It’s only a few days until the beloved prog outfit Between The Buried And Me will release their new album Automata I, which is the first part of their 2018 double album. Prior to the release, we’ve sat down with the band’s vocalist Tommy Rogers to talk about the creative process and the meaning behind their newest effort.
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ID: Hey Tommy, thanks for taking the time! I had the privilege to already listen to the new album, and it’s pretty cool. Can you tell me a little bit about how do you guys approach to writing a new record?
Tommy Rogers: Well, the cool thing is, we’ve been a band for so long, there is not a whole lot of planning, things just kinda happen. We basically have a timeframe from where we all kinda winded down from the previous touring cycle and we all feeling good and creative. We just start writing on our own, we all write a lot and share ideas back and forth, parts and even songs sometimes. You know, we just kinda go from there. Obviously, every song and ever record can change, some people do more than others, vice versa, depending on the song or the album. It’s really just a smooth process. We work so well together after all these years, we are really in sync.
I think that’s why at the end of the day our records always sound genuine, they sound like us. We really put 100% us into it, we not trying to be anything we are not supposed to be.
ID: You guys are one of the rare bands out there with a really consistent line-up for many years, and I guess that pays off.
TR: Yeah, that’s very important. I think it does affect songwriting, maybe people who don’t play music don’t realize how much that matters, just the aura in the band and how well people get along. All that stuff matters. We work great together.
ID: The new record will be part of a double record, and it’s the first thing you did this since the EP/LP release on Parallax. Can you tell me a little bit about what’s the difference between Automata I+II and the Parallax circle?
TR: Well, Parallax was…we just planned to do an EP, we just signed to a new label and at that point, we wanted to get some music out quick, and we never did an EP before, so we do an EP and do a full-length which will be part two. This was all well-planned out. Automata was recorded as a normal album, it just happened to be very long, all our albums are very long, we just thought we are in a day and age in which excitement comes and goes super fast. I feel like albums just come and go, and we thought it might be cool for the fans to get two opportunities to get excited about music from us this year. Kinda keeps you hanging, not give it to you all at once. It might be something that works or something that doesn’t work, but I feel like because our music is so dense and it is so long, it can really work for a band like us.
And maybe, I feel like a lot of times on an album, the second half gets overlooked cause people don’t dive in that much, and maybe because we are releasing a second half separately people pay a little more attention to our album, which I think is very strong. There is quite a few reasons, we just wanna try.
ID: To be honest, I’ve expected it to be longer when I first looked at the total runtime of the first, but it never felt too short. It was a really surprising balance out of being pretty short but also pretty rounded, complete. On the other hand, I can imagine there is enough room to have connections with another record.
TR: Yeah, that kinda happened naturally, it was weird. We rarely have a stopping point in our albums, ever. We just happened to have one, unintentionally, right in the middle. Honestly, on my end, I listen to the full album, I would always stop where part one ends. And I was like, that would be a great part to stop and listen to the rest, cause that’s what I did when I was listening to mixes and all that.
Just because the nature of our music, it’s so dense and it’s so much going on, when you get to the point of part one is over you feel like you’ve listened to a full album, which in a way band is enough for most bands. I think people have grown a custom to ‘Between The Buried And Me? You’re sitting down with 75 minutes music‘, which at the end of the day you can’t expect every fan to be the kind of fan who can sit down with 75 minutes of music, listen to it from beginning to end. It’s just the world we’re living today, and hopefully we will get a good response for it.
ID: I was pretty impressed because it was so well-balanced, because I am always kind of worried cause I’m a listener who enjoys having a long record. I was okay with the separation, especially because of “Blot” (Author’s Note: The last and longest song on Automata I), it has a really epic conceptual feeling and also works as a closer.
You guys have a tendency to do conceptual records, so can you tell me a bit about the concept behind both records, maybe lyrically, maybe instrumentation-wise, some connections, something like that?
TR: Well, musically, we always write before we think about a concept. My job is, once we have a lot of music written, to create a story which fits well with that sound, the mood of the record, and find a way to make it all work. So, lyrically, the simplified version, it’s about a guy whose dreams are broadcast all over the world by this company called Voice Of Trespass, and they’re basically using him as a puppet for profit. It kinda deals with that side of society, the big business, the guy that’s kinda being taken advantage of and we get the puppet’s perspective of contributing. And then you [have] the story of the guy who is living within this dream, trying to find his son and wife, which we later find out are just his imagination, he just searches for some kind of family figure, life. It’s all those different components, pretty layered as far as what’s going on. It’s kinda cool, I layed out each song on a different timeline, and it all connects together the end. Separating to two parts will help with that as well, people who really dive into lyrics will understand more when the second part drops.
