Antihero Magazine’s editor, Thomas Woroniak, had the opportunity to chat with bassist Dan Briggs of Between The Buried And Me about the Coma Ecliptic tour and the upcoming Coma Ecliptic Live DVD/Blu-ray, which will be released via Metal Blade Records on April 28th. We also talked about the work on BTBAM’s new album, the upcoming Colors tour, as well as Dan’s other projects, Nova Collective and Trioscapes.
Thomas Woroniak: So, you’ve been touring for a while now for the Coma Ecliptic cycle.
Dan Briggs: It feels like the touring never ends, but yeah, for Coma it’s been a solid two years.
Thomas Woroniak: You’ve just returned from Europe?
Dan Briggs: Yeah, we were in Europe for about a month and a half. Just kind of finishing up the cycle over there with Devin Townsend and Leprous.
Thomas Woroniak: This non-stop touring has culminated in the recording of the live performance in San Diego last October. How did that come about and what was the idea behind it?
Dan Briggs: Well, I think we had planned to capture the album live at some point. We hadn’t planned to do it on that tour, and then we started the tour and the lighting show that our lighting director, Chris Hill, had put together was just so good with the music, so moody, kind of minimal. But, just directly cut with the music that we were like, “We’ve got to capture this.”
We were talking to him about the logistics of re-creating the show maybe a couple months down the road, you know, out near where we live in North Carolina. It was kind of decided that it might just be better if we could do it on the tour somehow. And so, we just got the wheels moving and it was probably … We probably got the whole thing together in, like, a week and a half, two weeks, leading up to the San Diego date, which was a show we chose because we were doing it by ourselves. It was like a day off, and off-day show for the tour and the Observatory is a nice venue. It’s like a gutted theater, which is a cool vibe. Southern California has a … You know, the shows there always have a feel to them that’s always good. There’s just so many fucking people out in that area. We’ve always had good runs there. It was great because at that point we’d probably played the album 20-some times and we’re really locked in with it.
It was good that we didn’t film it earlier in the tour because there were bass parts I was changing. Things just take on a different feel live. There was a small, improvised keyboard segue, going into “Rapid Calm” out of “The Ectopic Stroll” that just kind of matured as the tour went on. I think everyone felt really comfortable by the time we shot it and, thankfully, it was a good take, you know?
We weren’t very aware of the cameras, which is nice. That can definitely throw you off no matter how comfortable you are.
Thomas Woroniak: I’ve been listening to Coma Ecliptic since it first came out two years ago and it’s a go-to album for me. I love listening to it when I want to focus on something. Kind of like listening to jazz or classical. There’s a lot going on, and I’ve listened to the promo that Metal Blade sent over for the upcoming live DVD and the mix is great. I hear things that I’ve never heard before, a lot of the guitar work comes out.
Dan Briggs: Yeah, I think it’s … We do it for so many reasons. One of the main ones is that we don’t just get to go all over the world playing the album, so it gives the people in any number of countries the chance to see the show, which is cool, and the production and everything. But also, it’s just a chance to showcase the album with just an honest, stripped-down, just the five of us, playing music. Our albums aren’t super convoluted with samples and stuff, but you obviously do extra guitar layers here or there. Tommy doubles his vocal lines or does harmonies. It just strips a lot of that away. That’s kind of fun. We love doing that. We did that with the Parallax II, which was such a dense record. I think it was 72 minutes of absolute nonstop…so much going on. And it was perfect that we chose that record to do an in-studio, pro-filmed, DVD Blu-Ray, literally just stripping it all away. And kind of building it up from the ground up.
Of course, we did have a string quartet, tuba and sax and percussion and stuff, but we built it all there so people could kind of see that, but it was nice to strip it down. That’s a cool reason to check it out, check out the audio, you know?
Thomas Woroniak: Yeah, and I’m definitely looking forward to the DVD. I checked out the teaser and that looks pretty awesome. I noticed that Vince Edwards from Metal Blade was credited for directing it. I didn’t know he was doing that kind of stuff.
Dan Briggs: Yeah, I remember when we signed with Metal Blade in 2011, six years ago, he was primarily doing PR there. And then very slowly he was the guy emailing you about taking photos for random things, or piecing together a layout for an album drop. I’ve worked with him hand in hand with Trioscapes, my other group, and with Nova Collective, my newest group now, and with Between The Buried And Me. And then suddenly he’s the guy you’re talking to about editing video stuff and yada yada. So, we had the idea, like I said, just a couple weeks out and we were trying to figure out what made the most sense.
