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22nd September 2015
One pivotal facet of a genuinely progressive band is that they never lose the ability to surprise their listeners through both unpredictability and creative evolution. Between the Buried and Me have always retained such an ethos and, with the recent release of 'Coma Ecliptic', their seventh studio album (or eighth if you consider 2011's 'The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues' thirty minute 'EP' as full-length), they've made their biggest sonic leaps for quite some time. In fact, when Metal Discovery met up with bassist Dan Briggs for an interview before the band's first ever show in Nottingham at the end of September, he described this latest chapter in BTBAM's journey as something of a rebirth...
METAL DISCOVERY: You’re nearing the end of this run of UK shows now, so how have they been? I presume your tour bus hasn’t caught fire this time?!
DAN: Yeah, we were very thankful to leave Southampton and head for London and have the bus in one piece! That was highly traumatic; that was three years ago, but that thing just stays with you, even just the smell of the burning rubber. Sometimes, you’ll smell it on a bus or whatever, just the tyres coming to a halt, you know, sometimes you get that faint hint. I know we’ve gotten it in America sometimes and everybody peaks out of the bunk, kind of like, “what’s that; what’s going on?” But, yeah, we overcame that!
(Dan Briggs on moving into new musical territory with new album, 'Coma Ecliptic')
"...I just think that this is the beginning of the next chapter of the band."
Dan Briggs backstage at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, UK, 22nd September 2015
Photograph copyright © 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
DAN: So that’s good. And we’re playing some places for the… we’re playing Nottingham for the first time and Brighton tomorrow; I don’t think we’ve ever headlined in Brighton. That’ll be cool.
MD: There’s a good metal scene in Brighton, I believe.
DAN: Oh really?
MD: Yeah, so you should have a good crowd. With the new album being another concept piece, did you approach the songwriting for ‘Coma Ecliptic’ in much the same way as writing music for the ‘Parallax’ records, or did you learn from that previous experience and refine your approach in any particular ways?
DAN: Well, yeah, I mean, this one was written both similarly and differently. We don’t do a lot of writing in the room together. It’s usually at home and we bring the pieces in, and if we need to move stuff around we can do that on the spot and work out small transitions. For me, personally, a lot of the stuff I wrote, I started on either the piano or acoustic guitar for the record. I felt that naturally lent itself more towards melody, which I know Tommy was more curious to explore with his voice and stuff. So it was a good time and at a time where it felt natural moving in that direction. I mean, after seven full length albums, it’s alright to move into new territory. It’s kind of what we’ve tried to do, slowly, throughout our entire career.
MD: It feels like music and concept are more synchronised this time around, so were you meticulous in ensuring that the music was a perfect match for the lyrical themes?
DAN: The lyrics came after, so we were about half way through writing the record when he had the idea. So it was all on Tommy just matching up to what we were doing musically. It felt like we were writing more cohesive pieces, but also more cohesive in the bigger picture. So, yeah, I’m proud that we achieved that. It’s definitely, like you were saying, learning from writing the last record, the ‘Parallax’ album. We never dwell on past albums but we do hope to learn stuff from it, so we’ve got better at the arranging… and the concept format is just so fun to write in.
MD: So I’m guessing the music inspired some of the lyrical themes?
DAN: I guess so, yeah.
MD: Listening to the album in its entirety, it feels like you’ve been taken on this big emotional journey. Do you think that’s the essence of a great concept record?
DAN: Yeah, I think it definitely can be. There are so many albums I can think of, and especially the last two that we did, that have kind of an arc and then always end with a main character dying… [Laughs] And it’s hard to write an album, you know, to write a big finale that ties the whole thing together. The story of the guy is he’s going through a journey through, I guess, just different realities, and not really realising he’s in a coma the whole time.
MD: I think your music lends itself well to that concept because you never know exactly where you are in the music or where it’s going.
DAN: That’s true, yeah.
MD: There are far less chaotic and cacophonic passages in the new songs compared to those on your previous albums; that all seems to have been toned down. So did you feel that side of BTBAM didn’t fit so well with the concept you ended up choosing?
DAN: No, I think it was just that we’re getting older and moving into new sounds and new directions. I feel that if people are curious to hear Between the Buried and Me mixing every musical genre within one song, or with crazy blast beats and heavy part after heavy part after heavy part, we’ve written fourteen years of material that all fits into. I think with the last ‘Parallax’ record, that kind of closed a chapter that probably started with ‘Colors’, which was a big step forward from ‘Alaska’ and where the band had been before. And I just think that this is the beginning of the next chapter of the band.
MD: So you think you’ve been slowly progressing towards that kind of sound anyway?
DAN: Yeah. Even though we would’ve been so excited to write this album in 2005, we just weren’t mature enough. And, yeah, it took writing all those other records and everything else in-between, and slowly working on our craft and getting better at it. Thankfully, people have stuck with us. A lot of bands don’t get to make seven albums where they’re given a chance to really mature and do a lot of different stuff.
