Interview with Dan Briggs of Orbs

Last week I caught up with Dan of Orbs/Between the Buried and Me/Trioscapes to chat about all the happenings in the Orbs universe. Definitely one of the most insightful interviews I’ve ever done, check it out below and make sure to pick up their new 7″ on bandcamp here or a physical copy here.

Kicking things off, could you please tell us your name and role in the band?

Dan Briggs, I play guitar, and bass on record as well. But mainly guitar.

So let’s talk about this hotly anticipated upcoming album. What are you guys bringing to the table this time around?

The thing about Orbs is…we started writing our first record in 2007, and it came out in 2010. We started writing this newer stuff probably in 2011, and you know, it’s just now starting to come out. We’re releasing the 7 inch this week and the full length will be out in 2015 so it’s like, by that time it’ll have been four years since we started working on it. But there was a big gap in there where we just weren’t doing anything. There was a song or two just kind of lingering, and it just took us awhile to pick it back up. I think that’s the thing that’s nice about Orbs—nothing is forced and there’s no reason to be like “oh we have to be on a two year cycle” like I am with Between the Buried and Me or Trioscapes. It just kinda happens as it happens. In all that time we had so much room to grow. And with the full length, musically, it’s all over the place, but in a really cool and different way than the first record, which I felt like dynamically was all over the place as well. With this one, with the compositions and the arrangements, we really wanted to make more, I don’t know, a bit more sense, I guess. 

So, more concise?

Kind of! It’s like the idea of doing more with less. So like, instead of a song that has all these different parts, we can still have a six or seven minute song, but all the changes and stuff that happens in a song are all relative and based off of parts that are happening within the song already. Like a variation on the verse that ends up being something totally different.

So we’re looking at more stuff like “Sayer of the Law” than, say, “Eclipsical”?

Right, yeah. It’s kind of a mix. A track like Eclipsical, that was kind of like taking the whole idea of Orbs and me being like “I wanna push this to be as massive of a progressive rock song as it can be”. And to me, I hear the song as one succinct thing with three kind of movements, sort of. Ashley and I both love long form music—her background is in classical music and I have a background in classical as well but I’m also into the progressive rock stuff from the 70s. Listening to bands like Yes or Genesis do songs that are 20 minutes long isn’t weird to me, nor her because when you’re used to listening to classical pieces…they’re just long, you know? So the idea back then was kind of like bridging our two worlds. I feel like this stuff that’s coming out now is a little bit more…mature. I know that doesn’t describe the music very well, but it just feels like we’re a little older and writing a little smarter.

I understand you’ve been taking the DIY route for this release, as opposed to the first record which was on Equal Vision. How has the process differed?

Since the 7″ is about to come out it’s exciting, because you can finally see and hold in your hand the thing that we’ve been working on for so long. We recorded the material over a year ago. There’s not much to it thus far—we paid for our studio time, getting the mix and all that, and we’re just kinda feeling it out from there. It was a low-risk situation and working with Equal Vision was great, but they weren’t necessarily jumping at the bit to do the next thing. It was totally fine though, we never had a signed contract so it was just one-off thing. It was a great situation for us in 2010 and the music climate has changed since then so we’re just seeing how this goes.

What are your focuses, thematically, for the record? Is it going to expand upon the themes of Asleep Next to Science, or be something different entirely?

It’s pretty different. Thematically, it’s pretty crazy. I would say three quarters of the record all has to do with this theme of reincarnation, and it’s that idea viewed in so many different scenarios. It was just a really interesting concept when Adam started writing these lyrics, because we were writing the music progressively over a long time and he would just be chipping away at songs and he found a great way to really match the vibe of the song and make it relate to the general overall concept. But like, some pieces are a bit more personal, dealing with relationships with your animals and your pet friends and stuff. And then stories that are totally fictional. He works with some disturbing imagery at times, and it’s honestly like the record feels darker. It really does.

I definitely hear that from his work in All Human and Fear Before as well, especially on The Always Open Mouth, that was some pretty dark stuff.

Oh yeah. I think the two new songs we’re gonna be releasing are a good sampling. The one song, the A side, “These People are Animals”, is one of those reincarnation songs on the record, and when people hear it, there’s certain lines that instantly conjure up images, and they’re just bizarre images, man. Which is good, I think that’s great because Ashley and I, sometimes when we write our music we kind of think of it visually. And even if we have the idea in our heads and sing a melody over it, Adam comes in with something from just left field that is SO different that we never could’ve thought of and its always so cool.

And then you just mash it together and make it work.

Oh yeah. He has full reign over vocal stuff, and it’s only when we record that we’re like “oh, what if you try this tone, or maybe you could try a harmony on that” but no, he just goes nuts.

