Between The Buried And Me Interview
Prog metal maestros Between The Buried And Me play Gorilla next week and so our man Ben Armstrong sat down for a chat with their powerful frontman Tommy Rogers to discuss breakfast, Coma Ecliptic’s episodic content and how it ties to previous albums…and a bit of praise for Faith No More
Hi I’m Ben from Manchester Rocks, and thanks for taking the time to do this. It really means a lot to us. So yeah, how’s it going? Did you have any good for breakfast?
I haven’t eaten yet actually! But yeah my mother’s in town and she’s babysitting my son. Her and the wife are just hanging out too – I’m doing interviews and they’re just hanging out.
Haha, awesome man. So you guys are going on tour in the States soon, right?
Yeah, like, next week? We’re doing a full US tour here and then we’ll have a little time off at home, and then we’re coming over to you guys.
Is there anywhere you’re looking forward to playing in particular?
Erm, this makes me sound like a total asshole but honestly I haven’t looked at specifics! At this point I’m like, a week ahead and I’m going ‘Okay where are we going tonight? Okay cool’. I mean, as far as overseas goes, I love a lot of the cities – just walking around and eating some good food. I’m a big walker – I love going to old cities and taking pictures.
Are you playing any new songs off Coma Ecliptic on tour this year?
Yeah, we’re gonna play, probably, three. We’ll try to get as much as we can in. I mean our songs are so long and we have so many now that it’s always tough.
Yeah, it must be! I was going to ask you – there’s no really long songs on this album apart from Memory Palace. Was that a conscious decision because I imagine playing White Walls at every single show can get a little bit impractical, time-wise.
Actually, it wasn’t a conscious decision at all. Even the long songs were never a conscious decision, they just kinda happened. We’re always like, “where are we at in this song? Man, it’s already over ten minutes, god?!” But yeah that’s nothing we ever really discuss, it just kinda happens. I mean, I guess these songs are still long in a traditional sense but yeah, compared to some of our older material there are some shorter ones. I think it fits the music a little better, the songs are structured and I think, more focused…the links work. I think it sounds more natural.
After a few listens of the record, I did note that it felt more cohesive even than Colors, and that’s always been regarded as a beautifully linked piece of music.
Hopefully it’s because we’ve gotten better. We’re older now haha, than 2007. I think Colors, for a lot of people, was just such a different approach for us so that’s like the record that stands up, just cause it was so different from Alaska. The thing is, the way we approach things when it’s all said and done is we just try to write the best music we can. There’s never any looking back or thinking ‘what should we write’ or ‘how does this compare to something else’ y’know? We just make the best music we can and hope that people like it. So honestly, that’s just how we approach things.
Well, everyone I’ve spoken to who’s heard the new record loves it – so you must be doing something right!
Okay, so I wanted to ask you about the narrative of the album. I know the basics, the twilight zone, episodic-type concept about this dude in a coma, but can you elaborate on that any further?
One thing that I wanted to do differently in presenting the record this time, is I explained the whole story to our fans already, which… people were like “why did you already tell me the ending”, you know? Cause basically, this guy… the world is like a horrible place and the people are finding escape through coma treatment because modern science has basically evolved to the point where we can travel through these past experiences, the past lives we’ve lived. And so this guy’s travelling through all these bizarre worlds and these crazy scenarios. And then through all of it, at the end he realises that nothing in the whole record has actually happened – he’s actually been in a real coma on let’s say, modern day Earth – and everything’s fine and everything’s beautiful and he’s just been in a coma living this crazy nightmare. He wakes up at the end and goes outside and realises it’s not the shit world he thought it was – it’s beautiful – but he’s very old and he collapses and that’s his last breath. And when everyone’s like ‘why did you tell us the ending?, that’s not the thing – the inbetween is the exciting stuff. I didn’t want to explain what each song is. I want you to know the story and then be able to go into each song and try to figure out what kinda world he’s in and what’s going on in the story. So I think I did it in that way because I want people to analyse the lyrics.
Yeah, and let people derive their own meaning from it, while still understanding the concept as a whole, so they’ve got – kindof – a reference point. That makes sense.
Yeah that’s it.
I like it because it kinda mirrors listening to an album in general. You put it on to escape from reality and then at the end of the album you come back and your world’s a bit better for having had that experience. It works for me in that meta way too. I think it’s cool.
Does the story link to any previous songs or albums? I know that you usually tie albums together like with Swim to the Moon into Parallax and so on.
Well, yeah actually there’s one link – with Parallax actually - in one of the past lives [detailed in Coma Ecliptic] which might be elaborated on later, I don’t know. Because I wrote.. well, this was the third or fourth story I wrote, or story idea I wrote, to present to the guys for the record. And one of the stories I wrote was actually a backstory to one of the Parallax characters – and I kinda intertwined that with this guy’s past life, so the two characters [Narrator of ‘Coma’ & Parallax character] actually interact in their past lives… if that makes any sense.
