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Interviews : Paul Waggoner – Between The Buried and Me

By on December 3, 2011

BTBAM – Paul Waggoner

Metal Obsession‘s, Samuel Maher caught with Paul Waggoner of Between the Buried and Me earlier this year to follow up on the release of their new EP ‘The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues’. We chatted briefly about how awesome touring with Animals as Leaders would be (and I did my best to convince him to bring that tour to Australia) and how one would have a much easier time living without a fork rather than a spoon or a knife.

We then launched into a detailed discussion of the band’s last couple of releases and what their plans are for the future.

MO: If it’s alright with you I’m going to go back a couple of years and ask a couple of things about each of your albums from about Alaska onwards.

PW: That sounds cool man

MO: Starting with Alaska, it seems like that album was a real step forward for you guys. I mean, all of your albums have had significant changes in the overall sound, but in Alaska the sound was so much clearer and was so much more soulful and yet heavy. Was that a deliberate thing, or was that just a natural evolution of the music?

PW: Well I think for one thing is was the first album with the current line up, so we actually had different personnel on that album. But yeah, I thought it was just a natural evolution. I know for me personally it was a time when, as a guitar player, I was more mature and, for all of us, we were mature as musicians and the album kind of showcased that.

MO: Speaking of you as a musician, one of the more successful songs from that album was “Selkies: the Endless Obsession” which I think is in no small part due to the solo section at the end. Can you talk a little bit about how you wrote that solo? Was it a matter of sitting down and jamming with the track or was there a lot more thought put into it?

PW: You know, I think I wrote the sweeps section first…I think I was just doodling around and I came up with these arpeggio patterns that I thought sounded cool and I think from there I came up with the chord progression to go around the sweeps and I think I wrote the solo around that section, which I suppose is the climax of the solo. It’s kind of interesting how it took shape…it was certainly the hit song on that record and I didn’t expect that, but that’s how it materialised.
When you finished writing it did you think it was anything special or was it just another solo to you?

For me it was just another solo…I mean, I don’t really write a lot of guitar solos, I don’t consider myself a big solo guy, I like it to fit the context of the song, but I thought it was a cool part, I was proud of it and I liked the harmonies we put on it in the studio but I didn’t think kids would flip out about it the way they have. I mean it’s still on the stage probably the fan favourite, it kind of has a bit of longevity as a hit…I never expected that. But I’m very happy that it has become what it has become.

MO: Do you still enjoy playing it live?

PW: Oh I love it man. I mean, that’s one of those songs that we’ve been playing for so long that we almost hate playing it but you know when you’re playing in front of all these kids that love it to death and you get up to that part and they are screaming the melody, you know I can hear them singing the melody, it’s even louder than the guitar. It’s an honour you know, I’m very humbled by that, to have people memorise and sing a melody that I wrote in my room, it’s a very cool feeling.

MO: Moving onto Colors, I think that album was a real defining point in your career. It was really where you upped the game on everything you’d done before, you added all these progressive, new styles into the music. Again, was that a deliberate letting go of all your inhibitions and writing these 10+ minute songs, or did it again just flow naturally from where Alaska started?

PW: That one was probably more deliberate than Alaska because prior to Colors we had done Ozzfest in the US and we were just really disenchanted with that tour. That tour really reminded us of what we really didn’t want to become as a band, you know, we really didn’t want to be one of those bands, we wanted to be something different. So when we got done with that tour we were just like “yo, with the next record let’s just go crazy, let’s just do everything that we want to do and not care about it one bit”. So that’s what Colors was, it was our middle finger to ‘the metal scene’, we just wanted to bring all our influences to one table and go crazy, you know, you’re right, that one was definitely the most deliberately creative, crazy, out there. It was the starting point for us, and everything we have done since then was based on that attitude we had in the Colors sessions.

MO: The Colors album is obviously one entire song, one complete piece of music, and you’ve emphasised several times that it should be considered as such. Did you ever consider releasing it as just one song?

