Everchanging but Everlasting: Between the Buried and Me’s Tommy Rogers
Sure enough, without founding multi-instrumentalist Tommy Rogers, Between the Buried and Me would have been a different entity altogether. The band’s metalcore roots blossomed early on into something more purely experimental, led in part by Rogers’ open artistic philosophy and penchant for the fresh and new. However, every release from 2002’s self-titled to the upcoming second installment of Automata is so clearly identifiable as Between the Buried and Me. Even the vast musical differences between then and now never damaged the cohesiveness of their sound; in fact, it’s precisely these differences which define the band and give them strength.
Both Rogers and the band have traveled a great distance, weathering many storms and also enjoying grand scenery. Metal bands have the tendency to find a resonant wavelength and settle, reducing strain but limiting possibilities, whereas Between the Buried and Me have never shied away from executing brand-new ideas, even if it risked fan alienation. It’s always a given that the next Between the Buried and Me album will be wildly different than the last, and so much is true for Automata II, which releases Friday via Sumerian. Expect to hear the band at its most playful, but perhaps also its most dizzying and complex — Rogers, too, is as diversely talented and engaging.
We had the opportunity to chat with Rogers about the new album, his style and voice, what’s on his playlist as of late, plus his Thomas Giles solo project.
On Automata II, can you describe what new steps or new approaches the band has taken — have you guys utilized any new techniques, new tricks up the sleeve?
I guess our biggest trick is getting better at what we do [laughs] — I don’t think we have actual “tricks” — the process hasn’t really changed much over the years as far as recording. I think individually, how we write changes constantly. I think that’s one of the cool things about this band: how individually we’ve all evolved so much, and when we write with each record, it always changes. I think we always surprise each other with what we’re working on — that’s one of the fun things: not knowing what you’re going to get from every member of the band.
With Automata, from day one, it felt really good. The album was written fairly fast for our material. Things were just pouring out of us very well, and everything felt real natural. I don’t know, I think we just work together really well now, and that’s probably our biggest asset really. Hopefully that will always continue to be the case, because I know a lot of bands aren’t lucky enough to have that.
I saw you guys last year with The Contortionist on the Colors tour (it was awesome) — what did it feel like to go back to 2007 for a minute and relive those songs in light of new [upcoming] material?
The craziest thing about that was we literally just finished recording Automata, like, three weeks before that tour. Because our music… there’s so much going on, there’s so much involved, that we normally tackle one thing at a time. So, when we were recording, we weren’t even thinking about Colors, and it was weird because on the Internet and everywhere, that’s what was on everybody’s mind. It was really weird to go from being done with the recording to basically erasing all that shit from our heads and diving right into Colors. It was really cool, the crowds made it.
Playing it, we’ve kept up with most of the songs over the years, so it wasn’t really anything that we hadn’t played in forever. It was pretty easy, honestly, as far as performing and playing, but the crowds… we didn’t know what to expect. It was amazing, every night. The fact that an album from that long ago is received that well is mind-blowing. It was received well when it came out, but it was still at that time where people kind of freaked out at how much we were changing. So, to kind of see it with so much excitement was pretty cool.
Interesting. Do you think people now see Between the Buried and Me as this ever-changing or always-evolving entity? I think back in the Alaska days, people didn’t expect you guys to start doing something different each time. Now, it’s kind of the standard “what to expect” from Between the Buried and Me — not sure if that tempers anything?
Yeah, I think the way we did it let the public know what kind of band we are. Even [in] the early records, we experimented, but we did it slowly. I think that was smart — it wasn’t even intentional, but I’m glad we did it that way because we never completely alienated everyone. We just kind of showed, “hey, we’re heavy, and we’re intense, but we want to try some new stuff.” Then once we started doing that a little bit more, I think we already had fans that were excited about that. And now we’re in a spot where we’re lucky enough that people embrace us. We’re very lucky to be in that position.
The way I look at stuff, you know, I want us to write what comes to us naturally. And at the end of the day, regardless of what we try, I still want to sound like us. Even when I listen to [our] more experimental stuff (or stuff that’s not heavy or anything), it’s still sounds like us, to me. That’s what’s important, I think.
[Sample from “Voice of Trespass.”]
As far as band developments go, you guys recently switched from Metal Blade to Sumerian — how has that impacted the cohesion of the band, or maybe your direction or sound, or what you think you can do with the band? Or, maybe there’s no impact at all and it’s just kind of a formality?
