Photo Credit: Sharon Alagna
While spending the better part of a decade on Victory Records, metallic hardcore’s preeminent label, Between the Buried and Me have always stood out among their peers. Operating in a genre that has a predilection for treading water, the progressive metal group has always pushed forward to new sonic territory. The band’s latest album, Coma Ecliptic, showcased the band’s latest evolution, paring back grinding metal passages and Tommy Giles Rogers’s guttural growling in favor of ever-progressive themes. The band recently completed a tour on which they performed the new album in full and it was documented in a new DVD/BluRay release available on April 28 via their new label, Metal Blade. Bassist Dan Briggs spoke with us about the DVD release, writing and recording a follow-up to the 2015 masterpiece and giving a background on his latest project, Nova Collective.
mxdwn: With the Coma Ecliptic DVD/Blu-Ray coming out in a few weeks, can you explain what led to the decision to release a visual document of these performances?
DB: It’s a nice thing because for us it wraps the two years we put into touring in support of the album, playing the songs live and the year before, writing and recording. It also helps show people all over the world the full-on show that we do, having our own lights, etcetera. We’ve never really done it outside of America, had the budget to have our light show and bring our guy.
And to see the record performed in its entirety with just the five dudes playing it. It’s kind of a different spin on what you hear when you drop the needle on the record. It’s the same content but it’s a pretty stripped down, honest representation of it.
mxdwn: What played into the decision to take Coma Ecliptic on the road with full-album performances as opposed to a more standard live set with material from the entire discography?
DB: Yeah, we had done that the whole year-and-a-half prior, touring on the record. So it was just time to play it how we wrote it, how we intended it to be heard.
mxdwn: How do you feel the video footage did in representing the live experience of a Between the Buried and Me show and in what ways?
DB: I think it turned out great and the main point that we wanted to get was we wanted to capture our lighting director Chris Hill’s show. He just put together a great, simple, kind of minimal, moody show. He fixated on the dynamics of the record and he really dug in deep with the lyrics. When Tommy makes reference to velvet and gold, in reference to life and death, [Hill] wanted to accent those moments.
It felt really good on stage. It’s probably the first time that we had a light show that felt like that on stage and wasn’t anything too flashy or anything crazy. I don’t like a lot of strobes. I don’t like when the light interferes. If I notice the lights too much it kind of bugs me, so I love when they are moody.
So that was the main thing we were trying to capture, besides us playing, and I think it came across well.
mxdwn: Were you excited to go back to playing sets that were culled from the entire Between the Buried and Me discography, or was it tough to stop playing Coma Ecliptic in full
DB: You’re always most excited to play what’s newer or more fresh, not the stuff you’ve played a hundred times. The thing that’s hard is trying to make a cohesive set out of songs that aren’t really meant to go together. We don’t like the stop-start-stop-start, we want to put together a set that has a natural ebb and flow to it like if you’re listening to a record. So that’s a challenge in putting that together; sometimes we write little transitions to segue into different keys.
But both are fine, depending. It was a blast playing the record in full; we’ve been waiting the whole touring cycle to do it.
mxdwn: When you are putting together these types of setlists, is a democratic process within the band?
DB: Yeah I keep a log of all of our sets going back to, I think, 2009. So I have that as a reference for our touring cycle so I can go back and look and be like, “Oh the last time we were in Australia, we played these. And the time before we didn’t play this; maybe we should squeak that in.” A place like Australia, or Mexico or Japan, you only get to once on an album cycle so you want to make sure you’re not repeating yourself every time.
In America we’ll generally hit five times or so in a given cycle and we want to make sure you’re always playing different shit. So we’ll cycle different bits from the album we’re touring on and work in some stuff that we think kind of fits in with the newer stuff and still covers the older bases.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Cabral
mxdwn: Are you guys working on any music currently?
DB: Yeah we got home from our last tour on this album almost a month ago — it’s crazy that time’s gone by that fast — but, we were in Europe and that was the last run on the Coma record. We got together, the four of us that are in North Carolina, last week and listened to demos and shared a bunch of thoughts and ideas that we had.
And that was good because we’d been sharing stuff via email and it’s good to get in person and see how people react to things. If you don’t like that, “That’s okay, that’s okay, I just want to hear it now, before I get too in love with something.”