PW: Well we probably did just jokingly, but you know if people looked at an album and saw just one song they’d be like “what the hell is this?” you know, so we kind of had to split it up into tracks just because…well, the label wouldn’t have been cool with that, you know, how do sell that on iTunes?? To me it is kind of one song but we split it into tracks just because that seems to be the proper way to do things these days. But yeah to me it is one song, I mean you can’t just listen to one song…well, I guess you can, but no matter what song you listen to it feels incomplete.

MO: How did you split it up? Some of the transitions make sense, like the start of “White Walls” very much feels like a new section but “Ants of the Sky” is cut right in the middle of a solo! How did all that go about?

PW: I can’t remember, but I think that particular one, “Sun of Nothing” into “Ants of the Sky”, that was an issue, we were like “where does one song end and the other begin?” and I don’t remember how we decided how to put the end where we put it…I’m sure it was just, you know, ‘beat 1 of some measure’ *laughs*. But clearly that one was written to flow cleanly into the next song, it was just how to cap it off…so we just put it somewhere.

MO: So moving on from there we get to The Great Misdirect. Colors was obviously extremely successful both in terms of how your fans perceived it and I think in terms of how you guys perceived it. As you were going into it you clearly stated that you didn’t want to make ‘just another Colors’ and you clearly didn’t…The Great Misdirect is a very different album but it still sounds like Between the Buried and Me. How did you do that?

PW: Well, I think you really have to make a conscious effort to go into it from a clean slate. We did Colors and finished it and that was in the past. With The Great Misdirect we just had to clear our minds of that and see what…I mean, everybody in the band writes, so we just saw what everyone came up with and we worked from that.

I think with The Great Misdirect it, to me, was a darker record, it was heavier in a lot of ways than Colors and was kind of a moodier record in many ways. Plus you know, we were in a different place in our career. Colors was very time-specific, we wrote those songs because we were in a certain frame of mind, you know, we wanted to go crazy, but with this record we were in a very different frame of mind. We wanted to just write a very heavy album that at the same time was very dynamic, it was very sombre, kind of a darker kind of record. It’s just kind of where we were, that’s how we came on. We try not to draw on our past work too much, we just try to write from where we are in our current state.

MO: This next question kind of applies to Colors, Misdirect and The Parallax: How do you go about writing these songs? I mean, structurally they are incredibly complex- you are jumping from one genre to another in a matter of seconds, how do you go about putting all that together, making it feel like a cohesive song?

PW: For us at this point, I mean we’ve been doing it for a while so the structures seem pretty normal to me now. I think once you’re in the room and you’re building the song from scratch it doesn’t sound as complex, it doesn’t sound as insane as the final product for a listener that just hears the whole thing at one time. We all write, we all bring ideas to the table and feed ideas of each other and I think over time we have built this really cool synergy between the five us so that we’re able to write these songs and kind of create these things that make sense.  You know, to us it makes sense and before we know it we’ve got a 15 minute song so it just sort of happens.

MO: So you are all sitting in a room jamming it out? It’s all done together, rather than you write one part, send it to Dan etc.

PW: Well it works both ways. We all write individually, though we live in different cities, but you know I might email a part to Dan or Tommy or vice versa but once we start hearing what each other is coming up with it’s very inspiring so by the time we do get into a room together everybody just has this clutter of ideas so it starts becoming pretty easy to start putting these ideas together.

You know, it happens in different ways. Sometimes an idea can be written in a matter of a minute, you know, I think one of the riffs on the first song on the new record I wrote in literally a minute, I just thought “hey, this might be cool” and just write it right on the spot and it ended up being one of my favourite riffs on the song. It happens in different ways, you just have to let it happen.

MO: Ok, open question: Disease, Injury or Madness?

PW: [Laughs] I think probably madness. I think sometimes good can come from madness. It sometimes takes a little bit of crazy in this world to get you what you want *laughs*.

MO: Speaking of madness, you guys have a new EP out entitled The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues. I suppose the most obvious question is why did decide to do an EP after having so many full lengths?

