Interview conducted and edited by Bryan Beller
Interview original transcription by Martin DeBourge
Are you still in North Carolina? Where are you based?
BRIGGS: Yeah, I live in Greensboro, North Carolina
How old are you?
So you joined the band when you were 19? 20?
Yep, I was 20. I was in school for music performance on upright bass. Pretty much just strictly classical curriculum. And I liked it a lot, I was pretty passionate about it, but I wasn't getting everything out of it that I wanted. Because naturally, my main love [was to] go home and play electric [bass] or play guitar for the rest of the night. Right around the time I moved to North Carolina, I had left that school, and was preparing to go to a school with a more modern program, where I could actually be playing electric bass. It just so happened that right at the time I left that school, Tommy [Rogers], our vocalist, called me up and I moved down.
And where were you coming from? Where was that school?
It was in Pennsylvania. It was a State school, Edinboro University. You know, I had some great professors there, it definitely helped me a bit [in] advancing my theory knowledge. A lot of ear training classes and stuff.
So you got a trained background, that's the bottom line.
Who are you influences as bassists?
As a bassist, it kinda varies. I've always loved Tony Levin a lot. King Crimson is one of my absolute favorite bands. If you look at like the ‘80s records they put out – Discipline [1981, Caroline] and Beat [1982, Discipline Us] and whatnot – where Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew were playing a million notes and there's so much going on, and Tony Levin always finds grooves... that's the main part of my playing that I implement in Between The Buried and Me. If you listen to the music, and there's a slightly more straightforward, brutal death metal part going on, if you listen to the bottom layer and you hear the bass, I'm usually finding some sort of fingerpicking groove to play off of a ride cymbal, or just something I'm creating as an extra layer. I feel like I totally get that from that theory behind Tony Levin's playing on this record.
When you’re underneath some really heavy death metal blast that's going on, are you playing a half-time groove, are you subdividing more slowly? Like when you said “going with the ride cymbal” - can you go a little further on that?
Well, if the guitars are playing a straight sixteenth note line [sings a staccato, constant-16th-note line], I don't feel like auraully that it really makes sense for me to double all those notes. I feel very strongly about unison lines. I think if a line is gonna be unison, it has to have a special place, a special purpose. And I like thinking of the bass as an extra layer, so if there's a blast section or something, where the drums and guitars are pretty much playing a straight sixteenth pulse, I'm definitely trying to skip around, and syncopate off of them, and do more like [sings a skipping, syncopated 16th-note line], add more of a bouncy syncopated line off of it. So if it's something where it's a chord already, I'll just loop it over and loop it over and loop it over until I get some sort of counter rhythm and melody, and then go and fine tune it. It always produces kind of an interesting line melodically because, usually, the lines are something diminished or whole-tone related, so, [it] usually ends up making kind of an interesting line to me, or taking notes away and kind of playing off of it.
Your press release says you’re a progressive metal band, but if you were gonna say what you guys are up to, what would you say?
Honestly, I like having a general term, a broad term like progressive metal. Because to me, I don't feel like the word progressive ties you into a certain sound. You know, I love all the original prog bands like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, but in the same way that those bands were progressive also, The Mars Volta and Mastodon and Tool are progressive and all those bands sound completely different. I just feel like it's more of an idea of constantly trying to progress, and become better musicians and better songwriters with each other, not being afraid to experiment or do anything.
So I would [say] “experimental progressive metal.” There you go. Yeah, that's cool. That's a good three-word thing.
What instrument is your main axe?
Oh, I'm playing a Spector 5-string. It's the same one I've been playing since I was in high school. I love it, and anything else that [unintelligible] given me to try out…it's great. I mean, there are great bass companies that make great basses, but for some reason this one that I've had for ten years is just the one
What about amps and cabs?
For an amp I use an old Sunn 300T. It's a monster. It's the one that Fender bought and turned into the Bassman. I can't even imagine what else I would play. It's so powerful, it sounds incredible, and [I’m] just playing it through your standard [Ampeg] SVT [cab].
As a bassist, how do you pull off switching styles so quickly and dramatically?
As far as when we’re writing, we approach every song differently, but it's always just starting somewhere and not knowing exactly where the song is gonna go. Someone might have a part pre-written that is some sort of down tempo, boom-chuck-type thing, or a piano thing, and we'll be like “oh, that's cool” and it'll spark ideas for how to get there and how to get out of it. But as far as switching in and out, I think it's just second nature to us really, just because of all the different influences that we have and all the different kinds of music that we all listen to. I feel like the band has always incorporated all that different stuff, it's just now that we're pushing certain influences more to the front, it's becoming more musical with every record.
How about tone-wise – do you have things that you go for on different feels? Like, if it's a blast, or a tight thrash, or some old-school Black Sabbath 6/8 shuffle, or an Emo ballad section – do you have stock sounds you reach for, or are you staying pretty consistent?
Honestly, everything is the same. I've had the exact same bass tone for every part on every record that I've been on – Alaska [2005, Victory], Colors [2007, Victory], and The Great Misdirect [2009, Victory]. It's been pretty consistent. Basically we just plugged in when we were doing the Alaska record and we were like, “That's the exact sound that I want.” You know, just a warm, round sound that also punches, and has a kind of clarity. There's parts where I mess around with effects and stuff, but general tone-wise, that's just what I'm going for.