MD: I think that people into innovative, forward-thinking music have that kind of mentality where they will stick with a band that goes in different directions.
DAN: Well, yeah, we’re really lucky because, when the band started, it was starting more out of just the American hardcore scene and, slowly, the band was growing out of that, even though it wasn’t a traditional hardcore band, by any means, in the beginning. There were fans who have probably dropped off every record along the way, but there are new people that have been interested with every little change. And there are people who have stayed the whole time and grown with the band. We hear that a lot, you know, like, “you’ve introduced me to all this different stuff; you’re my gateway band into this progressive world that we didn’t even know about.”
MD: The album still very much retains your musical identity as a band and is a definite progression in your sound, although it seems certain songs seem have been influenced by elements of classic prog rock. So would you say there’s also a regressive element to the album as well as a progressive one?
DAN: No, I think… speaking for myself, really, that influence, that’s what I grew up with. I grew up in a house playing Gentle Giant and Zappa and… that’s just where I come from. That element, I’ve been seeping that into the music since 2004/2005, when I joined, and it’s just getting more to the point where that sort of melodic prog side has kind of taken over. But, yeah, it’s that thing of those are the sounds I’m influenced by but it’s still us doing it so, at the end of the day, it’s not going to sound like Genesis or Gentle Giant or whatever. There’s still a spin that we’re putting on it that is different.
MD: Yeah, as I said, the album still retains your musical identity, just in a different context.
DAN: Yeah, oh yeah.
MD: I’ve read you’re into musicals as well, quite heavily…
DAN: Yep.
MD: Obviously, musicals are inherently about storytelling and concepts, so did that influence manifest on the album?
DAN: Yeah, I mean, that was one of the big changes that we wanted to make with the album, from ‘Parallax’, to looking at doing another story, and we wanted to be able to leave room, musically, where Tommy could be more theatrical, and he takes on a lot of different character voices throughout the record. In the back of our heads, I think, when we were writing, was this idea of being more theatrical and infusing senses of drama and stuff throughout the record. Again, I grew up playing in musicals and my mom’s a music teacher… but I love it, though. And, yeah, you’re right, if we had the budget, we could probably work out a stage show of the album, with very clear-cut visuals per song.
MD: That’d be cool. ‘BTBAM – The Musical’!
DAN: Everything just costs so much money.
MD: I’ve also read that Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ has been a big influence for you, so is it a dream or aim of the band that, one day, a BTBAM record might end up in movie form, in a similar way to what Alan Parker did with Floyd for ‘The Wall’?
DAN: Yeah, that would be really cool. It’s again, like we were saying with the stage show, if someone has a vision and someone wants to finance it… you know, that’s incredible, that’s great. But it’s really just a pipedream. It’s so expensive, even just to make an album, let alone taking it to that next level. But, yeah, the stories and visuals are there, so it could happen.
MD: Nightwish have done it in recent years, haven’t they… I think they got funding from the Finnish government.
DAN: Maybe we can make an impression on the Finnish government on this tour, when we play Helsinki!
MD: As you already said, Tommy’s vocals are more diverse than they’ve ever been on this album, as he’s portraying a lot of different characters through his singing. Obviously, he’s always had a wide range tonally, but I think he’s surprised a lot of people band with just how wide his range is stylistically speaking. So did he surprise himself too?
DAN: Yeah. I mean, the couple of bands that I’ve worked with, the two singers have been very down on themselves; very low confidence. And I think there was something about that he was going to be singing ninety five per cent of the album, and… in the past, when it was mainly screaming and then you’d sing, the singing was more two-dimensional. It was like, “okay, this is the melodic moment, this is where this is happening, and then we’re back.” And, since it was more the focus, he really felt like he had to find his voice, let alone these character voices. All along the way, he’d send demos and be, like, “just be honest, say whatever you think”, and we’re, “it’s gonna be great.” And he worked so well with our engineer, Jamie King, and I know Jamie gives him all the confidence in the world. So it’s such a laidback and supportive environment that, of course, he felt comfortable enough to be able to really explore. I mean, he’s voicing female characters; he’s voicing an insane doctor at some point; cannibals; you know, all sorts of weird shit.
MD: It works amazingly well. It’s very Devin Townsend in some ways.
DAN: Yeah, he loves Devin, yeah.
MD: If you chose another multiple character concept in the future, would you ever consider bringing in some guest vocalists to voice the different parts; kind of like what Arjen Lucassen does with his Ayreon albums?
DAN: We’ve had a couple of friends… on ‘Colors’ and ‘The Great Misdirect’, we had friends come in to do very specific parts. Yeah, I’m sure Tommy would yell you he wouldn’t be opposed to the idea but, again, I think we’re so picky about being able to pull off live what we can do on the record, that I think it might be a little rough.
MD: Keep it in-house!
DAN: Yeah, exactly!
MD: I guess you don’t need to in one sense as Tommy’s nailed all those different voices.
DAN: Yeah.