Back in March, I spent the better part of an hour speaking with Between the Buried and Me bassist Dan Briggs to discuss his myriad of projects and his development as a musician and evolution as a bass player. The first half of our talk was published last week, wherein we discussed collecting vinyl, the prog aesthetic, and the records that inspired him to first pick up a guitar — and eventually, bass and keyboards.
In this second half of our interview, we discuss his new project Nova Collective and its place in the genre of jazz fusion. We also discuss the process of revisiting their modern classic Colors, and where the band goes from here.
So I have been listening to the Nova Collective record a little bit, and I enjoy it.
And I’m coming into it from the metal perspective and I don’t know a lot about jazz.
Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews like that! (laughs). Metal Blade’s having some trouble getting it to the jazz people. I don’t know, I keep doing records that are like that, you know? Our language is so all over the place. Like with Trioscapes and Nova Collective where it’s like we came up playing jazz stuff at a certain point in our life, when I was in high school and a little bit in college, and kind of revisiting that with just a new voice. But we’re also the kids who, like I said, came up with Dream Theater and Nirvana. It all just gets mixed together so it’s kind of like this perverse thing. But like, what is jazz, anyways?
You know, I hate the fuddy-duddies like Wynton Marsalis who rag on something like John Zorn or whatever, just discrediting it for being anything that’s just like… well what is this jazz, is it a fucking sound or is it like, this idea and this attitude? The same thing can be said about progressive music, you know? To me, it’s more of like an action and less of a sound. So it’s weird. So yeah, like you said, I’m doing these groups that sometimes dances on the line of being too jazz for the metal guys and not jazz enough for the jazz outlets. But I think for Nova Collective, we made no intention of being metal, really, you know? It’s just kinda fun, weird fusion music, I feel like.
I’m sure, like you mentioned, it keeps coming up, so where would you push a Between the Buried and Me fan? Like, “okay, so if you liked the Nova Collective, you should move further into jazz in –this- direction”?
Well I think the natural [progression] for someone who is into rock music is to get into fusion and get into guys like John McLaughlin who were taking the ferocity of ripping guitar solos in the way that John Coltrane would rip on the sax and kind of finding a way to do that on guitar and orchestrating his groups in a way that is highly improvised music but in a setting that feels familiar as a rock listener. And I think that’s something with the Nova Collective, where it’s like we thought about arranging the songs like what we’re more familiar with, with like a rock formula, sort of? Well, not formula, but, you know, within it, there’s improvisation and we’re just turning stuff on its head constantly.
I mean, if you listen to “Dancing Machines,” the song’s maybe two different themes or ideas and it’s just an exercise in flipping them around and backwards and forwards and on its head. What’s cool though is that when you try to do more with less, you make something that seems really cohesive even though it’s ten minutes long. So for us, the focus was to not get too far off the point and I think it was also just fun to just zero in on a couple of ideas and not feel like you had to kill yourself just barfing up a bunch of musical ideas to try to fit together. You know, these are great accomplished musicians I’m writing music with in that group and it’s just so fun to have a couple of things out there and they just blew up into these full accomplishments very quickly and easily.
That’s cool. I’ve got a lot more listening to do on it. I know it just came out recently.
Yeah it just came out last Friday. Yeah, so not even a week [at the time of this interview -ed.]. It’s funny, because people are quick to give an immediate reaction. Thankfully, so far from what we’ve seen, it’s been positive, but for me, when I get a new record, especially when it’s something like that, I usually like to sit on it and take it in. I guess you do have an immediate reaction and that’s okay; that’s completely good. But it’s so excited to just listen and listen, and you get more out of it.
What kind of monster just listens to a record one time?
Yeah, I know! Honestly, I feel like some of my favorite records are ones that I get through and I’m like, “whew, I’m gonna have to listen to that again,” you know? You feel good and you know something’s there but you have to go back.
So if I liked The Further Side, could you recommend me an album or two to check out from here?
Ah, shit! Well…
(laughs) Sorry to put you on the spot.
No, no, no, it’s okay! Umm… I’d say we really love Bill Bruford, the drummer from Yes and King Crimson. He did a group that kind of went throughout the 80’s and 90’s called Earthworks, and their first album — which I think is just called Bill Bruford’s Earthworks — is a phenomenal record. Especially during that time which was a very weird period for a lot of guys like John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, all these monsters from the 70’s, when they got into the 80’s they were trying to play with the new technology and (laughs) there was a lot of flops during that time. You know, Allan Holdsworth‘s playing the synth guitar and you’re like, “ah! Maybe you don’t need to do that.” Guys playing synth saxophone and stuff.
Then there’s this Earthworks record, which we celebrate so much and think it’s phenomenal. They’re mixing a lot of cool 80’s synthesizer sounds and he’s playing with the Simmons drum pads a lot. Bill Bruford was just doing that a lot in the 80’s regardless, but it’s just a really cool mix of stuff on this album like African beats and cool woodwind stuff mixed with almost danceable 80’s beats and rhythms at times, and then just like freaky free jazz, off the wall stuff. God, it did really good. We love that record. (laughs) That’s one I always go back to, so go to Earthworks! See how that rubs you!
Okay cool, I’ll do that! So I guess we’ve been talking a lot about the past, and even though you’re rooted in the old prog stuff, Between the Buried and Me are very a band that constantly looks forward…
So I was pleasantly surprised to find out you guys were even willing to do a Colors anniversary tour.
