Near the end of the band's co-headlining run on the Summer Slaughter Tour, I caught up with Between the Buried and Me bassist Dan Briggs to talk a bit about the band's upcoming release The Parallax II: Future Sequence. Besides chatting about going back to Jamie King as a producer and the band's push to continue to evolve as musicians, Briggs also reveals plans for the band to play the new record in its entirety when the band tours the United States in 2013.
You guys are near the end of the Summer Slaughter tour with Cannibal Corpse and a slew of other bands. How’s the reception been on that tour for you guys?
It’s been great. We’re co-headlining, so most of the shows feel like Between the Buried and Me shows anyway. It’s cool though, because I think that there’s new fans from this tour. Bands like The Faceless and Periphery kind of share a bit of our fanbase already anyways. It’s been a very easy tour and it’s in the last week right now.
I saw that you guys only have like five or six dates left. I saw you’ve also been working “Telos” into the set. How’s the reception been for that?
Fun. It’s been to the point now for us where it’s just like another song. It doesn’t really phase anyone. I’m not thinking about parts or anything. When we were first playing it, I was very much locked into what I was playing and now I’m just having more fun performing with it. It’s a fun song, but it’s killing me to play it because the start of it comes out of another songs and the end goes into another songs. It’s killing me to not be able to play it within its place in the album. We’ll be doing that soon enough though.
Are there plans once you start building setlists with the new record to try and do that?
When we hit the states again in 2013, we’re doing the full record for sure.
This is probably a question you deal with a lot, but looking at the set for this tour, it’s pretty much only five or six songs. Is it difficult to put together a list of songs when you guys play songs like “Telos” which is almost ten minutes or opening with “White Walls” that pushes fourteen minutes?
It’s hard when you have less than an hour. An hour was pretty okay to put together. We knew we were gonna do “Telos” and from there it was just trying to figure out what would be the best fifty minutes outside of that. We played a couple festivals on this tour in Canada that were like with System of a Down and Deftones and we only got a half an hour – we literally played two songs. That’s when it gets kind of silly. We can’t fit into a half an hour very well anymore, and thankfully we don’t really have that come up and happen often if ever. But when we start headlining here in the U.K. and Europe and back in the states, we’ll definitely be playing at least an hour and a half. Especially once we start playing the new record, that’s 74 minutes [laughs].
Did you throw around the idea of doing the whole melody thing again like you guys did on prior tours?
Maybe, but it was hard to put together and ended up not being our most favorite thing to play. Some nights people got it, other nights people were just kind of confused I think. People aren’t really familiar with a lot of our stuff pre-Colors, and that’s okay. That’s okay with us, that’s my favorite stuff to play, the music from Colors and on. It’s nice to drop in with an oddball song but it just doesn’t go over live. People just don’t know it. The people who do know it are in such a small minority.
It’s tough too when you play a collection of songs and you aren’t really sure about that song as a listener, you don’t know where to go with it.
You’re going to be releasing the new album in October. Kind of backing up to the Parallax EP you guys did, did you consciously try to tie the two releases together and how are some ways they really connect together?
It connects conceptually with the story, it picks up where the story left off. It really goes from there. The first EP is really just introducing you to the characters and the situation sort of. It’s all pretty vague I think, which is pretty cool because we’re able to really expand on it on the full-length. We made a conscious effort with the full-length to look at the artwork for each song and very clearly be able to tell what’s going on with the lyrics and everything is clearly written out. You can get a good understanding of what is happening. We just had to explain a lot when we were doing interviews on the EP about exactly what was going on and everything seemed a little dense and a little hard to understand. It’s all laid out now. As far as musically, it’s very much its own thing. There’s two themes that are carried over to the album that will be painfully obvious to people. Other than that, we were excited to have a blank slate to just really start fresh and go nuts on.
Do you feel like with this full-length you’ve completed this story and arcing process or is there a thought that it might continue after this?
By the time people take in the last few songs, just the name of that song alone “Goodbye to Everything”, that’s a pretty good indication that that is the end of it for our characters and for, well, everything [laughs]. And I know for Tommy, it was different for him to focus on one story and he’s never done this before, but I know he’s excited to move away from that and work on short stories within the context of a song and not necessarily a whole record.
