Between the Buried and Me on Playing ‘Parallax II’ in Full, Bizarre Scrapped Concept + More
Right after Between the Buried and Me launched NYC fans into orbit on Oct. 16 by performing 'The Parallax II: Future Sequence,' in its entirety, we headed backstage to talk with BTBAM guitarist Paul Waggoner. The interview itself was quite interesting as it was, but almost every member of the band popped in at some point, sometimes for just a moment and sometimes to add a massive contribution that all BTBAM fans will love to read.
Before we asked Waggoner some questions about the new album, performing it live and the inner workings of Between the Buried and Me, we brought up the 'Colors' epic 'White Walls,' which Waggoner said he hated playing as BTBAM made their encore.
First question, do you really hate 'White Walls'?!
Paul Waggoner: No. [Laughs] Actually, if it comes down to playing an old song for an encore or whatever, 'White Walls' is my favorite by far. 'Selkies' I hate playing and 'Mordecai' I hate playing. Those are the ... you know how every band has the classics or whatever?
Yeah, the fan favorites.
Waggoner: Yeah. So 'White Walls,' for me, is by far the least punishing for me.
The crowd did explode during that song.
Waggoner: Yeah they do, that’s when the crowd comes alive.
I’m very glad I got to hear the entire 'Parallax II: Future Sequence' album live. Right now, coming off of a show where you basically played for 90 minutes without stopping, how do you feel?
Waggoner: Oh, I’m fine. It’s motor memory at this point. Tonight we had technical problems, so it seemed a little longer tonight, but typically, it goes by like that [snaps fingers] for me. Before I know it, it’s time to play 'White Walls.' So, yeah I feel fine, I could play it all again right now. But, you know, that’s not to say that it’s not a challenge to do, but at this point in the tour we’ve done it enough to where it’s starting to just sort of happen. It’s kind of like when you drive somewhere, when you make a long drive that you make every week or something, sometimes you just end up at the destination and you’re like, 'How’d I even get here?'
'Future Sequence' is a very dense record. It’s like reading a Tolstoy novel from front-to-back without stopping.
Waggoner: Yeah, as we’ve gotten older we’ve gotten really into layering and we’ve learned, I think, a lot about how you can kind of make parts more interesting just by adding layers or harmonies or counter-melodies or whatever in addition to the song structures, which are complex as well. So like you said, it is pretty dense. To us, the way we see it, some people would say it’s hard to listen to, but for us, it’s for somebody who’s really interested in what’s going on. It kind of keeps them coming back, it’s more than just a one-listen record, you know? You can listen to it a few times and maybe get something new out of it each time, so that’s kind of the goal.
During 'Future Sequence,' the crowd was with you the whole time.
Waggoner: Yeah, It was great and it has been the whole tour. People stick around, they listen to the whole thing. I think they see it as one big thing, you can graph the record, you know what I mean? There’s peaks and valleys and stuff like that, so that’s the vibe I get from the crowd as well. You know, there’s a certain point in the set where it kind of mellows out a little bit, then it picks back up, and the crowd, I think, it reflects what the songs are doing, so that’s cool.
You did 'Colors' all the way through back in 2007. Are there any major differences between playing that whole album live and this whole album live?
Waggoner: 'Colors' was actually probably a bit more note-y and also that was the first time we had done anything like that, so in my mind, that was more challenging, I think. I don’t know if it was actually because it was more difficult or if it was just because we didn’t have any experience doing that sort of thing; it was a big undertaking. It did seem like the 'Colors' stuff was a bit more note-y with a bit more awkward fingerings and stuff like that for guitar, not that that’s a bad thing. I love that record, but it was definitely pretty tough at the time. That was sort of a leap for us from 'Alaska' to 'Colors.' Ever since 'Colors,' it’s just kind of been a step as opposed to a leap, so the new stuff is a little less intimidating, I think.
I think when 'Colors' was released, there was a gigantic buzz in the air with your fans. They evolved from fans to followers and I think that you conjured that excitement up with this new record too. Does it feel that way for you?
Waggoner: I don’t know. I mean, it’s hard to say because I think every band has that pinnacle sort of record that everybody, you know, if you ask their fans everybody says, “Oh, that was the record!” Like with Opeth, people say, “Oh, 'Blackwater Park,' that’s the record” or you know, Pink Floyd, 'Dark Side of the Moon' – That’s the record, you know?
It’s like everything you do afterwards, no matter how great it is, people have to pinpoint that one record. I hope that every record we put out, people are interested in hearing it, but at the same time I’m pretty aware of how it works with bands and I still think that probably most of our fans would say 'Colors' is the best record from BTBAM. But if you ask any of us, we’re like, the new one crushes that! But yeah, like you said, getting back to your question; I think hopefully we have conjured up a little more of that buzz and that’s hard to do for a lot of bands, so it’s a challenge every time.
I interviewed Dan [Briggs, bass] a little while ago and he was telling me how different the writing process was when it came to writing the 'Parallax' EP versus the full record. The interpersonal relationships between you guys, it felt like that cadence was very different.
