Paul Waggoner is the guitar wizard in the progressive metal band Between the Buried and Me. The band is currently on tour with prog rockers Coheed & Cambria and instrumental post-metal band Russian Circles. Before leaving for tour, Paul and I chatted via telephone about weird tours, his early days as a musician, success, the Super Bowl, side projects, Vegan cuisine and more.
What are you up to pre-tour these days? You guys aren’t on the road right now are you?
We are not. We’re kinda gearing up to head out. Just kind of chilling, going over the setlist. Doing that kind of stuff. Making sure all my gear’s in order. That kind of thing. Making sure all the cables work, all the stupid stuff….
That’ll bite you in the ass later if it doesn’t work out.
Yeah, it seems like the minutiae of the job, but if that stuff goes wrong it can ruin your whole tour. Trying to make sure all my ducks are in a row so to speak.
On this tour, you’re touring with Coheed & Cambria, a band that I love, but seeing the two of you together is kind of an odd package. Do you see any kind of clash happening with their fans versus yours, or does being so different as you guys are, is this just par for the course?
Inherently, when you have a rock, or more mainstream band on tour with a band like us, obviously we’re gonna turn some people off, I would imagine. I think, for us anyway, we like to tour with different bands. Especially a band like Coheed. Even though we feel like the bands are pretty different, we share some similarities as far as our kind of bigger vision. They sort of push the limits of their genre and we try to push the limit of ours. So, in that respect, I think there’re some parallels between the two bands. Obviously, not all of their fans are gonna dig what we’re doing, but we’re hoping that some of them will be into it, and hopefully we’ll get some new fans from it. But you never really know until you start playing the shows.
I have a feeling that you’re going to get a better reaction than the last time I saw Coheed & Cambria. It was Coheed & Cambria, Clutch, and Fall of Troy. That was a completely different mindset.
Yeah that is pretty bizarre. Yeah, that one is pretty weird. I guess it kind of goes back to the whole “prog” thing. I think both bands share similar influences and it’s just the way in which we use those influences. I actually feel pretty good about it. It’s not the weirdest tour we’ve done. I don’t think it’ll be too bad, and obviously we’ll tailor or setlist to fit that crowd as much as we can and try to choose songs that have more melodic or clean singing or whatever the case may be.
More subject matter and about space and time travel, because that’s all Coheed’s deal.
Haha, yeah! Exactly.
That kind of works out with the new album, does it not?
It actually does coincidently. We kind of strayed down that path as well so I guess it does kind of work.
On the new album there are some shorter songs. There hasn’t been a Between the Buried and Me typical song of yours since maybe Alaska, that was under seven minutes sans “Desert of Song.” Is that appealing while constructing a setlist, because you get to put more out there?
I don’t know, first of all, when we write the song, we don’t decide to write a shorter song. But it does afford you liberties. We can play six songs instead of five. For us, some of our fan favorite songs are like fifteen minutes long, but on this tour we’re not necessarily playing to our fans. It is kind of cool to have a couple short songs in the vault to bust out. It is kind of beneficial when you’re making a setlist to have a five-minute song, to be like “Oh cool, we can squeeze that one it.”
The new album has been getting really good reviews, but what I keep seeing in all the reviews is “this is the best since Colors” or “this is the best since Alaska.” How does that make you feel as someone who created material since Alaska that is kind of being marginalized?
I don’t feel like that. Everyone has their favorite record by a band. I’ll use as an example, Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream is one of my favorite albums of all time and everything they’ve done since then is kind of like, “Well, it’s not as good as Siamese Dream.” But all that said, I like their new record (Oceania). I think their new album was really good.
It was wasn’t it? I was really surprised!
Yeah, it was pretty good. It’s pretty cool. It’s got some cool riffs that reminded me of my 90’s youth or whatever. It was good, but it still wasn’t as good as Siamese Dream in my opinion. I guess my point is that any fan of a band is going to compare every album to a previous album. We’re just happy people are still digging our new material. So to hear, “This is the best thing since Colors” or, “This is the best thing since Alaska,” at least they’re still interested in what we’re doing.
That’s a good way to look at it.
I kind of look at it as a positive, even though I personally think every record we’ve done since Colors is an evolution of the band, and we’ve gotten better as a band but, I’m not the one buying the records, and I’m not the one paying for tickets to the shows so I can respect what our fans and reviewers, or critics, or whatever the case may be. I can respect what they say about us. I don’t feel like anything’s necessarily been marginalized after Colors. I don’t feel like The Great Misdirect and the EP and stuff like that was swept under the rug. Certain albums speak to people more than others and that’s just the way it goes.
Touching on your 90’s youth, what was your first band and what did it sound like?
