They released one of the most anticipated records of 2021 when they gave us the long-awaited sequel to their acclaimed Colors album from 2007. Only Between the Buried and Me (BTBAM) could do something like this on their own terms and call it Colors II.
Other than Opeth, Gojira and Periphery, it’s hard to think of another twenty-first century band that have shaped the prog metal landscape like American legends, BTBAM. You can hear their influence on artists as diverse as Jinjer, Interloper and Protest the Hero, yet their name is also a byword for technical brilliance and restless experimentation. Colors II is a whopping eighty-eight minutes in length and contains more flavours than a Mighty Meaty Domino’s pizza, although you’re more likely to burn calories than gain them when you get through this colossal record. Those that lament the passing of the Dillinger Escape Plan can take comfort in the fact that BTBAM are still around to fly the flag for sophisticated and challenging music of the extreme variety.
We spoke to the group’s bass virtuoso and prog-metal anorak, Dan Briggs, about the making of Colors II and how he hopes people will perceive it. Dan had to self-isolate after the band’s Fort Lauderdale show on 12 September upon contracting Covid-19 and missed the concerts in Nashville and Charlotte. We thank him for conducting this interview during his time in hotel quarantine.
Let’s start with your passion for progressive music. How much did your 2015 appearance on the Banger TV ‘Lock Horns’ prog metal debate raise your individual profile among music fans?
Oh, I don’t know if that did anything drastic, but it was fun to do! I think we got to chat about Sleepy Time Gorilla Museum, who I consider one of the American giants of avant/progressive music. I’ve listened to those albums since I was in high school, and they still boggle my mind.
Of course, we all want to know more about your latest album, Colors II. Many critics and fans venerate its 2007 predecessor, Colors, as a masterpiece of prog metal. How often during the writing and pre-production process for Colors II did you shudder at the thought of releasing a sequel to such a beloved record?
I did not shudder once! It wasn’t really in the forefront of my consciousness while writing, it just felt very much like the next creative BTBAM project. We’ve undertaken so many at this point, and in between each album you have a few years of touring. I’m always working on a few other albums during that time, and when it comes around to working on new BTBAM material you have all this growth and are ready for a creative leap. There were a handful of direct musical call backs, but the whole idea was to view it through the prism of what BTBAM is after all those years of growth and all we’ve learned about writing and arranging music.
Which is your favourite composition on Colors II and why?
I know it’s horrible to say because it’s such a big chunk of music, but the middle of the album is just so special to me and the way it flows… There’s a distinct sort of suite of songs – ‘Never Seen/Future Shock’, ‘Stare into the Abyss’, ‘Prehistory’ – that musically are tied together and have such exciting new melodic territory for the band. And that going right into ‘Bad Habits’, ‘The Future is Behind Us’ and ‘Turbulence’ is just again so much exciting new dynamic territory. All these years in and that chunk, especially, I can listen to and be like, “Wow, this is a band still evolving into new places”, and that’s so exciting. That’s six songs – I’m awful.
Colors II is a reviewer’s nightmare because of its colossal running time. We helped our readership navigate through the one hour and eighteen minutes of it by breaking down the twelve songs into a triple album (Part I: tracks 1-4; Part II: tracks 5-8; Part III tracks 9-12). What advice can you give to the discerning listener who might be intimidated by the length of your latest LP?
Yeah, that’s totally not a bad idea and kind of like I was laying out in the last answer! ‘Monochrome’ obviously builds into ‘Double Helix…’, and ‘Revolution…’ builds in quirkiness to ‘Fix the Error’, and then the two suites of songs, and ‘Sfumato’ builds into ‘Human is Hell’ – so maybe five chapters. I’m naturally just an album person, that’s how I grew up. My favourite Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots songs were always the ones that weren’t on the radio. Getting lost in the album art and liner notes – I still freak out over the whole experience, and it’ll never be lost on me with someone else’s work or my own. Just take a breath and get lost on the journey…
Listeners should be prepared for anything while listening to Colors II, but the sporadic Mr Bungle tangents might surprise a few people. Whose idea was it to include the weird Salsa section in ‘Revolution in Limbo’, and what kind of resistance did it meet from the other band members at first?
I don’t think anything surprises anyone if they’ve been listening to our band for any bit of time. I think in 2007 when Colors came out there were elements that were shocking at the time, having bluegrass passages and waltzes in tracks. It’s all just playing with dynamics and having fun for us. In ‘Revolution’, Paul wrote the A section, and I wrote the B section – all parties involved had a blast.