Because we’ve worked with Justin Reich before. He’s a friend of ours who just happens to be so embedded in the world of shooting music videos and live concerts. He was in North Carolina. So, do we fly Justin out with a crew or do we assemble a crew? And what ended up being the best option was Justin arranged with the guys in California to shoot and he would edit and finalize everything in North Carolina. So, then we kind of put it in the hands of Vince to assemble a team and it was great.
Thomas Woroniak: So, you’ve recorded this full concert playing the entire Coma Ecliptic album and I read recently that this September marks the 10th anniversary of the Colors album, and that you are planning a tour that’s going to play that entire album. Is that correct?
Dan Briggs: Yeah. Definitely. It’s all but properly announced now. We have everything put together for it, almost all the dates. It’s nice because we’ll be just getting out of the studio. We’re working on new material right now. I actually have a session pulled up in front of me sitting at my desk.
We’ll just be getting out of the studio at that point. I think our session goes until late August, so probably late September. I think the tour starts mid to late September. So, while the album is being mixed, we’ll be starting the tour. It’s nice for us because we can go out, do a tour while not quite having to push a new record yet. It’ll just be in the infant stages of finishing artwork and getting it to the plant to get pressed to vinyl, probably won’t be out until early next year I would think. Yeah, I’m sure.
So, it’s nice. It gives us an opportunity because it’s what … I guess it’s April now, shit. Time’s just flying. We’ve been home for a couple of weeks, so of course I feel like we’ve only been home for like a week, but it’s been almost a month now.
We’re a blue-collar band like any other indie group, so we make our living touring. It’s great to be able to take off six months to write and record a record, but we’ll be jonesing to hit the road financially and otherwise. I mean, shit, just doing these interviews, talking about it, it’s been cool to reflect on the 10 years. Just so much growth. I was 22 at the time. It’s a cool thing to celebrate, for sure.
Thomas Woroniak: How do you guys prepare for something like that? It’s an album that you put out 10 years ago. I’ve seen you guys live a few times and you do a couple of the songs here and there, but do you get together and rehearse before you kick off a tour?
Dan Briggs: Yeah, usually we do a day together and then, if it’s a headlining tour, then we’ll probably do a day with full production at a venue. Or some sort of rehearsal space. Got to tone everything in, sometimes our sound guy likes to just run through stuff, the cabling. It’s nice, just a stress-free day before kicking the tour off.
Usually it’s gotten to the point – we’re so bad – where we just do a rehearsal before we go out. But what that means is that we do a lot of prep at home.
Thomas Woroniak: Your music is intricate and there are all kinds of things going on.
Dan Briggs: Exactly. For some of my other groups, there’s improvisations happening, there’s free-time shit that you’re just kind of feeling and you need to rehearse a lot to make it feel like you’ve been playing every single day.
For Between The Buried And Me, it’s all on the page. We’ve played together so much, we just kind of show up and do it. And for Colors, over the last 10 years those songs – I would say throughout a touring cycle, a two-year cycle on an album, we always make sure to play different sets in America and Europe, wherever. I keep a log of all our sets going back to I think 2008 or 2009. That way you can just look through it and be like, you know what, we haven’t played this one in a while. Or this time last year we played these songs, let’s do something a little different.
I feel like we play almost all of Colors throughout a touring cycle. If you go to see us every time we come through America, you might see Colors throughout a two-year cycle. Maybe minus “Viridian” and a few pieces, but that material’s always fresh with us. It’s some of the densest material we’ve ever written.
For me, there’s a bit of prep that goes into it, but no more than a normal tour. On the two years that we toured when the album was out, we probably played it 60 or 70 times. We played it a couple of times since then. We played it in London unannounced. We did a two-night stint at a club over there, and the second night we just played Colors. Just to kind of surprise people. That was in 2010 maybe, so it’s been a little while. But it’s not going to require an astronomical amount of preparation.
I know for Tommy, he was singing more but not as much. So, there’s not as much vocal preparation that he has to do. It’s a lot of screaming and a lot less keyboards. I didn’t play keyboards on that record and the last couple of records I’ve been doing more keyboards and playing that live, so it’s a real stripped down kind of thing for as dense as the music is.
Thomas Woroniak: Awesome, I’m looking forward to checking out the tour.
Dan Briggs: It’ll be cool.
