Greg Puciato is a difficult musician to pin down. While most listeners’ introduction to Puciato was his longtime role as the frontman for the iconic The Dillinger Escape Plan, he also plays in Killer Be Killed alongside members of Sepultura, Mastodon, and Converge, as well as in the electronic-based group The Black Queen. In late 2020, mid-pandemic, he began releasing solo output at a dizzying pace, first with the 15-song “Child Soldier: Creator of God”, followed only two months later with the live/studio audio/visual release “Fuck Content”. If that wasn’t enough, Puciato also most recently collaborated with Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell on the legendary guitarist’s 2021 album, Brighten, as well as with the French synth-wave all-star Carpenter Brut on the single “Imaginary Fire”. “I absorbed so much from Jerry over the last two years,” Puciato explains. “I feel like being around him a lot and helping him with his record and learning his stuff ended up bleeding out of me through my own filter a little bit. Before I ever sang, I played guitar and I feel like I just really got more into that again over the past few years. Incorporating more of that further removed my own ideas of what I was or wasn’t.”
The result is Puciato’s second full-length Mirrorcell, an album that—like Puciato himself—is difficult to categorize. From the driving aggression of “Reality Spiral” to the atmospheric ambience of “I, Eclipse,” Mirrorcell sees Puciato expanding his vocal palette while crafting songs that recall everyone from Soundgarden to Black Sabbath. “People ask me all the time about the process, but I just sit down and record whatever comes out, so I don’t lose the purity of it,” Puciato explains. “All of the songwriting is really spontaneous and the solos are basically all improvised, because there’s only so many times I can get my vision across without doing the same thing over and over.” To record Mirrorcell, Puciato once again enlisted longtime DEP producer Steve Evetts. “Steve knows when I can do better and he knows when the first take is a keeper, so that was the obvious choice,” he explains.
While Puciato played all of the guitars and bass on the album, he also enlisted a few friends to help him out with these recordings, including drummer Chris Hornbrook(Poison the Well, Dhani Harrison, Big Black Delta). “Chris and I met back in 2003 when our bands toured together. Originally he was supposed to play on the first Black Queen album, before we shifted direction, but we still always knew that we were gonna work together eventually, so as soon as I started putting together my first solo album, [2020’s Child Soldier: Creator of God] I knew that was a place where we could do that.” Correspondingly, Hornbrook’s impassioned drumming pushes songs like “Rainbows Underground” toward the sonic stratosphere while keeping them grounded with his steady sense of rhythm. Then there’s the moody and multilayered “Lowered” which features guest vocals from Code Orange’s Reba Meyers. “When she came to the studio we had like…zero vocals for that song. I had been a little unusually stuck with that one lyrically and as far as vocal phrasings and melodies” Puciato explains. “Reba and I had such an explosion of musical and personal chemistry right away, and we ended up writing and recording all of the vocals in about six hours. It was one of the purest collaborations I’ve ever done, in terms of feeling, just really natural and explosive. She really blew me away overall. The combined energy was instant. That song turned into something really special because of that energy.”
Another collaboration that lies at the core of Mirrorcell is the aforementioned influence of Jerry Cantrell, a musical hero of Puciato’s who has now become one of his closest friends. “He’ll just do whatever he feels is pure in the moment,” Puciato explains when asked about what he took away from the experience of working together. “He’s not over-laboring the melody or the riff, it was just how I would do things except it was even further down that path. Writing solo music is daunting because you’re not hiding behind a moniker and there are no band members to share the blame if people don’t like it, so it’s a lot easier to overthink things. But seeing him just come up with ideas and commit to them on the highest level possible inspired me to believe in my own ideas without so much second-guessing.” That confidence is evident in the album, particularly on songs like the tribal-sounding ballad “We,” which displays a level of melodicism that wouldn’t sound out of place on terrestrial radio and evokes electronic-pop artists like Depeche Mode.
While Puciato has become known for live performances that include bleeding, fire-breathing and headwalking, Mirrorcell displays a more vulnerable side to the enigmatic frontman. “I always write from a very personal place because I don’t know how to write topically, it doesn’t interest me much at all, and so for me everything is so personal that it’s almost uncomfortable,” he explains. “So when other people read the lyrics and don’t really know [exactly what I’m talking about] that’s a relief to me.” That said, when Puciato sings, “I’m alone inside my castle” on “Never Wanted That,” there is a universality to the lyrics—and themes like loneliness, pain, and transcendence lie at the core of Mirrorcell’s message. In many ways, this approach harkens back to the grunge artists who inspired the album’s music in the same way that songs like Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” or Alice In Chains’ “Would?” have resonated for decades while still maintaining a level of ambiguity that’s inherent to their lasting presence.
Mirrorcell will be released on Federal Prisoner, Puciato’s label collaboration with visual artist Jesse Draxler. “Federal Prisoner was a name that I had in my notepad from 2014, and I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I knew I was going to use it for something. When it came time to release the second Black Queen record [2018’s Infinite Games], the name found its purpose. Jesse wanted to make Federal Prisoner a hybrid of a label and a clothing line, which was exciting to both of us, and it felt just like starting a band—and that’s how we run it, it’s just like it’s our band, but instead it’s a label. It’s a joint creative expression, an evolving intersection, and it was a really natural development—a way for us to keep doing shit together.” In the way Puciato’s music unites him with the people around him, the label is another way for him to connect with both his friends and his audience. “The best feeling is when you have people personally close to you in your life that you can also work with together, creating things that excite you, things that you feel passionate about, with people that you feel passionate about…I mean what’s better than that?” Puciato summarizes, and you get the sense that maybe that’s the red thread running through his whole musical career. “I’ve been chasing that feeling over and over for my entire life and those relationships have been the foundation of every meaningful thing that has happened to me.”