I love Chris [Wolstenholme] from Muse's tone. His tone always stands out. In the music, you always know what the bass is doing in those Muse songs. I wanted to somehow capture that, but on an intricate progressive metal record.
Talk about the bass solo in “Disease, Injury, Madness” for a second. I can tell you, in all the people that I am interviewing for this article, this is the only thing that sounds like that.
Well I guess that whole section manifested out of the riff that starts off the section of [sings shuffle groove from “Disease, Injury, Madness”]. We knew that once we had that riff, that had to become this totally full-blown ridiculous trade-off solo section. And doing the bass solo allowed us to experiment with a different dynamic and a completely different feel, to go from that really hard driving shuffle, to a really soft, really light beat and feel. [Guitarist] Paul [Waggoner] starts playing with different chord voicings, and it almost sounds completely different.
It sounds like swing, almost.
Yeah, yeah. Actually, at sound check we've been playing it. We've been experimenting with doing that part reggae, which is pretty fun. Maybe sometime we'll try that live.
I did a solo on Colors too, and I guess some of my different influences come out there, and some more of my background, which is jazz studies and stuff in high school and in college, it comes out in those, and I love, I love getting to play under different chord voicings with added thirteens and whatnot on top. That's always pretty fun to do. Basically, anytime there's a solo I just wait until I get to the studio and just jam it pretty hard for a couple [of] hours, and then put something down and then worry about learning it a couple months later.
But we've been playing that song pretty consistently since the album came out. It's definitely fun to do.
In terms of remembering all the different movements in a song like “Swim to the Moon,” where it's got two choruses nine minutes apart – how do you remember all the different movements in something that long?
I think with that song, particularly “Swim To The Moon,” when we were writing, we were going to have this big overture instrumental lead-in, and then at some point it was going to have a big break that was all instrumental. So I thought about it in three parts: The first part all up through the first chorus, and then into the instrumental section being one, and then the instrumental section being two, and then the last chorus and the whole outro being the third part. And honestly, if a song is 18 minutes long, you have to be able to think of it in smaller pieces and have certain landmarks you're trying to shoot for and get to, and reset your brain a little bit. So that song, when we were learning it, you have to break it up ‘cause it's way too much to tackle.
You mentioned the [King Crimson] Discipline record before. There's a part at the beginning of that song that is almost like a tribute to that record, that little multi-guitar part. I was like “Man, I know that feel, what is that?”
Yeah. They really are one of my big influences. As far as writing, actually I did write that part. There's a lot of guitar parts that I inadvertently end up writing just because of different influences we have. Paul will write something on guitar that's something that none of the rest of us would think of, but [guitarist] Dustie [Waring] is the same way. Everybody has a different style, but I feel like I can contribute something.
A completely different sort of spectrum is Caleb [Scofield] from the band Cave In. That's one of my favorite bass players. [Cave In] manifested out of the hard core scene in the late ‘90s, but they went on to become this great space rock band. He had this huge, huge bass sound with a little bit of distortion, and he'd play with a pick. So it's like completely different than the Tony Levin feel. It's not really my style, but I love, I love the way he wrote lines in the songs. They were always so huge, just a big driving force.
That band in particular, they changed so many times. I think of them almost more as just like a space rock band. Very Nirvana-meets-Pink Floyd.
Why do you think metal is so big right now?
Well, there were a lot of factors during the turn of the decade, around the year 2000, where bands like Killswitch Engage broke out, [and] brought heavy metal and I guess heavy music in general to the forefront again. I think those bands allowed for a band like Between the Buried and Me that, while very progressive and very melodic, is also pretty brutal. I felt like they paved the way for a band like us to be accepted by a large audience of people.
With that being said, as far as bands like Mastodon…I feel like people are really at a point where they really appreciate bands that are really pushing themselves, and [aren’t] afraid to experiment, and are bringing back a lot of those older elements, like thinking of an album in terms of an album and not a group of songs, having a story that goes with it, repeating musical themes. I think it's great that so many bands that think outside of the box are having great success. I mean, look at Tool. Tool is one of the biggest bands in the world, and with every record I feel like they just get weirder and weirder. I love it. I think that's great. That just means there's hope for a band like us.
What are your thoughts on the role of bass in modern metal. What's your take on it?
Well, my view on bass in the role of metal is a bit different, 'cause I definitely am always trying to think atypically just by nature. If you listen to a lot of more classic metal records, you know the bass is either kind of hidden, or doesn't play a very big role. You have to go back to something like [Metallica’s] Master of Puppets [1986, Elektra] where you hear Cliff Burton writing counter-melodies, playing interesting lines off of the guitars. I felt like that kind of died away a little bit. It seems like now…obviously you're doing this story [on] really interesting bassists – Liam from Dillinger [Escape Plan], who's always done really great stuff –[I] try to infuse his influences. I know he's really into Jaco and a bunch of jazz heads.
I really see the bass as being just another layer, another element, playing off of the guitars, playing off of the drums, kind of bouncing all over the place, kind of tying things together, creating a whole new direction with counter-melodies and counter-rhythms. As far as [when] we were talking about the blast sections, playing off of those and creating a cool new thing to go along with it.
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