Swimming to the Moon

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It’s no real secret that I’m a huge fan of Between the Buried and Me. Since The Silent Circus, I’ve reviewed virtually everything they have released for this site or some other publication. I’ve interviewed and seen the band live three times and their album Alaska resides on my top 25 metal albums of all time — only one of a handful of albums released in the 2000s. And in what appears to be an annual occurrence, I happened to catch them in Lawrence, KS while touring with The Ocean and Job For a Cowboy. A tour, that’s promoting their jump from long time label Victory Records to Metal Blade and their current EP The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues — the first part of a planned two CD concept. So amidst Lawrence’s hordes of hipsters, tempting college lasses, apple chutney feta cheese burgers and drumming homeless dudes, I caught up with guitarist Paul Waggoner to find out more about the current release, the label switch and other guitar maestros…

Well, thanks for the time out to visit with me. This is the first time in all my interviews with the band that I’ve actually just got to speak with you

Yup, you get just me and my unfiltered opinion [laughs].

Well let’s get to it. The last time I spoke with guys, around this time last year, Dan (Briggs-bassist) and Dusty (Waring – Guitarist) were being very coy and secretive about your deal with Victory Expiring and what your potential new label might be. So then here we are, Tommy has his solo release on Metal Blade, you guys sign to Metal Blade and within a couple of months you’ve got a CD out. How long was the deal with Metal Blade in the works and how long have you had the new material written to where it could be released so quickly?

When we finished our last record with Victory it’s safe to say we knew we were going with a new label but there’s a certain grace period where you can really sign with another label. During that period we were still being a band, writing music and we knew we were going to put out another record as soon as we had a deal. A lot of the new EP was written during that limbo phase where we didn’t really know what our next label would be. Metal Blade has always been a cool label and the best fit for us.

What other labels were in play if any?

Metal Blade was really the only one we were seriously considering. There were a few that were just casually looking but we didn’t like the contract or didn’t like their roster. We also considered the idea of releasing the CD ourselves and bypass the whole label thing. The way things are nowadays, if you are an established band do you really need a label? We entertained that idea but at the end of the day Metal Blade were really interested in us. And to be honest it’s quite an undertaking for a band to take the whole DIY step and do everything themselves, so at this point in out career it made sense to sign with them.  They’ve been awesome so far and I think we made a good decision.

Explain me the decision to go with a two part album where this first part, the current EP Parallax: The Hypersleep Dialogues, comes out so fast. I don’t want to use the word ‘rushed’, but was there some urgency to get a release out after the switch to Metal Blade?

There is certainly some truth to that. When you switch labels, you are out of the spotlight for a while, and there’s that limbo period where you aren’t on a label. So if you are out of the spotlight for too long and don’t have a label pushing you it’s easy to be forgotten in this business.

Even a band like you guys?

Absolutely. The fans forget about you and move on to the next big thing.  So we did want to get something out fairly quickly but we didn’t want to sacrifice quality so it made sense to do a shorter record.

So is the second part of concept the written?

No. But the way the first one was written musically is that there are some themes on the first record that we will revisit and expand on in the second record.  An actual concept album is something new to us. Even though Colors was written as one long piece of music and even The Great Misdirect had this flow to it, so we are used to writing music that flows seamlessly. So, we decided to try adding a lyrical concept as well and do a two part record. The story is basically done lyrically, but musically were gonna take it as it comes.

Could you give us a brief idea of the concept that the two releases will be covering?

The first record, the EP, actually picks up where “Swim to the Moon” left off to end The Great Misdirect. That story was basically about this guy who gets fed up with life and decides to go off on this suicidal trip where he just drifts off to sea to die and that song kind of ends there. This EP picks up with that character; he’s drifting at seas and starts going in and out of consciousness and starts having these visions and becomes subconsciously aware of this other characters who exists millions of light years on another planet. And at the same time, the characters on this other planet becomes subconsciously aware of this guys and we’ll learn more about that on the next record. The EP is sort of an introduction to these characters and some exposition about their struggles within these realms of reality. We can assume that on the second album that through some cool Science Fiction stuff, they will physically meet.

