Be­tween The Buried And Me ___________

Be­tween The Buried And Me are re­leas­ing the first part of a dou­ble con­cept al­bum that bar­rels head­first into a dystopian night­mare, ex­am­in­ing so­cial me­dia, is­sues of pri­vacy and suicide. Gui­tarist Paul Wag­goner tells Prog more…

Prog - - Contents - Words: Dom Law­son Im­ages: Randy Ed­wards

It’s part one of two new con­cept al­bums from the US prog met­allers.

You don’t have to sub­scribe to any par­tic­u­lar ide­ol­ogy to ac­knowl­edge that the mod­ern world has gone a bit pe­cu­liar. Whether you blame un­scrupu­lous politi­cians or the un­stop­pable rise of so­cial me­dia, hu­man be­ings aren’t be­ing very nice to each other at this point in time.

The up­side to the whole en­er­vat­ing spec­ta­cle is that pro­gres­sive music has been blessed and/or cursed with a whole new ar­ray of so­ci­etal ills to write about. Never a band to shy away from con­cep­tual con­ceits or nar­ra­tive depth, Be­tween The Buried And Me have chan­nelled their post-mil­len­nial anx­i­eties in the most fruit­ful way pos­si­ble, con­jur­ing a gar­gan­tuan, twopart new al­bum that takes lis­ten­ers into a very timely take on the clas­sic dystopian night­mare.

“The def­i­ni­tion of an au­tom­ata is a me­chan­i­cal con­struc­tion made in the like­ness of a hu­man be­ing,” BTBAM’s lead gui­tarist Paul Wag­goner ex­plains to Prog. “The over­rid­ing theme of the record is that in this so­ci­ety we have a ten­dency to take own­er­ship of peo­ple. Whether it’s ac­tors, mu­si­cians or any­one in the public eye, with the use of so­cial me­dia and how ac­ces­si­ble ev­ery­one is to each other, peo­ple be­come a com­mod­ity for so­ci­ety to be en­ter­tained by or taken ad­van­tage

“We’ve just tried to keep push­ing our­selves to our lim­its and to be au­then­tic, to make music that we like. it just pro­gressed to a point where you could lis­ten to us and say ‘oh, right! this is a prog band!’”

of, and that can some­times have a re­ally dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on the ac­tual per­son.”

The new al­bum’s core nar­ra­tive tells of a fu­tur­is­tic world, where one celebrity’s dreams and in­ner­most thoughts are broad­cast live to an au­di­ence of mil­lions. Au­tom­ata ex­plores the con­se­quences and reper­cus­sions of this ex­treme in­va­sion of pri­vacy, but while the al­bum is more cau­tion­ary tale than con­tem­po­rary com­men­tary, the par­al­lels with the in­creas­ing ubiq­uity of so­cial me­dia and the nar­cis­sism and dis­ori­en­ta­tion that it seems to en­cour­age are ob­vi­ous.

“We’ve seen it re­cently with sui­cides in the music in­dus­try, with Chris Cor­nell or Ch­ester Ben­ning­ton,” Wag­goner notes. “Some of these peo­ple seem­ingly had it all, but they’re deal­ing with these in­ter­nal de­mons, and we as a so­ci­ety have a ten­dency to ex­ac­er­bate that to a de­gree. It’s only go­ing to get worse be­cause tech­nol­ogy has made the whole world so much smaller.

“Peo­ple don’t have pri­vacy,” he con­tin­ues. “So from that we got this fu­tur­is­tic story where this pro­fes­sional en­ter­tainer has been com­mod­i­fied to such a de­gree that even his dreams are tapped into and pub­li­cised for our en­ter­tain­ment. We thought that was a unique way to make the state­ment we wanted to make.”

Im­pres­sively, BTBAM have had the same line-up since 2005. As Wag­goner re­lates the in­tri­cate but seem­ingly re­laxed process of piec­ing a new al­bum to­gether, it’s very ob­vi­ous that he and his four band­mates have achieved a rare state of cre­ative har­mony. With all five men con­tribut­ing ideas, it’s hardly sur­pris­ing that Au­tom­ata brims with wild dy­nam­ics and per­verse de­tours, but as the gui­tarist points out, most of the music they make to­gether seems to just hap­pen…

“That’s ab­so­lutely true. It all hap­pens very or­gan­i­cally. Some­times it’s like magic, man. It’s like we just blink a cou­ple of times and the next thing you know, we’ve got an hour’s worth of music. We build songs and fig­ure out ways to make one song bleed into an­other song, and then sud­denly you have a full al­bum.

