The realms of progressive music and heavy metal have each had their own rich, unique histories. But, as those histories and cultures of music have shown, crossover experimentation is practically inevitable. The many bands and subgenres within the two umbrella terms have collaborated over the years, resulting in bands with their own unique styles, sounds, and identities. One of the strongest and most respected bands that represent this movement is North Carolina’s Between The Buried And Me. Since forming in 2000, the quintet has gained international notoriety for their ever-expanding combination of extreme metal and euphoric, atmospheric melodies through forward-thinking musicianship and narrative songwriting.
We were able to send a few questions to Tommy Giles Rogers Jr., lead vocalist and keyboardist of BTBAM, while on tour in the Pacific Rim (the actual region, not to be confused with the awesome Guillermo Del Toro movie that we here at Damnation Magazine love) before they went back on the road in the United States with August Burns Red. Among the topics we asked him about, were their writing style over the years, touring, and his observations of music scenes and cultures.
What was your experience going from Victory Records to Metal Blade?
It was great! Metal Blade has been absolutely phenomenal, they totally understand our band. They have 100% trust and give us 100% control in our art and what we do. They never question the music we write, or the tours we want to do, or any idea we have. Anything we think of, they try to accommodate and make it work out for us. We really are happy with them, we’re very much on the same page. At this point in our careers, we really need a label that understands us, and understands where we want to go, and that we’re an ever-changing band, and things will always evolve, and we want to always make sure we have a label that stands behind those kind of decisions.
How do you approach your writing process, album-to-album? Are there jam sessions, or do you have an idea of what kind of feeling, experience, or narrative you want put into your music?
Before recording, we know exactly what we’re going to do. We do very extensive pre-production. When we write, we actually record at the same time for pre-production. So, we essentially record our record before we go record it for real. We’ve done that since Colors (2007), and it’s just been a process that really works well for us. Every album is a little different as far as the writing process goes, so… we don’t really have a formula that we just fall back on every single time. But I would say, for the most part, when it’s time to write, we really try to put everything else aside, we try to never tour and write at the same time. We normally start by just writing a lot personally on our own for a while, and then we kind of get up and just see where everybody’s heads are and how the music’s going, and from there we kind of see what kind of vibe the album is already starting to take, and then take it from that to creating songs to take it.
How do you decide what different elements to put into your music? Do you seek out or bring in new influences each time you write a song?
I don’t think it’s anything we’re trying to do, even though our music is very technical and very precise, it is very organic. I really like that [with] each record, I can really look back and see that that record represents that point of time for the band. It’s 100% representation of who we are as people and as musicians at that moment. I think every record is so genuine. We’re just huge fans of music, and we all have very diverse taste in music; we don’t all listen to the same stuff, and I think we all write very different from one another. And all those things factor into why our music is very eclectic and, at times, it’s very adventurous. And I think part of that is because of the diversity in the group, as well as the excitement we get out of writing. For us, taking those leaps of faith into new musical territory is an exciting thing, and it’s fun for us.
How do you try to progress and experiment with your own music and writing approach? How do you push the boundaries of your musical ability?
I think nowadays, it’s more about writing better songs. I think when we were younger, we did really want to… like, “Oh, we need to outdo ourselves technically.” And I think now, we’re not really out to prove anything, we’re not really here to show that we can play a lot of notes at one time and writing really intricate music. We’re here to write interesting music to us and music that represents us as musicians. And I think with each record, we really kind of evolve and change. It’s not really anything we purposely do, but I think just because of that, we really progress and experiment. I know on a personal level, I tend to get better every record because of the people I’m working with; because of the other guys in the band, and I think we really push each other to try new things and get better at what we do. I know there’s a moment, every single time I’m writing vocals for a record, that I really have to sit back and be like, “How the hell am I going to do this?” It really makes you push yourself and try new things, and for the most part, it always is a very positive experience.
What was and is the music scene in Raleigh, North Carolina, both when you started, and now?