You don’t want to go the whole Coheed and Cambria route where there’s five albums on one story.
Yeah and that can be cool, but I think it’s just good to do what feels most natural. I think with Tommy it’d have to be like every other one or every now and then doing one that has a big conceptual thing lyrically. Or maybe we’ll find some different ways to write things that are separate but fit in the larger context.
So for the EP, you guys went with David Botrill to record, for the full-length you went back to Jamie King. How do you feel what you did with David influenced your decision to go back to Jamie and what were some of the differences in going with David as opposed to recording with Jamie for that EP?
Working with David was different and we were forcing ourselves to be outside of our comfort zone. We’ve done almost every record with Jamie, and he lives five minutes down the road from where we stay at in Winston-Salem. It couldn’t be anymore convenient and easy for us. When our manager at the time and Metal Blade came to us with the opportunity to work with David, we had our jaws on the floor and were like, ‘Um, yes.’ He’s done a lot of my favorite records, he’s worked with some of my favorite artists and it seemed like it could be a really cool thing. We got up there and found out that the material we were presenting to him was a lot to take in. I just don’t think he was very used to our genre and it was a bit trying, you could tell. You could tell he was getting frustrated and stuff, and that’s understandable. Jamie encourages us to get more outrageous and be more out there, something that David was less excited about. I know some things, like we were supposed to make the record with him and he gave us a time limit. It was just like, it’s not happening. We spend like a month mixing the record sometimes, so we did the mix with Jamie and ended up adding some things that we were maybe afraid to try with David. Like one the second track there’s a big barnyard theme with like chickens and ghosts and shit. And Jamie was basically like, ‘Well, we gotta have that.’ [laughs] Like yeah we do. That’s one of the things that when we are recording with him in North Carolina just come out naturally. We just wanted to return to being comfortable and Jamie did a great job. There were times where, and we’ve matured over the years too, the obvious thing to do would be more outrageous and we scaled back. We’re able to figure out what each part needed, we did a demoing process this time around, we knew what the record is going to be before we recorded it. We usually have a very good idea, but this time we were just going to redo what we’d already done, just with Jamie.
How do you feel that comfort level worked with you guys sticking to this idea that you guys also seem to push the envelope when it comes to progressive metal or progressive music in general?
A little sidestep, I have a beef with labeling the genre of music as progressive anything. I’m guilty of that because when somebody asked me what Between the Buried and Me sounds like, just to shut them up I’ll say progressive metal or rock. The thing is is that bands will get clumped into these ideas and sounds and when you listen to it, it’s like they’re not really moving forward. The forward-thinking bands aren’t really taking their sound anywhere else anymore than this other band did that you would call progressive metal. You know what I’m saying? To me, the reason why that term came about in the ‘70s because these bands that came around, like Genesis, YES, Gentle Giant, were very much forward thinking. They were mixing these ideas of classical music, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and psychedelia and just doing their own crazy thing. That music laid the groundwork for progressive metal, but when I hear a band that sounds exactly like YES or Gentle Giant or whatever, I don’t necessarily think here’s this forward thinking band. Those bands kind of because a part of that genre. For us to write progressive metal, part of our makeup is that we are always progressing as musicians and songwriters and we’re always trying to push forward. The second it feels stale or redundant or we’ve done this before, we stop and go back to the drawing table. I feel like now we’re six full-lengths in and we’ve done a lot in the confines of heavy music. Now I think the overwhelming majority and natural inclination is to move away from that, move away as far as we can. For me, I listen to the tracks I contributed to the album, which are “Goodbye to Everything”, “Astral Body” and “Bloom”, that’s almost a direct reaction of me saying this is an instance of being inspired by what’s the most natural for me to write. Thankfully the dudes are into it and it captures where we’re at right now. Who knows where we’ll be in two years when we put out another record, but that’s just a natural part of us – moving forward.
I feel like I asked you the reverse of this question when we chatted about Trioscapes, but how did your work in that band carry over to what you’re doing with this record?