Is this EP just a taster for a full album or will the second part be an EP also?

The second part is going to be a full CD. A taster is a good way of putting what the current EP is. The next one is going to be a full-length, hour long typical Between the Buried and Me album full of crazy stuff. We pretty much got the outline of the story so we are excited to get the music written for it. And we are trying to write the music to fit the story.

How does writing music for a concept album that tells a story differ from just writing a regular album full of single songs? Do you write music to fit certain parts of the story?

Absolutely.  I mean you don’t want the story to be at this very somber sad part and have this happy, jolly riff playing or vice versa. The music has to mirror what’s going on in the story lyrically; it’s like scoring a movie. It’s going to be challenging but we are pumped to try it. I think we did a good job with the EP, but that was just sort of an introduction.

To switch gears here. As I’m getting ready to interview a band I always prepare by listening to that band’s entire discography. So for you guys I’ve spent the last few days with your self-titled-debut, The Silent Circus, Alaska of course and the newer releases. It struck me how more and more progressive and experimental you’ve become over the years. You go back and listen to the likes of “Fire for Dry Mouth” or “Aspirations”, and even though there’s plenty of proggy stuff and experimentation, that older material is really heavy and harsh with lots more death metal and grindcore influences. Are you guys just less angry now or have you matured as song writers since then?

I’d say both. I mean firstly Tommy and I were the only ones in the band back then that are in the band now. And back then we were young and in that rebellious age were like “Screw college! Let’s get an apartment and get crappy jobs and play shows on the weekend!” So was this teenage angst — even though we were in our 20s?  And back then we wore our influences on our sleeves. We were heavily into grind and death metal, so a lot of that music was reflective of that. And as we got older we got less angry, and as musicians we branched out and got into more proggy stuff like Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation and those influences are bound to creep into your music which you can hear that in out later CDs.  Actually I think this EP is pretty heavy.

[…At this point, vocalist Tommy Rogers strolls by and says hello and I managed to get his attention for a second and after some peasantries and such squeaked in one questions that’s been bugging me for five years…]
Tommy, we spoke back in 2006, right after Alaska, and you told me that you were trying to do a Darkthrone and Emperor styled black metal solo project. Now, I’ve heard your recent solo project, and that sir, is not black metal! What’s up with that?

Tommy: [laughing] I know, I know. I still want to do a black metal project. I’d love to do it! I actually talked to some drummers and I have two black metal songs written but they are only 2-3 minutes long, so I’ve got some more writing to do! It still might happen though!

OK Paul, back to you. I’ve meant to ask this question every time I’ve talked to you guys but I always forget. Not this time! On The Silent Circus there’s a song called “Ad a Dglgmut” and I’ve always wondered what the fuck that meant?

That particular song is the stupidest thing ever. Our first guitarist Nick, stole Tommy’s cell phone and just wrote a bunch of random text on the home screen. Tommy found his phone and saw the text and decided he was going to name a song with that.  And he did. We thought it was funny to have our own little inside jokes and that’s one of them. It’s funny to hear people try and say it.

Here’s a nice random question: why is there a truncated version of “Prequel for the Sequel” for Rock Band 2?

I guess they just don’t like long songs. They asked us for an edited version, but how do you edit a song like that? What parts do you take out? So we just told them to shorten it. Still, it’s kind of an honor to be asked to have a song on a phenomenon like that.

Speaking of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, can you do DragonForce’s  “Through Fire and Flames” on Expert?

Hahaha! No actually I have not. I can’t do it. I’ve tried it and it’s not good. People always say “you’re good at guitar, you should be able to do it”–but no–it turns out badly.

While on the subject of guitar playing, I think The Silent Circus and definitely Alaska where I was aware of “sweep arpeggios” and they became niche and now they are everywhere -with all sorts of bands…from recent bands like The Human Abstract to Journal, and even death metal like Origin. What’s your insight in using those vs. over using them?

