Digital Dream Sequence: An Interview with Dan Briggs
Musical diversity is a beautiful thing, and Dan Briggs has it in spades. Besides laying down the low end for the popular prog-metal outfit Between the Buried and Me, the bassist has several projects to express different sides of his playing including ORBS and Trioscapes, the latter of which is gearing up for their sophomore release next month.
Digital Dream Sequence, due out August 19th, is a progression of the direction of the band, which consists of bass, drums, and tenor saxophone. While the saxophone may lead listeners to think jazz, the music is more of a conglomerate of the trio’s overall musical experiences.
“Doing Trioscapes is absolutely essential to me as a musician,” Briggs stated when the band released their first album, Separate Realities, in 2012. “It’s unlocking parts of my creativity that I hadn’t been using. I feel like I’m just this ball of energy waiting for people to give me new outlets to which I can just have an explosion of music come pouring out of me.”
The band has just released the first track from the upcoming album, called “Stab Wounds.” We caught up with Briggs to get the scoop on the new album, his writing process, his gear, and more.
What brought the new Trioscapes album about, and how does it differ from Separate Realities?
We had been writing music for over a year on and off. We could definitely tell there was something new happening and I think it’s really the result of playing together for two years and really gelling as a live band, knowing each other and what we’re going for a lot better. The new album Digital Dream Sequence is definitely more focused. We really embraced the “fusion” side of our sound, whereas on Separate Realities we were kind of laughing about the whole thing. People referring to it as our “jazz” group because there was a tenor sax and we just felt so far away from jazz. But then of course the album debuted at #9 on the Billboard Jazz chart, so the joke was kind of on us in the end [laughs].
Will there be any touring to support the album?
Absolutely. The CD comes out August 19th on Metal Blade Records and I’ll be releasing the vinyl in September on my own Hogweed & Fugue Records, so you’ll see us do something once the vinyl is out as well. We’ll be focusing on short bursts till the new year because I’ll be in the middle of writing the next BTBAM record in the fall.
What’s your composition process like?
It’s obviously different for each group I’m in as far as the dynamic between the players – how well we work in a live setting with each other as opposed to working at our homes and sending each other material. It all starts with me in my bedroom sitting at my desk and I do all my demoing right in Reason. Now that you can record audio tracks right in the program it makes it so easy to work in, demo drums, string and keyboard arrangements, etc. So I’ll usually open Reason and begin plucking around on guitar or keys (for BTBAM and ORBS), or on bass (for Trioscapes). For some reason people are always shocked that we all write guitar parts in BTBAM, even after I wrote three whole songs on the last record [laughs].
From there it’s sharing it back and forth. Trioscapes will always come in with some things worked out, and then just heaps of sheet music and improvisations that help carry the compositions to new places. BTBAM has never been good at “jamming,” but that’s ok. We’re just real mechanical and save the on-the spot stuff for arrangement tweaks, transitions, etc. And ORBS is our keyboardist Ashley and I sending songs to each other; usually pretty well composed and fully laid out, and then Adam adds vocals to them. Ashley and I work well in person as well, she’s an absolute master on the keys so she can just be fiddling around and I’m like “yeah! what was that?? something like that, but then let’s do this…” and you would never get that just going from file to file long distance. Sadly her and Adam are on the west coast so we just get together a couple times while we’re writing an album to fine tune anything.
How do you approach writing your bass lines in Trioscapes versus BTBAM?
Usually in Trioscapes the bass line is serving as the riff, or I’m constantly thinking of it in a baroque sense as a counter melody/rhythm, and of course I use the looping pedal excessively, so I think in terms of sound textures as well as melodies and leads. A much, much broader palette than that in BTBAM, where the bass is literally the last thing I add in. At rehearsal Paul, Dustie, Tommy and I all have guitars in hand while we’re composing. So usually I feel like I have to do double the work, hearing the song from the guitar stand point, but then totally rehearing it for bass and really how I’ll end up hearing it for the rest of my life [laughs]. A lot of those lines are playing off of the drums, counter rhythm parts to the guitar.
You get some great textures from the effects you use. What’s on your pedalboard?
I use the Boss RC-20 XL looper, Line 6 DL-4 delay, Boss DD-3 delay, Boss TR-2 tremolo, Boss PS-3 pitch shift/delay, Boss PS-5 pitch shifter, Ibanez TS9dx (Keeley mod). I recently added in a whole distortion/fuzz mini pedalboard for Trioscapes live sets which has the EBS Billy Sheehan distortion, Darkglass Microtubes B7K, and the Bass Big Muff.
What other gear are you using?
I’ve always used Spector basses and at NAMM this year they debuted my Signature Dan Briggs bass which is now available. I use it in BTBAM and it’s based off the NS2000/5 model I bought when I was 16 and played until I got this signature bass. In Trioscapes I use a 5 string zebra wood Euro LX as my main bass. I’ve also always had the SUNN 300t as my amp [that goes] through an Ampeg 8×10. In ORBS I use a SUNN model-t reissue through the Orange high powered 4×12 as my guitar rig.
Will we be hearing more from ORBS in the near future?
Yes! We recorded a full length this time last year, and it has been in the hands of two different mix engineers. [It’s been] so much waiting, but now it is in the hands of Will Yip, who is a very talented engineer and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the album. In the meantime, we are releasing a 7” single this fall with two new songs on it. It was recorded by Kris Hilbert and mixed by Ken Andrews of Failure, who it was obviously a huge honor to work with being such a big fan of his work as a composer and engineer/producer. Things just take a little bit longer in ORBS camp, but in the next 6 months I would think we’ll be making a lot of noise.
How do you manage being in multiple high-profile bands?
Well, creatively they’re all totally different. I mean, so unbelievably different [laughs]. That just comes from being lucky enough to work with an amazing array of musicians who inspire me to be the best I can be creatively. I would say there is a curse of having one band that is more high profile than the others, though. The fans take all the music you create seriously, but it seems labels, media, booking agents; they just think it’s the fun time thing you’re doing on the side of your “main” band. But I have sacrificed so much financially and personally to make the music in Trioscapes and ORBS a reality, so I’ll be damned if it is as seen as a flash in the pan thing to get me by until a new BTBAM release. I love all the groups equally, and pour my heart and soul into each record. Funding the recording for the ORBS material, or pressing the Trioscapes vinyl releases certainly puts a whole new level of attachment on it for me as well.
What individual instrumentalists were your favorites growing up, and what advice would you give to younger aspiring bassists?
I wasn’t really into individual players when I was younger. I started playing guitar when I was 10, so that was 1994 and all I wanted to learn was Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Oasis, Weezer…whatever was on the radio really. I started playing bass a couple years later when I was in 6th grade in jazz band and weirdly enough the concert band as well (playing tuba and trombone parts), and when I started playing the upright bass when I entered high school. Edgar Meyer was obviously my hero on the upright, his work on the Bottesini concertos especially were jaw dropping and being that I was a classical player it was even more inspiring. Tony Levin became my favorite electric bass player when I discovered King Crimson via the “Discipline” record also when I was in high school.
For aspiring players, I mean really just try to be a sponge and take in as much music as you can and never shy away from a playing opportunity. I’ve played in over 10 bands since I was 12, multiple symphonic orchestras, jazz big bands, small jazz combos; and even in musical theater productions of “Evita”, “Footloose”, “Phantom” (Yeston’s version, not Webber’s) which have played such a big part in my love of writing theatrical concept records with BTBAM. You seriously never know when you’re going to find inspiration so never turn away from an opportunity.