Over the years, we’ve watched North Carolina’s Between the Buried and Me climb the ranks from metalcore weirdos struggling to find a place in the metal scene to prog metal masters achieving worldwide headliner status with a legion of rabid fans. Through a series of critically-acclaimed opuses, a scene had formed itself around Between the Buried and Me as trailblazers of a new branch of modern progressive music, and one might argue that the biggest splash from the group came from their 2007 opus Colors, which turns 10 this year(!!!).
It was a game changer and a massive turning point in their careers, and since then, they’ve pushed onward into progressive territory, shedding their metalcore roots for the operatic prog rock style of their latest record, Coma Ecliptic, which saw its own home video concert release at the end of April. Now, the band have their eyes set on what’s yet to come from their ninth full-length LP tentatively due out next year.
One might think that a band so keen on moving forward might not have the time to look back, but the band promises to revisit Colors for an anniversary tour wherein the band will perform the album in its entirety. We connected with bassist Dan Briggs about his own musical journey, the ending of Coma Ecliptic, and all things prog in a 40-minute interview, the first part of which can be read below.
So how’s it going, man?
Going well, going well. I’ve been home a little less than a week after a month and a half in Europe, so I’m just getting settled in. And, uh, yeah, it’s nice! Looking forward to the Spring.
Yeah, and I apologize for doing this (laughs) because you deserve some downtime.
No, no! It’s totally fine! I was doing interviews overseas for the Nova record that came out on the last day of our tour over there, so it’s all good! This is easy to do.
That’s good! I know you have been busy doing that because I had talked to my friend Kit who writes for New Noise and he said you were a delight.
So it’s a pleasure to speak with you again. I don’t really expect you to remember, but we had met before in 2011 in Asheville at the Orange Peel.
I was interviewing Tommy right before the Parallax EP came out and you just hopped up on the bus with this vinyl copy of the Mr. Bungle album.
Yeah, and everybody kind of geeked out over it. You were right behind me and Tommy was like, “Woah! What’s that?!”
And judging by your Twitter, I can tell that you are still super into collecting vinyl.
Yeah! For me it’s not really “collecting.” For me, it’s more like someone that has a library, you know what I mean? Like somebody who has amassed books. I mean, hopefully they’ve read them all (laughs), or used them for research or whatever they’re doing, but for me, I’m the same way, you know? I have different ones I pull out for different times of day and whatever is happening to me creatively, or anything, you know? It all kind of filters in a weird way or just affects you and makes you feel good going about your day.
But yeah, in our house the record player is kind of in the living room, so it, like, funnels throughout the whole house, so that’s our “main thing.” I’ve also got my wall of CDs upstairs in my office.
I imagine you pick up a lot on the road. I saw that you were in a record store searching albums by country.
Do you guys have a record player on the bus?
Yeah, I was gonna say, that would be terribly inconvenient.
Yeah. No, it’s fun. We were just in Europe, and I feel like in different countries you can find certain stuff so much better than in the stores over here where you can maybe find older American records easier or something. But over there I try to keep it specific to whatever country I’m in. You know, if I’m in the UK, I wanna primarily look for UK artists.
I’m trying to think. The last time I was over there I was trying to look for groups from the early 90’s shoegaze scene that might not have come out on vinyl over here or maybe it was real limited and real small. You know, that kind of keeps me in check so I don’t buy too much, and it also keeps it exciting. Like, I’m in Germany so I’m gonna pick up this kraut rock record.
It just feels a little… you know, it kinda means a little bit more when I take the record out and I can remember walking the streets of Berlin and going to like five stores before I found a Tangerine Dream record, or whatever. So that’s cool.
You’re obviously a well traveled musician, so what are some of the highlights to your collection, or the most cherished pieces that you have?
Ah shit! Well, um… I was able to find—let’s see, when was it?—it was a couple of years ago when we were in Europe with the band Haken. I had what was probably the most satisfying tours for just finding kind of everything I sort of set to going overseas looking for. So there was a couple things — and surprises as well — but I got an original pressing of one of my favorite records by the French group Magma, which is their Mechanic record. It’s a long title, kind of a made up language title. The first word’s “Mechanic” and it’s an incredible fucking album. I had just been searching high and low for Magma stuff and they just started re-pressing some stuff over here and it’s pretty expensive when you find it.
