Thanks for doing this interview. The first thing I heard of you was Trioscapes. Rumour has it there is a new record coming?
Yes, it's funny. We've been going at it for months, looking for an opportunity to get everyone in the same room. Everybody got busy at the same time, which is rare for the three of us. I'm really looking forward to that. It's a fun outlet, because it's such a different energy than Between The Buried And Me and Nova Collective. That's all very densely arranged, written music. Trioscapes is a little more free. The ideas come in a different way.
You originally come from a classically trained background?
Well, I started playing guitar and bass. My mother was a music teacher, so she got me going pretty young. Then I was starting upright bass during high school and college. Classical, mainly. A little bit of jazz, but more on electric bass. Upright was all classical. It's a mix of worlds I guess.
You're not playing upright bass at all anymore?
I've got it at home, but I left school about twelve, thirteen years ago. I've picked it up a couple of times. But it's really hard because on those instruments it's all about hand position. It's not like a piano or a fretted instrument. All those instruments like upright bass are based on feel. Your hand knows what a whole step is...and when you haven't played it for thirteen years...well, it's frustrating, it's humbling. To even play a two-octave scale, you have to really sit there and focus. You have to have your tuner out to make adjustments on your hands. That shit's frustrating when you're a professional musician. Maybe someday.
What gets you going as a bass player? What started it?
The thing that really got me going, was nineties alternative rock. Soundgarden, Nirvana. Even stuff like Oasis. It was kind of cool at that age - ten, eleven, twelve. In my mind it was all kind of the same. Stuff that was on the radio was really good rock music, and The Cranberries to me weren't any different from Nirvana or Metallica. I could tell that one was more intense or heavier, but I just listened to all of it. Thankfully! I guess from there, and thankfully with my mom being a music teacher, instruments and the ability to learn how to play them was easily accessible.
My first guitar and bass were brought home by my mom from school. They were just in the closest there, no one was using them. I was having my first band when I was twelve. We were just playing covers. Some Hendrix, a lot of Nirvana, some Marilyn Manson (laughs)...just, whatever we were listening to that week, we would put on a cassette tape. We'd share, go home and learn songs. It took off from there I guess.
Did you play guitar and bass at that time?
I didn't play bass in a band until I was sixteen, seventeen. It was all guitar. And then I played bass at school in jazz band and orchestra. It kind of became more my focus later in high school. I had a group that was started out of our jazz band. It was me, a drummer, a pianist and a guitarist. That was when I started really diving into progressive rock and other stuff that was more outside the box. That was my proper introduction to Dream Theater and it just went from there. King Crimson et cetera.
You bass playing sort of shows these two faces at once: the one locking in with the rhythm and the other being focused on melody and other stuff like a guitar player.
For Trioscapes, I write everything on bass. But for everything else, I write on piano, keyboard or guitar. I view the bass more in a compositional sense: where it fits in. Not so much that I've got to fit all kinds of crazy bass parts into a song. That's matured more as I've gotten older.
But still there's a lot of complex stuff going on in your bass playing.
Yeah, especially in Trioscapes, and some Nova Collective - sometimes there's stuff there on guitar and keyboard, crazy stuff, and I'm just locking in with the drums, doing a groove. And then maybe on the fourth time through, I come in and do the crazy thing too. I think we're of the ability on our instruments that we can let loose if we need to. If it calls for it. And if it doesn't, it's also fun to play grooves and write little counterpoints. I thinks there's all forms on the Nova Collective record. We all know how to go off and be insane and when to just lay back and find that space.
And now you've been touring with Between The Buried And Me for 'Coma Ecliptic' for about two years already?
Yeah, it started in Mexico right after we got out of the studio. We did the whole record in its entirety past fall in America. Over here we only have 45 minutes. So we take a chunk from the beginning and a chunk from the end. The set is a mix of something like the last three records. And we intentionally begin with the beginning of 'Coma Ecliptic' and end with the end of the album.
And how do you play live? Do play exactly what's on the record or do you give yourself some freedom?
For Between The Buried And Me, for me it's always been very much what's written on the paper. As time is going on, my playing style has evolved. Sometimes the improvisational thing I do in other groups will leak into playing on stage with BTBAM (Between The Buried And Me). I've noticed that there's stuff from certain albums that I feel more loose with. For example the album 'Colors': it changes so fast within the songs, section to section, every eight bars often. There is not much room for it. It just locks in. Then I'm just in there, living bar by bar.
But then, our set tonight opens with a song off of 'The Great Misdirect', 'Fossil Genera'. And I've found that I've been doing different stuff in there, because there are longer sections. So why not have fun? Because in something like Trioscapes, that's part of the energy of it. From night to night it changes, it evolves. And that's fun. Some nights it doesn't. Those are the bad nights. But some nights you're really feeling the energy. It's cool to have both things. And Nova Collective is a bit of a mix. We haven't played live much, only in the studio. But there is improvisation going on within. Every time I get to a solo section, I'm improvising. But that's again within the context of a very densely arranged song. I'm excited to go and tour with it, to see how parts evolve over night.