We were called the Johnny Ross Quartet. We were just a bunch of idiot fifteen, sixteen year-olds. Of course, there was five of us. We were trying to be ironic, the Johnny Ross Quartet, with five dudes.
Oh man, we were awful, dude. It was terrifying how bad we were. It was fun, just a high school thing. I think we did a Deftones cover from their first record. I guess we had that nu-metal vibe going, which at the time was just Korn, Deftones and bands like Korn. That was kind of our thing. We were into bands like that. It was pretty dark days, man. But, I was young and really just getting into heavy music and stuff like that, I guess that was the beginning of it.
I always like that question because it makes people remember a dark past. It’s never been like, “I was in this fucking awesome band! We were the best!” it’s just, “nothing but Metallica covers….”
The funny thing about it is that everybody starts somewhere, obviously. Most people have some shitty band they were in and it’s only really by accident and happenstance that you wind up in a successful band or a band that’s pretty good. There’s a lot of good players out there that are just destined to be in shitty bands their whole life. Even though I’m embarrassed to say I was in the Johnny Ross Quartet, I could easily be in a band like that now. It just so happens that I found some people that have a unique synergy with one another and write some tunes that people kind of like and we’re all committed to it. Everybody has been in a shitty band at one point or another; it’s really just dumb luck that you end up in a cool band.
How do you measure success in your profession, and do you feel like you have been successful?
I definitely feel like I’m successful, because I never thought I’d ever so the things that I’ve done. Travel the world, play to all kinds of different people, stuff like that. I didn’t think that was a possibility. I was content with just working in a warehouse during the week and being a sort of weekend warrior guitar player. I definitely feel incredibly lucky and successful in that degree. I’m proud of what we’ve done. I don’t gauge success on popularity or commercial success. The five of us are just trying to push ourselves and create something that is hopefully timeless. Hopefully people will look back in ten years and say, “Hey, that band was pretty cool.” To me, that’s success. If you can write something that you’re proud of and that other people will appreciate as well and be able to do it for a living and travel the world.
Does it feel like it’s been almost thirteen years since Between the Buried and Me started?
No, not at all. I think the beginning of the band seems, maybe that long ago, but since we’ve become this full-time thing and staying busy all the time, the last seven years have just flown right by. I can’t believe I’m almost thirty-four years old. Time has absolutely flown by. In that time, we’ve accomplished so much and gotten so much better at what we do. So, it feels like we’re still evolving. I don’t feel like all those years went down the toilet. I have been growing as a person not just musically, not just in terms of my career. I never expected in a million years that I’d still be doing this, so it’s pretty cool.
What I did notice while I was researching this was there’s not too much on what you do outside of the band. When you’re not playing guitar, what are you up to?
I’m kind of a homebody, really. I don’t do a whole lot. I don’t party. Just really hang out. Hang out with my girlfriend and watch a lot of sports. I’m kind of a sports guy. I watch a lot of basketball, football, stuff like that. Obviously, play guitar, try to write music and do that kind of thing. But, for the most part man, I’m pretty boring. It would be huge disappointment for our fans to find out what our lives are like outside of music, which is probably why we don’t publicize it too much.
Who are you pulling for in the Super Bowl?
Man, it’s tough. I’m happy that the teams that are in it are in it. Those were the two teams I was rooting for. I think I’m going to go San Francisco only because, I like both teams, but when I was a kid, I was a big Niners fan. The Joe Montana, Steve Young era. Jerry Rice, all those guys. There’s a little nostalgia factor there. I’ll be rooting for the 49ers.
You may have just made a lot of enemies, but at the same time for the (San Francisco) Warfield show, a lot of friends.
You know that’s true. Well. My heart is with the Carolina Panthers. I’m a Carolina Panthers fan. It’s not like I’m a Niners fan.
They’re just the team I would like to see win. But if the Ravens won, I wouldn’t be upset. I like that team and I live just outside of DC. So there’s a lot of Ravens fans around here. All the Redskins fans have gone into hiding.
A few years ago there was a mention of MetalSucks about a project with you Chris Adler (Lamb of God drummer) and Keith Merrow, is that still a thing that’s happening or is that kind of done?
I would love to do it still. I’m sure the other guys would too. I think it was a lot harder than we thought it would be to get all our schedules to jive. Keith stays really busy on his own, and the Chris is obviously pretty busy with his band, and I’m busy with my band. And to top it all off, Lamb of God has some serious drama going on now with Randy’s situation. It just kind of got put on the back burner I would say, that would probably be an understatement. I really hope that we start it up again. I love Chris. He’s one of my favorite people. Keith is a great guy, and extremely talented. It would be cool, I mean, we had started writing stuff and just weren’t able to make any headway because everybody got so busy. Maybe, eventually we’ll get it going again.