‘Never Seen/Future Shock’ is a reminder that BTBAM’s music is a big influence on the latest albums by Jinjer and Interloper, although few bands can include a Jethro Tull flute passage and a death metal twirl among the chugging riffs and sorrowful alt-rock harmonies in one track. In the past, you’ve criticised other bands for the “Meshuggah abuse”, but the Swedes seem to be a big influence on your riffs in this song and in many others. What are your thoughts on this?
I love lots and lots and lots of Swedish bands… Hällas put out one of my favourite albums last year. Then there’s Mats Gustaffson’s work; Pain of Salvation; Opeth are obviously a band favourite; Cult of Luna are absolutely my favourite heavy band; Änglagård; The Cardigans. So much brilliant work out of that country that I find massively inspiring!
Another observation: BTBAM are an obvious influence on Haken, and you’re good friends with them, but their 2016 album, Affinity, appears to have influenced you in turn, especially on ‘Bad Habits’ and ‘The Future is Behind Us’. To what extent are we reading too much into this?
They are of course great friends of ours – I’m in a band called Nova Collective with their guitarist, Rich Henshall! I don’t think we’ve directly influenced each other outside of the music we’ve individually written together and our mutual respect. The songs you mentioned: ‘Bad Habits’ is one of the big direct Colors influenced pieces from the shuffle solo section of ‘Ants of the Sky’, which is directly referenced four minutes into the song. That was all about what if we took that shuffle idea and carried it through a whole song with a real 70s rock vibe. I was probably most influenced by Kansas and Yes than anything for that one. And ‘The Future…’ is just big George Clinton/ P Funk quirky love! Hard hitting synth bass, quirky sounds all around, just big fun. I’ll say the Haken album, The Mountain, was a big reason why we decided to start working with Jens Bogren on our mixes before the Coma Ecliptic album. That album was not only a breath of fresh air musically to me but also mix wise. It was so warm and clear and real. Love those guys and can’t wait to see them again!
The origins of BTBAM are hardcore, but you moved away from this years ago. What, if anything, do you carry with you from the hardcore scene to this day as a musician in a virtuoso prog metal band?
DIY, baby. That was beaten into our brains early on, when I was a teenager printing out my band’s album covers, and folding cassette inserts, or making flyers or zines. We’ve always had a big sense of that’s where we came from and that hard work ethic and trying to keep a small team and as much inhouse as possible still exists. We didn’t get a manager until we were touring on the Great Misdirect album, and we’re self-managed again now with this album. All we know is writing music and touring, and whether it was seven guys cramming into a van and sleeping on people’s floors or touring in a bus now, we carry a lot of the same attitudes with us.
There are many stereotypes about prog musicians. Which of the following is the most accurate and why?
a) It’s impossible to hold down a marriage or long-term relationship due to the amount of time needed to practice and compose music
Yeah, I’m one of only two single guys in the band who aren’t married… I’ve found it hard for any number of reasons, but that’s just life. I’m a psychopath and workaholic. I have multiple groups and my own music I’m always working on outside of BTBAM. The search for “what else is there?” is obviously a big topic in therapy, haha.
b) Prog metal bands make no money because they spend all their income on equipment and rigs
We’ve found a way to make this our job since I was twenty. You’ve just gotta be smart. Again, I said we waited quite a while to get management and sometimes getting to a point where you’re giving others money before you are making money is what sinks a lot of bands.
c) 4/4 time signatures and blues rock guitar solos make for a good “in-joke” during rehearsals
There’s plenty of our music that’s in 4/4 and blues inspired. We just talked about ‘Bad Habits’, and that song is almost entirely a 4/4 (or 12/8) shuffle!
It’s obvious BTBAM love to experiment with different musical styles – that’s what prog bands do. But you’re also a music boffin, so we have a question for you: Who would you identify as the originators of avant-garde metal and why?
King Crimson – very simply because they wrote ‘21st Century Schizoid Man’ in 19freaking69. Before that I don’t know… Stravinsky and Bartok?!
Final question: Most established bands have celebrity fans. What is the weirdest story you’ve heard about somebody famous liking your music?
I remember one of Tom Cruise’s kids was photographed wearing a Coma Ecliptic tour shirt once. We met Jada Pinkette Smith backstage before one of our shows in LA… I remember just a few years ago tweeting about the avant-jazz bassist Michael Formanek’s brilliant The Distance record, and he wrote me to say he went with his son to see BTBAM a few years prior and how much he appreciated the bass work. We got to meet up and have coffee at a jazz fest a few months later, and that was so rad for me. Things like that, we always will have musicians we look up to and when you get that artist-to-artist nod, that’s really what the greatest interactions are in the end.
*** Between the Buried and Me released Colors II via Sumerian Records on 20 August 2021. You can read our extended review here.