If you find yourself in need of a 'where does the time go' moment, Between The Buried And Me celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2020. Wild!
A year following the release of an ambitious double album Automata I and II, and smack dab in the midst of lengthy tours – first in Europe and now North America – the prog-metal kings have re-issued their epic fifth studio album on vinyl through Craft Recordings, The Great Misdirect (the one with the 18 minute barnburner).
Founding member and wizard guitarist Paul Waggoner caught up with Metal Injection from the road to talk all things The Great Misdirect, the pressures of performing prog-metal, trying to top (or not) their near 18 minute opus "Swim to the Moon", celebrating two decades of the band and potential new material. Strap in!
On Lengthy Tours & Sets
Sometimes it can feel like a little bit of a grind. In Europe we were going like two hours. That was definitely exhausting. This one we're playing an hour and five minutes, I think. It's not too bad. I mean, I think the perception of other people of our music being like complex and intricate, that's accurate. But for us, because we're the ones that kind of wrote it, it's not that weird for us. It seems pretty normal at this point. It can be a little mentally taxing, but once you get in the groove of it, a few shows into it everything's kind of on autopilot. And and honestly, physically, it's not taxing at all. Maybe I'm just in good playing shape after that Europe run. But I generally feel pretty good and I don't necessarily feel like I've exhausted all of my energy up there. But it can be a grind. It really just depends on other factors that have nothing to do with the songs you're playing. When a tour becomes a grind is more like if you aren't getting enough sleep or if you're sick or, you know, the weather sucks or the bands you're touring with are assholes or something like that. Then a tour can seem like a grind.
On 20th Anniversary in 2020
It's definitely mind blowing. I think about that a lot more now. And I don't know if it's necessarily because it's been 20 years, but I just think about how long we've been doing it in a general sense. For example our guitar tech on this tour was in kindergarden when we started the band, like, holy shit. Stuff like that just kind of blows my mind. I think about when we started the band, for years and years we were the young band. We would go on tour and we were like the young guys. We were in our 20s and now we're the old guys.
Every tour we do it seems like we're the the elderly people. That used to be kind of depressing. I would be like, ah, fuck, we're the old band now. But now I look at it more like that just means we've been able to do it for a really long time, and not a lot of bands can say that. So I'm just super grateful that I'm 40 years old and I'm still able to do this because I love doing it. I think I've gained a little more appreciation for having a career that has sustained for as long as it has, because I think it is pretty rare in this world. I mean, we do write really weird music. It's geared towards a very tiny listening audience. And so to be able to say that we've done it for 20 years is really cool. And there's no end in sight, really. It's not like we feel like we're on our last leg or anything. I mean, we feel like we could do it for as long as we want.
On Impacting Heavy Metal
The way I kind of see it, when we wrote Colors, for example, I think we took some influences from some prog Dream Theater and prog bands in general, like some even older prog bands. We listened to Gentle Giant and Yes and Kansas. Old kind of classic prog bands from yester year were big influences. We kind of brought those influences to a different world, to the world of like the DIY, hardcore metal scene, if you will. And I think that is what kind of helped to precipitate some kind of a change. I think there was just this swell of bands in this world that started kind listening to some different stuff and really learning how to play their instruments and exploring other types of music. If think about the legacy of Colors or The Great Misdirect, I think it came out at that time that there was definitely something happening in this type of music. And you're starting to see a lot more kind of experimental music within metal and hardcore.
It sort of just paved the way for a more expansive approach to writing this kind of music. And it seemed to all kind of happen around that time period, and that's when like bands like Animals As Leaders kind of came out and they were doing their thing. I think Colors and The Great Misdirect were just kind of part of that and helped to sort of spearhead that change. I just think it brought that kind of music, that progressive style of music to a scene that it didn't necessarily exist in before. I think now what we're seeing is sort of the further evolution of that. I'm always amazed at these bands, some of them are very young and they're just amazing players, and you can tell they listen to a lot of different kind of music. Some of them have said to me we kind of grew up on Colors and stuff like that. So that's like, oh, wow, cool. Maybe we did something cool.
