Between The Buried And Me
Photo: Courtesy of Between The Buried And Me
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Between The Buried And Me's Paul Waggoner
Respect and mainstream success don't necessarily go hand-in-hand in the world of metal. As in life, most meaningful milestones are hard won. Nearly two decades into their career, North Carolina genre heavyweights Between The Buried And Me have recorded and toured relentlessly, covering a lot of musical ground while amalgamating elements from death metal, jazz, prog, blues, indie rock, math metal and much, much more. Defying categorization is a cliché, transcending it is an art form, and, for Between The Buried And Me, a calling.
The quintet's latest album, the two-part Automata I & II, shows point blank how versatile, imaginative and absolutely crushing the band's music can be. Its lead-off track, "Condemned To The Gallows," earned the band their first GRAMMY nomination for Best Metal Performance.
We caught up with co-founder and guitarist Paul Waggoner to get his take on being nominated for a GRAMMY, what he respects about the competition, how he'll be spending his 40th birthday, and, of course, coffee.
Where were you when you found out you'd been nominated, and what was the first thing you did?
I had just gotten up and I was eating breakfast, making coffee or something, and my buddy J.B., who plays in August Burns Red, who have been nominated a couple of times now, he sent me a text and it said, "Congrats on the nom." And I was like, "What are you talking about?" He goes, "You guys got nominated for a GRAMMY." I was like, "Nah, I don't think so, man. That's crazy…" So I went online and I looked it up, and I was like, "S***, it's real…" Then of course shortly after that, all the emails started flooding in, text messages and all that stuff. But, yeah, I'll always remember that… I was riding high for a while after that.
Between The Buried And Me are extremely well-known, influential and revered in the experimental, metal and indie communities. How does recognition on a wider scale feel at this point in your career?
That's something I've actually kind of had to think about a lot because, on the one hand, we've been doing this almost two decades now, so there's that sort of part of me that's like, well, we didn't really need a GRAMMY nomination to validate what we've done. We've always had pretty reasonably good critical acclaim, and it's hard to have any kind of success being a band like us. So the fact that we've had some success has been validating enough, and the fact that we're still doing it.
But on the other hand, it was definitely cool…It's really cool that everything we've been through as a band, whether it's lineup problems or just the trivial sort of flat tires on the road or bad shows or whatever, that all that stuff has led us here. We’re a progressive metal band and we got nominated for a GRAMMY.
Can you share what you remember about writing "Condemned To The Gallows"?
Part of the reason why we thought "Condemned…" would be a good song to release with a video and as the first single, if you will, we thought it was like one of those easier songs to the palate, you know, for the casual listener. It had a little bit of everything. It was melodic at times. It was weird at times. There's some quirky bits to it and then it was aggressive. So we thought it was just sort of a slam dunk as far as being a good song for us to put out there to kick off the whole album.
I remember the cool thing about the song, and I've thought about this when we were nominated, is that literally everybody in the band wrote at least some part of the song, which is cool… It was a true collaborative effort and it was the first song we put together for the album. So it's kind of fitting that that's the one that got recognized.
You mentioned the song is more palatable. Beyond the many genre titles that have been thrown at when describing your band, there's this concept of "accessibility,” or, one record or song being more or less "accessible" than another. How do you feel about that dynamic with your listeners, and does the concept come into play when you’re writing?
I think when we first started out, being a band, we knew we wanted to be a weird band. We wanted to write music that strayed from the traditional formula of what a heavy metal band could be. We wanted to write stuff that was unique and quirky but still in the context of metal. Especially in the early days, a lot of our songs were very linear and structured. They rarely had repeating parts, they just had this soundscape of craziness from start to finish.
I think as we've gotten older, we've realized that you can balance the two. You can still have a really long song that has instrumental bits, but at the same time, it's okay to have a repeating chorus. It's not like we're trying to be on mainstream radio or anything, but it I think it gives the song a little more structure and a little more identity.
I still love listening to guitar players that just rip and shred… Steve Vai and John Petrucci… I'm fascinated with Devin Townsend, how prolific he is… Lately I love what Ghost is doing… I love bands that take the context of heavy metal or metal and push it in a different direction and whether that direction is just making it more genre-bending or if it's making it more accessible to the mainstream.
There's a lot of heavy bands out there that are doing really cool things. Some of them were nominated in the same category… Trivium, for example. They've been doing it a really long time, too, so and they're players and they're constantly challenging themselves. Deafheaven, they do something totally different. Again, they're taking the blank canvas of metal and sort of applying their own vibe to it and I think that's really cool. I have a lot of respect for bands that do that because we're trying to do the same thing.
What is the reality of making a living in music for you as part of a very successful artistic band with a relatively niche audience?
You have to work. You have to tour. You have to get out there and get on the road. I guess that's always been reality for us. As we've gotten more successful, it's never garnered very much more money in the way of royalties or whatever. It's all about just increasing your value, your market value as a touring artist. That's how we've been able to make a living. Otherwise, as a 40-year-old man, I would have had to give this up a long time ago, so that willingness to just get out there and keep beating the streets and playing gigs is our livelihood.
I think in a lot of ways a lot of our fans probably don't realize that we are totally dependent on their willingness to buy tickets to shows and buy T-shirts and buy vinyl and all that stuff, you know? That's what pays our bills and affords us the opportunity to keep doing it.
I understand the band began in Raleigh, but you now live in Charlotte. What's your favorite thing to do there outside of music?
I started a coffee roasting company a few years ago, and then about nine months ago we actually opened a café in Charlotte, a coffee shop, so that keeps me super-duper busy when I'm home. Probably too busy. So it's music and it's coffee for me. That's pretty much what I do and there's very little time for anything else, but I love Charlotte. It's a growing city that doesn't quite have its own identity yet, so it's cool to be able to contribute to that.
Well, good luck at the 61st GRAMMY Awards! Can you give us a spoiler on what you'll do if you win?
We'll be there… we had to move some shows around, but we figure it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and Feb. 10th is actually my 40th birthday. So I said, “What better way to spend my 40th birthday?” It'd be really cool to bring an award like that back to North Carolina.