Waggoner: It was, yeah. The EP, if you had to describe it in a word, it was a little rushed. You should never make sacrifices when it comes to art and I don’t think we did. I think we were all there mentally, but we had just signed to Metal Blade. We were trying to get a record out quickly and to get that ball rolling and get that chapter of our careers going, so we wrote it very quickly. We had never written an EP before so we were kind of constricted in terms of time...
Dan Briggs: [Amongst chatter] Oh, Paul's doing an interview! I'm sorry.
Waggoner: No, it's all good!
It's fine. This thing [recorder] is crafty.
Briggs: Yeah! That's great!
[People backstage continue giggling as they head to another room.]
Waggoner: So, we had a time constriction and that was something that we weren’t used to, we were used to being able to expand on ideas infinitely, you know? With this one we had to be like, "No, cut it off. We don’t have time to do this. We only have 30 minutes." And really, that’s too long for an EP. Generally, we really try to break down parts to the skeleton and then expand that way and build parts and do that. With the EP, it wasn’t like that very much. It was very concise and we were trying to cram a lot in there in a short period of time.
Do you feel a lot more free with 'Future Sequence'?
Waggoner: Yeah. I mean, I think we’re just not an EP band. We have to have 70 minutes of potential time.
With records like 'Alaska' and 'Colors,' I think a lot of people immediately go to the guitars. But on this one, not only does it feel more 50/50 between you and Dustie, it feels equally shared amongst every member. Seeing you play 'Future Sequence' live, I never know who to look at when you’re playing a song.
Waggoner: [Laughs] Well, a lot of that is really with the addition of Dan at the point where we wrote 'Alaska.' That was the first time we really had someone else who wrote music in addition to Tommy [Rogers, vocals + keyboards] and I, so a lot of it really is the line-up. We have a kick ass line up that we want to utilize, so with every record I feel like it becomes more… everybody sort of has their time to shine. Also, when you’re writing, the last couple of records have been sort of concept albums or albums that are meant to be listened to in it’s entirety. It creates sort of a canvas for everybody to sort of do their thing.
Dustie [Waring, guitar] really does sort of atmospheric, a lot of effects, a lot of volume swells, that’s his sort of thing. He likes to do that and it compliments a lot of the things that I write, like the clean passages or whatever. I think really what it comes down to is the chemistry between us, the synergy, whatever you want to call it; it gets stronger with every record and I think everybody’s just more comfortable contributing in a more demonstrative way as opposed to just laying back. We don’t really have a rhythm guitarist, or a lead guitarist, we’re both, both. There’s times where the bass is the focal point, there’s times where the keyboard is the focal point, there’s times where there’s just a vocal thing, there’s times where the drums are the focal point, so there’s really no spotlight member. It’s all of us doing our thing and we all contribute, we all write the music, so it would be sense that it’s well-rounded like that. Like you said, it becomes more eminent with every release, I think, as we get more comfortable with each other.
It seems like Tommy is really taking this gigantic step towards becoming a truly, truly great frontman.
Waggoner: Absolutely. I agree 100-percent. Of course, I’ve known Tommy -- and I’m speaking more as a friend now then a band mate -- but I’ve known him for a really long time, so I knew him when he was just like, this hardcore screamer, you know what I mean? That’s what he was into, and then you know you see him kind of grow into a well-rounded musician. He’s just become a real good writer of music, he’s become a great singer, he still can scream his ass off...
Dustie Waring: You guys talking about me?
Waggoner: You? Of course… super sexy. [Laughs] Yeah, he’s sort of become a musician more so than just a frontman. He’s always played guitar well and he writes a lot of riffs and stuff, but he’s become more of almost a visionary. Not so much just a riff writer, but someone who can compose parts that are multi-layered and dense, so that’s really another big thing that has catapulted us to a different level, I think, in terms of the type of music that we’re capable of writing.
I’d like to get into the idea of a singular consciousness within your band once the members are all playing together. You all go into that space and understand what that space is; not just playing in time but each member knowing how to give a song its proper feel. Would you say the members of BTBAM are more interconnected than ever before?
Waggoner: Definitely. Every tour you do you get tighter, it’s just baby steps, but really it all starts with Blake on the drums, and in any band, I think it always starts with a drummer, because that’s sort of the backbone. It starts with him and he’s just a super solid drummer. He has great feel, whether it’s a heavy part that needs to be very ‘ba-da-da-da-da!’ or a more loosely felt, softer dynamic, he’s very good at feeling that out too. So, really, it’s him and we’re all reacting to him, so that’s how we sort of connect. He’s sort of the glue, you know? Everybody connects to him and through him, we connect to one another. That probably sounds a little too weird, but that is kind of the way it works. You would certainly draw the line to him from each person.
