early stuff that ended up on the album. And then there’s probably like three songs that were created later on in the game with the existing line-up. And then there were some songs that I just wrote on my own using drum machines and stuff. The guys just liked them and started jamming on them. It worked, so there were all sorts of things going on around the creation of Broken Lines. It really was just a combination of the songs that worked well with the group of people that we were all playing with.
Mike: Did you push for studio time together for this? Or where you sharing things over the internet and piecing the songs together in that fashion?
Ben: We mostly were sharing stuff. But we also had a couple of moments of us getting into the studio and jamming them. Steve Evetts is the producer, who I’ve worked with in Dillinger for many years, was really helpful getting us into his studio when he had times available so we could demo some stuff and try some things out. Some of that ended up on the album. And then we were even at Ross Robinson’s house and hen has a studio and he let us jam there and work on stuff and just fuck around with ideas. Eventually we just ended up in that studio with a blocked out amount of time and we just went for it.
Mike: The Oleg Rooz directed video for ‘Crucifixion’ is pretty stellar. It looks amazing. Were you a fan of his work prior to doing this GTO video with him?
Ben: He’s really an unknown guy. He’s this young guy from Russia. he reached out to me because he was a fan of (I assume) Party Smasher. He just really wanted to be a part of the art collective there. He asked if there was anything he could do and I would be looking at some of his stuff and I saw that he was really talented. So I started interacting with him every few months. And after a bit of that I hit him up with a “Hey man. Why don’t we do a video together.” That’s what we do with Giraffe Tongue. Because it was a new entity, Myself and William (who has done a lot of the art direction and things like that for GTO) just give people chances. People that we thought were cool. Because we didn’t have any existing idea of what Giraffe Tongue should be in a visual sense. Some of the merch designs were designed by Dillinger fans who have followed us around over the years. For one of our art designs, one day I saw this girls work on Instagram and I was blown away by her art. So I asked her if she wanted to be a part of it and she was thrilled. Same with Oleg, reaching out and asking if we could work together on GTO. I just liked the idea of using this project to expose some new people. Especially because it’s considered like this supergroup thing. (laughs) If you believe the hype, everyone involved is from this influential band or something like that. The truth is it was just a group of people I was running into – people I’m a fan of, and that we all have chemistry together, including people like Oleg who nobody had ever heard of, you know?
Mike: In the past, I’ve watched these ‘super groups’, musicians getting together to make music together. I’ve bought a few that have been a bit of a belly flop in my opinion – the end product failing to meet my expectations. I was so thankful when I heard Broken Lines and it wasn’t that at all. it contains elements of all of your respective bodies of work, but there was a lot of new and interesting stuff happening on the material. It was fresh and fun to listen to. And I applaud you for that, really.
Ben: Thank you man. It was a hard road to get to where we are. But once we got it all together it was totally worth it. It really was a long record to make. But again, I really feel like we accomplished a goal. Not only getting it done under very difficult circumstances but like you said, making something that stands on its own feet away from our other bands.
Mike: It was really nice to hear William do all of this different stuff.
Ben: I think so, too.
Mike: I really only know him because of Alice in Chains. He really shines on this album.
Ben: I knew he had a lot of tools to work with. He’s been in bands for many years – punk bands through to more melodic soulful bands and he’s been doing such a great job in the Alice in Chains gig. But I was really excited to give people the opportunity to hear him over different kinds of music like these songs.
Mike: Right on. There was a time when the internet would have us believe that Juliette Lewis was the lead vocalist of this band. How did that happen? Was that ever a thing?
Ben: There was a lot of people that we jammed with who, based on timing or chemistry or just ideas of what music we wanted to play, it just didn’t work out for one reason or another. Juliette was somebody that we had definitely considered having to be the singer of the band. She was someone I was a fan of, I’ve seen her play live and always dug her. We ended up just connecting and I sent her some tunes and she liked them. So it was just at an off time where she was filming a TV show and she had a little time off so she just came to my house in the suburbs of Jersey and she like lived at my house and we just jammed and had fun. Some of that just never came out. Maybe we will use it some day for something else. And there was some stuff that ended up being GTO music and then when we knew that she wasn’t going to have the time to do the whole thing and wasn’t comfortable with all of the material then we got William as a full time singer. We still wanted to have her involved and we did use some of here vocals. I love her stuff. I think she’s awesome.
Mike: Yeah. Me too. It’s neat when you hear her come up on a couple of the tracks. You can tell it’s her. The ‘Blood Moon’ video looked like it was a blast to film. Can you talk about that clip – the gore that’s in it and whether anyone was hurt making it?
Ben: (laughs) Um. It was fun. It was a long day making that video. I don’t think anyone got really hurt. I definitely got strangled doing that, though.
Mike: You could tell.
Ben: Right? I wasn’t really acting that much there. I did have a massive migraine afterwards from not really being able to breathe while I was shooting that footage. And, of course, we shot for longer than you see on the screen. It was funny because we were all done up in make up to look beat up. And we would go out to the liquor store and Brent would buy a six pack and people were just staring at us wondering “what the fuck just happened to you guys”. We had some good times messing around with that. But it was a cool thing and a really cool thing to again see some of the people in this band in a different light. Seeing William in a fun role and loosened up – not all Alice in Chains style, you know? And even for me, not being the guy jumping off shit covered in blood. It was great to just have fun and do a video like that.
Mike: So let me ask you this. is the actual performing of the Broking Lines material as simple as you collectively saying “we will now play this live”. Or have you had to rehearse and rearrange some of these songs to be able to present them in a live fashion?