He has quite a unique aura to his voice, and I feel like it bounces off the vibe of the music in such a distinct way.

It’s very raw. It’s like, intentionally not perfect, you know what I mean?

Yeah, totally.

And that’s the result of, you know, growing up listening to 90s bands I’m sure. There were mistakes on records and stuff. Like, Ashley and I, we’re the kind of musicians where we’re 100% and we sort of have that thing embedded in us from our crazy work ethic. And Adam’s stuff is so cool, but it’s like…you want him to sound untamed, you know what I mean?

Definitely, and when he hits those high notes and his voice wavers it gives it so much more of emotional effect because of that.

Oh yes. And I think there’s a lot of that connection on the full length.

What is the origin of the name Orbs?

Back in 2007 when Ashley and I were first meeting and writing music together, we were talking in terms of images and imagery, and I remember we had a demo of the song “Sayer of the Law”. I think it was the second song that her and I put together. The demo title of it I think was just called “Orb”. And we had this visual image of like, the big section at the end where it’s very ethereal; we had this scene in our head like all the space images in the movie The Fountain, where it’s flashing to his future self. We were just tossing around that word a little bit. I’m a fan of short, succinct names, which is kinda funny because my main band is Between the Buried and Me. That was not a name that I was a part of or anything. I like more succinct things , usually. Orbs, the idea of it as we were writing more of that first record, it just fit, you know what I mean? We never really hide that we kind of think of ourselves as, like, a space rock band. And honestly, with this new stuff, and you’ll see it from the artwork of the 7 inch in the lyrics, it’s a big step away from that space idea and otherworldly sort of thing and more of a David Lynchian surreal, bizarro, dark sort of thing. That’s kind of where we’re living right now.

Have you ever seen David Lynch’s Rabbits show?

Oh my god no, what the fuck is that? I can’t imagine.

Next time you get a chance, look it up. Really freaky surreal, dystopian stuff.

Okay. I already love it.

So lyrically, is it all Adam or do you all have a part in that?

It’s all Adam. He’s such an interesting creative writer…and that’s just so not mine and Ashley’s world. I mean if anything, he’ll maybe sometimes ask for help with a melody or he’ll just double check on notes or something, but lyrically, man, I just wouldn’t want to say anything. I love reading his lyrics; I love the pictures that he paints. He reads a bit, but he watches so many movies, so many TV shows; he could talk about every single X-Files episode with you. He has this idea of like, monsters and surreal kinda shit just embedded in him. He finds a way to really stick with you and humanize things, but also make things disturbing too. It’s great.

How extensively do you plan on touring to support the new record?

When the record comes out next year, we definitely wanna get out and play shows, that’s for sure. Especially with how long we’ve been sitting dormant…I think the first step with the 7 inch is making sure that people haven’t really forgotten. Or if they have forgotten, they could be like “Oh yeah, Orbs! They’re back! This is what they sound like now!” There’s some awesome, forward thinking different bands that exist now that weren’t really so much around in 2009 or 2010 when we were first touring and I think it gives us more opportunities to fall into a scene that didn’t really exist when we were playing four or five years ago. Also when we first started, being a brand new thing, all the promotion weighed so heavily on our former and other current bands. So it was like Dan from Between the Buried and Me, Adam from Fear Before the March of Flames, and Ashley at the time was playing in Cradle of Filth. So I think if people saw that on paper they’d just be like “What the fuck? What does THAT sound like?” I don’t think it was always in a way of “I’m curious to hear that”. I think it was kind of like “Oh that’s not something I’d listen to” or whatever. Especially since the music we were playing was so different from all those groups, it’s just like..Orbs needs to exist as its own thing, ya know? With Trioscapes, I feel totally great promoting it as “featuring Dan from Between the Buried and Me” or whatever, because we weigh heavily, almost 100% on a musician-based crowd in that group so it makes sense. Orbs just has to exist as its own thing.

Totally, Trioscapes is definitely an extension to the kind of stuff you play with BTBAM.

Yeah, and you know with both groups, with any group that I’m involved in, and I have a couple projects that are unannounced because they’re still very much in the works, it’s all about having the creative energy yourself but being inspired by someone new to write a certain way or just bounce off of their material. And I feel like I could do that all day long and it would be so fun. It’s hard to write more music than we have for a Between the Buried and Me record. That’s why we never have b-sides or extra songs. It’s like whatever happens, happens because the writing for it is so intense.

You put so much work into the songs that you don’t want any of that to go to waste.

