Interview with vocalist/keyboardist Tommy Rogers | By Michael Pementel
Progressive metal giants Between The Buried And Me will release the first part of their two-part record, Automata I, on March 9 via Sumerian Records. The story of Automata centers in on a surreal tale of dreams and discovery.
The mastermind behind the story is none other than vocalist and keyboardist Tommy Rogers. Blending his fascination with dreams and real-world pains, Rogers presents an intimate telling exploring the abstract to find something personal. “I’ve always been intrigued by dreams,” Rogers shares. “It’s a pretty crazy concept. You sit there, and you don’t do anything, and, basically, your mind wanders while you rest. These crazy, sometimes bizarre scenarios happen.”
Automata, as a whole, follows a protagonist whose dreams are broadcast as entertainment to the public—think something along the lines of the film “The Truman Show.” Rogers explains, “I’m a big note-taker. There was a little note I had that I was like, ‘God, it would be cool if, somehow, dreams could be presented as entertainment.”
When writing the story of Automata, Rogers says that, over time, plot elements and themes began to grow. “We wrote [the album] as one thing,” he states. “Normally, when I write concept records, I get everything 100 percent prepared in advance. I have the whole story laid out, I do a big timeline and put everything together before I write a word. This [story], I wanted to approach it differently. I started with a very simple idea, and I started with that and built from there.”
Rogers also shares how the album reflects on the state of artists being viewed as entertainment, disregarding that they, too, are human beings. “[The album] takes a shift into a discussion about depression. It was influenced a lot, honestly, by Chris Cornell, when all that went down,” he says, referring to Cornell’s suicide in May 2017. “The idea of these people that seem like they have everything [and] their lives are perfect, but in reality, they’re very sad people. Throughout time, that has been a recurring theme with comedians and musicians—and any artists, I guess. People struggle with that. It’s a big part of the character in the story, and it really turns into an album about that.”
Rogers injected his own sense of fear into the protagonist as well. “From the outside looking in, it seems like a man searching for a family, at first,” he explains. “I did that for the simple reason that [it] would be a worst-case scenario for me: waking up and not having my son and wife there.”
This latter element is essential to the story. “That’s actually how I started the story,” he notes, “and I built from there. Because I wanted to have the story be grounded in something I could relate to and get some real emotion. Sometimes, when you do write these fictitious stories, you kind of get away from it, and there’s not that grounded element that I think is important in the lyrics.”
As a writer, Rogers has taken fans of Between The Buried And Me on existential trips across multiple universes, such as on 2012’s The Parallax II: Future Sequence, and even into the past lives of a protagonist on 2015’s Coma Ecliptic. Writing is always on Rogers’ mind. In his craft, he finds a way to methodically create his worlds and characters while having all those ideas appear organically. “[Automata] was totally a building process,” he says. “I did that to kind of put myself outside of my comfort zone.”
He goes on to say that inspiration is something that often comes through searching, but it’s also that can come naturally. “Inspiration is such a tough word,” he admits, “because I’m constantly jotting down ideas if anything kind of pops up in my head. Sometimes, that happens randomly while you’re driving; sometimes, that happens when you’re reading with your son.”
“I’m not the kind of guy who’s reading a book, and then, I want to write like that,” he adds. “I’ve kind of just winged it, honestly; that’s how I’ve always approached lyrics. Because of that, I think I kind of have my own voice.”
However, Rogers does offer one example of the vibe that captures his attention. “I’ve always been influenced by ‘Twilight Zone,’” he shares, “stories that are a little off the wall [and] dark. That’s naturally going to be stuff I write about, because of the type of music we play—I think that calls for lyrics like that.”
Rogers tries to adjust his process when writing lyrics, adding flavor to his work. “My method always changes,” he confirms. “I always try to do things to make it fresh, be it how I write physically—sometimes just writing on a piece of paper helps, sometimes typing helps. Sometimes writing to the music, writing to the melody helps. Sometimes just writing [a] batch [of] lyrics and going back and picking and choosing helps. I just try to do anything to make it not super repetitive for me, because I don’t want to get into a spot as a lyricist or a vocalist where I just have my method and I just keeping doing it over and over. I always like to approach things with fresh ears and a fresh mind.”
While aiming to bring something new to the table, Rogers remembers the work viscerally impacting him. “[The writing process] kind of beat me down,” he says. “Looking back now, I’m like, ‘Oh, I was fine,’ but now, when I really think about the moments I was writing, I was really beat down for a while. There were some really dark moments, just because of what the story was heading toward and where the character was going, and the Chris Cornell suicide.”
Given his dedication and passion for the art form, it’s easy to see why Rogers excels as a writer. His ability to collect ideas and craft them into wondrously surreal stories is outstanding. As a storyteller, what matters most to him is creating a cool visual aspect and giving Between The Buried And Me’s music a home. “I like that not everything is super direct, and there’s a lot of abstract writing,” he shares.
When sharing his work with the world, Rogers is open to the many ways fans interpret his art. He may start out with his own idea of a story, but he discovers new angles and concepts through others’ lenses. “[I think abstract writing] naturally calls for people coming up with their own take of stories,” he says. “That’s exciting for me, because I’ll see things and read things I would have never thought about. The story has sort of evolved for me, at times, because of other people’s conceptions of it. I think that’s interesting.”
Rogers is one of the most captivating writers of our time, responsible for thought-provoking and surreal characters and stories. Lyrics are an essential element to music, and Rogers is an artist who continues to push the boundaries of how we create stories and how we discover ourselves within them.