Progressive metal veterans Between The Buried And Me will be releasing two albums in the new few months. The first installment of Automata is out now, with the second part due this summer. Frontman Tommy Rogers fills us in on the album, their new record label, the state of the music industry, the next Thomas Giles album and more.
Chad Bowar: When you began writing for what became Automata, was the initial plan for a double album?
Tommy Rogers: No, we actually just treated this as any other record for us. That was something we decided after the fact. It was pretty long after the fact, actually once we started figuring out a plan for release.
Was there anything unique about the songwriting process for this one?
I feel like we’re constantly evolving when it comes to songwriting, as far as our approach. But songwriting is tough to break down just because it really depends on the song. Things change. Some songs are a couple of us, some songs it’s the majority of the band. Some songs happen very quickly, some don’t. I would say the most unique thing on my end from my perspective was writing lyrics. I didn’t prepare fully with the concept before I started writing lyrics.
Normally I map out the entire record and have a complete outline of what’s going to happen with each song and every twist and turn. And this album I wanted to write as I went, just to keep things fresh and keep me on my toes and make me a little uncomfortable, which worked. It added a lot of stress. But I think at the same time it created some moments and some shifts happened that probably would not have happened if I hadn’t done that. So sometimes, when you put yourself in these positions, it puts you in a new place that helps with your writing.
How has your relationship with your longtime producer Jamie King evolved over the years?
He feels part of the band. We’ve been doing it for so long, pretty much our entire career the band has worked with him and it’s just comfortable, it’s creative, all the things you want when you record. His mindset is on par with ours. We see eye to eye. You don’t have to explain too much because he understands what we’re trying to achieve at all times. The key with a producer or someone you’re recording with is if you have something in your head, you need someone to be able to facilitate that and make it come to light. And I think he really has always been good at doing that.
Most of the really hard work for us and the stressful moments are when we are writing and getting everything together. We get the whole album exactly how we want before we even enter the studio. So once we get in the studio, it’s just about getting the right takes and the right mood and tones and that that’s what he’s there for. If we need a little extra, he’ll have ideas for that and it’s just making the best songs we can. We honestly couldn’t imagine working with anyone else. I’m actually at his studio right now. I recorded last night.
How difficult is it to maintain your core sound while avoiding repeating what you’ve done in the past?
I don’t know. There’s no recipe for that, and I wouldn’t say we think too much about it. Between The Buried And Me is very honest and our music is very organic to us. It speaks to who we are very well and that’s what we always try to get across. We really write what’s naturally in us. We’re not trying to be something that we’re not or try to appeal to a certain type of person. We’re just writing what excites us, and because of that, it’s exciting for us because we never know what the next step’s going to be because we have five guys that are constantly evolving as people, as musicians.
So there’s always something on the horizon. You just can’t really worry too much about that because I think once you start forcing yourself to be “weird” or just not write what’s naturally in you, I feel like that stuff shines through and you can really tell when something’s phony.
How did you decide on signing with Sumarian Records?
It was pretty simple, honestly. Our contract was up with Metal Blade and we wanted to look at our options. We’ve been a band for 15 plus years and just wanted to try something new, see if maybe some new opportunities arise due to a different label. And working with different people is always nice. We have a great relationship with Metal Blade still, and Sumerian has been phenomenal so far. So far it’s been all good.
What led you to release this as two separate albums instead of a double album?
As I was saying earlier, it was something we decided to do way after the fact. We recorded everything a while ago, I think it was last August. The way music is presented nowadays, it just comes and goes so fast. Every week a bunch of albums drop and get forgotten and we’re in an age where you get every single thing you want at any moment. We thought this would be cool to not give everybody what they want at this moment and have some anticipation and something else to look forward to in the year. And as a fan you have two different moments in the year to get new music from us and we thought that was different and special. And I think this record, it calls for it. They both feel very complete. I think it helps the story. There’s a lot of factors and I just think it’s something we’re trying. We’ll see how it goes.
Tell us about the seven inch single that will be available on tour where you and The Dear Hunter cover one of each other’s songs.
We just thought it would be a cool idea. Our bassist Dan, it was actually his idea and we instantly were like, “yeah!” We chose the song “The Tank” and it felt like us. Dan rearranged it and it was just instant. It was super fast. The first thing he sent over we were all like, yeah, that’s it, let’s do it. And we all put our spin on it and did our thing and recorded it in a day or two. I’m sure they did a very similar thing. It happened pretty quick and I think it’s a very unique way to present the tour. I think it came out really cool.