Ben: Hmm. We haven’t had to re-arrange them. But there have definitely been some elements of improv. We did play two shows. And there wasn’t a whole lot of practice unfortunately. And that was scary. But with the time that we did get to practice, we felt comfortable enough to go up on stage and represent the material. But there are moments where, especially with Thom Pridgen’s stuff, we would just play around and jam out together. The solo work that we’d bring to it was all improv. It gives us some room for, uh, artistic license on these songs. So this is partly because we haven’t had the time to sit there and make everything exact, but also because that’s the nature of the songs and we wanted it that way.
Mike: Have you all talked about what you will do to fil out these upcoming live shows you have booked into December? What material you ‘might’ play together.
Ben: Yeah. There’s three songs on the album that we didn’t play live in England. So we will probably learn those. For sure. And then, you know, maybe we will do a cover or whatever. It really depends. I think the album is like 45 or 50 minutes long.
Mike: Yeah. It’s a good length.
Ben: We’ll have some space in between songs and a cover or something. It should be fine. We’re not playing ‘Man in The Box’ if that’s your question.
Mike: Oh, that’s staying in. (laughs) How did you find the Pledge Music experience for the pre-orders for Giraffe Tongue?
Ben: Uh, that’s an interesting question. I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve been heavily involved with other than being involved with the merchandise that we are packaging for it. But we thought it would be an interesting thing to try out the pledge experience on this band in particular because there’s people from so many different bands in this band. We thought it might be a good way to target the fans of our existing bands. Being able to target and provide updates and clips to our existing fans – people who might already be in that system. It was definitely new to me because my band Dillinger is very much direct to fan. You know, we do so much independently. If we get a shirt design it will just go up on our Facebook and that’s it – GO – it’s right direct. That’s what I’m more used to. But it’s definitely been interesting to try something new.
Mike: It was cool to see that the release of this album was handled by Party Smasher. Can you talk a bit about Party Smasher as a whole, and how it’s changed and adapted over the past 5 or 6 years as an entity?
Ben: Definitely. Initially it was a song title. Then it turned into like an umbrella brand or label to put on the Dillinger albums. While we were doing one-offs and partnering with different people to enable us to not have to sign any long lasting contracts. And then it became a media site as well, where we were using it to interview bands and artists and find out their stories a little bit in order to influence people. Particularly in the spirit of DIY, designing it yourself and doing things differently and not following the trends. And then it became officially my label where I partnered with a company called Cooking Vinyl and I created the imprint. And am now releasing actual music through Party Smasher as a legitimate label now. So I think it’s going to continue to evolve. There’s really no rules for it. There’s going to be some interesting things coming out in the future that we may release in different ways. It’s cool to have this that can evolve and change as things make more sense.
Mike: I’d mentioned earlier the notion of musicians getting together and jamming. Did you ever have any concerns that there might not be any musical moxie with you and Brent? Or with your other coconspirators in GTO?
Ben: Like I said, we made sure that there was. If the chemistry wasn’t there and we weren’t having fun, or if it didn’t seem to work we’d just move on. There’s some great guys, some of which I’d like to play with again, where the combination this time around just didn’t seem right, so we’d just keep waiting. Waiting until it made sense. Brent and I have been really great friends for so many years now, and we complement each other so much musically, and even personality wise. It’s easy for us to be together for hours and hours and hours, you know? We have our own history together, our own stories. So I had no question at all about working with Brent obviously.
Mike: Right on. As sad as I was to hear about the impending demise of Dillinger, it’s been nice to have this GTO release, and to hear Greg (Puciato) on The Black Queen. That has helped soften the blow of losing Dillinger Escape Plan, a band I’ve been following around for almost two decades now.
Ben: (laughs) Well, that’s good. I think some people maybe assume these bands are replacements for Dillinger. Like our next jobs or something. Like we are moving to these new careers or something? And that is definitely not the case. We hadn’t had any thoughts about ending Dillinger until well after we had already done loads of work on these other projects. We’d basically finished these albums already. If anything, doing these other projects made us appreciate Dillinger more. You realize all bands are a pain in the ass. All people are a pain in the ass. It’s good that we’ve had such great chemistry with such a good group of guys for so long. In many ways that is really easy comparatively to having to start something new. So GTO and Black Queen weren’t any part of our deciding factor on the Dillinger decision for sure.
Mike: Would you mind, if you can, can you pick a single word to describe William, Brent, Thomas and Pete? One word only for each of them?
Ben: Not a combined word for them all?
Mike: One each. One that suits each of them. Anything you want.
Ben: (laughs) Oh man. You may be getting me in trouble here. Brent is just unicorn. Pete is natural. That guy, everything is just natural and amazing with Pete. Personality and musical ability. No choices it’s all just natural. I’d say second nature, but that’s two words. Thomas is lifer. Nothing else in life is as important. He’s got babies. He’s got girlfriends. He’s got family. He’s got friends all over the world. But he is never more alive than when he is on the drums. He’s going to be doing that for ever, you know? He’s a lifer. And then William… Hmm. Lead singer is two words. (laughs) Serious. He’s a serious guy. Serious about everything he does. He’s just straight to the point, you know?
GIRAFFE TONGUE ORCHESTRA TOUR DATES:
Nov 29 The Sinclair Boston, MA
Dec 1 Gramercy Theatre New York, NY
Dec 2 Union Transfer Philadelphia, PA
Dec 3 Bottom Lounge Chicago, IL
Dec 6 The Independent San Francisco, CA
Dec 7 Teragram Ballroom Los Angeles, CA
Dec 8 Neumos Seattle, WA
Dec 10 Magic Stick Detroit, MI