Back to Between The Buried And Me again. You play bass, but mentioned earlier that for instance the concept of 'Coma Ecliptic' was very important to you. How do you feel this when you perform it live?
Last fall, playing that record, our lighting director did a very minimal show. Pretty much just with white lights. That was really dim and moody. That fit so well with the music. I wouldn't have pictured in my head. When I was in it, on stage, with what was happening, it was perfect. Before, we had a video show with artwork from the album at our shows. We chose not to do that for this record, although it would have been an easy way to really bring the story to life. But now Chris, our lighting director, found a way to do that with literally just three colours. Thankfully that's captured on a DVD that's coming out next month. It really does feel different playing an album as a whole. You feel that you're playing a large body of work instead of shorter songs.
You are on tour now with Devin Townsend. For him, music is more about it being a thing telling you where you are as a person. How do you look at that?
I guess there are things from my life that filter in. Not into the music necessarily. But into me wanting to be creative, driving me to want to get home and get on an instrument. And that's exciting. For any creative person, that's like heroin. For me, a record is about what I was feeling at that moment. It's good, but then you wrap it up and go on. Ideally, it feels like a session. No bad feelings when looking back. With Between The Buried And Me, we tour an album very long. We learned early on that you need to take time to get away, decompress. Because you will reach a point in the tour where you get sick of the material. So you have to meditate on what's happening next. And our whole career has always been about what feels natural. So now we wrap up this touring cycle, and we're going home and decompress. Family, relax, travel - for fun! And probably in April, May, we'll get together to work on the new record.
Could you tell what's next?
No. A few of us have shared demos with the group. The last record opened a new doorway for us. And now it's just about "how do we do that better" with where I'm at now. And in the meantime, I've worked on a lot of different material. So I've been moving. That's what I love about having so many different outlets. It keeps your mind creatively going, just bouncing off of other people. And then you come back bouncing off of these four guys (BTBAM) again. That's cool.
And with BTBAM, you are more about the future than being stuck in what you did in the past and cemented your identity.
That's true. Our fans got early on that we're always moving, never going backwards. And there are so many artists that I love that are like that. It's inspiring to know that you're not alone.
So, could you give some thoughts about King Crimson these days?
Awesome. I saw them recently with the three drummer, seven piece group in America. I flew to Chicago with a friend. It wasn't really like a concert that I've seen before. It felt like a masterclass, like a college course. Pretty educational and fuckin' jaw-dropping. Robert Fripp, he's the one with those first (hums a riff) gnarly riffs. Yes heard that and got excited. In that live set, whether it was stuff from 'Lark's Tongue In Aspic Fire' or 'The Power to Believe', I'm like: it's progressive metal, and I'm watching a seventy years old man slay it with these sick-ass drummers. And Tony Levin is my favorite bass player. It was unreal. I loved it.
And now they're coming back to America and I'm in a Conundrum. I know they're doing two legs and they haven't announced the East Coast leg which is going to be in the Fall. And I know we're going to be on tour and I know I'm going to fucking miss it. That always happens. So: fly West? I don't know what to do. I'll have to consult my girlfriend to see what's best. But I need to see it. They're one of the few groups that I can put on a record from any era and it feels educational. There are so many layers to dig in. I went to school doing analyses of classical composers. And I listen to their music in the same way. Not because I'm ripping it off, but because, man, it's out there!
But one does hear that influence, in Trioscapes and Nova Collective mostly.
Yes, totally. It's a part of all our DNA. We all speak this crazy similar language. That's really fun. But with enough difference to the point where you learn stuff from them as well, which is cool. I think eventually I'll also do a record on my own. I've got some stuff. But that's another conversation!
One last thing for the gearheads: you once mentioned that you only have one amp to go to, is that still the case?
Yeah, I've got it back home. It's a big ridiculous Sunn 300T. And I've gotten so many work on it over the years - maybe double what I paid for it. But over here I simplify a lot, because flying with gear sucks. I've done rental gear for a long time. But now I've got a sort of souped-up DI pedal with EQ capabilities on it. And it sounds big and awesome in the ears and our sound guy Gary has it dialed in great. It is a better mix when I have the amp as well and I can really have that feeling. But we do what we can over here. I've slimmed down my effects pedals. It's based off what set we're playing. Right now it's only three pedals. Just a tuner, a chorus...when I tour with Trioscapes, I've got to bring everything I own though.
Okay, looking forward to that! Thanks for the interview. I'm looking forward to the show tonight!
Cool! Glad you could come in and do the interview, and I hope you'll enjoy the show!