With so much material. How do you put together a set list and does it change from show to show?
That’s something we actually talk about. It’s tough for us because we have so much music and it’s hard to get refreshed on a lot of that music. We don’t try to think too much about it. For us it’s about making a set that’s very cohesive, that flows, almost treat it like an album where everything feels good with one another and it has a nice flow to the set. We normally don’t do different sets every show. We have a set for each tour, but we do change our set from tour to tour. Our music is just so dense and there’s so much going on. In the past we’ve had different songs on the back-burner and it’s just hard to switch it from night to night.
Would you like to play a show or tour doing the entire Automata releases?
We obviously talk about it. We’ve done that I guess since since Colors, so over a decade now. I’d like to at least do a show, I think that’d be cool.
Outside the U.S., where is BTBAM most popular?
Probably Canada, I don’t know if that’s because it’s next door and we’ve played there a lot. The overseas market, we were very late as far as going over. I think it was like six or seven years into our career before we went overseas. So it’s been an uphill battle trying to make it a similar audience over there as it is in the U.S. for us. It’s been slow, but it’s going well and we really like a lot of the countries that we go to and the fans are just phenomenal over there.
The promotion process for an album has changed a lot since your first album. It used to be maybe put out a single a few weeks before the album, but these days there are studio videos, numerous singles and nonstop social media promotion, which takes some of the mystery out of it.
Yeah, it does take away a lot of the mystery. There’s pros and cons to it. I think a lot of that has to do with over-saturation. There’s so many bands now and, and like I was saying earlier, everything is instant. So I feel like our brains have evolved to forget things easily, because so much is happening. So much is being shot out towards us at all times. It’s hard to be like, “Yo, we have an album coming out in three months” and not doing much. Everybody will forget about it. Back in the day you could do that. It’s just a different beast nowadays because there are no record sales. You have to try to be a little more creative and you hope that doing these little small things that do give a little more insight help with sales.
For us, this album we didn’t do any studio videos. We didn’t have anyone filming because we wanted to just get this to studio and not worry about anything else. It’s always weird when you’re worrying about filming. It kind of takes your focus away from what your job is while you’re in the studio, which is to make a record. So we just wanted to get in and not worry about all that stuff.
With the music business model quickly shifting to streaming services and away from physical or even MP3s, what needs to be done to make things more fair to artists?
That’s the golden question. I think everyone’s trying to figure that out. No one knows. There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen. I do think CDs will be obsolete. I think that’s inevitable. I try to think of pros and cons with everything. Even though things are streaming, access is very easy now and discovery is very easy. Since I was a child, I’ve always really been into discovering music and I’m still the exact same way and I feel like now more than ever, I’m finding more and more bands because of the way music is presented. Granted, the physical side of things have taken a seat on the back burner. We just need to find a way to compensate artists for that shift, and until I start owning Spotify and Apple Music, I just don’t think that’s going to happen. (laughs) But hopefully that will happen soon.
Do you have plans to do another Thomas Giles album?
Yes. I finished my fourth album last night. I’ve been recording the last few months on and off. I’ve had music written for awhile, so yeah, that will come out sometime this year, I hope. Things are obviously busy with the band, but I’m really excited about the new record. It’s very, different for me. It’s very ambitious and I’m excited for it.
You appeared on the last Ayreon album. How did that come about, and what has the response been?
It was a Twitter thing. He (Arjen Lucassen) reached out to me and I instantly was, “yeah!” I’ve followed him. I had one of his CDs when I was in high school, actually. I’ve obviously followed him. He’s had some phenomenal guest musicians and just to be a part of that group was super humbling, and I was very appreciative to be a part of that. And it was cool. I really enjoyed doing it. That dude has a genius brain. It was fun because a lot of it was very different for me vocally and I always like to be outside of my comfort zone when I do projects like that. He was a great guy to work with and I loved it. It was fun. It’s a great record.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I listen to a lot of music. I really liked the new Carpenter Brut. I like the band This Midnight a lot. The new Shining is really good, the Swedish Shining. I’ve been listening to a whole lot of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. I love the New Liam Gallagher. The last Grave Pleasures is really good. The new Cannibal Corpse is good.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
It’s going to be a great year. Got a lot on the horizon. It’s been awhile since we’ve recorded it, so I’m ready for people to hear it. Thank you for the interview.
(interview published March 9, 2018)