Rank Your Records: Between The Buried And Me's Paul Waggoner Ranks the Band's Hefty Seven Records
Follow the band's path from their raw self-titled to their newest 'Coma Ecliptic.'
In Rank Your Records, we talk to members of bands who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
Few bands succeed in executing a continuous and visible reinvention, yet North Carolina's Between the Buried and Me have done it time and time again for the better part of two decades. Constantly pushing the boundaries of what's possible in heavy metal music, the band created their own niche in the genre. Founding guitarist Paul Waggoner attributes this perpetual expanse to the inspiration he and his bandmates find within one another. There's also their propensity to not shy away from wild ideas, a notion driven by what's become somewhat of a mantra for the band: “Fuck it, let's do it.”
While each of the quintet's seven LPs are unmistakably BTBAM, they're also all distinctly different from one another. Between the Buried and Me has created an impressive spectrum within their own oeuvre. After joking "I can't even remember all of our records" beforehand, Waggoner spoke to us about the band’s seven full-length releases.
7. THE SILENT CIRCUS (2003)
Noisey: You have this ranked last. Why's it at the bottom for you?
Paul Waggoner: There are still some things that I really like about that album from a nostalgic perspective, and I think it was an important album for us, but looking back, I think we hadn't discovered our identity quite yet. We didn't know what we wanted to be; we were sort of just testing the waters, throwing things out there and seeing if anything bit. I think there's sort of an immaturity to that album, and now that I'm all these years older, to me it sounds like we were trying to be something we weren't. We were trying to be a grind band and we were trying to incorporate some melodic stuff as well but it just wasn't really dialed in, musically speaking. So I think it's a record that had to happen for us to get to where we are now, but standing on its own, I feel like it's not really representative of who we are in any sort of way.
Apart from The Anatomy Of being released between Alaska and Colors, as far as all your album cycles, this was your shortest turn-around, coming out just a year after the debut. Do you feel like that had any effect on the writing?
Maybe a little bit. It was the first album we had written specifically for Victory Records. We were trying to get something out, trying to keep our names out there. Coming off of the self-titled—it had made a little bit of a splash in the hardcore/metal world—so we wanted to capitalize on that. We had a different drummer for that album, so I think we didn't have the chemistry that was necessary to write like a really cool record where everybody was sort of on the same page. We just didn't really have the time to make that happen, so it might have had something to do with it, yeah.
6. BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME (2002)
Your debut. Why's this ranked towards the bottom but higher than The Silent Circus?
It's towards the bottom because I listen to those songs and I'm like, “What the hell were we thinking?” It's higher than The Silent Circus because I think there was something really authentic about [this] record. Musically, we were making the exact statement we wanted to make, and looking back on it, it still feels that way to me. The way it sounds—we recorded that album live. It was so raw. It was just five dudes in a room, we tracked everything at the same time. It doesn't sound particularly good; like if you isolate the drum tracks, you can hear guitars bleeding into the drum mics. There are all kinds of things wrong with that album because we didn't really know what we were doing, but at the same time, that's what makes it super-duper authentic to me. I look back and I think that album kind of started the trajectory that we've been on, so it's an important album and I'm definitely not embarrassed by it, you know? I'm far more embarrassed by The Silent Circus. [Laughs] The self-titled... I still feel like there's something kind of special about that record.
Do you ever find yourself actually going back and listening through these older albums?
Never. [Laughs] Not unless I have to learn one of the songs for a tour. This last tour, we actually did play one of the songs from the self-titled, so I had to listen to it. I was trying to relearn the song and I'm like, “God, I can't even hear the guitar.” I had no idea what the guitar was doing. There's so much gain and there's so much bass and I'm like, “Dude, I have no idea.” I'd almost have to like mentally go back in time and be like, “What would I have written that sort of sounds like this?” Other than that, I never listen to that stuff, and it's not for any particular reason other than there's just no reason to. I can't tell you the last time I put on The Silent Circus and just jammed it out—it's probably not gonna happen. [Laughs]
5. ALASKA (2005)
“Selkies” has obviously always resonated with people. It's kind of your “Free Bird,” that song people still want to hear live, but I've read that you actually hate playing it.
We hate playing it because we've played it four million times. It's not so much that we hate playing it live, we hate practicing it. We hate the idea of playing it more than anything. Like if we're in the rehearsal space and we're practicing the set list and “Oh, now we gotta play 'Selkies'” everybody's like, “Oh, Jesus, do we really have to play this?” But when you play it live in front of people—like you said, it's one of the most demanded songs from our fans—there's a certain instant reward you get from playing it, there's a renewed energy to it every time because people are so stoked on it. So as much as we're just tired of it, the fans still dig it, and I totally get it. It was sort of our first attempt at writing an epic-style song with a very linear song structure and the extended guitar solo thing at the end.
Blake [Richardson, drums] and Dustie [Waring, guitar] joined on for this album and their other band Glass Casket was pretty active at the time. Was there any crossover influence there?
