Between the Buried and Me – Fully ConceptualizedMonday, 23rd July 2018
When it comes to the progressive metal scene, one of the first bands that people tend to think about has to include Between the Buried and Me. Though it wasn’t always that way, with the band rising up through some of their heavier years and really launching ahead back with Alaska and Colors. One thing that can always be said of BTBAM though, is their willingness to explore and venture outside of the box. They are forever moving forwards, adding new dimensions and layers as they go.
The same can be said for their recent release – the second half of a conceptual album by the name of Automata (the first half dropped earlier this year). Whether it’s hitting an emotive atmosphere, providing some driving heaviness, or even exploring jazzy and avant-garde structures more deeply, the twists and turns are quite present and enjoyable. Vocalist Tommy Rogers chatted with us to discuss the double album, the band’s evolution over the years, and what’s next down the line for the veteran act.
Dead Rhetoric: Is it tough having to put out part of an album and sit and wait to release the other half?
Tommy Rogers: Yes [laughs]. It’s kind of part of it. It’s a part of a band that you get used to. We recorded the records last October I think. It’s crazy. This record is already out of our minds in a way. We are obviously getting back into it as we get ready for touring but it’s crazy how long ago it was. I’m already recorded another solo record, which I did in January. I think every musician wants to release what they’ve done as soon as they are finished since it’s done and it feels so good, so you want to shout it from the mountaintops. But you have to play the game and sit there quietly until it comes out. But it’s here, and we are stoked. Releasing it in two parts was different for us, as well as the fans. But I think people are stoked for part II. I really enjoy part I, but I feel like some of the best material is on part II, so I’m really excited to hear reactions.
Dead Rhetoric: As you were saying, you felt some of the more exciting pieces were on Automata II. How do you compare the two halves?
Rogers: It’s not really a comparison. I think there’s songs here that just moved me a little bit more. I think when you write a song, there’s what I call “the goosebump effect.” When you listen to it when you are done, sometimes things give you goosebumps. Those are the moments that you go, “man, that part really hit me.” “The Grid,” the last song on Part II was one of those songs for me. I think it was just because I wrote the lyrics to that right after Chris Cornell died. When we were putting that song together, it sort of happened – some of the riffs that Dan [Briggs] had written were very grunge-y and Soundgarden-ish. When I was tracking the vocals it was one of those moments that the stars kind of aligned. I think maybe because there’s that personal connection to the songs, that’s why I say that. I am very proud of part I as well. I think the band kind of looks at it as one record, since we wrote and recorded it as one record. I think there’s some riskier stuff on Part II, which takes us in new directions. That’s something we’ve always loved doing.
Dead Rhetoric: With both parts available, what’s your recommended way of listening to the albums?
Rogers: Ideally, we want people to listen to I and then II. But I think that’s why we released it in two parts. Not every fan is the type that can sit through 70-something minutes of music and dive in 100%. I think it depends on how you listen to it. Even when we were mixing it, I normally stopped where we separated I and II, and I listened to II later. It’s a lot. Everybody listens to music differently, and that’s constantly changing. I think it’s tough for a band like us with people being more into playlists and singles, because we don’t write in that fashion at all. We definitely write albums still. But we aren’t here to tell anyone how to listen to music. I think they hold up listening to them on their own, and obviously they work well together.
Dead Rhetoric: You bring up a point with the whole playlist thing. Does it make it tough for you if you have a full, conceptual 2-part album and you get one song chucked into a playlist? Do you think it loses something when you isolate one track?
Rogers: It’s nothing we really think about. A band like us, when you aren’t in “the mainstream,” we’ve never really focused on singles. There have never been songs that have changed our lives or anything. We figure out what songs are going to be released, and we hope that it helps people in wanting to dive into the album. The playlist thing – we aren’t here to tell people how to listen to music, like I said. But I still really enjoy listening to albums. It’s not going to change the way we write. I don’t think we’ll ever be the type of band that tries to write to fit playlists or singles, or things like that.
Dead Rhetoric: How important is your relationship with Jamie King when it comes to making an album?
Rogers: Very important. We’ve been working together for the duration of the band. Even Dustie [Waring] and Blake’s [Richardson] old band and Paul [Waggoner] and my old band used to work with him, so it’s crazy how long we have been working together. He used to do sound at a club that our old bands used to play. We are friends. I help him manage his studio. But with the band, there’s something really nice about sitting down and working with someone who completely understands, no matter what you are trying to do. Even on the solo front with me, I can come in with a dance song, and he’ll get it to what I need. The crazy stuff that BTBAM is doing, it’s in his DNA as well.
He’s such an important part of us. He’s great with sounds – we do the pre-production and record the albums ourselves before we go see him. We are an overly prepared band. We know what’s going to happen when we go into the studio. Our job is to get great takes and get good tones. He’s just phenomenal in helping us achieve that. As a vocalist, he’s great with working with melodies and helping with ideas. A lot of times, you will write something and it’s just not sitting well with you. If something feels weird, you need to act on it, because it’s going to bother you forever if you don’t. He’s very good at accommodating you, and helping to get it to a place that you are really happy with.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel is the most rewarding piece about doing a conceptual album?
Rogers: I think as a fan of music, there’s a lot of layers. From our perspective, it’s a shitload of work. It’s a lot more work than to just write songs, and for me to write random lyrics to each song. There’s so much time and energy and stress that goes into it. The payoff is very rewarding. When you achieve what you heard in your head, as a group. As a fan, if you like to really dive in and want the whole package – we try to make everything cohesive. From the our merch designs, to the way we present our album and videos, we want to make it cohesive with one another. So as a fan, if you want to dive into the album, it’s a little more exciting when its like that, rather than a band releasing some songs. But I’m sure there’s an argument against that as well. But that’s why we do it, it just feels like a part of our DNA.
