It’s the songwriter’s prerogative to stew on things. Whereas the rest of us do our best to avoid the whirlpool of samsara, songwriters dive head first into it. For that we should be thankful; they tackle the things we avoid and report their findings back to us in words we understand, but could never have expressed on our own.
And while it’s not the music journalist’s prerogative to write in the first person, I fear there is a depth to the following that simply cannot be breached without a more personal tone. This is what happens when the songwriter offers you their hand as they step towards the whirlpool and you take hold.
“Oh man. My life is chaos.”
These were the opening words from Greg Puciato. Normally the first words of an interview bare as much significance as the last; very little. They adhere to a social script, one too mundane for publication, but with Puciato, these opening words are the Rosetta Stone to translating the motivations behind his debut solo album, Child Soldier: Creator of God.
Sometimes as an interviewer you’re in the driver’s seat and sometimes you’re a passenger. To get to the bottom of the chaos, to find the kernel of ‘why?’ buried deep within, I assumed the role of passenger.
After all, even my best laid plans of inquisition paled against the personal truths that Puciato would offer.
And so, with Puciato at the wheel, we begin to unravel his chaos.
“The stressful thing is the fucking political situation here,” he begins. “You probably didn’t want to get into this…There’s just so much fucking volume right now about the election that it’s inescapable.”
At face value, Child Soldier: Creator of God doesn’t appear political. But Puciato isn’t just a member of Dillinger Escape Plan, or Killer Be Killed, or a solo musician, he’s a human dealing with the same slings and arrows as the rest of us, so the background radiation of political unrest naturally seeped into his creative psyche, like an uncredited session player.
“There’s a tangible feeling of exhaustion. Everyone has just fucking reached peak exhaustion with [Trump]. People are starting to also reach exhaustion with being treated like they’re stupid.”
“I feel like it’s a representation of what people needed to fucking wake up to in a way that made it unavoidable. You keep glorifying fame and celebrity and idiots, and Kim Kardashian is the biggest celebrity on the planet. Let’s keep inching towards peak stupid. Trump is what happens when you reach the zenith. You just literally took a jester and put him in the position of fucking president.”
“Hey, dickhead, you make $40,000 a year. No one’s trying to take your fucking money.”
It’s not just the Trump administration that has invoked the ire of Puciato. In fact, Puciato sees Trump as a symptom of a greater issue, one that won’t go away even if Trump loses the 2020 election. “I think we’ve got a good 10 year death rattle,” he explains.
The bigger threat are those blindly following him.
“People in fucking the middle of Idaho, that have never left the country that they just think like Europe and Australia are these… They’re like, “I don’t want to live in one of those fucking places. I don’t want someone taking my fucking money and giving it to… I work hard for my money.” It’s like, “Hey, dickhead, you make $40,000 a year. No one’s trying to take your fucking money.”
“Fucking four years from now, they’re going to return to some other monster. Like, Ivanka’s going to run or something.”
It’s also the songwriter’s prerogative to not be content with an outcome, but rather seek the cause of it. “I don’t care who fucking feels offended by this, but this is what happens when you have fucking fundamentalist religion in fucking 2020.”
“They’re already fucking beaten into submission by fucking having some weird extremist, fucking religious belief in 2020, and they just round them up and they get them all fired up about their cause whether it’s fucking abortion or whatever it is over here that they keep on lumping in with religious fundamentalism. Fucking disgusting, man.”
But Puciato doesn’t just riff on the issues, instead doing the psychological floor routine to extrapolate some sort of substance from the situation.
“It’s accelerating a lot of conversations; concepts of things like universal basic income or concepts like healthcare and education or ideas about racism and social justice and all these things that I think people were conveniently ignoring.”
“It’s not like Biden is some fucking ultra progressive, but at least it’s not a fucking dumpster fire.”
“I don’t know,” he exhales. “Were we supposed to talk about the record at all?”
While we may be no further from unraveling the chaos of Puciato , we certainly have a lens through which to view it with more clarity. In light of the above, re-consider the volatile titles incorporated into the project; the album name ‘Child Soldier’ and the suffix of ‘Creator of God’, right through to the label he founded to release it, ‘Federal Prisoner’.
Perhaps these aren’t attempts to ruffle feathers, but more so a reflection of Puciato’s highly pronounced susceptibility to the external pressures around him.
“It’s not lost on me,” he says of the naming motif. “I look at that stuff, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s a weird tendency that I keep going back to of feeling there might be some illusion to being trapped or being in prison.”
“It’s like, yeah, man, I have problems. I have attachment disorders, and I have a really hard time accessing my emotions in any way that isn’t creative. Most people close to me would describe me as being very hard to get close to. It doesn’t matter how long you’re around. You’re not getting past a certain point.”
Indeed, he even places these barriers around himself. Even Puciato has to do the shadow work to get close to Puciato. “I don’t figure myself out, and then write. I write, and then I try to figure myself out, so it’s usually writing.”
“The purpose of it is to be a fucking barrier to entry. A fucking litmus test for what your threshold is.”
Puciato explains that through his solo project, he was once and for all about to get through his own walls; to find himself. “I don’t want to fucking keep reinforcing the same tendencies over and over.” It was a cathartic breakthrough that had been building up for some time. “I could see where it started to crack. It’s like right around ‘One of Us is the Killer’, I was fucking at peak frustration with myself and with everything.”
“I have all these little mechanisms in place to keep everything from closing in on me, things that most people would consider healthy and good. They make me feel trapped. So this record, to me, is symbolic of integration; to operate without protecting, which is very difficult for me to do.”
One such mechanism was distance. Emotional, physical and in the instance of his solo project, professional distance. But the arc towards a new way of operating had already begun.
“I wasn’t going to call it my name. I was going to call it ‘Child Soldier’…”
“Even that, it was just like, ‘Dude, come on, man. What are you going to do? Just own your shit.’ If you’re going to do this, do this and don’t hide from it in any way. If you’re going to put out a record like this, you’re going to waste it by calling it some other name, just call it yourself, man.”
The final product is a high concept, sprawling record. It would be a lie to say it’s easily accessible – by design, it’s not. Emboldened with his new found penchant to be unashamedly himself, Puciato refused to dumb things down for the general masses.
“It wasn’t a collection of songs that I organised after the fact to see what was going to be the most marketable.”
“There’s a couple of times where the producer would want me to shorten something or he was like, ‘Are you sure that you want to have a two minute noise blast on the second track?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely, yes I do.'”
The closing moments of the title track were just some of the deliberate hurdles left in the mix. Not so much to weed out the weak, but to reward the listeners that persevered through the sonic assault. “The purpose of it is to be a fucking barrier to entry. A fucking litmus test for what your threshold is.”
“That is an intentional representation of me being like, ‘I dare you to get close. I dare you to fucking come past this.’ You got to go through the tornado to get to Oz.”
In looking back, perhaps we’ll never fully understand the personal chaos of Greg Puciato, or anyone else for that matter. Perhaps we aren’t even meant to. But this is a teachable moment nonetheless. Just like politics, art, and insecurities, chaos is an unavoidable part of life.
And maybe, just like Puciato has done with Child Soldier, we stop pretending it’s not.