Yeah, definitely. Dustie wrote some stuff on that album that was certainly very him, very his style, so that got incorporated into the sound. Obviously Blake's drumming was a huge factor—he's the best drummer we've had. When he joined the band, the drumming just went up a notch. All of a sudden, we had this guy who could really play anything and he had a huge impact on our sound. And then Dan [Briggs, bass] as well—he brought this whole other side to the band. He was very much into old prog rock. We all liked that kind of stuff but we never thought to incorporate it into the music we were writing. He was like, “Hey, let's do this,” and we're like, “Well, okay. That might be kind of weird but let's try it out.” My only real complaint with it was that we hadn't played together long enough to really have a focused sound. Like, Dan had literally just joined the band—he joined the band and we were like, “Alright, let's write a record.” So there were all these influences coming to the table and we didn't quite know how to make it work. The album turned out fine...I mean, it didn't sound very good [chuckles] but again, it was the first album with [this] lineup, so we were really trying to venture into uncharted territory for ourselves, you know? Sometimes you sink, sometimes you swim, and I think we did a little bit of both on that one. [Laughs]
I think Alaska is pretty evident of where your sound really started to take shape as your lineup finally solidified—the influences that have evolved into your current sound.
Absolutely. I would agree with you one-hundred percent. I think it just wasn't quite dialed in at that point. Alaska was kind of a demo for that later stuff so I think it was a pretty important album obviously.
4. THE GREAT MISDIRECT (2009)
You've got this ranked dead center. Why's it in the middle for you?
I really love the album; I just feel that in the grand scheme of our entire catalog it does sit very much in the middle in terms of its impact, for us and for our fans. It's perhaps not as important as Colors was, but at the same time I feel like it's a good album. I'm happy with how it came out. Some of the songs like “Disease, Injury, Madness” and “Fossil Genera” are two of my favorite songs we've ever written. I really love those songs; I think they're really cool.
Being your last release on Victory, did that have any kind of bearing on how it came out? Did you know at that point you guys would be leaving?
We probably knew that we weren't gonna re-sign. I won't go into too much detail, but whenever you're releasing your last album on a record label—in particular that record label—I think there's a little bit of tension there because the label knows you're not gonna re-sign and you also know you're not gonna re-sign, so I think it's treated differently from a release perspective. How much marketing is put behind it—these sort of things—I'm sure was affected somewhat because it was the last record. But for us, we didn't take any shortcuts. I mean, we want to write the best album we possibly can because ultimately our name is attached to it and we want to be proud of it for a lifetime. We really did put everything we had into that record. Whether or not it was pushed in the way that it should have been? I have no idea. It was received well with our fanbase and we did a lot of great tours on that album so I certainly don't have any regrets.
3. COLORS (2007)
We've talked about Colors quite a bit and I feel like whenever I talk to fans of the band, it's often brought up as a favorite. You obviously hold it in high regard as well.
I think it's probably the most important record of our career, in terms of establishing the sound we built on with the last few records. It was an album where we had just done Ozzfest, which was very uninspiring for us. It was that tour where we discovered, “Wait, we don't fit in with these types of bands. This isn't the type of music that we want to play or that we do play.” So Colors was us throwing caution to the wind and being like, “Let's just do exactly what we feel like doing.” We didn't really know how it would be received, and even when we were writing it, I think there was a little bit of tension within the band, like, “Wait a minute, are we screwing up here? Are we doing something that's gonna ruin our career?” At the same time, we were so motivated to separate ourselves a little bit from the pack in the metal and hardcore world, so we just went for it. We wrote really long frickin' songs, we wrote a lot of stuff that was musically conceptual. We were really trying to push ourselves to do something that, in our opinion, hadn't really been done before in the context of hardcore and heavy metal. I think for those reasons it was a big risk for us and very fortunately it panned out. It's allowed us to do what we do now and I think it was a huge, pivotal moment for us in our career where we figured out, “Hey, we're supposed to be a band that writes music like this.”
It gets a little nutty. You've got animal sounds, didgeridoo, jazz, the saloon bluegrass part—it's all over the map. You kind of touched on it but what were the discussions like during the writing process where it was brought up that this album was going to go in those specific directions?
I think we had made a conscious decision that it was kind of like this “anything goes” mentality. Like, Dan would bring in this totally nutty idea with all these crazy time signatures and we were like, “Fuck it, let's do it.” Then I come in with this bluegrass-sounding part and it's kind of the same chord progression as this power metal-sounding part and we were like, “Fuck it, let's do it.” That was kind of the theme of the whole project.
Just going for it.
Yeah, just “Fuck it, let's do it,” and like, “Hey, we should probably throw in some weird monkey noises and some jungle noises in this part.” It was totally stupid, but again it was like, “Fuck it, let's do it.”
It's your guys' Pet Sounds.
Actually, yeah. That's a good comparison. I've never thought of it that way but absolutely. And Jamie [King], the producer and engineer who we've worked with ever since the beginning, he's like the perfect accomplice for that kind of behavior. He's always like, “Hell yeah, you need to have some frickin' animal noises. You need to have a bluegrass part in there.” He's like the devil on the shoulder.