Well, it’s like anything. It’s a technique and you can if you use that technique blindly and without taste can be pretty dumb, I’ve been guilty of it myself, especially when I first learned how to use them. But ultimately does it fit into the song? Obviously it has a certain, sweeping sound and if I think it would sound appropriate, I’ll use it. And it really goes for any technique, even say…dive bombs, you have to pick and choose. As a guitar nerd I love them when used right. A lot of it is that there are good guitar players out there now who can pull them off and to be honest, it’s cool to play them when you can.  There are some nice young guitarists now with legitimate talents, dudes that can play guitar — and the music is getting pushed into a good direction.

Are there any specific young upcoming guitarists you enjoy listening to or watching?

Yeah, the kid in Animals as Leaders, Tosin Abasi. I’ve known him for a long time, since he was a teenager and before he went to music school, and then he came out of school and is just a beast now. I love watching him play and he blows my mind. There’s the young kid in Born of Osiris, I mean, I’m in my early 30s now and these guys are so talented so young. For example that giant kid over there–he’s the guitarist for Job For a Cowboy–he’s only 21 and he’s a total shredder already!

Speaking of Job For a Cowboy this tour is you, Germany’s The Ocean, Job For a Cowboy and Cephalic Carnage — who will join the bill starting tomorrow…that’s a pretty varied bill covering a wide scope of music.

When we do a headlining tour, when we talk to a booking agent that’s one of the main things we look for. Every band sounds different and that’s what we wanted. Who wants to go to s show where all the bands sound the same?  It’s a full show and not too much of one thing; it brings in a variety of people and it opens people minds to other music.  Especially kids that come to the shows, you know that are told what’s cool to like,  but they can come and hear something different…they come and hear post-rock and death metal in one show.  Well tour with anybody.

Who would you really like to tour with that you have not toured with yet?

I think it would be really cool to tour with The Deer Hunter. They are just this awesome band with ridiculous vocal harmonies. I don’t know if the metal kids would like them, but I would love it!

So I’m going to put you on the spot. Have you seen Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny?

Yes I have.

OK, you are in front of Lucifer having a rock off for the fate of your very soul, and you get to play one single song from Between the Buried and Me’s catalog to save you and your band from becoming Lucifer’s eternal sex slaves. What song do you play?

It’s gotta be “White Walls”. Just the epic ending does it for me.

I would have gone with “Selkies” or “All Bodies” personally.

Those would work too.

With long songs like “White Walls” “, “Swim to the Moon” and such, how do you balance your set list with these longer sprawling songs and your older shorter songs. I assume you are going to promote the new EP and those are long songs too…how do you decide a set list with so many great, long songs?

That’s always a problem. But on this tour, we are actually playing an hour and a half. So 30 minutes of that is playing the whole new EP, then we have about an hour for other stuff. We actually play a shorter version of “Swim to the Moon”, the instrumental section only which we incorporate into a medley. We try to mix it up, although on this tour we aren’t doing anything from The Silent Circus or the self-titled.

Really? No “Mordacai” or “Aspirations”?

Nope. We do a couple of songs from Colors a little from Alaska. And by a little bit, I mean one song.

That has to be a problem, balancing old songs versus new songs now…

It is.  But we are trying to promote the new EP for this tour. We are touring again later this year and we are going to unofficially think of it as our 10 year tour, so we will be definitely playing some old stuff for that tour.

So Tommy has his solo stuff, Dusty and Blake have Glass  Casket, and Dan has Orbs. When are we going to get a solo or side project from you?

I have nothing. I have some stuff in the works though. I’ve been working with some musicians from other busy bands so it’s hard, but I will have something. I can’t be the only guy.

What can we expect ?

I think it’s going to different. It’s going to rocky, riffy guitar driven stuff. Not as techy as Between the Buried and Me. I want it to be fun to play.

Well, thanks for your time and have a great set!



  1. Commented by: Jono

    Great interview. These guys are always interesting to listen to because they have valid things to say. Looking forward to hearing the new EP.

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