Yeah, that’s really cool! I kinda felt that you’d do something like that to be honest haha.
I just have everything so open, y’know, one day I’m just gonna connect everything! That’s the fun stuff though – the stuff you never intended. You’re like ‘oh yeah, this could go with that’. It’s cool.
I wanted to ask you, do you have any influences when you’re writing lyrics, or on your vocal delivery? Because I think it’s quite unique – very stream of consciousness.
I get asked that question a lot – not really. I’ve never been a big reader. Erm, I read here and there but I read Tim Ferris books, y’know, motivational kinda things. Either that or Jason Bourne – I love that shit. I was never taught how to write music or how to play music, I just did what worked for the song. That’s the way I approach writing. I write differently for screaming than I do singing. Screaming I normally batch write – I write a lot and then I go through it and edit it until it’s something I like. But singing, I write melody as I’m writing words. This new record actually took a lot more time because of that, actually. I spent a lot more time on the lyrics.
There’s a lot more piano and keyboard too – there’s more of you on this record. I was listening to your solo album recently and it reminds me a bit more of that, in a way.
I think the fact that I sing more reminds people of that just because the solo stuff’s not heavy, but yeah, I mean as far as piano, Dan (Briggs) is actually a big part of that. He wrote a lot – probably more than me actually – of the piano stuff. What I thought was cool was how he approached stuff – he wrote a lot of stuff on piano and wrote guitar around it which is cool. I’ve done some stuff like that in the past and I think it’s a good way to come up with stuff that you normally wouldn’t. Often when you sit down to write, you go back to certain things you play – so I thought his approach was cool.
Yeah, this comes out as even more of a collaborative effort than usual. There’s a lot more space – I mean the mix is a lot more spacious, definitely.
I can’t really brag about our music but I can brag about the mix because I didn’t have anything to do with it! Yeah, the mix is just phenomenal, it’s perfect. I’ve never been as happy with production or the mix [as on Coma Ecliptic]. It came out great.
You can really hear the bass more, especially, on this one. There’s more room for it this time compared to your previous albums I think.
Well the thing about our music is we do so many little things - and we notice a lot of the time they don’t really jump out or they get buried. And I think with the mix on this record, every little thing we did – you can hear. Especially if you listen to it on headphones. Y’know there’s so much – all these little nuances come to life and we’ve been trying to do that for years.
That’s great. Even though the songs aren’t quite as long as usual, there’s probably twice as much audible content packed into each one!
Oh, it’s a lot. I’m like “How the hell does anyone get through this? It’s so long!” It’s a lot of music. But in this day and age, I guess you have to give people something to pay for.
Can we expect a live DVD of Coma Ecliptic any time in the future? I love the approach you took on the Colors and Parallax Live projects. I think they were really interesting.
Yeah, I mean we haven’t really discussed that. Maybe we’ll do something with that next!
The Parallax one was especially cool – because you could see you guys playing the stuff more, unlike a conventional live DVD with a crowd. There was a real vibe to that one.
Yeah, that was the idea. Just to almost make it feel like you’re in practise with us. It came out cool – it was a little stressful but I think it looks good and it represents that record really well. It’s something you don’t see every day. You can go on YouTube and pretty much watch anyone do a live set. I watched Faith No More at Hellfest the other day!
They’re so good man – I saw them at Download earlier this month and they were phenomenal. Actually I can feel a lot of their influence in your music too, I wrote “Mike Patton” in big letters in my Coma Ecliptic notes! You definitely channel that same eccentricity and I think the new album better represents the sound you guys explored on songs like Bloom and Fossil Genera.
Yeah, I mean – I’ve been listening to Mike Patton and following his work since I was a teenager - I managed to see them last month.
Okay, so to wrap up. A lot of our readers are musicians and interested in pursuing creative career paths – do you have any advice for them?
As far as being in a band?
Yeah, just being able to release art in a way that people can hear it.
Yeah, I mean, as far as being in a band, I would say: be patient. That’s my advice. I think people expect too much too fast because they see certain things happen to other people. And as far as music, I mean just be as genuine as you can and don’t write what people think you should write. You need to find your own voice. No matter what instrument you play. Don’t be afraid to play something your friends aren’t playing or your peers aren’t playing just because it’s weird – if it feels right to you, do it. If you wanna play pop music – play pop music, if you wanna rap – rap. You know, as long as it’s you. I think the only time it gets a little funky is when it’s not genuine at all. You can tell instantly.
Anyway Tommy, I just wanted to say thanks for releasing all the music you have over the last decade I’ve been listening – it means a lot to me. Each album has hugely changed the way I listen to and appreciate music.
Oh, no worries man! Thanks for listening. That’s a huge compliment.
I wish you the best for the tour and the future, enjoy the rest of your interviews!
Yeah man, thank you for the interview, I appreciate it!
Words & Interview: Ben Armstrong
Coma Ecliptic is out 7th July via Metal Blade Records - http://www.metalblade.com/europe/releases/between-the-buried-and-me-coma-ecliptic/