On the 10th Anniversary of The Great Misdirect
I think The Great Misdirect is one of my favorite albums that we've done. Coming on the heels of Colors, which sort of at the time kind of set a new bar for us, there was a lot of pressure that we put on ourselves with The Great Misdirect. Do we need to write Colors part two here or what? And I think we we wanted to write something that was just as progressive and just as experimental. But I think it ended up that we wrote a darker record. I find The Great Misdirect has darker sounds, some of the melodic content is a little more eerie or just kind of downtrodden sounding. And I'm really proud of it. I think there's a lot of diversity on the record. Again, we pushed ourselves to not repeat ourselves with Colors. That would have been kind of the easy route to take, I think. And we kind of chose to do the opposite. We said, OK, let's still kind of push the envelope a little bit, but let's try to push it in a different way and do something a little different. I think we achieved that. And and I think a lot of our diehard fans point to that record as being their favorite. I think that record was important for us just because it kind of came after the record that shifted us into a new direction with Colors. We were able to kind of keep that momentum, but still do something a little different. And that's why I'm really proud of it.
On 18-Minute Epic Track Swim to the Moon
I remember thinking that we were trying to preemptively kind of write and almost map out an arc to the music. And I remember that after "Desert of Song", we wanted to kind of do a very epic kind of closer. We didn't intend for it to be, you know, 18 minutes or anything like that, but we knew we wanted to really kind of go for it, balls to the wall. We wanted to have heavy parts, a catchy chorus, we wanted to have shredding stuff. We wanted to have an instrumental interlude. There were things that we just wanted to accomplish to kind of wrap up the album in a very kind of epic way. And that's just kind of how it came out.
If I'm being honest, I think we probably went a little overboard with that song. When I listen back to it I'm like, why did we put that in there? I'll hear a certain riff and I'll be like, well, that's a cool riff, why did we only play it once? Why don't we make a part out of it? But at that time we were trying to have that sort of all encompassing, like almost overwhelming to the senses closer to the album. I guess we definitely did that. It is a 18 minute song. There's a lot going on in there. But if we had do it all over again I'm sure we would have truncated it to more like 12 or 13 minutes. People still scream that one out and they want us to play that one live. And we probably would, but it is 18 minutes long and it's hard to incorporate a song that long into a setlist. I don't think we meant to write an 18 minute long song, but we did mean to write a song that kind of had everything, including the kitchen sink in it.
On the Pressures of Prog-Metal
I think there's a part of us as we get older and mature as musicians, we tend to actually fixate on simpler ideas for our songs as opposed to these sort of grandiose complicated song structures. I think over time, actually, we have kind of streamlined our songs a little bit structurally. They're still long sometimes, but they're a little less convoluted in terms of quantity of riffs. But I think we've done that in such a way that it's nuanced enough to where our fans don't perceive us as abandoning our progressive roots.
I do think sometimes there's a little pressure. I mean, we've written some songs, the song "House Organ" on Automata. I mean, that's a very simple song. There's very few riffs in it. It's almost kind of a throwback to our old days. It's almost a hardcore punk rock kind of riff and kind of a spacey interlude or whatever. But there's really not much to the song other than that. We just kind of layered it up with some strings and keyboard parts and stuff like that. So when we write a song like that sometimes we're like, oh man the kids are gonna think we've phoned it in on this one or we just didn't even try. But then it ends up being really well received. I think we do kind of feel a little bit of that pressure, but at the same time we're such a stubborn group of people. At the end of the day we're going to just do what we want anyway. And whether it sinks or swims we don't know and we don't really try to dwell on that too much.
On Anniversary Plans & New Material
I can't say too much. We try to keep tight lipped, but we are gonna do some more touring in the first half of of 2020. And we hope to explore the idea of commemorating the 20 years for sure. We don't know how we're going to do it quite yet. We're kind of kicking it around. But we are going to do some touring and try to potentially pay homage to the longevity of our career somehow during that touring cycle. And then hopefully in the second half of the year, we'll start writing.
We're really eager to write new music. So as much as we want to celebrate the time we've put in so far – 20 years is a long time and it should be something that we acknowledge – but at the same time we kind of feel like there's no better way to celebrate it than to write some new music. We're all kind of jonesing to do that. So I hope in the second half of the year we'll all write and record a record. And I think we're all really excited about that. So hopefully if all goes to plan, I think early 2021 we'll have a new album out.