Greg Puciato: How Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell Made Me a Better Singer
Greg Puciato was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The former Dillinger Escape Plan singer discussed his first-ever solo album, Child Soldier: Creator of God, and the ups and downs that came with being the sole creative force behind the release.
For Puciato, who sings and plays a multitude of instruments on the album, the process was a rewarding one, but one that also came with a unique sense of pressure that was ultimately quite exhausting by the end. Still, it's something he found enjoyable and now has a better appreciation for creating music as a solo artist compared to the radically different approach needed to create in a full band setting.
Read the full conversation below.
Child Soldier, Creator of God was initiated by a compulsion to write an excess of music, correct?
I pretty much just do it all the time. I'm constantly writing and putting things away and seeing where they're going to go and let them grow at the pace that they want to grow at. Sometimes things take 10 years, sometimes things are done in a day,
What was most satisfying about the actual process of writing so much music?
It's an anxiety release. Now that I've been doing it my whole life, it's almost like holding in a sneeze and I feel like I have this crazy creative anxiety.
When that happens, that is my sign to myself that I've got to create something and that there's something worth getting in there. It's this process of all of a sudden discovering a dinosaur skeleton or something — you're just going about your life and then you're just going to brush away a little bit of dirt... "I think it's the bone," and then you keep brushing it away and brushing away and it's a dinosaur.
That's what making a record is. I just try to stay open to the possibility of writing at all times.
I don't really think about it. I don't sit down and say to myself, "I'm gonna write." I just go about my day and then it hits me while I'm in the shower, or it hits me while I'm outside, or while I'm hanging out with friends. You just need a spark and then once you get the spark, you follow that where it takes you.
The big gratifying thing is knowing that you took that initial thing that you could have not paid attention to and been like, "Whatever, I'll come up with something else later." You take that initial thing and then it turns into a record. Now, if I go on Spotify or wherever people listen to music, or to my record collection, there's a bunch of records there that didn't exist before that I created.
That's the coolest part to me over and over and over again is just creating from nothing and how insane of a concept that is to bring something into the world that came from inside of you that is now a tangible thing for other people to hear. That's crazy to me. It never gets old.
Greg Puciato, "Fire for Water" Music Video
This is a solo album with no significant collaborative process. What's the upside and detriment to a singular creative vision?
The upside is obviously you could do whatever you want and you can be as weird as you want — there's no out of bounds and you don't have to compromise with anybody. You don't have to agree on direction. You don't have to make any concessions. You can completely steer the ship. You're everything and that is really intense.
It's a lot of pressure and the rewards of that are obvious, but the detriment is that you end up doing so much. It's just an insane amount of work to do. If you're committed to doing everything, if you really are trying to play most of the instruments and there wasn't really a singular heavy collaborator, that's a lot of work and it's really draining. But it's really gratifying.
The flip side to that is the positive of collaborating too. You grow from being uncomfortable when someone throws you a curveball when you were expecting a fastball and you arrive somewhere that neither of you would have gotten to on your own. That's extremely valuable.
Now that I have both, I can't ever imagine when I looked back at the fact that I didn't have a solo outlet for the first 18-19 years of my professional life. That's crazy to me, but it's equally crazy to imagine not having bands. I really enjoy both. I love bands and I love collaborating.
I also love the solo thing now, so I can't ever imagine one taking over the other. The second I was done with my record, I was like, "God, I can't wait to do band stuff again." It was just so exhausting.
You staged a pretty innovative and ambitious live online event as a way to perform your solo album going forward. How has that changed your ideas about broadcasting in the future?
I wasn't excited about the idea of a livestream concert. I love playing shows and I love being on tour. I'm a pirate — once the ship leaves the harbor, I don't want to come back.
But I wasn't excited about playing a fake concert. It just didn't appeal to me and it took me reframing it as more of the way I would have thought of like a home video or whatever they called the things before the Internet when bands released videos in the '90s or the kind of video that you had to go buy, wherever they sold music — the Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden and Metallica home videos.
It wasn't just a concert. It was a little bit of a documentary and some behind the scenes and a song and some shit in the studio. It was more of a special and once I started thinking of it like that and thinking of it as a release instead of an event, then I was like, "Oh, okay."
