“Conventions” is not a word that belongs in the vocabulary of a band like Between The Buried And Me, who just keep breaking the codes of what is “recommended” or what you “should do” in music. In short, this is progressive music in its purest sense, music to cancel out the lethargy brought about by various kinds of formatting.
Coma Ecliptic, Between The Buried And Me’s new opus, is more than just a concept album: it’s a kind of metal opera, telling the story of a man in a coma. Vocalist/keyboardist Tommy Giles Rogers uses it to draw a parallel with the tendency people have to not enjoy life as it is given to them, as if they were in a coma (like the character) and dreaming of things that they cannot have.
Only a few months after releasing his solo record, Modern Noise, the frontman talks about his band’s seventh album, which they already consider to be a new chapter in their career – maybe even a new era.
« With this record, we stepped a little bit closer to the cliff and took a little more risks. »
Radio Metal: You said that you worked harder than you ever have and really pushed the band’s sound to a new identity with Coma Ecliptic. Can you tell me more about this hard work and how you managed to reach a new identity?
Tommy Giles Rogers (vocals/keyboard) : Any musician, when you’ve been writing for as long as we have, you get in the swing of things and you start, not repeating yourself, but to have a method to your madness. And I think with us, there was a few times when we kind of stepped out of that method, we tried to approach things a little differently, just sit back and : “Okay, this is how we’d approach it normally but what if we did this?” As far as vocals, I definitely did that a lot rather than just throwing a scream over a heavy part or singing over a soft part. I wanted to really approach it like: “How can I make this something different, a little more unique and that excites me a little more?” That’s kind of how we approached it. I feel like this is the natural next step for us. I feel really good with how the record turned out and the writing process was a great experience. I wouldn’t change a thing!
Would you say that you’re always trying to reinvent yourselves with each album?
Yeah, definitely! With every record we’re always trying to… You know, we don’t want to repeat ourselves and I think we’ve done great job in doing that. I feel like each one of our record stand alone very well and represent us very well for that time. With this record, we stepped a little bit closer to the cliff and took a little more risks. We wanted to focus on some certain things that we haven’t focused on as much in the past. We really focused on melody and song structures, just trying to improve our writing as much as we can and I think we did a great job in doing that. I feel everything is very cohesive with one another.
You said that the effort you put on Coma Ecliptic was “extremely rewarding, as well as frightening.” What did you find frightening? Do you sometimes feel like your creation is getting out of control?
No, I mean, I think sometimes, personally, you’re questioning yourself. I think everybody does that. There were times when I was working on vocals at home, I would call Paul [Waggoner] and say: “Dude, I don’t know if what I’m doing is working.” Because when you step outside of yourself, you sometimes worry, like : “Is this good?” Because when you’re in the moment it feels good but you need some outside perspective sometimes. We’re very good at helping each other in those moments. I even went to Jamie King, the guy we recorded with, and I recorded some stuff with him very early on, before we actually recorded [the album], to kind of get a feel of the record and to make sure the direction we were going felt right. Instantly it felt great. It felt like us, because that’s what I was worried about. I was worried it wasn’t gonna sound like Between The Buried And Me, but when it’s all said and done, I think it totally sounds like us. It’s just the next great step for us after the Parallax.
According to bass player Dan Briggs, in your early conversations, there was this idea that you wanted to scream less. Why?
Like I was saying earlier, I wanted to approach the music differently. I didn’t want to take the easy way out. I felt there could be more interesting things done to bring the songs to life and give the album more character and dynamics. And a lot of the music didn’t call for screaming. I think a lot of it would sound silly with really heavy vocals over it. My job is to make the song as good as it can be and fit the music as well as I can. That’s the way I approach when I write vocal. You need to excite yourself and I wanted to see what else I could do and what else I could bring to the songs.
More than a concept album, Coma Ecliptic can even be seen as a rock opera. What did that change in your approach to the music?