Thomas Woroniak: You mentioned that you’re currently working on the new album and I just wondered about the songwriting process, because you mentioned you had a session open in front of you. The last couple of albums were concept albums so are you guys thinking of going in that direction with this one as well?
Dan Briggs: Yeah, I won’t even let you finish. (laughs) Absolutely. That’s a format that once we started working in it, it’s just really exciting for us. It’s fun to write and know things are connected in a larger way other than just the individual pieces, the individual songs. It makes you look at songwriting and arranging in a slightly different way. Of course, we look at it in a slightly different way because we’re kind of demented as it is.
I think with Coma, one of the things I was most proud of looking back over two years was how we were able to take our ideas and centralize with each song. Within the course of a whole album, you have the full dynamic spread. But maybe there’s a song like “Famine Wolf” that’s full-on heavy and kind of in one dynamic. The flip side of that is a song like the “Coma Machine,” which is a little more theatrical. A little bouncier, piano and vocal led. And a song like “Ectopic Stroll,” which is kind of nuts and bonkers and quirky.
When you get to carry that throughout an album, you’re writing less jumbled arrangements. I won’t talk bad about any past material, it’s all part of a growth. But I think we’ve grown over the years. We have these progressive tendencies like the musicians that we are to be full-on and over the top, just because of the music we’ve listened to that embedded in us. Whether that’s like Queen, or if that’s Yes. It doesn’t matter. It’s all embedded in us. I think we’re very good at looking towards the songs and writing them in terms of the full record, you just take that to another level.
Thomas Woroniak: Does the band collaborate as far as the concept? Or is there one person who comes up with the idea?
Dan Briggs: Yeah, it’s been a little different depending on the album. Colors, for instance, wasn’t conceptual lyrically, but it was musically. I don’t think Tommy was quite prepared with understanding how he could write in story format.
But then for Parallax, the initial idea was Paul’s idea and he kind of laid it out for us. We’re like, it’s a great idea, give some ideas, especially more toward the full-length, Parallax II. We had more ideas to play with for the story and ideas of time travel and stuff. And then Tommy obviously fleshes those out, finds a way to kind of personalize it.
And with Coma, that was totally his idea, and then he’s got an idea for the new one. No one’s going to fight him on an idea. We’re excited by the stuff that he has and we know it’s going to turn out cool. Of course, he’s always open to us going, “oh, what if this happened? What if you did this?” I think we want to be engaged with the story as well because we’re writing a dynamic record and when you’re speaking in terms of a conceptual thing, it’ll have a thematic, theatrical feel to it. That’s good to keep in the back of your head while you’re writing.
Thomas Woroniak: I can sit here and talk to you about the BTBAM stuff all day, but I want to spend a little bit of time on your side project, Nova Collective. How’s that going? How did that come about?
Dan Briggs: It’s going great. We’re basically planning our live debut right now. Also, this fall, different tour than the Colors tour, but just jam packing my schedule, trying to make it all fit.
Thomas Woroniak: I’d wondered if I’d ever get to see you guys live. Because I was checking out the music and it’s awesome. The first song, “Dancing Machines,” comes out of the gate and it reminds me of Al DiMeola. That era of jazz fusion. I was a music major – sadly now I’m in IT – so, I am very much into the more technical music. And I really dig this new album, The Further Side, from Nova Collective.
Dan Briggs: Thank you. I think that idea was somewhat like Al DiMeola. What’s kind of similar to us is we’re approaching it as rock musicians, people who’ve come up playing many different styles and forms of rock but also have an interest in world music. Have an interest and background in classical and jazz and just so many things. I think what’s kind of fun about, like you mentioned the beginning of how the album starts with “Dancing Machines,” is it just starts with the melody. You just hear a melody and it could be anything that could go anywhere.
I loved doing that because right off the bat too, it gives you a flair for … The whole idea behind fusion, behind our album The Further Side, which is taking styles, flipping them on their head, turning them inside out. And whether that’s a middle eastern sounding melody played on the Rhodes and on guitar, then all of a sudden you have this crunching rhythm and odd time thing happening. Circling psychedelic stuff happening throughout the verse. It was a platform for creativity and really trying new stylistic ideas. And everyone just falling on the same page, which is great.
It was a very satisfying group and very satisfying record to make. And I’m really looking forward to the live thing. I know it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be challenging. But I think it’s going to be really rewarding, really exciting to see the songs come to life.
Thomas Woroniak: Absolutely. Having just been introduced to Nova Collective recently, led me to look into other things you’ve done, like Trioscapes. And I noticed that you had worked with Nova Collective drummer Matt Lynch on that project as well.