PW: Well I think it just kind of worked out that way. We had just signed to Metal Blade and I think there was definitely this kind of urgency to get something out. We wanted to just start the next chapter of our careers, we wanted to get something out quickly. But if we tried to write a full-length the quality would have suffered so we were like ‘why not do an EP, we’ve never done an EP before’ and so after that it was like ‘well why don’t we make this “part 1”’ so it just kind of worked out that way.

MO: So we’ve got more to come?

PW: Yeah. The next record will be a full-length and it will kind of tie into the EP musically and lyrically so when it’s all said and done it’s gonna be like an hour and a half of music that in some way ties together.

MO: Can you expand a little bit on the theme of the lyrics, because it’s got a really interesting story behind it…

PW: Well the first part, the EP, is pretty vague, it’s supposed to just be an introduction to the two characters. One of the characters is actually the character from “Swim to the Moon”, the last song from The Great Misdirect, and he was just this guy who was fed up with life who decided to throw it all away and embark on this suicidal mission, never to be seen or heard from again and that’s kind of where the EP picks up, with this guy floating out into the middle of the ocean drifting in and out of consciousness. He becomes subconsciously aware of this other person and he doesn’t know who this person is, he has never seen this person in his life, yet he keeps having visions of this other person and it turns out this person lives on a different planet somewhere in the universe, or maybe in a different universe, in a different time frame, millions of years away.

The story kind of films through that person who is also confronted with some personal issues and dilemmas and they kind of subconsciously become aware of one another and that’s really what the EP is about, just an introduction to the two characters. Part 2 is where the meat of the story really happens- we learn that these two guys actually have a lot in common and share a bond that is kind of weird and sci-fi-ish and we can assume they will probably meet each other through some kind of sci-fi space travel kind of thing…and then weird stuff will happen!

When it’s all said and done there will be a message to it all, something that everyone can relate to but we are using this weird kind of sci-fi vehicle to tell a really simple story that has a really simple message that everyone can relate to. So that’s really our goal with that.

MO: Was this whole thing a group effort, or is this mostly Tommy’s domain?

PW: It’s really Tommy and I kind of working on the story together. I think I came up with the basic idea and then we were working on it together but…I mean, Tommy’s coming up with the lyrics so he’s got the hard part, he’s got to make it not cheesy, he’s got to make it not sound like “hey, and then this man did that” you know, so he’s gotta make it abstract enough but at the same time tell the story.  So it’s just him and I collaborating on the lyrical concept.

MO: You mentioned that the character from “Swim to the Moon” featured. It might have just been my interpretation, but I always thought the he died at the end of that song…

PW: Well…he kind of…is dead…in a weird way. But…he’s not *laughs*. It’s kinda weird. He’s pretty much in a state of hypersleep so he’s still able to have these visions of this other character.

MO: So this whole sci-fi thing…does that explain why we have flies on our album art?

PW: Well, that’ll make a little more sense after the second part…but they’re bees actually. But the point of it is bees are very hardworking creatures. They spend their entire life cycle working to the greater good to build the hive or whatever. They spend their lives working their asses off so that they’re able to keep the species going, and that kind of plays into our a story a bit where these people realise that we’re actually no different, you know, we all work really hard to keep this whole crazy machine of humanity going and sometimes that’s not always a good thing. So I guess that’s what we’re trying to get across with the album art.

MO: Speaking more generally now, does it take you any amount of time to actually learn the riffs to the songs that you write? Do you write something that you actually have to sit down with the metronome and learn, or does it all come to you fairly naturally?

PW: The first thing you said! *laughs* Usually I write a riff and I can’t play it at all and I have to sit down with the metronome and actually work it up to speed. Unfortunately that’s a negative side effect of playing this sort of music, it can be very difficult to play. That makes the rest of us guitarists feel a little bit better

Oh yeah, believe me man, usually I never really get it 100%. You should see me recording these records man, I am a complete wreck of a human being: talking to myself, punching things and everything trying to get these parts. But you practice and practice and eventually you get it down.

MO: The question that we all really want to know: when are you coming to Australia?