The whole 2010 year, it was such a manic year. We did like nine months of touring in a row, and then I went off on an Orbs tour. And before I knew it I was in a practice space writing music and like, I haven’t been home this year. I haven’t grown as a musician, I haven’t had time to write. Then we just kind of wrote that EP and it captured where we were at right then and there. I like parts of the EP a lot, and other parts I think of where I was, and I was in a creative lull, like dead zone. I just wasn’t home. Then, fast forward to the end of that year’s touring cycle or thereabouts was when I got to start Trioscapes. I would say doing that, that writing session and recording session the following month, kicked me in the butt. It gave me the desire again to be thinking outside of the box. To be thinking further than what I was doing. It made me go to the library and get CDs of artists I was curious about, like classical and jazz or whatever but I’d never dug into. It made me expand my horizons. I played a lot of bass. Doing Trioscapes makes me stay on my toes and work up my chops. Like now I’m on this tour, but Trioscapes is going on tour in September, so I’m out here rehearsing like I would for a normal show but then also practicing my ass off so I can come home and play Trioscapes stuff too. It had a very direct impact on me, because when we went to the studio for the new BTBAM record I was really excited to work on even more stuff. It’s important to me to have different outlets, because the most important thing is to keep my brain going and keep me wanting to create music.
Touching a bit back on the album, the first song you released “Telos” – it’s kind of a familiar but still different sound for you guys. It has the spacey vibes and the longer track length. I almost feel like if someone else released it and it was the first thing you heard from them it would be pretty strange and jarring. What made you guys pick that song and how do you think it fits in with everything else on Parallax II?
I don’t think it really represents the album as a whole. It’s one of the more straightforward kind of heavy songs. Aside from the mellow break in it. We had a really tough time, we didn’t put a whole ton of thought into it, but it was between two songs, that song and the third track on the record “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest”. They were both these ten minute songs that had a lot going on in them. And for whatever reason, we chose “Telos”, which is fine. I know some time in the next month we’re releasing a video for “Astral Body” and even that was hard because I consider that song and “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest” as one thing. The whole record is like that and it’s hard to separate it. It has so many dynamics and so many new ideas for Between the Buried and Me. What people might consider the Between the Buried and Me sound, people might hear this record and that thought might be something completely different. I feel like “Telos” is the song that’s most like something we’ve done, but to a different degree. [laughs] I just want people to hear the whole record.
Especially for this record, there’s that whole lyrical concept going on behind it. Once people get their hands on the record and they zero in on where “Telos” is in that story, it’s just a weird spot. I really in the back of my head was hoping we would write something that I would think was kind of theatrical progressive metal, like rock opera type thing. It’s definitely our closest thing yet.
I could very much imagine hearing that huge, melodic section in “Telos” in a theater.
That whole section when Tommy is singing, he’s singing as a female. The wife of one of the characters is kind of reflecting, so he is very much sunk into a character. And there’s a lot of times in the record where it is like that. It’s very personal, but through the eyes of other people. I feel like writing like that is a good way to help people connect through a story that is sci-fi and kind of abstract. It has this element that has this very personal, inner turmoil type of drama.
Even the merch for the pre-order is space-themed.
We had a lot of fun with that making spacesuits and all that shit. I’m so excited to get mine. I can’t believe no one has ever done this. We contacted the merch company and they sent up the mock-up and we were like, ‘Oh my god.’ [laughs] But we’re really excited.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’re finishing up this tour. Our record comes out during the first week that we’re in the U.K., so obviously I’m encouraging people to get it. Buy it, download it, get familiar with it. Because we will be playing more songs off of it while we’re over there. That’s all I care about. [laughs] I just want people to hear this, and learn it and then come see us and be able to enjoy it.
Great interview, one of my favorite bands. BUT something kind of annoyed me:
"People aren’t really familiar with a lot of our stuff pre-Colors, and that’s okay. That’s okay with us, that’s my favorite stuff to play, the music from Colors and on. It’s nice to drop in with an oddball song but it just doesn’t go over live. People just don’t know it. The people who do know it are in such a small minority."
Everybody I know who listens to BTBAM (and that's quite a few people) loves Alaska and of those people who have seen the band live recently, they always complain that there's nowhere near enough Alaska material in their set. I can understand avoiding Silent Circus and self-titled material because I think it's just not as good as the rest of the band's work, but Alaska can go toe to toe with Colors any day (and I think it's a better album than The Great Misdirect).
If we could just maybe get All Bodies, Alaska (the song) and Selkies guaranteed at every show I'd be happy.