We just knew we wanted to write a big concept record. That was really our only approach. We treated it like we do a normal record. We just wrote songs as a band and that naturally is us focusing on a concept and creating one big piece of music rather than just a bunch of songs randomly thrown together. We always kind of have that mentality. This one, as I said before, it was a lot work but it was very rewarding at the same time.
You sometimes have a very theatrical way of approaching your vocals. Did you actually try to act a role, like in a play, rather than just singing? Did you take some acting courses for this?
[Laughs] No I didn’t. I don’t know. I mean, our music is very theatrical. There were moment when I was trying to tap into a voice that fits the story at that moment. That definitely is always in mind because I’m very visual when I write. I always have the story in mind as I’m going along. A lot of the music brought that out of me, I guess, which was fun! I’m always inspired by the music for the vocal lines. We always write the music first and then I go back and do all the vocals.
« Everybody gets stuck and gets pissed off about things that don’t really matter. […] When we really step back, the things that we think are negative aren’t that bad. »
Coma Ecliptic is the story of a man stuck in a coma and who journeys through his past lives. Can you tell me more about it and how it was put into music?
Yeah, that’s the story. Each song is all these bizarre worlds that his past self or a version of himself lived in. This is a crazy story that he’s going through and at the end, he realize that it’s all been false and that he’s actually been in a coma this entire time. Everything that he’s experienced was actually a dream. It’s the creepy notion that everything you’re doing is not happening. It’s a very dark story and there’s a lot of dynamics to it, just like our music. I really think it fits the music well. That’s always been a big part of us, the dynamics. But I think with this record it really stands out. There are leaps and bounds going on. The heavy stuff is even heavier and the soft stuff is even softer. Everything just fits very well but it also takes you on a journey for sure! I wanted to tell the story… A lot of people were like: “Oh, he’s spoiling the record by telling us what kind of happens at the end!” But I think the gut to the story is what makes this record really neat because there’s all of these individual past lives he goes to, there’s a lot of unique things and I hope the fans will kind of dive into the lyric to really start figuring out what the guy’s going through.
What actually inspired you this story or approach? There’s obviously a moral value to this story, which is that people often don’t appreciate what they already have in their actual life…
Yeah. Honestly, I wrote a few stories outlines and this wasn’t the first one but this is the one that really stuck out to me and the rest of the band. I think on a social level, especially nowadays, I think everybody’s always looking at other people’s lives and they want what other people have. On social media you’re always comparing yourselves to other people and think that’s very negative at times. I guess, this is in a way a response to that, without being too political.
Do you, yourself, sometimes forget to enjoy life for what it is?
I think everybody does that, yeah. Everybody gets stuck and gets pissed off about things that don’t really matter. You get caught up in things we shouldn’t. When we really step back, the things that we think are negative aren’t that bad. It can always be worse. I know that’s a very generic statement but it’s very true. Most of us are very fortunate. That’s something, on a personal level, I like to bring across in lyrics.
The man in the story actually falls dead just when he finally sees what he has been missing in life. Do you think it’s usually when we come closer to death or when we’re facing it that we end up open our eyes?
I would assume so. I mean, all the things that we worry about you probably wish you hadn’t worried about when you’re on your death bed [chuckles]. Obviously I haven’t experienced that, thankfully, but I think that’s the case, for sure.
Don’t you think that listening to music sometimes can be the equivalent of a coma, as when you’re immersed in music and become kind of cut off from the world, the fact that it’s actually often used to escape reality?
[Laughs] Yeah! I think music is a great tool for people to cope with things. Yeah, I totally agree!
Some themes come back from one song to another. What do they represent?
A lot of has to do with the story. That’s something that we really enjoy doing: variations of earlier themes. That’s one of the cool things about a concept record like this: lyrically, themes reoccur. We wanted to make sure there’s foreshadowing, and anything like you would have in a movie, those aspects should be in the music as well.