The streaming portion of it will just be the equivalent of a movie being in the theaters. It doesn't not exist when it leaves theaters — it goes to Apple and blu-ray or whatever the hell — it's not one and done. Then it made more sense to me from a creative standpoint and something I could sink my teeth into.
Then I started writing new songs because then it could be whatever you want — I'm going to do a live thing and I'm going to write some new songs and I'm going to have the video guy record the studio and the concert and all kinds of stuff.
I treated it more like an album that had a visual component and than a livestream and that was the only way I could get excited about it. I'm just not thrilled about pretending there's an audience rocking out.
Greg Puciato, "Evacuation" from 'Fuck Content' Livestream
Working with Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains honed you as a vocalist. What is it about a guitarist who sings and understands vocal techniques that other singers might not appreciate?
I learn a lot from Jerry constantly. I see him all the time and we are really good friends. We have very similar brains, but he comes from a much less abstract place and more of a singer-songwriter place. Beyond the fact that he's a great lyricist and a great guitar player, he's got a real gift for songwriting and for harmony and textures and filling in blanks sonically. He doesn't just do it vocally with harmony, he does it with guitar too.
I learned a lot of guitar playing from Jerry, just absorbing all those songs.
To rewind for a minute, he asked me to sing a couple nights with him in Los Angeles last last December when we did two shows together.
I had to learn like 30 songs — a mix of Alice in Chains and solo songs. He's a pitch perfect singer. He's got an incredible gift for harmony and coloring and shading. If there's a frequency missing or a note missing, he will find it naturally. He'll either use the guitar or his voice or a harmony to kind of fill that in.
If you're listening on headphones, it's even crazier because some of the stuff is only on the left side and some of the stuff is only on the right side — things that you're not hearing when you're listening through big speakers, even in songs that I had heard a million times.
When I started actually learning the harmonies for them, I would hear things just in the left side or just in the right side and learned the way that they split their harmonies from a mixing standpoint in the older records.
Jerry Cantrell With Greg Puciato, "Would?" (Alice in Chains)
I had never had any of that happening in any in any record that I'd ever been in. So I absorbed a lot and then I immediately went from that into doing the Killer Be Killed record, which has three singers — me, Max Cavalera and Troy Sanders from Mastodon. That helped a lot in the writing and recording for that, having that knowledge.
Then I went straight from that record into my record, so I absorbed a lot from him as far as just songwriting ability and arrangement information. I also just got a lot better as a singer by holding myself to a different standard. When you're the only guy singing and you're a little bit flat or sharp, it doesn't matter that much because you're not rubbing with anything else, but if you're harmonizing with someone else, it's instantly noticeable. You don't want Jerry looking over at you like, "What was that note?" [laughs] I had to keep myself pretty tight and stayed in that shape since then.
You're multifaceted in terms of self-expression. Why is it important to be unlimited in the ways you're able to express yourself?
Being unlimited creatively is how we're born. If you're creative and you're artistic, you don't learn those limitations. That's all fear. That's the way people's brains work — there's all these fake boundaries they've got to declare allegiance to — a certain group or a sector, religion or political party or whatever. They do it musically too. I've never understood it. It never made sense to me as a kid and it doesn't make sense to me now. The point of creativity is individualistic self-expression and anything that excites me is the idea of not having boundaries. There's enough boundaries in life.
Why would creativity have a boundary? It's all, fear-based — you're afraid that you're going to get ridiculed by your peers for trying something new or that you're going to lose your fans because they only like you because you did this one style of music or you throw your eggs in the basket of like a scene and to get adopted by that scene. Now you're afraid that if you do something that is frowned upon by the scene, then they're not going to embrace you anywhere.
Fuck all that. That doesn't have anything to do with natural creativity. Internally, when you create, you take a feeling that you have — an abstract feeling or an abstract part of your soul — and create something tangible with it.
The point is to get out of the way and let that thing come out and not to force it to come out in a certain genre or a certain medium, but to just let it come out. The older I get and the more I keep doing that, the more I realize that I'm right. [laughs] I can't imagine the feeling of being enslaved — art and creativity is my whole life and I can't imagine that becoming something that I'm scared of or something that I'm trying to corral into a form that only so other people accept it. It's crazy.
Thanks to Greg Puciato for the interview. Get your copy of 'Child Soldier: Creator of God' here (as Amazon affiliates we earn on qualifying purchases) and follow the musician on Spotify (he doesn't maintain social media profiles). Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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