Well, it’s funny because… I mean, that record came out in 2007. The last time we played that record in its entirety was during one of our first headlining shows in London and we played two nights at a club and as a surprise, we didn’t announce it, but on the second night we played Colors in its entirety. I guess that was still like seven years ago. Fuck! That seems like it wasn’t that long ago.
But we seem to not have a problem. Except for with “White Walls”. We’re fried; we played it too much. It’s our “Pull Me Under” for Dream Theater or “Enter Sandman” for Metallica, I’m sure.
It’s your “Free Bird.”
Yeah, exactly! It’s that song, you know? But it’s like fifteen minutes long and it’s just very intense (laughs). But for the rest of the record, I feel like we’ve had no trouble. On tours we always play one or two songs off Colors. It just kind of almost always works that way, and it’s fun. Yeah, it’s silly because thinking about prepping for it, we’re like, ‘dude, we can get together for a rehearsal and go on tour.’ The music is so different. Like for Tommy, it’s much less melodic singing and a lot less keyboards so it’s not a lot of prep on his end.
And for the rest of us it’s like, we generally throughout a touring cycle for an album, like a two year cycle for Coma or whatever, we’ve played a lot of songs from that record already so it’s kind of like you just brush up on ’em. They kind of float around. There’s always one, I feel like “Prequel to the Sequel,” I’m always like, “huh, I have no idea how that song goes.”
And after an hour of digging around into the song, I’m like, “oh, okay.” But I’ve legitimately not played “Viridian” since that London show seven years ago. So yeah, that will be interesting to re-learn, and especially to to re-learn as the bassist I am now, because at that point, I wrote stuff so densely composed and now if you listen to the Nova record, my solos on that record are completely improvised. It’s one of those deals where you do a take, you do the first take, and the engineer, Jamie [King] is like “that’s pretty good” and you’re like, “well okay, let’s do some more.” You do like six, and you’re like “can I hear the first one again?” and you’re like, “that’s fine.” Literally every time, the first one, you’re like “that was pretty good.” So maybe I’ll be able to approach “Viridian” 2017 with some of that modern Briggs idea, we’ll see. I haven’t really thought about it too much because we’re working on new material too.
It might be too early to tell, but what are your general impressions on where the new stuff’s gonna take you.
I sent the guys a bunch of new stuff before the tour, and Dusty’s sent a couple of ideas and it’s kind of on the same page, which is really cool. We’ll see what happens, but I felt really good before this tour. Honestly, if we hadn’t done that tour I bet we’d probably have a new record ready to record right now. I personally had that much creative energy in December or January, just feeling it after a year and a half of touring on that record. You know, I feel that the Coma record opened up a new door and it’s been so exciting writing with that kind of freedom and idea in mind and it’s hard to describe what’s been written so far, but it also hasn’t been elaborated upon in a group setting yet. So yeah, too early to say.
Now that the Coma cycle has come to an end, how do you feel about it in retrospect?
It was great! It’s so weird because certain things make it feel like it was just around the corner but it does feel like a while ago now that the record came out. I mean, we started the cycle in Mexico and we were listening to mixes from Jens [Bogren] while we were on the plane. That was a long time ago. That was two years ago. Yeah, it it’s kind of interesting. Plus, I’ve had an Orbs record come out since then and the Nova Collective record, and working on new stuff now. So yeah, it feels like a lot’s happened since then. Like, I bought a house, and all this personal stuff. You grow and stuff, so that’s great. I’m always thankful for that during a record cycle because then when it’s two years later and you’re working on new stuff, I feel like I’ve matured as a musician because I’ve worked on other records in that time and then as a person, you know? You just grow. And things that were attractive to me in 2007 when we wrote Colors aren’t necessarily attractive to me in 2017 as an ever-evolving musician, and human, I guess.
Nova Collective’s debut album The Further Side is available now via Metal Blade Records. You can catch Between the Buried and Me on tour this Fall playing Colors live in its entirety with support from The Contortionist, Polyphia, and Toothgrinder. Dates below:
Sept. 7 – Center Stage @ Prog Power USA XVIII – Atlanta, GA (BTBAM only)
Sept. 21 – Theatre of Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA
Sept. 22 – Baltimore Sound Stage – Baltimore, MD
Sept. 23 – The Gramercy Theatre – New York, NY
Sept. 24 – Paradise Rock Club – Boston, MA
Sept. 26 – Mr. Small’s Theatre – Pittsburgh, PA
Sept. 27 – The Agora Theatre – Cleveland, OH
Sept. 28 – Crofoot Ballroom – Pontiac, MI
Sept. 29 – Opera House – Toronto, ON
Sept. 30 – Bottom Lounge – Chicago, IL
Oct. 2 – Granada Theater – Lawrence, KS
Oct. 3 – Summit Music Hall – Denver, CO
Oct. 4 – The Complex – Salt Lake City, UT
Oct. 6 – The Catalyst – Santa Cruz, CA
Oct. 7 – El Rey – Los Angeles, CA
Oct. 8 – Glasshouse – Pomona, CA
Oct. 9 – SOMA – San Diego, CA
Oct. 10 – Crescent Ballroom – Phoenix, AZ
Oct. 12 – Trees – Dallas, TX
Oct. 14 – House of Blues – New Orleans, LA
Oct. 15 – Vinyl Music Hall – Pensacola, FL
Oct. 17 – Culture Room – Ft Lauderdale, FL
Oct. 18 – State Theatre – St Petersburg, FL
Oct. 19 – The Plaza Live – Orlando, FL
Oct. 20 – The Masquerade (Heaven) – Atlanta, GA
Oct. 21 – Neighborhood Theater – Charlotte, NC