DATE OF INTERVIEW:
BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME
14th April 2011
Hot on the heels of his sophomore solo album 'Pulse' under the Thomas Giles moniker, Between the Buried and Me frontman Tommy Rogers has returned with his primary musical outlet in the form of new release 'The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues', the North Carolina metallers' first for Metal Blade. With a small amount of confusion engendered over whether it's to be regarded as an album or particularly long EP, one fact is certain - during the course of thirty minutes, BTBAM's latest offering will assault your senses with an intense sonic ride loaded with musically heterogeneous divergences in a riveting and genuinely progressive journey. On the eve of a North American tour with newly acquired label-mates Job For A Cowboy and The Ocean, Metal Discovery spoke with Tommy to get the lowdown on the ambiguously titled new release...
METAL DISCOVERY: The new release, ‘The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues’ is amazing – I gather it’s a philosophical concept piece about two characters living in a different space and time?
TOMMY ROGERS: Yep, correct. It’s kind of an introduction into their lives. It’s cool because, right now, it’s still unclear what’s going on and when the full-length comes out it’ll make more sense and explain what’s about to happen. So I’m excited for the future.
(Tommy Rogers on differing his approach to lyric writing for new release 'The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues')
"It was definitely outside of my comfort zone which I think is a good thing. When you get too comfortable you start getting less creative."
Between the Buried and Me - promo shot
Photograph copyright © [unspecified year] Justin Reich
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: The first track on the album, ‘Specular Reflection’, has a very dramatic film score vibe. Was that the aim there to try and prime the story with a cinematic kind of feel?
TR: Well, that was one of…I’m trying to think how we wrote the record…when we started writing the record, the first song we wrote was the last one. When we got finished with that we thought the song feels right but it doesn’t feel like an intro at all. So we kinda started with the end and worked up to that. That intro to the record, the kind of cinematic thing you’re talking about, I had that written for a while and we were like, “this would be a cool way to open the CD as we’ve never opened a CD like this before”. And we thought it fit because it is a story and it’s kinda very dark, and it’s unsettling at times, and it just felt right for the record.
MD: Do each of the two characters have their own musical themes in each of the songs or is it kind of all intertwined?
TR: It’s all intertwined. That was the hardest part, honestly, about doing the lyrics. I waited until all the music was done before I started working on ‘em. I wrote it out at first, not paying attention to the music and I kinda just went from there, and tried to make each character feel right with what was going on in the song. That was really important for me because I didn’t just want to have it random; I wanted everything to feel right and it worked out well. It took a lot of re-writing but I’m happy with how it came out. It was nice to kinda try something new, for me, lyrically. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone which I think is a good thing. When you get too comfortable you start getting less creative.
MD: Of course, yeah. So you said the music was written first but did you already have the concept in mind for the lyrics when the music was written?
TR: Yeah, we did. In the middle of writing, Paul actually came up with the idea. We all agreed it was something we could elaborate on and we kinda planned out the whole story, even into the next record. Paul and I got together and wrote down ideas and, once we’d got everything how we wanted it planned out for the EP, he just kinda left it up to me and I wrote the lyrics and that was that. It was fun; it was definitely a different experience.
MD: I gather you recorded all the vocals in just two days…
TR: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: Is that all the studio time you set aside for the vocals?
TR: Well, we only had ten days. We had eleven days total when we went up there which is pretty quick for us. We’re the kind of band that overly prepares before we get in the studio so that always helps, so we were ready to roll and we got there, and there was actually a day off planned that we didn’t know about. So when we got there they were like, “we have a day off this day”, and we’re like, “man, so now we only have ten days!” So that’s why towards the end of the recording I was starting to sweat it because, you know, vocals are always last and we were in Canada and I thought, man, if I fuck this up I’m gonna jeopardise everything! [laughs] But things went really well. There were no kinks at all in the recording process. It was very smooth and everybody…you know, we’ve all been doing it together for so long, I guess, and working together so long we kind of have it all down and it went great.
MD: That makes the results even more amazing the fact it only took ten days. Was it much of a challenge doing the vocals in just two days; did you feel a bit more pressurised?
TR: I was pressured just because of the timeline but there’s always that pressure. I think regardless of how long you have for recording you know you’re last and you know if something goes wrong you’re the last one it can go wrong for. You’ve just got to put that to the side and do what you do. I think if it was five years ago I would’ve had a heart attack! You know, I’m at the point now where I’m comfortable in my own skin, as far as vocals, and I knew exactly what I was going to do and I did it, and that’s all I can do.
MD: Obviously this one’s part of a two album concept – do you have the music and lyrics written for the next one yet?
TR: No, we have neither! Well, we have some ideas – lyrically, we have an idea of where it’s going and musically, we have some things. We’re thinking about trying to…kind of take a little different approach to what we normally do, but there’s no telling what it’s all gonna sound like. We never like to plan too much before we write; we like to just start from scratch and see what happens. We plan on taking most of the summer to hopefully get most of the record written and then finish up this winter. That’s the goal so unless our minds go blank we should be okay.