It’s weird, because it says we’re from Raleigh on our Wikipedia. But Raleigh was a very small moment for us. I guess, the first two records we wrote when we were living in Raleigh, Paul (Waggoner; lead guitar, backing vocals [2000 – present], rhythm guitar [2004-present]) and I… And I’ll just answer this question as far as the North Carolina music scene [goes], because we’re kind of all over the place right now. But I would say the North Carolina music scene, when we first started, it was very close-knit, all of the bands really worked together. There was a feeling of a family amongst the bands. And there was a lot of diversity in the scene. I think [in] a lot of scenes, a band gets big, and a bunch of other bands just do what they did. And I don’t think North Carolina was really like that, ever. And I still feel like it’s like that. I mean, I’m a little more out of touch than I was, I’ve been a way for a few years, but I know Dan (Briggs; bass, keyboards [2005-present], backing vocals [2005-2008]) keeps up with the local scene a lot. It seems like there’s a lot of really exciting stuff going on there, still.
What are your thoughts, observations, or criticisms of the metal, rock, and/or progressive music scenes, cultures, communities, etc., both when you started playing music and up to today?
Well, progressive music, for us, it’s definitely something we’ve always enjoyed. It’s a tough term, because I think a progressive band from, you know, the obvious general giant of Pink Floyd, to Radiohead, or, I mean, there’s a lot of pop bands that I think are doing progressive things. So, it’s a tough word, but I think aggressive music, and forward-thinking music – I don’t like that word either, because it sounds pretentious [laughs] – but I think it’s all in a good place right now. I think the public is looking for some exciting music. They’re getting a little board with the same-old-same-old. I think we’re in a good spot culturally, as far as experimental music. And it’s always been there, it will always be there, it just seems like it’s a little broader right now, which I think is good.
How does the music scene, culture, or all of the subgenres affect your experiences in touring and performing, especially when sharing the stage in other bands? Including this co-headlining tour with August Burns Red?
We’ve been very lucky. We’ve toured with a lot of different kinds of bands, we’ve played in front of a lot of different crowds. Anything from traditional thrash metal bands, to power metal, to hardcore bands, to rock bands, to electronic stuff; we’ve done a lot. We’ve been very lucky as far as the response; I feel like, regardless if you like our music [or not], I think there might be something there for you in there. I think all those worlds have come to us with open arms. So, we’re very appreciative of that.
There has been a recent decision to leave material pre-Colors off the live setlist, what were the events that lead to this decision? Is there a chance they will make it back to the cycle?
That’s not true, there were some things said, kind of out of context in some interviews. But we’re actually… The tour we’re on right now – I’m in Australia at the moment – and we’re playing “Selkies: The Endless Obsession,” and [the] last tour, we played “Backwards Marathon” off Alaska, and we’re actually playing a song off the first record on this tour as well. So, I think it was Paul that said in an interview, I think what he was trying to say is that it’s just really hard for us at this moment. A lot of our old material doesn’t flow very well with our newer material. When we put the sets together, we want it to all feel right. Almost like you would approach putting a record together, you want the songs to work well with each other. And sometimes, the older material, it’s hard to make it work with our other material, just because it’s so different. And we have a lot of music; it’s hard for us to satisfy everyone and play every song every one of them wants [us] to play.
It’s been 10 years since The Anatomy Of came out, is there any talk of recording a part 2 including the recent cover of bohemian rhapsody? If so, would you ever consider asking the fans what songs they’d love to hear?
No, we haven’t really talked about it. I doubt that’s something we would do, it was really fun doing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and something’s kind of gratifying about just busting out a live cover. I think that would be something that happens in the future, but I don’t see another The Anatomy Of… happening.
What has the crowd reaction been like on this tour so far?
We’re over in the Pacific Rim right now. The tour’s been great; Japan was fun, New Zealand was fun. We’re finishing up Australia tomorrow, and then we go to start [our tour with] August Burns Red in the States. So yeah, everything’s good! We look forward to starting the U.S. shows, they should be really great. Thank you for the interview!
Between The Buried And Me’s latest and eighth overall studio album, Coma Ecliptic (2015), is available now on Metal Blade Records. Be sure to catch them on tour now in the United States, co-headlining with August Burns Red, with support from Good Tiger. Special thanks to Tommy for taking time to answer our questions, and to Amy Buck of Good Fight Entertainment for setting up the interview!