The Ayreon project from Arjen Lucassen actually has a concept called the Universal Migrator that’s a bit in the same spirit as your story. Did you get inspired by that?
Somebody else talked to me about that! But I never heard the record. I’ll check it out! I mean, I’ve heard of that band but I don’t know any of their records or anything.
« With anything so called weird that we did, it’s not forced. »
We can hear some elements, especially electronically, that could remind of your latest solo effort. Would you say it has left a mark on you creatively and that this album beneficiated from this experience?
I think with everything any of us do with the band or outside the band, you’re learning and hopefully you’re improving your craft. You know, I learned a lot from the solo record on a vocal end and on the songwriting perspective. Naturally it definitely leaks in a little bit. I guess more confidence than anything. It gave a lot of confidence in my writing and my approach to writing vocals. I learned a lot from doing my solo stuff, so it definitely has a positive effect.
You’re all songwriters in the band and all seem to contribute crazy and complex ideas for the music. How do you actually manage to assemble all these ideas and inputs, ending up with a consistent result without scattering yourselves all over the place musically or even without getting too much into tensions?
We all know the end result on a song needs to be the best it can be. Nobody’s fighting for their parts to be in a song. It really differs from song to songs. Some songs are written by two people. Some songs are written by one person. Some songs are written by all five of us. So it really depends. But there’s never a time when we’re just butting heads, trying to get things to work. We have a very natural flow in the way we make our music. If something’s not working, we just start over rather than forcing it in. So yeah, that’s never been a problem at all. There’s never been any tension. There’s been little things here and there but… No, as far as writing we’re all very lucky to get along and we work really well together. We all know that not everything’s gonna work. There would be moments in the early days when some of us would get upset if something of theirs didn’t work but we’ve grown-up, we’ve realized that, you know, not everything’s gonna work and not everything’s gonna work in a song. We just want the best music for our band. We all have a grasp of if something works or not, you can always tell. We’re getting our point across, regardless, so… There’s no point in getting upset, we haven’t had that problem.
Between The Buried And Me is the kind of band with which everything seems to be possible, no boundaries. But do you actually have boundaries?
I think the boundary is if the song’s good or not. We’re not gonna do anything that we think is bad. Obviously we could go too far and just be silly and do something that doesn’t make sense at all, just for the sake of it. But I mean, with anything so called weird that we did, it’s not forced. We don’t do it just because we wanna be weird. It’s what naturally comes to us. I think that’s the important thing.
Do you think that sometimes bands that are considered to be crazy actually tend to force it?
Yeah, there are these instances, but I think you can read into a band very easily, if a band’s genuine or not.
This year marks the ten years of the album Alaska. This album, with the arrival of three new members between 2004 and 2005, is actually the first one that was made with the current band line-up. What are your thoughts about that album and that period?
It was a tough time period just because we had lost a lot of members. It was very stressful but once we got this line-up, it was phenomenal! Writing that record was great. I think it’s still a great record. I’m happy with it. That was a good turning point for us. I think we really started to click as a band at that point and we’re still going strong. I think Alaska’s really important to us. But I think the following record, Colors, was such a big stylistic change for us and that’s why that one’s so talked about, just because it was such a big jump from Alaska to Colors. That was kind of the new beginning for us, I guess.
Bass player Dan Briggs called Coma Ecliptic “a new chapter in the life of Between The Buried And Me.” You have yourself called Coma Ecliptic « a new life for BTBAM ». Do you think it’ll be a reference to measure your future material to?
I think we’re all just very excited. This record got us really excited by writing again. Who knows what the future holds? I think every record should be a new life. It’s a new chapter, you know, every time. Hopefully we’ll continue to inspire ourselves and inspire our fans!
Interview conducted by phone 1st, july 2015 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription: Nicolas Gricourt.
Pics: Brandon Gable (1) & Justin Reich (2 & 4).
Between The Buried And Me official website: www.betweentheburiedandme.com.