PW: Man, I would love to be there right now, I love Australia. If I were a betting man I would say that we will come after the full-length has been released.

MO: Do we have a prospective time frame for that?

PW: No…we don’t. It’ll be 2012, we definitely won’t be there this year. But sometime next year, we’ll make a real thing of it and we’ll probably try and hit Japan the same trip…so hopefully 2012.

MO: Are there any bands you particularly want to tour with? You’ve toured with some pretty big names in the past: Opeth, Cynic, Lamb of God, you’ve got Animals as Leaders coming up…

PW: Um…Oh man, tough question. For me, I like touring with bands that I’m friends with because it’s just a good time. But as far as bands that I just love, I would love to do a European tour with Opeth, that would be pretty awesome for us, I mean we obviously love that band and we’ve been to US with them, but we’d love to open for them in Europe.

MO: That sounds like the ultimate tour…that’s pretty well my two favourite bands.

PW: Pull some strings, make it happen in Australia *laughs*

MO: Have you got any funny live stories, any funny accidents on stage, that sort of thing?

PW: One of my favourites happened about a year ago and our drummer Blake, I think it was in “Disease, Injury, Madness” in a totally brutal part and his drum throne collapsed under his own weight and he just fell off the drum riser, he was just gone. I didn’t know what happened to him, I was just playing and all of a sudden there’s no drums and I’m like ‘what the hell just happened, did he just drop both his sticks?’ and I looked back there and he was crumpled up and folded up like a pretzel behind the drum riser. There’s gotta be a video of that lingering around, I’ve gotta get my hands on that. That was funny.

MO: You guys recently changed labels from Victory to Metal Blade, can you explain why?

PW: The biggest reason was because we were done with our Victory contract and to be honest at the point we were at in our career and where we were taking things musically we just thought that Metal Blade was the best fit for us, they were on the same page as us, it just made sense. That was really the only reason.

MO: You’ve just had a ‘Best of’ album come out via Victory…was that a result of that shift? It doesn’t sound like something you guys would do.

PW: No, we had nothing to do with that. We had nothing to do with the layout or the tracklisting or anything. That was all Victory. But that was something in the contract that they were entitled to do, so we knew it was going to happen so we were cool with it. But yeah that was all them.

MO: It was no big deal for you guys?

PW: Of course we would rather it not happen, I mean, like you said we write 10-minute long metal songs, I don’t think we have any ‘greatest hits’. To me, it’s kind of a cheesy concept. But I mean, like I said we knew they were going to do it so it wasn’t a surprise so we just kind of tried to kind of ignore it. But to be honest, I don’t think it had any sort of great effect, I think the fans were more amped about the new record coming out rather than the ‘best of’. It was a slight nuisance I guess, but not really. We got over it pretty quickly.

MO: Final question: who would be your ultimate metal dinner party?

PW: Metal? Oh man…Let’s see…I would have maybe Alex Skolnick from Testament…and you gotta have like Ozzy or someone there, I mean, I would say Dio but he’s no longer with us so we’ll go with Ozzy. Who else…I’m gonna say Dave Mustaine would be there, he’s a big influence on me so yeah he can come. I’m gonna add Steve Vai on there…it’s probably just gonna be a whole lot of guitar players from here on out, I’m a guitar nerd so…*laughs*. How about we add good old Phil Anselmo on there, crazy Phil, and uh…I think that might be good enough for me. Any more than that and it might start to be overwhelming. I think with those people I could pick their brains a little bit and I think they might all have some interesting stories to tell. That’d probably be a fun time.

 

BTBAM‘s latest EP ‘The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues’ is now available via Metal Blade Records and Riot! Entertainment.

For more information on the new EP, tour dates and general knowledge, head on over to the band’s official Facebook page.  www.facebook.com/BTBAMofficial

 

About

Sam Maher is Metal Obsession's resident prog reviewer. He only likes songs that are at least 15 minutes long, contain 4 guitar solos and can only be described with a genre that is at least six words long. He also plays guitar for Sydney-based groovy melodic progressive technical death metal band Apparitions of Null.