With Dan (Briggs) in Trioscapes and Tommy (Giles Rogers) in his incarnations of his solo project, have you ever been inspired to start your own?
I’ve thought about it. It’s tough for me. Outside of anything heavy that I write, or guitar-y is always focused on being Between the Buried and Me material. I think if I did a heavy project, even the thing we were talking about with Chris even though it wasn’t necessarily a metal thing it was more of a rock thing. Whenever I write something in a metal or rock vein, if I like it I want it to be Between the Buried and Me stuff. I would find it hard to reconcile what is going to be solo material and what’s going to be Between The Buried and Me material. So if I did a solo project it would maybe be something completely different, not metal or rock at all. Maybe like more country-ish or bluegrass-ish or something. In which case, it wouldn’t appeal to any of my fans. So, I think it would just be a waste of time. You know, we’ll see. I’m always writing stuff that doesn’t become Between the Buried and Me material that’s just me noodling around. I think one day I’ll compile it all and do a record, but I really have no immediate plans to do anything like that.
When you guys played at the Fun Fun Fun fest this last year, what was that experience like being on such a diverse festival and did you stay around to see any of the other acts that we playing that day?
We were actually pretty petrified to do that fest for a number of reasons. First, it was a logistical nightmare because we were in Europe touring and we finish our last show in Paris and literally had to fly straight to Austin to do that one show, then fly straight from there to Japan.
Oh my god…
So, we were like, “This is such a fucking nightmare, how are we going to pull this off?” On top of that, we were looking at the line-up and we were like, “No one is going to know who we are or like us or anything.” We were playing right before, god who the fuck did we play before? Some really big legendary kind of punk band.
Was that like Refused?
No, they played the day before? I can’t remember (It was Lagwagon). But our particular day, there were just no bands remotely similar to us or anything. We were just like, ‘This is going to be a fucking nightmare.’ We got there and it was an incredibly well-run festival, which is pretty rare in the states. Most festivals are a complete clusterfuck, but this one was really well run. They treated us great, and it was actually a pretty cool experience. On top of that, we had tons of fans that showed up to watch us. We were really humbled by that and it really made all the travel and stuff worth it. It actually just worked out totally awesome, in spite of our negative outlook on the whole thing. It ended up working out pretty good. We were pretty stoked, and would play that festival again if they’ll have us. I actually like playing shows with other types of bands. To me it’s interesting and I like to check them out. Other bands that don’t run in the same circles as us. There are some really good bands that played. Valient Thorr was there, they’re our North Carolina buds, so they were the closest thing to us.
I love those guys.
Yeah, they’re awesome. Super cool dudes. It was cool to see them. Again, I saw some other cool bands that I’d never heard of or heard before and, it was really cool.
I’m going to ask you about something you might be kind of sick of talking about, because it comes up a lot when the band comes up, but I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now, and I haven’t quite figured out eating on the go, in San Francisco is there a place you enjoy?
Ah! You’re in San Francisco?!
I am not, I’m heading there for a show and I know there are plenty of options, but I don’t know where to start.
San Francisco is like the Mecca of vegan and vegetarian options. My favorite place, which a lot of locals will kind of hate on, is a place called Herbivore. They’ve got two or three locations in San Francisco, and their menu is huge, and it’s all vegan. They have Italian food, they have Middle-Eastern food, they have Soul food, like, Southern-American food, just tons of options. It’s awesome. I love it. Probably my favorite place to eat in San Francisco. And then there’s also a place called Ike’s, which serves sandwiches, and they do vegan and vegetarian versions of some delicious sandwiches. For example, you can get a version of vegetarian chicken parm, or something like that. There’s a ton of Asian restaurants that have vegan and vegetarian options. Yeah, San Francisco is awesome, but if you had to pick just one place, I would pick Hebrivore.
And one more that I’m pretty sure has been answered to death, who is the Counting Crows fan in the band? (The band’s name comes from a Counting Crows lyric)
I probably like them the most. Tommy also enjoys them, and I’d say everybody enjoys them to some degree. Although, I was a fan since I was a teenager. I always thought they were really good.
Thanks so much for talking to me
No problem, thanks Daniel. And have fun at the Gojira show.
I’ll be seeing you February (21) at the Warfield.
SIDENOTE: I did go to Herbivore based solely on Paul’s recommendation and had the BBQ “chicken” sandwich. Best sandwich of my life. It’s only a 25 minute walk from the Fillmore.
Catch Between the Buried and Me on tour with Coheed & Cambria andRussian Circles between Jan 31 and Mar 16. View the dates here
Pick up the latest BtBaM album The Parallax: Future Sequence now via Metal Blade Records
Listen to Far Beyond Metal on KSSU.com – Follow Daniel on Twitter @ovacord