Between the Buried and Me Interview

Posted February 13, 2013 in
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Since 2000, Between The Buried And Me has been pushing the limits, generating a unique metal-influenced progressive rock sound that has inspired countless imitators and gained them an international fan base. 2005 saw some upheaval in their lineup, but this change resulted in acquiring one of the most talented and forward-thinking bassists in the business, a young gentlemen by the name of Dan Briggs, whose distinctive training and lifelong relationship with music has helped the band produce some of their most critically acclaimed work, including their newest (and arguably best) release, Parallax 2: Future Sequence. I had the pleasure of chatting with Dan before the beginning of their latest tour supporting Coheed and Cambria—which is stopping in Salt Lake this Friday, February 15—and hearing the story of his musical upbringing, his numerous and diverse side projects, and what made the writing of this newest record different from all their past efforts.

SLUG: You’ve been with the group since the Alaska era. Tell me how you became a part of the band and what attracted you to joining BTBAM.
Briggs: I knew Tommy and Paul from Prayer for Cleansing, and then I booked BTBAM on their very first tour in Pennsylvania where I live, and kept in touch with Tommy and would always see them in the area, and I was a fan of the band in high school at the time. I was in college studying music and had done some semesters and planning on going to a different school that had a more modern music focus, and Tommy called me up and said they needed a bass player and if I wanted to do it, the job was mine. I said yeah, of course… 20 years old and never left Pennsylvania, I was ready for an adventure.

SLUG: What is your musical background like? Your style is so unique and, frankly, technically masterful compared to a great deal of the metal scene. What inspired you to play bass and to develop the style you’re known for?
Briggs: I started on guitar—my mom was a guitarist and a music teacher. I have a classical background. There was such great guitar-driven music surrounding me in the early to mid-90s when I was learning, on the radio and MTV, huge Nirvana fan and Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots. It drove me to immediately want to be in a band and play guitar. I think I started about 10 and by 12 I was in my first band. About 6th grade I started playing bass, I was just wanting to be in the concert/jazz band, because I couldn’t play guitar in a concert band, but I could play bass. It was great, cause right away I was thrown into a few different situations where I was reading music that was pretty different from one another. When I started high school I played upright bass, and that was more of a classical curriculum. Classical music has always been a huge influence on me. As far as my bass style being different, I always approach the bass as another voice kind of in the way that Bach did, Bach was always an early influence for me and throughout college, studying his scores and listening and playing his pieces and realizing it was different from other songs because the bass actually has an integral role. My bass influence is also 70s prog rock, like Genesis and Yes, which were a mix of rock and classical, and I think that’s still why that rings true for BTBAM.

SLUG: Tell me about your writing process with BTBAM. How do you guys get the spark going on a new album? What inspires your experimentation?
Briggs: It starts very early on. For Parallax 2, there was 2 tracks that I had written: “Astral Body” and “Goodbye To Everything” that I had presented in a somewhat more reduced fashion to the guys when we were writing the first Parallax EP. They were into it but it was something that I decided to shelve and hang on to because I knew we were doing the EP format and I just felt like it was going to be much larger than what we’d be allotted on an EP. I thought it was this big grand entrance to something bigger than that so I held those off. So right away we had something to start with, and Paul came in with most of “Melting City” written and we hashed that out of a group. This is the first time that it’s been really like that, that people were coming in with full songs written. Tommy came in with “The Black Box”, which was great, and then I came in later in the session with “Bloom”. The rest of it was stuff that people had small parts, kind of listening during the writing session and keeping those parts in mind, like Tommy had the beginning of “Extremophile Elite”, this cool keyboard part, and we heard that and we thought “You k now, let’s write a whole song that’s based on that kind of key that has that Mediterranean/Indian type vibe to it”, and that sparked a whole kind of inspiration right there. The last song is just really a recap of a lot of what happened on the album, a reinterpretation, and that was a lot of fun to do. It was something I think we had wanted to do for a long time, we sort of did a little bit on Colors, but this song was really full-blown, lot of things coming full-circle and really wrapped up the album.