ID: It’s probably easier to digest if you separate the records. I’m not sure about that, but I thought I’ve heard Dan singing some lines…
TR: ….No…haha. No.
ID: Well, you vocals are very versatile then! Is this something you guys still playing around with? You are pretty present with harsh vocals and clean vocals, but Dan (AN: Briggs, bassist) proved he is capable of doing cool vocals, and even Paul (AN: Waggoner, lead guitarist) proved that as well. Is this something you guys chatter about or are you in charge of vocals?
TR: We never talked about it, honestly. There is a moment in the past I’m not creating the feeling I want and I thought Paul’s voice would work well, so I got him to sing, that stuff happened. There a song on The Great Misdirect where Paul sings a lot, we kinda sing back and forth. Yeah, it just depends, we kinda leave everything up to each other. I’ve mentioned earlier how smooth the process is, we just trust each other. There is a lot of trust in the band, which is nice. Blake (AN: Richardson, drummer) just records the drums on his own, most of us aren’t even there. Guitars do their thing, he does his thing, Dan does his thing, I do my thing. We all do pre-production and stuff beforehand, so if there is anything which sticks out, we obviously have recommendations, we help each other with things if something is not working. Maybe in the future, I got more of the guys to sing, but I don’t even think about it honestly. Only when I’m stuck on a part and think ‘my voice doesn’t work on this part‘.
ID: I just mentioned it because I’m a big fan of “Shevanel Cut A Flip”, and it’s pretty cool when you and Paul sing together. That’s pretty amazing, so that’s why I’m hoping for some of that stuff in the future.
TR: Haha, I get what you’re saying. And sometimes, it’s easier, too. For the most part, when I’m recording, it’s just me, so I guess in my mind it’s just, when I have Paul sing, I have to drive him all the way up here.
ID: In terms of writing, are there any struggles on your side separating for example pitches or drafts for BTBAM or your solo work?
TR: No, it’s so different from each other. I try to never write together. When it’s time for BTBAM, I sit down and write, that’s how I work. Most of the solo stuff I write or wrote for that. Some of the stuff which ended up on Automata was kinda intended to work for my solo stuff, but it didn’t feel [right]. So yeah, it’s a lot about feeling.
ID: Alright! I’ve asked our editorial team if they have any questions for you, and there was a pretty interesting one which came up. BTBAM is pretty much this overly-praised band nowadays. There are so many bands which have a pretty diverse reception, but BTBAM seem to be beloved overall. Is this kind of intimidating?
TR: I guess I don’t feel it that way. There is never a moment I feel the pressure of being…it’s even weird to say that we are praised.
ID: It’s maybe my perspective, I follow the band of over ten years now, and I watched the growth of the praise with each record, new fans getting into your older stuff, and I’m always interested if a musician reflects on that or have kind of distance.
TR: I think there is a fine line in juggling those things, but don’t let it effect on how you’re doing your work. Everybody knows in the back of their head, you don’t wanna disappoint people. You wanna write music people care about, they connect to it. At the same time. you don’t wanna force yourself to write a certain thing because you think people wanna hear it. Balance is the key. For us, we’ve always done our thing, luckily we are in a place in which our fans stick around and wanna see what’s the next step is.
ID: Your fans don’t want that BTBAM repeat themselves.
TR: Our fanbase has grown to be very supportive, also for the side stuff we do, which isn’t the most normal stuff in the world. It’s awesome to be part of this community, which supports and trusts us.
ID: The new album comes out via Sumerian Records. Can you tell me about changing the label or how this whole think worked, without getting into too much business details?
TR: Yeah, it’s fairly simple. Our contract with Metal Blade Records ran out, and we wanted to see which offers are out there. At this moment, Sumerian were right for us. Feels right for us. We’ve been a band a long time, we like to try new things and work with new people, cause sometimes when you do that, new doors open. Metal Blade are an amazing group of people, it was an honor to work with them and they are a great label, and we still get on great to this day, but we just wanted a little change. It was natural for everyone.
ID: I’m pretty jealous of your upcoming US tour with Leprous and The Dear Hunter (AN: living in Europe is a pain in the ass sometimes). Can I wish for a good European tour?
TR: Haha, I wish we could tour everywhere with this tour. We are still figuring out the rest of the year, but I assume with the new record, we tour more. But yeah, we’re trying this tour for years, The Dear Hunter and Leprous, we just toured with them last year in Europe with Devin Townsend. They are phenomenal, tough band to play after, to be honest. They are great.
Thanks for your time Tommy, really looking forward to the next steps of BTBAM. Have a good one!
TR: Thanks man, have a good day.
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You can find the audio version of that interview down below, but it’s a bit out of sync, so the written version is probably a better experience. Make sure to follow the band on Facebook and pre-order Automata I right here; it drops March 2nd via Sumerian Records.