MD: I think it was on the press sheet with the album that I read you plan to incorporate some of the musical themes from this album on the second one…
TR: Yeah, we’ve talked about it. It’s something we wanna do but who knows if it will really happen. It’s something that I think would be cool. I mean, we would do it in a way where you probably wouldn’t really even notice and we wanna make it so different from the original arrangement but we’ll see. I’m excited to work on it, it’s gonna be fun.
MD: As it’s part of the same concept it’d be nice to have that link, I guess, even if it will be subtle, like you say.
TR: Yeah, definitely.
MD: And how will the concept develop with the characters on the follow-up? Are you allowed to say yet?
TR: We kind of know but it might change a hundred times so I don’t really wanna say anything, you know.
MD: That’s fair enough!
MD: ‘The Parallax…’ has quite a short playing time but in the press blurb it’s being marketed as an album rather than an EP…
TR: Yeah, there’s been a lot of confusion with that! [laughs]
MD: I guess if you look at some of the great albums in metal like At The Gates’ ‘Slaughter of the Soul’ or Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’, I’m sure they’re not much longer than half an hour, so I’ve no qualms about calling that length an album but I’ve read some people online say, “well, it’s an EP, surely”.
TR: Well, the original goal was…we wanted to do an intro into the whole story and that was the whole reasoning behind the EP. We started writing and got to a point where it ended up at typical EP length. You know, we’d written two songs and it was at twenty minutes. We were like, “we’ll stop here”, but it just didn’t feel right. You have a natural kind of knowledge if something’s done or not and it definitely wasn’t done so we were like, “there’s, for sure, something missing and we need to fix that missing piece”. And that was another song, and when we started working on it, in typical Between the Buried and Me fashion, the ideas piled on and piled on and it was a ten minute long song! [laughs] So, at that point, we were like, “it’s longer than normal but it feels right”. I feel like a lot of EPs, when you listen to them they don’t feel complete, they feel random; they feel like some songs people threw together. Even though this is shorter we wanted it to be something you can sit down with and treat it as an album. Even though, hopefully, it leaves you wanting more, it feels complete in some way.
MD: Yeah, it does feel complete to me when I listen to it and there’s so much going on that I just hit play again at the end and try to digest it a bit more!
TR: Cool! [laughs]
MD: It’s the first time you haven’t used Jamie King as producer; you used David Bottrill instead…
MD: Yeah, and he’s given you a really amazing sound. Why did you decide to switch producers for this one?
TR: We just wanted to try something new. We’ve been working with Jamie for nine or ten years now and he was very encouraging with it as well. We talked to him about it and we all kind of, including him, decided to try something new. He still mixed the record so I’m glad he was still involved. So it was cool doing something new and, as I was saying earlier, getting out of our comfort zone because Jamie’s studio, for sure, is the ultimate comfort for us, just because we’ve been there so much. It feels like home. So it was cool to kind of get away from normal life and just focus only on the music and only on what we’re doing. I think that was another reason why we got it done so quickly as well because we lived and breathed that record for ten days, all day. It was definitely a good experience.
MD: And you’ll be using David for the next one as well?
TR: We don’t know; we haven’t even discussed that. We’re gonna worry about getting the music written and then plan all that out.
MD: Obviously there’s always so much going on in your music and this record’s particularly intense but it all gels so well and there’s a really good fluency to it as well – what I would call genuinely progressive rather than generically progressive if you know what I mean?
MD: Yeah, like not the genre of prog but actually the music’s actually progressing something. Would you say it takes a particular mentality or mindset to be capable of writing music that’s naturally progressive rather than forced?
TR: Well, I think time is the key. You know, spending time on your music. Unlike a lot of bands we all write and we all are really involved with each song. I think that helps us. We all write very differently and we all kind of have our set ways we go about things. When we get all that together it’s a very good formula for us. We overly criticise the music and when we do write we record as well so we can sit back on things and change what is needed. I think the thing for us is, even though our music is chaotic and there’s a lot going on, we want there to still be a song in some sense and we want everything to flow well. The idea of taking a really intense part to a melodic part, you want to make sure it flows right. That’s always something we want to improve on. We always wanna try new things but we always wanna write songs that flow well and feel right.
MD: Yeah, your music definitely does. There’s a very natural feel to it compared to bands from, say, the Dream Theater school of prog that’ll play harmony arpeggios on all instruments really fast and in weird time signatures which just ends up sounding very stilted and false. Your progression sounds really natural though…
TR: Yeah and, I mean, that’s the thing, we’re not afraid to write a power chord riff. It all depends on the part in a song. You know, if something calls for something that’s not technical or not crazy then that’s okay. We want to write parts you can bob your head to; not everything has to be technical. I think the problem with a lot of bands is they try to be technical for the sake of it. For what we do, that’s not something we want to do. We don’t just wanna write a bunch of shredding just to have it – if there’s gonna be shredding it needs to make sense in a song and it needs to be in the right spot. I think just finding that medium ground is always the key.