“At some point we try to come up with a firm plan of how we want it to start and where to go dy­nam­i­cally, and then we need a good way to bring the al­bum to a con­clu­sion,” he ex­plains.

So I guess we def­i­nitely do all of that some­what con­sciously, but it also just hap­pens, you know? Some­times I’ll lis­ten back to an al­bum and think, ‘Man, how did we do that? I don’t even re­mem­ber do­ing it!’ It’s just a unique syn­ergy that we’ve been able to build over time.”

Au­tom­ata I’s most ob­vi­ous curve­ball, the sim­ply melodic and suc­cinct Mil­lions, speaks of a band that are en­tirely com­fort­able with em­brac­ing less schiz­o­phrenic mu­si­cal ideas and sim­ply pur­su­ing what­ever feels right in the sur­real con­fines of the stu­dio. The al­bum fea­tures plenty of the extravagant and in­ter­mit­tently ex­treme prog that the band are known for, of course, but it’s these more un­ex­pected moments of sub­tlety and respite that present the real chal­lenge to long­time fans.

“We did sur­prise our­selves a lit­tle bit with that song,” Wag­goner nods. “Dustie [War­ing, rhythm gui­tarist] wrote the whole first half of that song and he pre­sented it as a sin­gle idea that could be one small part of a big­ger song. But the more we lis­tened to it, the more we thought, ‘This is so cool!’ It was just a com­plete song, ba­si­cally, and we felt that the parts he wrote were re­ally strong and that they’d prob­a­bly get lost if they be­came in­cor­po­rated into a more elab­o­rate song struc­ture. Cur­rently it’s my favourite song on the al­bum. I love the way it starts and builds, the way it ends. It’s so dif­fer­ent for us – an ac­tual song, as op­posed to some grandiose sound­scape!”

Given the way the band’s sound has pro­gressed over the last decade, could the BTBAM of 2007 have con­jured some­thing as straight­for­ward as Mil­lions or would they have in­stinc­tively messed it up with a blast beat and some scream­ing?

“Prob­a­bly the lat­ter!” Wag­goner laughs. “It may not even have made the cut for not be­ing weird enough! It’s in­ter­est­ing how your brain works when you get a lit­tle older and you’re more likely to ap­pre­ci­ate sim­pler ideas.

“When I was younger, I was in con­stant com­pe­ti­tion with my­self, noth­ing was ever good enough or cool enough. But as you get older you re­alise that you were prob­a­bly wrong and those sim­ple ideas are ac­tu­ally re­ally cool. It’s a great song and some­how it still sounds like us.”

Al­though they first emerged as os­ten­si­ble mem­bers of the so-called math metal move­ment that was kicked off by the likes of Candiria and The Dillinger Es­cape Plan in the late 90s, BTBAM were ex­hibit­ing a strong af­fil­i­a­tion with pro­gres­sive rock as far back as their clas­sic third al­bum Col­ors in 2007. At this point the band have been fully as­sim­i­lated into the prog world, with only those re­main­ing ex­treme metal tropes pro­vid­ing any kind of bar­rier to reach­ing that broader prog au­di­ence. If 2015’s Coma Eclip­tic was the break­through the band needed, Au­tom­ata I feels like the right next evo­lu­tion­ary step: an al­bum full of both ac­ces­si­ble and jar­ring moments, it might still blow a few Yes fans’ wigs off, but this band’s sin­cere pas­sion for prog is un­de­ni­able.

“I guess it’s been a kind of pro­gres­sion that we started with Col­ors,” Wag­goner says. “Not that we were ever try­ing to de­part from our usual sound, but we found a more ma­ture sound, one that maybe in­cor­po­rated some more of our clas­sic prog in­flu­ences. We never re­ally stuck to the true metal or hard­core for­mula in our song­writ­ing and it was al­ways


im­por­tant to keep push­ing our­selves. I don’t think we made a con­scious ef­fort to say, ‘Okay, we want to be a prog band’. We’ve just tried to keep push­ing our­selves to our lim­its and to be au­then­tic, to make music that we like. It just pro­gressed to a point where you could lis­ten to us and say ‘Oh, right! This is a prog band!’

“So many bands are sub­ject to trends,” he con­tin­ues. “What’s hot one minute can turn into some­thing with ab­so­lutely no mar­ket a minute later. The fact that we’ve been able to keep do­ing this and re­main true to our­selves and still have a ca­reer, well, we’ve just been very lucky.”