2. THE PARALLAX II: FUTURE SEQUENCE (2012)
So Colors is technically a concept record musically but the EP and Parallax II pair as your first conceptual story. Do you find it to be any more of a challenge writing music to fit a theme like that than it is to write music for a traditional release with songs that have no thematic correlation?
A little bit, but it's not a super conscious thing where you're always thinking of the storyline as you write the music, because a lot of that stuff sort of evolves in real time. I think we already had an outline of the story done but Tommy lyricizing it sort of happened as we wrote the music. I think in the back of our heads, as we're assembling the songs, we're thinking of the dynamics of the story—like we're trying to make sure the music has enough shifts dynamically to fit a storyline, so that you can have the ups and downs and the emotional highs and lows that are reflective of how the character would be in the story. So yeah, I think there's an additional challenge to it, but it's not something that totally put us out of our comfort zone too much. We were already writing music like that anyway; we were already writing music that had a lot of dynamics and a lot of sonic layering. So it still felt very natural to us to do that, and I think it was just a natural evolution to write a lyrically conceptual album in addition to the musically conceptual album. I think it was just a natural step for us. Now it just feels normal to write like that.
I would imagine so, yeah. So you had had friends contribute vocals here and there on previous albums but this was the first time you had other musicians provide added instrumentation to one of your releases?
Yeah. Obviously you can get pretty much any sound from various softwares that are out there and they sound great, but there are a lot of great musicians here in North Carolina who are talented. I think it would be a disservice to ourselves to always rely on software when you've got a killer tuba player down the street who doesn't charge an arm and a leg. Let's get this guy in and have him track some stuff. We were in a position where we're writing some pretty weird stuff that would sound cool with a tuba, or a violin, or whatever, you know? We know some guys that play that stuff so let's get 'em in here and see if it tracks well. Again, it's built on that “Fuck it, let's do it” mentality. If we need a violin solo or a saxophone solo, well, “We know a guy that plays that. Why don't we just bring him in and let him shred?” It just felt like the next step, to incorporate this other instrumentation and actually have human beings come in there and play it.
1. COMA ECLIPTIC (2015)
I think it might be generally expected for a band to say that their newest album is their best. So do you genuinely believe it to be your guys' best effort or do you just feel obligated to say it? Justify it.
No, I genuinely feel like it's our best. I think we, as musicians, have gotten better and become better songwriters. I think we've gotten better at orchestrating the instruments. I think Coma Ecliptic is us figuring out how to sound, figuring out how to make the music we want to make and making it work pretty much flawlessly. I don't really have any complaints about that album. I feel like it's the most mature album, and the duration of the band's lifetime all kind of led up to that. I think that's the pinnacle. I think we finally did what we wanted to do. So yeah, I think it's the best one we've written. Nobody's trying to prove a point, we're not trying to out-shred everybody, and we're not trying to write the most complicated stuff in the world—we're just trying to write really cool music that showcases all of our creativity and where all of us are as musicians. It's a really good display of all of our influences coming together, creating something super-duper focused and cohesive, and it sounds really good. I think we dialed it in from a production standpoint as well; just all these little detail things that took 15 years to figure out—I think we finally figured them out with this album.
Looking back, do you recall this being a sound that you guys wanted to eventually arrive at or was it just a product of the natural progression for the band?
I think it's all been a natural evolution. There have been some hiccups along the way, as we talked about. Like I feel The Silent Circus was a little inauthentic, but looking at the whole journey, I feel like everything has been this natural evolution, natural steps forward, culminating with Coma Ecliptic. We've never been comfortable doing just one particular thing; we've always wanted to step it up with the next release—step up our musicianship and step up our songwriting.
There's significantly more “clean singing” on this album. Knowing the band's trajectory and seeing that become more prominent with each release, do you see yourselves getting to a point where there's no screaming in your music at all?
I don't know that that'll ever happen. I think there's always this sort of undercurrent of classic BTBAM that will always kind of be there, but at the same time we're obviously all getting older. I'm sure Tommy, at his age, is like, “Dude, screaming sucks.” [Laughs] He's probably not as angry as he was in 2001 and his throat is probably not as youthful and elastic as it was back then. So I think there's obviously gonna be less aggressive singing but I think ultimately we're just trying to do what's right for the music. If there's a part that demands growling vocals, certainly we'll do it.
With your current lineup having been set for over a decade now, I'd imagine you're well in your stride and working together better than ever.
Absolutely. We really found a synergy between the five of us around Colors; we'd sort of been able to feed off one another in a way that's allowed us to evolve as a band, grow as a band, and continue to write music that, in our estimation, is somewhat forward-thinking. I think we found that commonality amongst us, and I think it took a few albums for us to really dial it in. But now, we've been together so long that we really know one another and are comfortable being inspired by one another. I think that's the key thing, that we're all big fans of each other's creativity and we've all learned to really appreciate one another and I think it's made us a better band.
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