Me especially, that’s a problem I run into. I spend a lot of time on something before I send it off to be heard from the rest of the group. I want to be fully comfortable with it. Sometimes you spend, like, there’s a pretty massive 14-minute tune that I sent in the early goings, I think before we left for Europe. I had been working on it since at least last Spring. Just every now and then, I’d get ideas and over a two or three course day slam through stuff. By the time I sent it over to everyone I felt like it was like a song. And thankfully it was received as such! If someone was like, “Yeah, but this like five minutes in the middle I don’t really…” I would have been like “Oh God,” you know?
There’s that great camaraderie. We know each other so well musically and personality-wise that there’s stuff that – like I don’t come to the table with weirder ideas I might use in Trioscapes or Orbs or something, like if it doesn’t fit the song that I’m working on or if I know it’s going to raise eyebrows in the wrong way. You want to reinvent what you’re doing, but have a sense of how far I can push it.
mxdwn: Is this typical of the writing process on previous albums?
DB: It’s sharing a lot before, getting feedback, getting smaller bits from people and finding where those are going to work. We don’t like to do the heavy lifting in person. We do that at home in our creative comfortable places: on the couch, in the office, ballgame on the TV, dog next to you. Whatever is most comfortable, that’s how you can be locked in and feel your creativity. The rehearsal room is not a creative space. The rehearsal room for us is like, “Okay, this is what we have on paper, let’s do it, if something feels weird we can try it a different way or we’ll just sit on it, we’ll go home, we’ll come back.”
I think that every record we put out that’s the number one question: “How do you guys write this stuff?” Well, we don’t fucking jam out these twelve-minute long songs. They’re not jam songs. That’s not what we do, so we write music at home like normal people. So yeah the process is similar, it’s what works, it’s nice. To be honest, it’s very stress-free and at this point that’s what we are going for.
mxdwn: With every release it seems that Between the Buried and Me has gradually moved towards a more accessible sound and many have called Coma Ecliptic the most accessible work in your discography. Has this gradual evolution been a conscious decision on the part of the band or something that just came about naturally?
DB: Well, one thing that I would think about, but didn’t tailor music to it, was on one of the last tours we did on the album and Tommy would just be wrecked or he would just be – not angry – but be like, “Ugh I gotta go yell at people right now?” Just wish he could go out and sing that night.
For a lot of the music we were writing, I know – I can speak for Paul and myself – I was writing on a keyboard, a piano and an acoustic guitar. And a lot of stuff he was writing was on the acoustic as well. You’re just not structuring things in a dissonant, atonal fashion when you are working on those instruments. For me it became a little different and a song like “The Coma Machine,” I was writing on piano. When I arranged it full-band it took on the Between the Buried and Me feel, but it had a focus on the piano in the chorus and was built around a melody.
mxdwn: You also are a member of Nova Collective, who just released a new album (The Further Side) that we really loved. Can you give a background on how that group came about?
DB: Yeah! I am always up for being creative. If I’m home for an extended time and I’m not using that part of my brain I don’t feel like I’m functioning as a human being. Rich, our guitarist, he plays in a band called Haken. I was so into their record The Mountain when it came out a few years ago, I think I talked about it in a couple interviews and he caught wind, reached out to our manager and got in touch with me.
We just shared some emails casually talking about music and sci-fi movies and stuff. Then he brought up the idea of maybe I would play on a solo record, he had some small pieces for and I was like, “Let’s just start a band, let’s just write a record.” So with a couple small ideas from him we built off it.
Matt Lynch is my drumming rock outside of Between the Buried and Me so he goes everywhere with me. He’s such a versatile and creative monster behind the kit. And he was so excited because we’d wanted to do a full-on fusion group of some sort after working together doing Trioscapes, who are kind of limited in the arrangements we can do, really not having any instruments that are chordal instruments — adding the guitar and the keyboards in.
Pete, our keyboardist used to play with Rich in Haken when they first started. Then he went on to become a doctor in physics, so he’s kind of a brainiac but you wouldn’t know it hanging out with him, he’s just one of the guys and an absolute ripper. So we wrote this record and now we are kind of shifting to doing it live.
mxdwn: Ah! I was about to ask if there were any plans to tour with Nova Collective?
DB: There are, I think we are going to be able to get it out this fall. We are looking to book places right now, getting that going. Half the group’s British and half the group’s American so it’s kind of half-good either way you look at it; whichever continent we are going to, it’s kind of okay! Until we go to Australia or something, then we’re just fucked.