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RockUrLife met and talked with bass player Dan Briggs from BTBAM, about their current tour, their latest album, and more, before their show in Toulouse, France.

Hello Dan, and welcome in Toulouse. Did you have time to visit the city?

Dan Briggs (bass): Yeah, I did. We got in Toulouse yesterday at about 5 at night, we had a day off, it was great. We went to eat some food, and today we did some record shopping, you know, went to some book stores and got some stuff for people back home. Beautiful city.

How is Dustie (ed. Waring who was forced to cancel the upcoming tour due to a back injury that needed to be addressed)?

Dan: Oh, he’s good. He’s doing better. He just needed the time to recover. The back is a serious thing, you know. It’s pretty debilitating, but he’s gonna be all good for this summer. It’s just a welcome break for him to rehabilitate.

How do you feel about Colors II? Some time has passed since its release in 2021.

Dan: It’s been about two years since its release, and at this point, we still haven’t played live all the songs of it. I never fully get sick of an album until we played everything live often and then I’ll say: “No more. It’s time for the next one“. I think, coming back from the pandemic, our tours were a little more spaced out, which is fine for us. Like this tour was supposed to happen one or two years ago. It has given us more time between albums, and, we’ve been a band for over 20 years now so, that’s OK I think. There are bands like Opeth that puts out an album every 5 years or so, and I think it is OK. It gives us time to really like, sink into these tours, do some different tours, do like full album sets like this summer in the States, we’re doing The Parallax II 10 Years Anniversary Tour and that’s fun. And we still push the Colors II stuff on another tour. By the time we actually shut down, I guess sometimes next year, we’ll start writing and collecting ourselves. We need that time to grow.

Especially after an album that massive and intense.

Dan: Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff. (laughs) But we always try to do something new. That’s really important to us.

What is the input you’re the most proud of on this album?

Dan: Wow, that’s a good question. That’s a really good question. There’s a song we haven’t played yet called “Prehistory”, that was an idea of something I wanted to do (and did) on the original Colors (2007) album, the song “Ants In The Sky”, which has a blue grass section. And I always thought, it’d be fun to do a full song with that kind of high intensity, but like really rooted in blue-grass, folk kind of, I wouldn’t say noodling but… (singing and noodling). So we were able to take that idea and run with it, but really have it… it’s really connected to two of three songs on that album.

So that was a really fun one. “Prehistory” to “The Futuer Is Behind Us”, that was a big chunk. I gave a bunch of leading ideas, and work with the guys on it. That’s how I like to write. Write, set the tone like for instance “80’s Funk” kinda, add progressive and then, what are you going to do with this? It’s kind of fun, pass on to the other guys after setting the tone. That’s the idea. That’s part of the challenge. Always something new and that’s good.

Any song hard to achieve?                                               

Dan: I would say the last song “Human Is Hell”, because we kind of finish the album in that order, at a certain point. This song was the last and it was a lot you know. It was the last song. I won’t say we were tired creatively, because it ends the album very well, but it was just getting to that point. It was just a week or two before entering the studio for recording the album, so I had to go back in the last minute, to write my bass parts, it was a lot. But being able to stand back and look at it, it turned out well. And we were with each other 24/24 in the studio after a long period of COVID. That was different, after 20 years of writing records that was new. I guess it was new for a lot of bands, I’m sure.

It was more about the right state of mind.

Dan: Yeah. I think so. It took time to get used to each other again. Living on a bus with ten people. But it’s feeling back to normal again.

Is there a song from the new album that you’re really looking forward to play live but that you haven’t yet?

Dan: Yeah. “Stare Into The Abyss” and “Prehistory”. In this set we play the song that is just before this part, “Never Seen/Future Shock”, and I wanna play all three of those together, because they’ve been written as one big chunk. We separate them, but we’ll do it eventually. (laughs)

You’re mixing a lot of different genres in BTBAM, what is left for you, as a red line you won’t cross?

Dan: No, there’s always something new. We all have some ideas. We all listen to very different stuff, you know, some of us have other groups we’re in. I got my solo stuff, I got Nova Collective with guys from Haken, I mean, for me there’s always an outlet (creatively). I know exactly when I’m writing for BTBAM, even if it doesn’t sound like something we’ve done before. Like when we did Coma Ecliptic (2015), it was a big experiment, we didn’t consciously said: “What if we wrote a more melodic album?” It just happened, and we learned a lot since then. It’s the nature of doing progressive music anyway.

We know you also play some Jazz for instance. What is your favourite style?