Are you talking about “Mëkanïk Dëstruktïẁ Kömmandöh”?
That’s it, yeah! I think what’s so fun, is with older records especially, is just trying to find the original pressing, the original master — hearing it in the way it was kind of intended to be heard at that time. With that band especially, with Magma, you can tell that they had just set up in a studio in a big room and were doing the thing live like a concert, because the music just kind of runs that way there’s clearly improvisation within the arrangement and stuff. I had just kind of picked through this whole store in Copenhagen and I had a stack and felt good about it going to the counter, and just sort of off the cusp — just because it was one of our last stops on this tour and I had been searching all over Europe — I had asked the guy if he had any Magma, and he was like, “Oh. Yeah, you gotta look over here,” and it was kind of in the uh, (sigh) in the more expensive bin…
But it was an original pressing! I don’t know how many Danish krone it was. I wasn’t trying to convert at the time, I was just too excited. I said “just toss it in.” That’s one of the ones I’m definitely super excited about that I have. I mean, I’ve got like an original Oingo Boingo EP 10″, and a double 10″ of the Lush Spooky record, which is so cool. It’s just a lot of stuff, I’d have to look. I’ve got an original Japanese pressing of Genesis‘ The Lamb Lays Down on Broadway.
Oh that’s cool!
Yeah, so it’s a lot of older stuff, but then, the newer ones I’m glad I have because it’s so cool with the packaging. The packaging is just so important. I think it’s so neat. I love the American avant-garde sax player Tim Burn. I actually just listened to an interview with him the other day and he was talking about how through the 90’s people were buying CDs left and right he started his own label to put out his records because he could do whatever he wanted, didn’t have to filter it through anyone, obviously. And people stopped buying CDs, and he just kind of stopped putting stuff out on his own. He’s on the ECM label now, a big jazz label in Europe, and he just put out a record that was kind of like a collaboration with an artist and he just talked about how important it was to have this great physical thing that you can hold in your hand that’s related to this piece of music that he wrote. It’s like a collection of screen-prints and yadda yadda yadda; it’s a real limited thing and that thing’s always gonna be so cool. It doesn’t matter how many people are buying it or not buying it. I get excited about that, because it’s the same thing like when I was a kid and I’d open up a record and dig through the credits or, you know, stare at the Green Day Dookie cover for hours and discover something new in the silly drawings. I don’t know, it should be an experience, I feel like.
Yeah, that’s why I got into it. I think the first record I ever bought, you guys just happened to have a copy of Alaska on vinyl at the merch booth and that started it.
You guys were still with Victory at the time so it wasn’t weird.
Ah, the glory days, right?
Yeah (laughs). I think that started it. I had never been in a position to buy vinyl before then, and you had one. And now I’m trying to hit 200 by the end of the year.
How many would you say you might have?
Shit, I don’t know. I bought a house in August and I got rid of so much stuff. It’s funny because furniture-wise I moved with almost nothing; I mean, my bed and my desk from my office. But I had tons of boxes. My friends showed up to help me move and I was like, “there’s not a lot of big stuff, but there’s a lot of these boxes that are FILLED with vinyl.” And the CD boxes were deceivingly heavy. I had t-shirt boxes from where you order t-shirts wholesale for bands or whatever, and I filled one all the way up with CDs and I went to lift it and… not even half an inch off the ground. It was impossible. So I halved it and still the boxes were so heavy.
I’ve got two — and I don’t even know how wide they are, maybe four feet wide by five foot tall-ish — shelves that are… let’s see, there’s six shelves total and there’s three and a half? Four that are filled up? And another shelf for 10″ and 7″s. I think I’m probably done getting 7″s unless it’s a really special thing, because honestly, I get excited about the novelty when I see one or, you know, to get the B-side if it’s something rare that not released on the album, but in all honesty I never take out my 7″s to listen to one song, then flip the record and listen to one song and put it away (laughs). It’s very rare so it’s almost more for the novelty of it and I probably won’t be buying too many.
