Dan Briggs, bass player in progressive metal band Between the Buried and Me, is a surprisingly talkative guy right after he plays a show, which is especially impressive given the complicated nature of his music. Just after getting off stage at their show with Coheed and Cambria at The Wiltern in Los Angeles, Briggs readily shared his insights on the deeper meanings behind the band’s ambitious concept album The Parallax II: Future Sequence, as well as the accompanying book, designed to ensure that people understand the concept. He has no qualms about the intricate nature of his band’s music or whether or not any of it is considered metal– plus, he’s adamant that they will always continue to push the limits of technical skill. And with great results; Parallax II made it to #3 on our Top 40 Albums of 2012 list!
What do you usually do after a show?
Briggs: I usually like to zone out and pack up my stuff, it’s kind of cathartic to have some me time. Then I usually change my clothes real quick and find a corner to chill out.
mxdwn: So no big parties like many people would imagine?
No, we’re a little bit older and that was never really a priority for us anyway. We’re more about the music and just hanging out and watching sports or whatever.
Well it was a really great performance. I really enjoy seeing you guys play live because it’s such a different experience than hearing it recorded. Most music usually sounds better live, but something so technical with so many nuances and details is really an immersing event.
Thank you. Yeah, that’s kind of how the music originally starts is in a live situation, so it’s really the most natural environment for us. I’m glad it comes across that way.
How has this tour been going?
Oh, it’s been great. The Coheed fans are pretty accepting of us. For some people, it’s definitely a shock compared to what they’re used to listening to or whatever, but the shows been going well so far so I’m thankful for that.
The pairing makes sense to me since both bands are very unique.
Well it’s kind of two different crowds, there’s a little bit of bleed over, but not as much as you might think.
Have there been any other problems after the tour bus fire in Europe?
Yeah, that was terrible. No, it’s been good so far, just blew out a couple tires but that’s not terribly uncommon and definitely not as scary as waking up at 6:00 AM to fire.
You guys seem to progress a lot with each album– do you intentionally try to top yourselves technically each time?
Yes. I feel like when I’m writing music, I want whatever I did in the past to be as far away from my present state of mind as possible. Usually, at the point where we start to write an album, it’s like whatever we had been writing before, we’re already two years past that. So it’s pretty far out of your mind. I think the natural feeling of the band is just to kind of be getting better at our instruments, at our songwriting, and at our craft in general. I think that’s just the kind of musicians we are and it comes across in the music that we write and how its changed over the years.
Do you ever worry about alienating people because it’s so technical?
No, absolutely not. I also have another group on the side called Trioscapes that is all jazz fusion. Its a whole other jump into a completely demented forte of music, and a different side of my mind that’s also pretty complicated. So no that’s the last thing I worry about or think about. I think the second that bands do start thinking about what the audience thinks that’s when they start to suck and they start making less creative music. When the Beatles really expanded themselves and decided that they were going to stop playing live and they wrote the Sgt. Pepper record, they were not thinking about anything expect for experimentation and just having this very creative outlet– and that’s totally our platform 100%.
I must admit I’m not a huge fan of their earlier work, Sgt. Pepper’s and the subsequent albums are my favorites.
That’s my favorite Beatles era for sure.
With all the different elements you guys have in your music do you ever worry about abandoning metal or metal people being like, “it’s too weird to throw country and western into a song.” I know you just said you don’t worry about what the audience thinks, but I’m just curious how attached you guys are to the metal scene?
I consider us less of a metal band and more of a progressive/experimental/rock whatever band with metal parts. I’ve always kind of tried to approach it that way because those are more my influences, the other influences that come into the band outside of the metal stuff. I think over time, the music kind of pushed itself more toward that sense of melody and sense of purpose, with each part meaning something within the song, rather than just a collection of heavy parts that we put together.
It’s interesting how well you guys get it to flow together even with so many different things going on.
That’s another part of the step each time around, making it more cohesive. Since this latest album was a big story that we did, that was kind of the most important thing was having a good cohesive feel, good ups and downs throughout the record and good dynamics all around.
That brings me to my next question: Your music’s pretty conceptual as it is; what made you guys decide, “Okay, this is officially a concept album?”
Well, I’ve always loved the format. To me, it’s the highest form of record, where the music, the lyrics, the artwork, everything is tied in together. It seems like that’s the way it should be, instead of picking a song off the album or trying to grasp a theme from something and trying to conceptualize it in the artwork. This is a format that we’ve always wanted to do and with Colors we wrote a progressive conceptual piece of music. It was a 65 minute-long song broken up into parts, but lyrically it wasn’t conceptual at all. We had the idea a few years ago and we did the EP and that was the start of the story. We knew it was going to be something that was big enough to draw out over like 1 1/2 records and its like 100 min of music between the two releases, so we had a long time to tell the story.
What is the story?
We put out a book that explains the whole story, a little story book, you know. It’s very in-depth, but mainly it’s about these two characters, as you find out throughout the story, who are one in the same. It kind of represents the different ways heavy situations in life can affect people and how two different people can deal with it, the two different paths you can take. That’s a very broad generalization of the story. It has sort of a sci-fi setting, and it has two characters that are separated to two different plains of existence through space and time, that are joined together and kind of are dealing with a distaste with humanity on either end. One’s decision to deal with it is more extreme than the others but that side ends up winning and the album ends with the earth kind of drifting into the sun and it just engulfs the earth. It’s a pretty grim end to the story the last song’s called, “Goodbye to Everything Reprise” so that’s pretty self-explanatory.
That’s really cool that you came out with the book to accompany the album because sometimes concept albums meanings can be somewhat obscure to people. It’s like “In case you were wondering, here what we’re talking about.”