With suc­cess coming their way al­most in spite of their eso­teric ap­proach to heavy music, BTBAM have learned that do­ing things dif­fer­ently can be one pos­si­ble route to glory. One ma­jor prob­lem they face is that the music in­dus­try and modes of music con­sump­tion have al­tered to such an ex­tent that even in­vet­er­ate mav­er­icks have to pay at­ten­tion and find new ways to buck the sys­tem. Bal­anc­ing the need to be in­de­pen­dent and ar­tis­ti­cally free with the need to pay the bills in the age of stream­ing and on­line pil­fer­ing is a mod­ern dilemma in­deed.

“Ob­vi­ously as an artist you want to be ex­pres­sive, you want to be free, you want to do what comes nat­u­ral and you want to be to­tally free in the way you make music, but at the same time we’re all in our late 30s and we need to make a liv­ing,” notes Wag­goner. “You do have to pay at­ten­tion to the cur­rent trends, in terms of mar­ket­ing and how music is be­ing con­sumed these days and how you can mon­e­tise that. It’s very dif­fi­cult and I think we’re al­ways at odds with that.

“That’s where we have most of our dis­agree­ments as a band,” he says. “It’s not about the music or the cre­ation of the art it­self, it’s more about how we’re go­ing to present the art and tour. What bands are we gonna tour with? What kind of venues? All of that. That’s where most dis­agree­ments come, on the busi­ness side. But it is a busi­ness. At the end of the day we’re an in­die prog metal band on an in­die la­bel and we have to be smart in the way we do things or it could all come crash­ing down. It’s an in­ter­est­ing dy­namic.”

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Even though they are as sus­cep­ti­ble to the whims of a rapidly chang­ing tech­no­log­i­cal age as any­one, Wag­goner and his com­rades al­ways seem to be able to find their own, subtly dif­fer­ent an­gle. Au­tom­ata’s two-part un­veil­ing is both a neat way to en­gage peo­ple in the un­fold­ing of the al­bum’s story and a shrewd at­tempt to side-step one of the great prob­lems that nearly ev­ery mu­si­cian faces in the 21st cen­tury.

“We re­alise we’re liv­ing in a short at­ten­tion span so­ci­ety, so we fig­ured we’d give peo­ple two dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties to ab­sorb the ma­te­rial in­stead of hit­ting them sud­denly over the head with a ton of music and a ton of con­tent,” Wag­goner ex­plains. “As an al­bum, it’s very dense. There are a lot of lay­ers, which is why we thought it would be bet­ter to di­vide it into two parts. We didn’t want to over­whelm peo­ple with too much. But I still see it as one al­bum. If I lis­ten to it in my car, I lis­ten to both parts. Hope­fully when the sec­ond part comes out, peo­ple will have fully di­gested the first part and they’ll just add the sec­ond part to it and see it as one piece.”

It’s un­der­stand­able that Wag­goner is fo­cused on pro­mot­ing the first part of Au­tom­ata, not least be­cause it’s a sub­stan­tial enough piece of work on its own. But he also seems to be en­joy­ing the chance to tan­ta­lise fans with a few in­trigu­ing de­tails about what to ex­pect from part two.

“The songs on the sec­ond part are a lit­tle more in­volved, but at that point we’re cre­at­ing a crescendo to­ward the end of the al­bum so it nec­es­sar­ily gets a lit­tle bit more in­tense. I think there’s one song that will sur­prise peo­ple a lit­tle, stylis­ti­cally speak­ing. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think it might catch peo­ple off guard. I think they’ll like it, but they’ll be like, ‘Woah, what the hell’s go­ing on here?’”

Af­ter their cur­rent tour of the US with Le­prous ends, BTBAM will start pre­par­ing for a po­ten­tial US fes­ti­val on­slaught this sum­mer, with Euro­pean and UK dates to fol­low later in 2018, pre­sum­ably once ev­ery­one has had time to digest Au­tom­ata’s mirac­u­lous sprawl. Even as they con­tinue to bat­tle against the lim­its and rig­ors of the music biz ma­chine, Paul Wag­goner and his long-time as­so­ci­ates are hav­ing more fun than ever. The dream lives.

“A lot of this is like Ground­hog Day, man. You write an al­bum and then you do the tour cir­cuit for a cou­ple of years, but we al­ways try to keep it fresh,” he con­cludes. “We like to keep the fans on their toes, and we like to keep our­selves on our toes too. Hope­fully we’ll be per­form­ing this stuff live to a some­what cap­tive au­di­ence!”



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