Right, yeah. But I get so hyped up with all this creative energy, and I’m into so much different music, like the 70s prog-rock and the old fusion, rock groups from 90s, all sorts of shit. I’d rather just have a lot of outlets for that and thankfully, I’ve been able to come across super talented people that make it possible for those projects to happen. And I don’t do anything half-assed, all the music that I create is equally important to me. Of course when Orbs puts a record out, it means a lot to me. No more than anything else that I do—it just means a lot. It’s with two of my best friends, and you know, obviously we’re putting this seven inch out ourselves and that makes it mean a lot more too.

I remember I was reading an interview with Jack Antonoff (who plays in the band fun.) and he was saying how he hates it when people call his new band, Bleachers, a side project, because in his mind there shouldn’t be some sort of label on every project you do. Like, when a movie director directs a hit film and then does another after, that’s not his side project, it’s just a new project.

That’s a great way to think about it, yeah. It’s not like when an actor makes an indie film that’s it’s any less important to him than when he does a summer blockbuster. It’s totally different. I make my living playing in the band that I tour with 6-7 months out of the year, and that allows me to dump money into doing other projects which find their own legs. Trioscapes has its own legs, and we’ll get Orbs back up and going and it’ll be its own functioning thing.

What is your favorite guitar and bass pedal?

For guitar, it’s a no brainer: the Boss PS-3. It’s a pitch shift delay. They stopped making them years ago, which is such a weird move because the pedal is SO diverse. It got on my radar with the band Cave in, who’s one of my big influences for Orbs. They used a very specific setting on it where you play a note and it creates a series of trails that flutter. You have to intonate it so that’s it’s in tune, and it’ll flutter in an octave. You can change it to be, just like, awful sounds if you really want. You can use it as a chorus pedal, delay pedal, pitch shifter, octovater…it’s incredible. It’s a large part of the Orbs sound coloring for me at times. For bass, I love the Electroharmonix bass synth pedal, the microsynth. It’s such a cool pedal. The more I use it the more sounds I discover. Especially being in a band like Trioscapes, my sound palette has to be huge because there’s only three of us. In that band, I can’t exist as just a bass player. I’m a bass player/lead player/doing the much stuff. So I love that pedal because it offers a different array of gnarly, grindy sound.

I think it’s so awesome whenever the bass sound is expanded like that and turned into the main instrument.

Oh yeah. And you know, I got into using pedals and messing with the sounds through guitar as a kid, but my whole time with bass has been trying to do on bass what I was doing on guitar. So doing all the leads and solos on bass just came naturally because that’s what I would do on guitar. Same thing with having a color palette of sounds. In Between the Buried and Me I don’t experiment with it as much, but with Trioscapes it’s full blown.

What is your favorite song from the upcoming record, and Asleep Next to Science?

The 7″ inch we’re about to release, the B-side of the record is a track called “Picked Apart by Time”. It was a true b-side. It really didn’t quite fit with the record, but it was written at the same time and it felt like it should be its own thing on the 7 inch. The a-side is on the full length. The song is very different, it’s pummeling and heavy but it’s a different kind of heavy for sure. The song kind of plays off of the shoegazey sounds of the late 80s and 90s, but I was interested in hearing that over a big sound. I really wanted to mix big thumping drums, low tuned pitch-shifted guitar thudding away..the end result was really cool. I’m really pleased with how it turned out. We worked with Ken Andrews of the band Failure on the mix of the 7 inch. That track in particular, the B-side, he wrote back and said he had so much fun working on it and that he was kind of blown away by it. It just meant so much, because me and Adam had been listening to Failure since the early 2000s, and they’re a very seminal alternative space-rock band. It was great to have the compliment and work with him and hear the end result.

As far as old songs, god, I haven’t listened to that record in a while. Eclipsical always meant a lot to me, but I think one of my favorites to listen to is “Something Beautiful”. I remember as a band, it was one of those ones where we’d put it in a set, play it for a few days, and then we’d be like “eh, let’s take that song out”. It’s kind of a slower song. I think for some reason we just didn’t feel it live so much, but I love listening to it on record. It’s a great case of having really uplifting music mixed with really dark vocals.

Any final words you’d like to say to your fans?

We’re very grateful for the people who’ve stuck around for the last few years. We’ve apologized along the way since we started talking about new material that it’s taken so long, but it’s really just been because we’ve been doing it ourselves. Things just kind of naturally move a little slower when your record is in queue with people who are working on bigger records with bigger labels and stuff. Thankfully we have a lot going on, but it’s definitely Orbs time now, and I hope people will appreciate the fact that we’ve put a lot into this; time, heart and soul, money. I hope it gets people excited about Orbs again.

“Like” Orbs on facebook here.

“Past Life Regression” comes out July 15, 2016. Pre-order here.

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