This is probably putting you on the spot a bit, but while we’re looking back at all the old stuff that you listened to, we do this thing inspired by The Anatomy Of where we ask musicians to identify albums that kind of made them who they were.
So thinking back, as a fan of music, as you became a musician, and as a bass player, what were some of the records that helped push you and guide you to where you are today?
Well, I guess I probably started with, you know, Nirvana with Nevermind and In Utero. Soundgarden’s Superunknown. Stone Temple Pilots‘ Purple Tiny Music. Those were like my big early records, and ones that still stick with me. I was actually just listening to Stone Temple Pilots yesterday just driving around and loving it just as much. It’s so funny because I feel like the generation of rock bands right after that was probably right when people were listening to stuff and then now look back and were kind of like, regretful about it? Like, I just don’t see how you can look back listening to bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden — I mean, obviously, there were less-good bands that we were listening to at the time — I just think that we were so lucky just growing up in the early 90’s like that.
So anyways, that was a great era to just, you know, be a kid riding on the bus to and from school and you heard rock songs. Like, good rock songs. It’d make you just go home and pick up your guitar. My mom was a music teacher, so I had access to an electric guitar when I was 10 and she got me started, showed me “Penny Royalty” by Nirvana. I think the last thing she taught me was the “Supersonic” solo by Oasis, and she was like “we gotta get you with a guy, ASAP.”
(laughs) Was she not into that?
Oh no, it was just—I think she saw that I was getting into that really quickly and getting to a point where she was just like “oh boy, I can only show him so much.” Because she was a classical guitarist and an elementary music teacher, so she was really good getting kids started and stuff, for sure. I think if I had inclinations towards learning like, classical, that would have been another thing, but she saw that I was just burning through Guitar World magazines, just learning songs on my own with the tabs and stuff, and she was just like “okay, it’s time, you gotta have a guy.” I think the two teachers I had, one was a Berklee grad and the other was just an 80’s metal ripper, so (laughs) that’s who I learned a bit from!
So that got it going. Dream Theater‘s Scenes from a Memory was kind of a big turning point record when I was in high school that made me think about things a lot differently and opened up my mind to the world of progressive rock and bands that I just didn’t know about at all. And as a bass player, along those lines, the Discipline record by King Crimson. I guess I knew the Peter Gabriel stuff that Tony Levin was on, but I didn’t know Tony Levin until I got really into King Crimson and I was like, “who are these four guys?! What’s happening right now?!”
Because up until my introduction to him, I loved bass and I played bass and I played bass the way I played guitar, I just tried to tear through it and just shred on the thing. And then it wasn’t really until him… like, I always loved bands and songs but I was never really attracted to the bass player of the band. Like, I didn’t really have bass guys until him, and I understood his role in the group with everything that was happening in the songs, and how he carried those songs. Even in some of that Peter Gabriel stuff, you know? “Don’t Give Up” is just a bassline that’s driving the whole thing. That’s the melody, kinda.
Speaking of that old kind of prog and stuff, you’ve sort of become the physical embodiment of the prog aesthetic. Like, I’ve even caught you wearing a kimono at times.
AH! A kimono?!
It looked like a kimono! Like a long, button up shirt that gave me that kind of vibe…
Yeah! No, that was actually — you’re ethnically kind of close — that was an Indian garb. There’s a great store here in Greensboro — actually I hope it’s still open — called Bollywood Fashion. It’s over by the international grocery store, Super G. Great store. I just went in. I think it’s just so fun. I love everything about India; the cuisine, obviously, the music scene is so lovely, the fashion is so colorful. I found that piece in there and the lady was so excited. She fit it to me for free and it was black and it looked kind of badass. And we were doing the Parallax tour and I think I was just excited to kinda feel like I wasn’t playing a normal concert and maybe feel like when I put the thing on that I was getting ready to get into the story and do this weird thing. I’m not wearing capes on stage like Rick Wakeman or anything, so, you know.
Yeah, you had mentioned Genesis before—
And that kind of gave me those vibes, you know? I expected this like, eccentric outfit kind of thing going on…
Yeah! I mean, before we did the Coma stuff, we had talks about kind of going full-on theatrical, like wheeling Tommy out on stage in like a gurney to sing the opening song, you know, like [what] the character is experiencing. When it came down to it, you know, I don’t think the theatrical sense for everyone else stood up as much as it did for some of us. (laughs)
There’s a fine line between being artistic and being a little too on the nose, and I think you’re kind of on the right side of that.