So yeah, it starts with him and then obviously there's certain parts where you sort of vibe out. It’s kind of like what we were talking about before, you know? There’s certain parts where the bass is the focal point and if I’m sort of playing something with the bass, I’m vibing to that bass line. Vice versa, there are certain parts where I’m playing and they’re reacting to me if there are no drums. That’s kind of what playing music live is all about. It’s just sort of reacting to one another in a nano second and trying to create a big picture.
Is there any new material you guys have been coming up with? Either way, do you plan to continue the 'Parallax' storyline further?
Waggoner: The story is, I think, done. I think we wanted to just do the two-thing, although we left sort of an open door. Maybe we could go further with it, but I don’t think we will. I think that was a cool challenge that we sort of gave to ourselves. We thought it was fun and it was cool and it came out cool so we’re happy with it, but I don’t know what we’re going to do next. We have not started, really, writing as a band. We’re all writing individually, always, but we haven’t shared with one another anything that we’ve come up with, so it’s impossible to say where it’s going to go, you know? We never know until we’re all in that headspace where it’s time to write. Right now, we’re in tour mode and we still have some more touring to do and it’s hard to really even think about writing a record when you still have tours to do on this record.
I think we’ve put ourselves in a position, hopefully anyway, where we can kind of do whatever we want. I think our fans kind of expect the unexpected. I think they’d be disappointed if we just did something very ordinary, so it’s kind of high-pressure but at the same time it’s kind of cool and liberating because I think the fans expect something really crazy from us. It’s kind of cool that we’re in the position where we can kind of just go wild and throw it all on the table and people will be receptive to it, hopefully.
I think we’ll just keep making steps forward. I mean, it’s not like we’re going to do a generic metalcore record or anything like that, so the trend for us is always going to be going towards experimentation and pushing ourselves as players and as musicians and pushing the envelope of the genre that we’re kind of in because ultimately that’s what we want to do. We want to create something to where the younger kids and stuff will be able to carry the torch, and let’s make heavy music really cool, you know what I mean? Let’s make it wild and crazy and free. That’s kind of what our goal was since we started the band, you know? We’re just now at the point where we have the skills to do kind of do it. So yeah, we just want to keep doing it, man.
So for now, you think ‘Goodbye to Everything’ is in fact, goodbye to everything?
Waggoner: Goodbye to everything, yeah. I think it would probably be a new saga, perhaps, if we go the concept route again, it’ll be a whole new saga. I don’t know, if you ask Tommy he’d be like, “Hell no, I don’t want to do that again.” It was really challenging for him, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I kinda like it, to be honest with you. I think it’s cool when there’s sort of a story, or even if it’s just a loose kind of abstract story, I still think it’s cool and it’s fun to write music with that in the back of your mind, I think that’s cool.
[Tommy Rogers walks in]
Waggoner: What do you think Tommy?
Tommy Rogers: No, it’s not fun. Nothing’s fun!
Waggoner: He wants to know what route we’re going to take for the next record.
Rogers: I was thinking doo-wop.
Waggoner: Doo-wop?! How about conceptually? Are we going to go the concept route or we just going to be like, "F--- it, let’s write some radio hits?" I told him if we asked you, you’d be like, “Hell no, no concept.”
Rogers: No, I actually, personally, would want to do another concept record.
Waggoner: Oh, cool! Awesome! Man, you're finding out some new s--t!
Rogers: But I think I’m done with space. I mean, we’ve done so much space. There’s so much space now. Space is so “in.” You think it’s us that made it "in"? Are we the reason for 'Gravity'? [Laughs]
Bands like the Contortionist may be doing spacey stuff because of you guys.
Waggoner: I dunno. Well, it fits the music. We play experimental music and you’re trying to get out there and do some weird, wacky stuff musically. Space is the go-to concept..
Rogers: I wanna write a transvestite love story.
Waggoner: Hey, little known fact: We had actually talked about… this is a true story…
Rogers: Don’t tell people this...
Waggoner: Why!? I think it’s great, I think it would’ve worked. We thought about the two characters in this concept, even though they’re both male, we thought about them being lovers.
Nothing wrong with that.
Waggoner: Nothing wrong at all.
Rogers: It would’ve been weird because it’s himself. That’s the weird part.
Waggoner: Well no, it would’ve been like masturbation, which is cool. [Laughs]
Waggoner: So yeah, but we thought about doing stuff like that.
That’s very progressive!
Waggoner: Politically progressive!
That’s right! Between the Buried and Me becomes a political band!
Waggoner: Well, I mean, we tried to make, not a political statement, but a statement of what we kind of thought of humanity. That was the whole idea to use sci-fi or whatever you want to call it to sort of make a very simple point that we’re kind of a destructive species, that we have tendencies to f--- everything up. Obviously, a lot of bands write about that, but they just don’t do it in the same way. But yeah, I guess you heard it there, we’ll probably continue to do some more concept stuff and I think our music kind of blends itself towards it.
If you haven't checked it out already, watch BTBAM take a trip to visit NASA in the video below! Between the Buried and Me have completed their 2013 North American tour and are set to invade Australia this November.