Dan Briggs: He’s my rock. He goes everywhere with me. Everything that’s not Between The Buried And Me related. He’s signed up for projects that he doesn’t even know about yet. (laughs)
It’s one of those things. He’s just a great dude. He’s just a great friend, great guy. He lives for playing. He lives for the challenge. And he’s this guy when you’re sitting in the space and you’re working though something, he has an immediate idea. And then he has three other immediate ideas while you’re playing it that completely reverse every way you’ve ever thought about rhythm and music. It’s just exciting.
That was one of the things I loved about him, just listening to Eyris, I have their demo on my iPod and played it for my girlfriend recently. The drumming just stands out in such a cool lyrical way. Yeah, he writes in such a cool way. They were called Eyris. Very cool band from Georgia. He’s locked in with me big time.
Thomas Woroniak: So, is Trioscapes still an active project?
Dan Briggs: It is. So, with Trioscapes, we wrote our first record not knowing what the hell we were doing, what the hell our group sounded like. We really weren’t sure. We had some melodies, we had some grooves. We played a gig before we even had 100% fully fleshed-out compositions. They were mainly fleshed out, but we got together and then three weeks later played our first show. So, we were just flying by these compositions and seeing what we could do and having fun in a free kind of improvised space. That’s really where that group lives best and where it’s most exciting and where it fulfills a very important piece in my musical life that I don’t get from Between The Buried And Me. There’s a little bit in Nova Collective.
We kind of dabbled with more dense compositions on our second record, but it was not really the space that we thrive in with that group. Mainly, probably, with the instrumentation it’s bass, sax and drums, I do a lot of looping in the group which is fun. It gives us an opportunity to do stuff with more voices. Matt plays with electronic pads so he can add marimba, any number of sound, which is fun.
I think Matt and I, we really had the urge to do some full-on, dense fusion compositions. It just worked out that we could fall in with these guys and do this group. Really cool. What’s so exciting is that now opens a whole, huge wing of free space for Matt and me to exist in with Walter, with Trioscapes.
We’ve got verbal plans to do a record in 2017 so, whether that happens before BTBAM goes in the studio, I think I might have some free time in June or so. May or June to work through some stuff. Maybe June.
It’s one of those things where I’ve sat down a couple times throughout the last few years, since our last record, after I have an idea and I get it down and try to build off it. And I always stop myself because I want to legit go into a session with a few rhythmic ideas. Matt always has – he’s just a freak who writes drum parts. They’re great, they’re just these very involved parts. There have been a couple of cool moments. There’s a cool moment on the Nova record in the song “State Of Flux.” It’s the verse for the song and it was just a sick drum part that Matt had. I was saying, he just writes in such a lyrical way that you can hear melodies and stuff bursting from it.
So, with Trioscapes, it’s just finding the time, really, for the three of us to get together. Because it exists in such a cool, free space. Yes, definitely ongoing.
Thomas Woroniak: That’s awesome. Looking forward to some new material there.
Dan Briggs: Man, me too. Just because I, if nothing else – I love the guys and we have so much fun, but like I was saying, I don’t have that free, exciting improvisational space and it’s such a neat thing. When you get to that point when you’re so used to just densely composing for hours and hours. I’ve got this session in front of me right now and sheet music to the side. It’s great. I love that, but when those little accidents and happy mistakes happen when you’re just jamming with guys, it’s really cool.
Thomas Woroniak: It embraces the spirit of jazz where it brings in that improvisational freedom. You’ve got a space to just break away from the structure and then come back to it.
Dan Briggs: That’s the world that our sax player, Walter, lives in. It took a couple of releases for us, I’ll say me, for me to realize that that’s really where the group thrives. I’m excited to do new stuff, for sure.
Thomas Woroniak: Awesome. Well, I appreciate your time today and is there anything you want to mention to fans and listeners that we didn’t touch upon?
Dan Briggs: Just, it’s going to be a busy year. We’ve already got three releases going this year with the Nova record just came out, the BTBAM DVD. I guess the new BTBAM record probably won’t be out until next year. There’s studio time, you might hear new music before the new year. No promises. There’s always stuff brewing. Even when I’m quiet on something, I have stuff I’ve been trying to do for the last five years that I think maybe will finally – god, it’s going to be insane to get together, but hopefully will be realized within the year.
There’s always stuff going on. So just keep an eye out, take each release for what it is and then be prepared for some more shit.