I saw on Twitter that you were joking — maybe it was not a joke — that you wanted to get a double-necked bass with a keytar.
Yeah! Like, if somehow that could exist, that would be amazing. Because now I have the setup where I play keyboards right there and it’s all kind of arranged where it is easy for me to switch from one to the other. (laughs) I don’t know, I just had a random thought on tour but that would never happen, of course, I’m sure.
Well, I mean, I think at this point you could pull it off unscathed. I mean, I’ve seen Mute Math live and their singer, who is phenomenal, plays keytar.
Huh, there you go! (laughs)
You’re kind of going on this progression where you’re becoming more comfortable multitasking, so I can imagine… At what point did you start becoming comfortable with playing bass and doing keyboards?
Well, I had been playing it since college and it became more of a writing tool. I guess probably The Parallax II. You know, you hear a song like “Bloom,” I was writing that on the keyboard. And then with the Coma record, like so much of it I started on piano or keys. It’s just such a great tool. You just see things differently on there than I do on bass or on guitar. It’s just an invaluable asset to me as a composer and stuff.
I started taking the keys out on The Parallax II tours, and that was just to take some of the load off Tommy and be able to play more while he could focus on singing. Then there was just so much that I wrote on keyboards on the Coma record that I guess it was just that same kind of idea. You know, whenever I’m not playing bass, I’m gonna be hands on, doing keyboards. A good example of that is in the bridge to “Famine Wolf,” there’s no bass. It just switches to synth bass in the middle of it, kind of like a shuffle thing. I remember, Paul had written that arpeggio line and my thought immediately was just like, well yeah this is just gonna be synth bass that takes this left turn when it goes to the bridge and that alone is gonna be neat. So I could already envision what that was going to be like live at that point.
Right, I was surprised to see that it was synth bass. I thought you had an effect going, but seeing it live, you switched so effortlessly. That was a really big surprise.
Yeah, it’s great. That’s one of my favorite parts from playing that album live. I always really loved that section.
And I really liked [‘Rapid Calm”] with you and Tommy both playing keyboards at the beginning of the song, and it gave me this synthwave vibe. You know, like John Carpenter and everything like that.
Oh, yeah! Yeah, I have been attracted to that kind of analog keyboard sound for so long. I mean, if it’s either from listening to groups like Tangerine Dream or John Carpenter or more modern groups like Zombi, that’s something that’s kind of been a sound that I just loved. Just like, the mellotron, from day one. As soon as you hear it. I think it’s just inevitable, when you start gravitating towards some of your favorite sounds. Like, Tommy’s a huge organ fan. So, probably since The Great Misdirect, you’ve heard a lot of organ coming out of him from parts.
Yeah, Swim to the Moon’s a big one (laughs).
Yeah, totally! That’s actually what I was thinking of, too. And yeah, [“Rapid Calm”] was almost like a Pink Floyd “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” sort of feel we were going for there. Actually when we played it live, we’ve got the mellotron flutes going. I was doing that with my left hand and in my right hand I’m doing kind of like the sweepy lead so that the notes are kind of modulating, and when we did it live… this is the one part of the album where it’s possible to sort of take the time. You know, the metronome stops there after “The Ectopic Stroll” and we’re getting ready to do the last good bit of the record and we can take a couple of minutes here and get a drink, and I’ll just kind of vamp out on some chords on the mellotron flutes and I was just doing some free time thing, setting up that feel. I guess it’s on the DVD that we’re putting out, but I do a very subtle little melody line in my right hand that’s supposed to be reminiscent of a line from “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
Oh, that’s cool!
So it’s just a fun little nod that no one would get live, but it just kind of sets up what I had thought was that sort of feel from the record.
Part two of our interview arrives early next week, so check back and keep up with us on Facebook for information as it comes in.
Between the Buried and Me’s Coma Ecliptic Live and the debut album from Dan’s prog/jazz fusion project Nova Collective are both available now through Metal Blade Records.