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Q&A: Between the Buried and Me on their New Album ‘Coma Ecliptic’

Frontman Tommy Rogers on the concept album, touring, stand-up comedy and the time a rap group opened for them

Anurag Tagat Jul 10, 2015
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Between the Buried and Me. Photo: Justin Reich

Between the Buried and Me. Photo: Justin Reich

The more you think about it, the more it holds true about American prog metallers Between the Buried and Me [BTBAM] being one of the few metal bands who gun for the most eclectic music being released today. Straight from their 2005 album Alaska, the North Carolina band have taken listeners through a variety of genres, often all in one epic-length song.

On their seventh album, Coma Ecliptic, which released on Metal Blade Records, BTBAM are constantly morphing between psychedelic, jazz, death metal, hardcore, alt rock and more. Says frontman Tommy Rogers over the phone from Los Angeles about their varied approach, “We have such a wide fan base. So many different kinds of people listen to us. That’s important to us. We don’t want to appeal to just one type of person. Our music is for music lovers everywhere.”

In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Rogers talks about heading out to tour with fellow prog metallers Animals As Leaders and The Contortionist across the U.S., his solo work and being a part of diverse festival lineups.

The label of prog metal is very different today and what BTBAM does is far from the idea of modern prog metal and djent, what do you think about that distinction? 

The whole categorization thing, in general, is a waste to me. When I listen to a band, you’re supposed to listen to it as music, a new band. Even the prog thing is tough for me, especially for us, because it’s such a broad term. By definition, we’re still a prog band. BTBAM from day one, our main goal was to create unique heavy music that pushes the boundaries and find new things. That’s kinda the whole essence of progressive metal or rock or whatever. There are just so many genres. I mean the term, ”˜djent’, I think is just ridiculous [laughs]. I still don’t know what it really implies.

You’re nominated in Prog awards this year. Is that a first time for you?

It actually is. It’s very flattering and there are some great bands nominated. I can’t see us beating Pink Floyd [laughs], but just to be in a category with a band like that is an honor for sure.

You’ve played a lot of varied festivals like Bonnaroo ”“ what’s been the most diverse festival billing you’ve been on? 

Bonnaroo was a bit different for us. There were a few other heavier bands but we were definitely the most metal band on the bill. Besides, Slayer. I kinda feel we thrive in that situation. I feel like ever since we’ve started, we’ve done so many different kind of tours, playing with so many different kind of bands. And somehow, we have always chosen those shows.

We’ve played a lot of different fests overseas with diverse lineups and it’s been fun. I guess the weirdest one ever for us was a festival in Norway [Hove Festival]. Tyler the Creator, his rap group Odd Future played before us at this tent. It was a very weird contrast in fans and attendance. Theirs was way bigger than ours [laughs]. It was a very unique experience, to say the least. I just know it was a festival in the middle of the woods.

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At these kind of festivals where people see BTBAM for the first time, do you have people coming up to you to say they liked just the clean, slow parts and not the heavy sections, or vice versa?

Not a lot. We got a lot of that back between Alaska [2005] and Colors [2007]. It was a pretty big stylistic jump for us musically. We got a little backlash then from the people who just wanted to hear hardcore metal music. We’ve kinda done it in a way where our fans know we’re going to be trying a lot of new things. We’ve never released the same record twice. Even on our first record, we did a lot of off-the-wall things for a metal band back then, you know? We’ve been lucky that our fans stood by us then.

The thing we get a lot is when people who don’t listen to heavy music say, ”˜Well the screaming was a little weird for me to get used to’, but now that they like it, it’s opened up a new door for them for new music. That itself is super important, because that’s why I love music. I love finding new bands, being introduced to new music. So it’s a huge compliment when people are introduced to our band that way.

There’s a massive tour coming up next week ”“ what are you doing differently this time around? 

The production is going to be a little different. We always change our stage shows as much as we can, with our budget and give the fans a unique feel. Our drummer [Blake Richardson] handles a lot of that, with really cool videos to bring the new material to life. We’re playing a good mix of old and new. It’s a good set. It’s very long and I’ll be tired after every show [laughs].

What kind of literature or stories inspired the concept of a man revisiting past lives on Coma Ecliptic?

Not much, actually. I’m not a big reader. I casually read, self-motivating books and Jason Bourne and stuff, for fun. Lyrics and writing for me is in essence me learning my own voice, I guess. It’s kind of the way I approached music ”“ I was never trained, I just learned music on the go and I figured it out. That’s how it was with lyrics. Over the years, I found my voice and my way out of writing. In terms of lyrics and concepts, I just brainstorm and come up with ideas and stories. I’m more influenced on a cinema level more than anything else. The way I approached this record was if I wrote a miniseries, what would it be about? That was the starting point for me.

There’s a lot of [US TV series] The Twilight Zone and [surrealist filmmaker] David Lynch and some motivational aspects in this record, just as far as themes. I really like the vibe they give off and they’ve just matured very well. That’s the kind of story I wanted to create ”“ very complex and confusing but yet very different from what I’ve done.

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You had your solo album, Modern Noise, and a movie score between this album and Parallax II. How conscious was it for you to pursue other projects between the albums, or was it just a coincidence?

With the solo stuff, it’s almost therapy for me. I love writing new music. I wrote Modern Noise while I was on the road with BTBAM and I found that it’s a great way for me to spend my day on the road ”“ just write. I’ll probably start writing on this tour as well. It’s the way for me to stay focused.

The movie score [for indie film Dutch Book] was just offered to me. I actually did it a couple of years ago ”“ it’s just been a long process to get it released and everything. But that was between records as well. I definitely never try to juggle multiple projects at once, because it’s just hard to stay focused. ”‹

You got a daily album for today? 

Today? Not yet. I just woke up. I’m walking my dog right now. I did get the new Refused album last night, so that’s my goal today.

I can tell you’re a real coffee fan and watch [online interview series] Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee as much for the cafes than [host] Jerry Seinfeld 

It’s one of my favorite shows. [Laughs] I can’t say that. I’m a pretty diehard Seinfeld fan. I have a fascination with comedians, in that I love hearing the process, because it’s so different. It makes the band thing so easy [laughs]. In that job, you have to stand up on a stage with just a mic and nothing else. I have social anxiety anyway and I have a band with me and all this loud music. I can’t imagine just me and a microphone. It’s such an impressive line of work.

They talk about it a lot in interviews ”“ Jerry and the other guys. You either have it or you don’t. Something they were talking about a couple of episodes was that something you can’t teach. There’s everything else in the world that you can teach to some degree, but as far as being funny, you’re either funny or not. I know a lot of people who are funny, but they can’t do stand-up. It’s just a different beast. It’s crazy for me.

But as far as coffee, I’ve got into it over the years. Our guitarist Paul [Waggoner] has really got into it ”“ he started roasting his own coffee and has his company started up.

Lastly, since I’m calling from India, have you got any offers to play here?

Not yet, but I mean, we want to play there. We’ve always talked about it. We’ve never been presented with anything that I know of, but yeah, hopefully, one day. It’s especially one area of the world we want to get to and experience for sure. Hopefully, we’ll be to India one day.

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