Dan: What I love, in life, in general but especially creatively is the balance. With BTBAM, we have inner ear monitors, we’re playing to a click-track. For us, a good gig is playing the thing as we wrote them. And it happens, and it’s cool, I love that, but I also love the other thing when, like in Jazz: “What’s gonna happen?” It could be a great crowd, but the interaction between you and your guys improvising wasn’t quite there, it didn’t hit. And you can play in front of ten people and be on fire. And I love that, man. I love to play for a thousand people, but also let’s say, in a record store. I wouldn’t want to do either one all the entire time, it’s all about the balance.

As a multi-instrumentalist, you remind us of Eric Gillette, whom we discovered playing with Haken while touring on the Mike Portnoy Shattered Fortress tour. Do you know him?

Dan: Oh yeah, he’s great!

And do you consider yourself mostly as a bassist?

Dan: It’s weird because I started on guitar when I was like ten. My mom was a guitarist and a music teacher. So she’s started me. But I started playing bass a couple years later in school, like in Jazz bands. I was always reading music on bass, by the time I was in high school, almost college, I felt like bass was my professional instrument. But I was always writing music on guitar. That hasn’t really changed since then, even with BTBAM, I do the same, I write everything on guitar or keyboards. We need to have the songs totally laid out, finalised, and then I go back and write bass because my bass parts are most of the time a counterpart of the melody, so I have to hear it completely. I’ll save the work to the end.

Recently, I’m starting a new band with a group of friends where I’ll be playing guitar again. My guitar style is so much different. I mean, I can write stuff for BTBAM knowing that people like Paul (Waggoner) and Dustie (Waring) are going to play it. I know they’ll be able to nail it, but that’s not necessarily the style I wanna play.

You’re in Nova Collective with Rich Henshall from Haken, so nice tour for you!

Dan: Yes it is. We started writing music for a second album in 2018. And it just kind of stalled. Rich started doing another record, BTBAM did another record during that time, I was also doing my solo stuff. And the pandemic hits. It seems like anything I was planning to do before the pandemic paused, and then what happened during 2020 and 2021 was whatever came onto my plate, I jumped at everything. I recorded something on my own, an all synthesizer thing, and also a free jazz record and also another record of mine that will come out this year. So, Nova Collective was like pushed, it wasn’t even in my brain. We loved it, we love each other, and we know that we’re going to do it eventually. And now we’re living together on this bus. (laughs)

Is there a non-musician person who is/was an inspiration to you?

Dan: David Lynch is probably my favourite creative guiding force. The way he talks about meditation, which is something I’m adamant to, grounding yourself and finding ideas, having routines, I mean, every day at home I’m in my office. I’m not forcing work to happen but I’m always doing something. I like to paint at home, my house is pretty much set up to inspire me, you know? He’s painting too, he’s a musician himself, so.

You’re originally from the hardcore scene. What was missing for you to go to prog which is for some, almost an opposite?

Dan: I booked BTBAM when their EP was released in 2002. When I was 16! In my town in Pennsylvania. It was just a three song demo. For me it clicked right away. At that time, I was listening to hardcore, but I also was into Dream Theater, King Crimson, etc. And I was playing that kind of intricate, odd-times sort of stuff. Anyway, I just loved this EP and when I did join the band, I was immediately thrown into a room writing the album Alaska (2005). It was like: “finally I have my people“, because I’ve been in bands since I was 12, in local bands, and you couldn’t always find the people who could pull off the material, technical-wise. Or they didn’t want to commit the way I wanted to. For me, music was more important than school, than everything. And all of a sudden, I was in a room with people (like me). To be 20 years old with that energy… that’s cool.

Are you going to release a Blu-ray of this tour?

Dan: That’s a good question. We haven’t talked about it. It would be fun to find some sort of way to do something but at this point, I’m still like getting through this tour, go home, rest a little bit, and learn the Parallax album. Because a lot of that is not in my brain at all. (laughs) I’ll spend a month learning it, the tour starts in June, so… but yes, of course, you have to celebrate the album and this tour, somehow. We’ll do something.

You could do the full Colors II album, maybe with an intermission in the middle like classical music.

Dan: Oh yeah, I like that!

Do you have a new passion or focus of interest which is very recent?

Dan: I love cooking. That’s not new but I’ve been vegan since I was 15, and I try to recreate recipes that are online, and it can be hard. My life is really writing music, taking care of my plants, running and cooking. (laughs) And watching baseball.

A musical guilty pleasure?

Dan: Interesting question. (longthinking…)… man….I can’t think of one. The early 90’s maybe. It’s great and sounds great to me but maybe not for the other guys. (laughs) Like the Goo Goo Dolls (start singing a tune from them)! (laughs) But it sounds nice compared to what is “popular” music now.

And here’s the last question: we’re RockUrLife, so what rocks your life Dan?

Dan: I’ll say the Vietnamese food. Set me up! (laughs)