I can’t really say it’s changed how we do things. We’ve kind of been a band that does things our own way — even in some bad label transitions in the past, we’ve always able to artistically do what we’ve wanted, so we’ve always had that luxury. Between Metal Blade and Sumerian, for us it was just [about] trying something new. We had a great relationship with Metal Blade (we still do). We’ve been a band so long, trying new things gives you a new spark, and working with new people kind of gives you a new spark. Gets you moving again. That’s why we did it, to see if some new doors opened; but, as far as our process, and how we roll out our business, hasn’t really changed much.
It’s good to embrace the change, that seems like the band’s modus operandi anyway.
And it’s always good to get second opinions — just working with new people, you have new opinions about things. Even if you don’t listen to it 100%, at least you’re getting input from the outside.
Let’s talk about your writing and the lyrical content of the new album — can you describe some of the themes or background around what the message is?
It’s about this guy whose dreams are broadcast as entertainment around the world, and he’s been taken advantage of because of his mental state by a company called Voice of the Trespass. The second half [of Automata] deals a lot with the corruption he’s involved in. Most of the album (I kind of categorize I and II as “the album”) deals with him trying to find a family that he is searching for, but it’s within his dream broadcast. It deals a lot with corruption and the influence of the public on entertainment figures; a lot of this I wrote after Chris Cornell died, and that had a big influence on it.
It’s a pretty layered album, as far as lyrics, and I think that’s because when I sat down to write, I didn’t have a full plan as to what I was doing. Where, in the past, I’ve always had everything 100% laid out, ready to go. When I wrote for this album, I just kind of went for it. I had a few simple ideas and built off that as we went along. Because of that, there’s a whole lot of layers. I tried to create a story that, even though it’s pretty far-out, it’s relatable in the sense in the sense that it deals with a lot of the emotions people deal with, especially people that get put on pedestals for no reason.
It’s interesting you talk about entertainment figures or the pressure the public can put on them — certainly, you guys have significant stature in the metal scene. Have you guys encountered any challenges coming from that, the number of eyes and ears on you?
I mean, it’s not overwhelming for [us] on the lower tier (or whatever you would call it) as far as “celebrity” goes. You have natural pressures, expectations, etc., and you want people to see you as you are. The main thing for me [in the album’s story] was analyzing how obsessed with celebrity our society is and how we expect we these people to not be sad. At the end of the day, a lot of people deal with, no matter how quote-unquote amazing their life is, depression and suicide. Anthony Bourdain, for instance. It’s just a constant reminder that all this stuff we’re kind of striving for — the people who “have it” aren’t happy a lot of the time. So, it [fame] might not be the be-all-end-all.
Is the Thomas Giles solo project a creative — or emotional — outlet for you…?
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So you pour a lot of the stuff that “can’t really fit” in Between the Buried and Me into that?
I just finished a new album which will be out later this year — you know, the fun thing about Thomas Giles is that the sky is the limit. Anything that I want to try, I’ll do it if it feels right. There’s so much freedom in that. Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that I want to try — and it’s not that I can’t with Between the Buried and Me — but I really like the simplicity of it. Between the Buried and Me, you know, there’s so much going on. And sometimes I like to sit down and write a song with three chords and not much going on. Sometimes, like with my last record Velcro Kid, I was burnt out playing guitar, so I wrote an electronic record. It’s cool that I’m in a position where I can have this outlet where I can just try whatever. The new record is pretty crazy, and I’m excited for the world to hear it — but I think [having] any other outlet, it helps. It helps you get better at what you do and understanding yourself. I’ve learned so much doing the solo stuff just because it’s 100% on me — I’ve kind of learned so much about writing outside of metal by working on this stuff.
How has the solo project, as far as your clean vocals go, helped you improve? Because early Between the Buried and Me, it was all screaming — and then you guys adopted clean singing, and I think to great benefit. I’m wondering if that aligned with the Thomas Giles solo project?
The whole thing about singing is confidence, and I struggle with that and always have. The solo stuff really helps me gain more confidence with my voice and understand things I’m trying to do. It’s totally helped me — [like] any time you step outside of what you’re really comfortable doing. Trying so many different types of music, and different styles, really helped me with the solo stuff as well.
So, last question: what have you been listening to lately?
I listen to a lot of music, man. Yesterday, I was listening to Suicidal Tendencies [laughs]. It’s all over the place — I like a lot of older classic rock, I’m a big Beatles fan. I’ve been listening to some Childish Gambino latey, and Nine Inch Nails is great. At home, I’m really into jazz — Coltrane-era and all that. That’s like my go-to at home while I do dishes ‘n’ shit [laughs]. An easy way is if you go to Twitter and do hashtag #tgdailyalbum, I try to post what I’m listening to.
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