SLUG: What I’ve read about Parallax 1 and 2 suggests you guys had a pretty solid and continuative narrative, going into these two albums as a conceptual framework. Was that something that was pre-planned-- did someone come to table with this story of space travelers-- or did it develop through writing the music?
Briggs: Paul had the idea sometime in the middle of touring on The Great Misdirect, and his idea had all the sci-fi elements, and we were all into it because we were all hyped up on that TV show “Lost” at the time, and just obsessed and watched it together almost every Wednesday. We’d meet at Blake’s house for writing and watch it. Once Tommy really dug in and had that sci-fi elements, basically two characters linked throughout space and time, there’s obviously a huge gap in between them, with the one character creating this earth-like planet, Tommy was able to take that and interject some real emotion into the story. To me, when I think of the record, I don’t think of the sci-fi elements as much as I think of two troubled characters who’ve had super traumatic experiences in life and how they both choose to deal with them, and the destructive side ends up winning. I think it’s totally cool how Tommy was able to do that, and put the sci-fi thing in the background and make it more original.

SLUG: Personally, I think you guys have reached a fantastic new peak with Parallax 2, and have further demonstrated your ability to create a wonderful fusion out of so many genres. How do you feel about this album compared to your previous efforts? How is it being received?
Briggs: It’s the best thing we’ve done. It’s just destroying us that we haven’t been able to play it in its entirety yet, and we ‘re probably going to have to wait till fall to do it. It’s hard because of the touring cycle, like right now the album’s been out a couple months, I’d start writing new music or at least the very beginnings, but right now I feel like I’m not even in the headspace to move away from this record yet, cause we haven’t even played most of the songs. But thankfully I have other groups I’m in as well so I’m keeping my mind creatively occupied in other ways. I’m wrapping up writing the new stuff with Orbs, and my other group Triospace had a new album coming out in May and we just got done playing shows.

SLUG: I remember reading about your frustrations playing Ozzfest in the past, that because of the super-short set times, you guys felt you weren’t able to reach your potential and give the audience what they deserved. How’s this tour with Coheed and Cambria looking as far as that problem is concerned? 
Briggs: Our manager and booking agent work hand in hand with us in figuring out tours, and doing a direct support thing like this, we try to get at least an hour and we were able to do that. So we’ll have an hour on the Coheed set, so we’ll play a good amount of new music, probably three songs, which doesn’t sound like a lot but is actually about a half-hour of music. We’ll be playing songs we haven’t played in a while—and I won’t tell you which ones! [laughs] Off the new record, we’re definitely playing Astral Body and two others.

SLUG: Do you have a favorite off the new record that you enjoy playing live?
Briggs: We’ve played only Telos, Astral Body and Lay Your Ghosts To Rest, and I think Lay Your Ghosts is my favorite. There’s something cool about playing that one, it feels like such a different song than we’ve really done before. I feel it when we play it love, just in the way… I don’t know, it just feels different, I like it a lot.

SLUG: Tell me about Trioscapes and playing that jazz fusion style. Do you find BTBAM influencing Trioscapes/vice versa, or are the bands kind of a “break” from each other? Are you getting a lot of crossover fans?
Briggs: I feel like when we started Triospace, it came after a pretty big creatively lull for me, and it just rejuvenated the hell out of me, and it fueled me through the Parallax 2 writing sessions. Even this weekend I was gone for 2 days, and I was already itching to get back home and write music.

SLUG: Metal in general gets a lot of flak for being pure noise, uninspired, too aggressive, etc., but bands like BTBAM are a perfect demonstration of the extremes and lack of limitations this genre really has-- and it seems like prog metal is taking a greater foothold than it has in the past. How do you feel about the current state of metal, and do you feel like bands are taking greater leaps in experimentation?
Briggs: I think it’s great that people are stepping out. I think the term “progressive” gets thrown around a little bit more than it should, and the idea of why that term was even applied to music in the 70s, I think there are a good handful of band that are forward-thinking and doing very cool stuff with every new release. But to me, the term progressive is something that is forward-thinking. Just because there’s a band that sounds like us doesn’t mean necessarily it’s a step in the same direction. We’re always evolving. To me personally, the metal thing... if someone were to ask me what we sound like, I’d call us a progressive rock band with metal influence or undertones. That’s something that’s been more exciting for us. The things we get most jazzed on are when we get to work out vocal harmonies and experiment with things like mandolin, adding all these great things to melodies, it’s the most fun and has become the most natural for us to write. I think what’s important for us now and what we did a good job of on this record for the first time was honing in on what the focus of each song is and being able to write around that. It’s good to have song that have a good melodic focus and be able to write more aggressive stuff around that as necessary. I think in the past we maybe tried to force heavier parts that were pre-written into songs that did have melodic focus or whatever, or not even that… I think we’re at the point now where we can do what’s best for the song and not what’s best for our egos, trying to get our riffs in the song no matter what.