The Shape Of Prog To Come: We Caught Up with Dan Briggs of Between the Buried and Me

It has begun! #rockopera,” they said on September 8th of 2014. 10 months after we would have the chance to listen to it and to acknowledge, one more time, the brilliance in Between the Buried and Me. We talked with bassist Dan Briggs about the new prog/rock opera, entitled Coma Ecliptic, of North Carolina-based band.

On September 8th, 2014, you guys posted a tweet where it could be read, “It has begun. #rockopera” Was that an intentional kind of warning regarding the shift that is evidentially in terms of sound?
Yeah, we were just excited. We were in the middle of writing this album and we were stoked. For me personally, I was just trying to force myself in a different headspace the all time we were writing. It felt like we were writing something more than just a Between the Buried and Me album and it kind of felt like we were doing something that felt more theatrical, sort of, that it would kind of take on that kind of personality. And it did. It felt that way the all time we were writing.

Writing the album and then recording it, did you feel that the band was writing a completely new and refreshing chapter in its history book?
Yeah, it felt that way. We’ve always tried to write our music where nothing feels forced and it’s the most natural thing we can do. We kind of had a slow and progressive evolution over the history of the band, getting us to where we are now. It was really easy and fun to write. We worked three days out of the week, each week, and sometimes we would take a week off. Just do a song every week until we get to mid-November and we had it pretty much wrapped up. It was nice; we had a full month to prepare it on our own before we started in the studio, in January 2015. It was great.

Does it feel that the evolution on the band’s sound occurred faster with this album compared with the previous albums?
I don’t think it was. I think that, especially in last few albums, it’s hinted that things… We couldn’t do the The Parallax III, no one wants to hear that we don’t want to do that. It’s not what the band is about. The band is about constantly moving forward… It’s the thing about progressive rock and progressive metal that is so exciting. It’s not quite knowing where it’s going to go and for us there was one new place to really go and that was really to explore the idea of playing with melody more and playing with our song structures even more… Just trying to write this kind of wild but cohesive record.

Similar to the previous album, this new one is a concept album. Could you please explain the concept behind Coma Ecliptic?
It’s basically about a guy who enters into a self-induced coma and throughout the course of that his reality is kind of challenged, I guess. He’s placed in all these different worlds, which seems strange but familiar, and then as the song ends he’s totally out of it and thrown into a new place. It’s basically about the struggle with determine what’s real and what isn’t, and accepting the life that he has, which is basically being stuck in this coma. And the record kind of ends with him dying alone. It’s a pretty sad ending. [laughs] But that’s good, I think if you’re going to write a kind of an epic kind of work it probably shouldn’t have a happy ending.

What were the inspirations to write about this specifically?
It was all Tommy’s [Rogers, vocals and keyboards] idea. He writes the lyrics and that’s his thing. But I know he was thinking about The Twilight Zone and The Truman Show… Just ideas where things are either normal, but it’s not what you think it is or situations that are really fucked up, bizarre, and weird, and that’s just a world that you have to come to terms with and accept it as reality.

Coma Ecliptic is undeniably more focused on melody and a crushing percentage of the record presents Tommy with clean vocals. Was this a thought that was lingering around for quite some time and that finally came to fruition?
That element has always been in the music from day one and it just worked itself in that way. I think there was more [of that element] on The Parallax II [: Future Sequence] and it just go to that point. I just think that it’s more fun writing music with a melodic focus. Some parts naturally lend themselves to getting heavier and it happens, but instead that being the focus we decided to work a little bit more on the melodic parts.


“It’s the thing about progressive rock and progressive metal that is so exciting. It’s not quite knowing where it’s going to go and for us there was one new place to really go and that was really to explore the idea of playing with melody more and playing with our song structures even more…”

Tommy said, about the album, “I’m very proud to be a part of something that is extremely rewarding, as well as frightening.” Would you say that Coma Ecliptic was frightening for the band as whole?
No, Tommy just has low self-confidence. We constantly have to be like, “You’re a great singer. You’re awesome. Don’t worry.” I think it was just the fact that he was trying something new and he was trying to find the singing voice that he really liked for him as well as having to voice all this different characters in the songs. His voicing [on this new album] the main character, cannibals, crazy doctors, nurses, etc. His doing all sorts of different stuff while also trying to find his voice… We just gave him tons of encouragement and in the demoing process and then in the studio. I just think it helps a lot when he gets in the studio and he’s working with Jamie [King, producer], and Jamie is like, “That’s awesome. Maybe we could try this.” And I think when Tommy gets to hear the final thing back he’s like, “Ok, that worked out.” It’s a good sign to work with people that are not like super cocky, but it’s easier for us to just being to what we are writing musically. I understand why it’s hard for him, as a singer.

The spotlight is constantly on him.
Yeah, and that’s how just it has been. I remember in the old days he wouldn’t even let anyone else be in the studio with him. It would be just him and Jamie with him doing vocals. Now it’s a little different. Now he’s more open and confident.

Does writing an album like Coma Ecliptic helps you understand and process your past creative output? I mean, this new album is a new chapter, but it’s not like you’ve made a 180º turn.
Yeah, it’s not like we made an electronic or bluegrass album. But oh man, it’s weird to listen to that, it feels like another life. It really does. We’ve been working on some stuff to plan this tour that kind of celebrates the 10th year anniversary of the Alaska record… Oh man, listening to that stuff… You know, me and Blake [Richardson, drums] were 20, Dustie [Waring, bass] was 19, Tommy and Paul [Waggoner, guitar] were in their mid-20s, and now we’re all in our 30s. Some of the guys are married, Tommy has a kid, I do a lot of work with other bands that I’m in, etc. We’ve just grown so much as people, as individuals, and as a band. It is fun to listen back to that stuff [laughs] but it feels like another life, it’s crazy. It was really cool to be writing this album during all that and then be in the studio and remember being in Jamie’s shitty basement when we were demoing Alaska and stuff… It’s cool to see how far Jamie has come too. I mean, we’ve all kind of done it together.

Are there any plans to record a live album of Coma Ecliptic?
Yeah, definitely. We are going to be playing the album probably a year from now. But I think in the fall of next year [2016] it’s when we are going try to do the actual Coma Ecliptic tour, play the record in full. That’s going to be a lot of fun. I think some time after that, after we’ve played a good chunk of times we’ll be able to figure out a way that we can present and film it for DVD and Bluray, and all that jazz. We like doing that and I feel that our fans like it. It’s always a fun way to kind of close the cycle and the chapter on that album. So, we’re a long way to finish… I mean, we’re just getting going really pushing this album.

Words by Tiago Moreira // Pictures by Justin Reich
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