Totally. And at the core it really is a really very basic story.
I’m curious about the inspiration behind a few of the songs in particular, like “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest.”
As far as the lyrics go, I have no idea– but musically, I wrote, “Goodbye to Everything” and “Astral Body” together and had those two pictured in my head a certain way. In my head, “Astral Body” was an instrumental; there was going to be the little acoustic intro, the instrumental, and then the real body of work would kick in with “Lay Your Ghosts to Rest.” Thankfully, Tommy had great lyrical ideas and “Astral Body” ended up begin something really cool. So those three ideas were kind of tied together. Those first three tracks in our minds were kind of one thing. So that was really the first one that we all were able to work on as a group. I was like, “I got this intro,” and Paul had these great parts, and it just blossomed and by the time it was done it was like, “whoa this is a really epic beginning to a record.”
Going from the intro to “Astral Bodies,” which is kind of the overture of the themes, and then you have “Lay your Ghosts to Rest,” which is the first real song song on the album. It’s a powerful start, but it’s a grand album and it had to have something like that. The album’s also got the crazy end, you know “Silent Flight Parliament,” this crazy 15-minute long song that ends the record, it had to have a big finale, it felt like that really wrapped up the story.
What about the inspiration behind “Telos?”
That was one of those ones where there was a riff floating around that is the beginning of the song that Dusty had been playing for like a goddamn year and a half. This riff was just stuck in everyone’s head and we were like, “Yeah, yeah, we know we’re going to do something with that.” Slowly, over time, certain parts of the riff would be stuck in my head and I thought, “We could build off of that and blah, blah.” Really, the whole first five or six minutes of that song, through the big melodic clean section, are all kind of built off of that one first riff that he wrote. That was something that was kind of cool and very organic, really trying to do more with less, so somebody could look at that and say, “Oh, well that’s like five different parts or whatever, that’s still a lot of shit, but it’s all based off of this one thing.”
Everything that happens is still kinda based off this one thing and that comes full circle at the end. That was a fun song to arrange because it was like, “Let’s see how much we can do with a little.” That is an idea I really like because we’re getting older, and we love writing these songs, but at what point are you like, “Well, I’ve written every riff that I could ever write in my life?” So it’s really good to listen to somebody else’s riff and be inspired off of that riff. I really like that way of writing a lot.
Do you guys sit in a room and jam or does everybody work separately and then brings stuff to the table?
We do a lot of writing at home and sharing stuff and getting ideas. For the most part, when we’re all in the same room together the most we’re doing is arranging. We’ve learned over the years that we’re pretty bad at writing on the spot and it’s not when we do our best work, I don’t think. I’m never usually pleased with it; it’s usually stuff that we end up going back home and changing anyway. Every now and then there’s a little nugget of something that’s awesome that happens on the spot and then somebody’s like, “Oh my god, let’s do this”– but very rarely.
Different people work better together in different ways.
Yeah, everything we do is so methodical and laid out that usually there’s a good plan in place before we even enter the room. So by the time we go to the studio it’s just press record and do it.
I think arranging can really be them most intense part of the song writing process actually. Writing a riff is one thing, but making it fit with all the others is really the hard part.
Oh yeah, definitely it is. Pretty much with every band I’m in, with every musical outlet that I have, that’s the most intense thing. It’s also the exciting thing about writing aggressive, over-the-top, fun, theatrical music. No matter what group you’re in, you never know where it’s going to go, you never quite know what’s going to be happening, especially when you add other people into the mix; it’s very interesting.
Also, it’s not like you’re stuck in a rut where the people expect one particular thing from you guys. You can do something really weird and your fans aren’t going to be shocked.
And we also don’t have to worry about, “oh this song has to be under 5 minutes because we’re trying to get on the radio”, that’s obviously not our goal.
Did you ever set out to try to write the longest song possible?
Not really. “Swim to the Moon” off The Great Misdirect was probably the longest. I think it was like 18 minutes, although I guess “Silent Flight Parliament” off the latest record is almost as long– but it just doesn’t feel as long. I think it has a much better flow, I think we’ve just gotten better at doing that. I think that’s the point when you write a long song is it shouldn’t feel long. You shouldn’t be listening to a song and be like, “Are they still going?”
It’s interesting how the internet allows your audience to find you whether you’re played on the radio or not. It makes things much less restricted then they were even twenty years ago in the music business.
Yeah, it’s a weird thing because whenever I turn on the radio I usually listen to talk radio, or classical, or jazz, or if there were like a ’90s rock station I might listen to that.
They have that on Sirius XM radio but it’s never what I think of when I think of the 90’s. It’s still all the lame, popular stuff, as with almost any radio.
Ah, well thankfully, we have our iPods.
One last question, what does the near future hold for Between the Buried and Me?
The plan from the very beginning, obviously, was to go out and do a whole great big tour where we play the whole album and there was much rejoicing. But, you know, we’re not going to get to do that until the fall, maybe September or October. So when it comes to BTBAM I’m not, and I don’t think anybody else is, at a point to move past this record until we’ve played it in full.
It must be impossible to choose the set every night, especially when each song is so long and your sharing the bill so you only get about an hour to play.
Exactly. We just want to come out and play the album because its just killing us.
Because it’s a whole story?
Exactly. So after we get to do that, maybe spring of next year we’ll start thinking about sitting down and working on some new music. We may just take some time after that though, too. I think at this point we’ve done like six full length records, a DVD, an EP– do we really need to just spit something out every two years or whatever? For us to be able to do our best thing we need more time; we’ll never rush anything and we’ll always do whatever’s best.