For me, lyrically, there were moments that I was like, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m running out of things to talk about as far as a storyline goes.” You hit walls. Any artist hits these walls, and you get through it, and you get better at what you do. There were moments like that on this record, but then you look back at it and I really like what we did as a band, and what I did with the lyrics, so I’m glad I pushed through those moments. I think storylines just fit our music. That’s why we started doing it in the first place. I’m a very visual person. When I hear music and I hear our songs, I’m a visual person and that’s how I write my lyrics.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel is most important when writing lyrics for a song?
Rogers: I think the most important thing for me is to not force anything. That goes with music too. When I sit down to write, be it on a keyboard or guitar or anything, I know within minutes whether it’s a productive time or not. I think over the years you kind of learn that. For me, if it doesn’t feel right, I just stop. There’s a spot near my house that I go to write. For this record, I would go sit on this bench in the middle of the woods and write. There were a few times where I went out there and it didn’t work. So I got up and went home. It’s understanding how you work. In the past, any time I’ve tried to force something to happen, I’ve ended up changing it anyway later. I always think creativity is something that pores out of you and you don’t think too much about it. Stuff I’ve written lyrically or musically, some of my favorite stuff, I don’t even remember doing it. It kind of happened really fast and poured out of me.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel that your writing has grown over the years in that aspect of the band?
Rogers: I think we all have. That’s part of it. We’ve all written so much music and learned so much in writing that music. In our instruments and other instruments – it’s a part of the learning process. I think that’s what’s fun as a musician, or someone who creates things. You aren’t standing in place, and you aren’t repeating yourself too much hopefully. You are getting better at what you do and working with each other.
Dead Rhetoric: With having such a consistent line-up over the years, do you feel it allows you to step things up and challenge yourselves with each release?
Rogers: Definitely. I think we challenge each other a lot. For instance, if I wrote everything, I would never challenge myself because it would just be stuff that I do. But because we write so much as a band – Dan writes keyboard parts that I play, and he’ll write stuff that I wouldn’t have written in a million years. It pushes me to work much harder at what I do. It works that way with all of us. Everybody has their own playing style. I think we all help each other get better at what we do, and see music in a different way. We all see music differently from each other. I think that’s important, and why we work so well as a group. Someone can take a simple idea, and when everyone takes a look at it, it spins into something completely different and totally new. That’s a fun part of it – I love watching nothing become something when you are writing music.
Dead Rhetoric: That’s a cool way of looking at it.
Rogers: That’s what it is – even songs outside of BTBAM, a lot of the songs that I love are written in someone’s bedroom or hotel. All of these things just come out of someone starting with an idea and going from there, which is pretty cool.
Dead Rhetoric: In doing this for almost 20 years, what do you feel that Between the Buried and Me stands for?
Rogers: When we started the band, we were in metal bands and we wanted to be a heavy band that didn’t have boundaries. At that point, there weren’t a lot of bands like that. To this day, I think that’s how we still approach music. We don’t have boundaries. As long as it feels right and sounds like ‘us’ to us, then we go for it. That’s liberating as musicians, because we can send each other stuff that we didn’t even think would work for us. When you hit that send button, it’s not like you are thinking, “Oh god, I just sent an electronic song.” Sometimes that works! It’s cool that we have that freedom, and that we are lucky enough to have a fanbase that allows us that freedom. They expect us to try new things. We aren’t pigeonholed in one sound or genre. We represent normal dudes writing music that is unique, I guess. That’s tough!
Dead Rhetoric: When you look at some of your early records, what do you see as some of the biggest changes that the band has gone through over the years?
Rogers: We are a lot different. When I listen back to stuff like Alaska, or the stuff before that, we were heavier. We hear it all the time and it’s true. We admit to it. But we are older and we write different types of music now. Different types of music interest us now that didn’t back then. I think we have gotten better at what we do. I think we could write stuff like that if we wanted to, but we’ve never been a band that forces anything. A big thing for us is to make the music cohesive. We jump moods and genres, but I think we’ve gotten better at making things feel like songs, and make the albums flow better than they did in the past. That’s part of growing.
I’m also not one of those guys that looks back at the old albums and thinks that they are total shit. I am very proud of them. I think they perfectly represent us in that moment, and that’s what an album is for every band. You want to represent that time-frame, what you wanted to write in that time-frame, and what was going on as a band. When I look back, those records are what they should be from that time frame. I’m definitely proud of what we have done, and how we have grown. I think it’s cool that we don’t sound the same. You can listen to our discography and hear us changing/growing, and I feel that that is important for a band that has been around for a while.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on jumping back onto the Summer Slaughter this year?
Rogers: It’s going to be cool. We are excited for part II to come out and get it out there. We haven’t done a tour like that in a while, where there are predominantly heavy bands. I don’t know if that’s good or bad; we’ll see. For me, it’s pretty cool that not many bands can do a tour with The Deer Hunter and then do Summer Slaughter a few months later. It’s nice to be in a position where we can tour with a broad group of bands.
Dead Rhetoric: What else do you have planned after the album’s release?
Rogers: After Summer Slaughter, we are going to do a big UK/Europe tour with Tesseract. Other than that, we are just hanging out. We are starting to get 2019 planned, and I have a new [solo] record coming out later in the year. I know Dan is working on some stuff – we are all busy writing stuff. It should be a full year, and next year I know we have some things up our sleeves as well.