I had the privilege to send some questions over to Dan Briggs and Adam Fisher of the experimental rock group, Orbs, recently. Dan and Adam, along with Ashley Ellyllon comprise the main trio that constructs mind-bending rock music. Dan splits his time with Progressive Metal titans, Between the Buried and Me, as well as the jazz fusion group, Trioscapes. Adam is the vocalist of Fear Before the March of Flames and All Human, and Ashley is the keyboardist who has spent time in groups such as Cradle of Filth and Abigail Williams. The group is releasing a new album on July 15 entitled Past Life Regression and from the tracks released already, it is set up to be quite the record. Read my exchange with Dan and Adam below.
CFD: Hey, guys, thank you very much for taking time out of your schedules to answer my questions for The Amalgam, my name is Cody Davis. I am really excited to hear what Past Life Regression is going to sound like; it’s been a long time coming! I have greatly enjoyed all of the works you three have put in towards Orbs as well as your other respective musical outlets so when I was approached to do this, I couldn’t pass this up.
Adam Fisher (AF): That’s very kind! I wish my Tinder conversations started this way.
CFD: It will have been roughly three years since Past Life Regression was written to when it is officially released on July 15th. I’m sure you all are excited to finally have the album released. In the time since completing the initial writing, were there urges to revise or rewrite anything that you originally submitted?
Dan Briggs (DB): The writing for the album began actually before our first album had even come out yet, going back to 2009. So we had a handful of things written around 2010/2011, and then we took some time away from the group. Ashley sent me a couple ideas which became “These People Are Animals”, “Peculiar, Isn’t It?”, and “Giving Tree Hanging Me” in early 2012, but it was right as we were writing a new BTBAM album, so I was like these are great but I’m going to get to them when we’re all wrapped up here. We finished the writing in early 2013 and recorded that summer, so once we were at that point we were extremely confident in the material and some of the songs had undergone serious revisions in the years leading up to that point. I’m astonished by the work everyone did still. But really, I love a writing session to capture that time and move on to the next thing. I have so many musical projects with all these magical creative people that I love to pull everything possible out of them and then move on to the next thing.
AF: As far as vocals go after even initial demos, I rewrote a few. “El Burro” was around for a long time. I kept the original lyrics and melodies but after sitting on it for years I was able to really bring it (I think) on the final product. There are a couple of songs where the original demos were completely different melodies and/or lyrics. I always brace myself when I send Dan and Ashley my ideas. Looking back I’m glad I changed some things. Even though they’re always like “oh good job buddy” like I’m a toddler that managed to get the square or circle or triangle peg in its respective hole I imagine them secretly meeting and discussing how awful I am. I bet they even have matching robes and torches when they meet…
CFD: The first two songs from Past Life Regression that were released, “Exploded Birds” and “Daydream II”, sounds like bouncy and sort of ethereal tracks but in reading the lyrics they actually portray a much grimmer and wayward story. I read in an old interview that Past Life Regression is itself, a darker album based on Adam’s lyrics. The album is nine songs and roughly 55 minutes long with song titles that read similar to song titles of a Fear Before album. Is there a common thread between “Exploding Birds”, “Daydream II”, and the rest of the songs on Past Life Regression in relation to song structure or lyrical content?
DB: There’s a great juxtaposition that Adam started on our first album of mixing in these dark/disturbing stories over a top of really lush beautiful music. The song “Something Beautiful” off the Asleep Next To Science album is a great example, such an uplifting song and it’s about the brother of this Jesus-like character using his powers for bad to turn people into fucked up creatures. That idea carries over onto this album some, I mean the tone is definitely darker. Adam does a really great job of writing works of fiction, sometimes something that is fantasy or sci-fi driven, but has heart and an emotional attachment attached to it so much that you think it’s about him. A lot of the songs on Past Life Regression deal with stories about reincarnation in so many different forms; some of them are uplifting, some are dark and twisted, some of them are just sad and honest. “Giving Tree Hanging Me” is one that is musically pretty soul crushing, this beautiful piano piece Ashley wrote, and when we brought the arrangement to life he just matched it with this remorseful gut-wrenching story of a man hung from a tree and becoming part of the tree, feeling shame now more so for burdening the tree, he sprouts branches and becomes an actual part of the tree. There’re times I listen to the song and forget that it is this kind of far out, imaginative story because the words he uses just hit so hard. Musically the album isn’t tied together, but for an album that wasn’t written with a specific flow, we really worked hard on the tracking for the album. For example, the end of “Death Is Imminent” has footsteps in the rhythm of the drums/bass for “Dreamland II” leading to the opening line “I walked in…”. Little things like that help the album feel more connected.
AF: There’s a lot that ties together. It wasn’t fully intentional. I think it was just where my head was at. Fearing death and at times trying to believe that we transfer our energy and at other times having no hope whatsoever. I love tying things to my other projects past or present. There are lyrics in the record that give small hints to All Human and Fear Before. It’s fun. If I do just end up deep in the dirt, lights out, see ya later bye, and that’s all there is to me, I want to have left behind little maps into my psyche. It’s super interesting, I promise. It would make for a good family friendly sitcom.
CFD: Orbs is a brilliant example of talented musicians that seemed destined to play together. Everything you all did on Asleep Next to Science, your 7” release, and looking to today on “Exploded Birds”, it just seems to exist in its own unique bubble. I found myself many times listening to your new song and honing in on Dan’s guitars and Ashley’s keyboards or walking around work singing Adam’s lyrics to myself. In my research leading up to this, I was trying to find the Orbs origin story and wondering how you three came to be, yet nothing really turned up. How did Orbs come together over six years ago?
DB: Damn it, I knew EVR shouldn’t have taken down that old bio! Well, Adam and I met when our bands toured together 10 years ago. We just bonded immediately, I wasn’t familiar with Fear Before the March of Flames but the record they had just put out at that time The Always Open Mouth just floored me, I couldn’t stop listening to it. The next year we had him come down to sing on the BTBAM Colors album, and right after that recording session Ashley shared some music with me and after touring on Colors that fall I flew out to her in Arizona and we started really digging in. After we had a couple songs I sent them to Adam and got him on board and that was it really. “People Will Read Again” was the first song Ashley and I wrote, and it’s a sprawling 10-minute long track, piano arpeggios flying all over the place…really wild! I think that song is an immediate mixture of Ashley’s classical training and my progressive rock background.
AF: As always it is so nice to be included in the “talented” section. I think it’s just by default. Every time I get new songs from Dan and Bug I am just floored and at the same time I think “Oh shit, what the freaking fart cycle am I gonna do to not ruin this song?!” I’m very lucky to work with them. For a couple of months, Dan was sending me demos and asking what I would do melodically. I was just so oblivious I didn’t realize he was actually trying to start a band with me. Finally, he was basically like “dude! we want you to sing for us!” As far as singing the lyrics to yourself, make sure you keep them to yourself. Do that publicly and you will be drawn and quartered.
CFD: The influences from your other musical endeavors are naturally present in Orbs’ music, as to be expected. What I am curious to know is if there are any prominent, outside influences (other musicians or bands, etc.) that had a role in shaping what Past Life Regression has become? I understand both Dan and Ashley are classically trained and Adam has done some pop-punk music in the past.
DB: I’m personally influenced by so many things, it’s really hard to say what lead to a certain musical passage or arrangement. You take in so much, and I mean I’ve been writing music for like 16 years now, it all gets jumbled in your head. Throw in films, walking around in the woods, just every place you find inspiration and it all gets mixed together. Really I get a lot of inspiration whenever Ashley sends me a little piece of music, it quickly becomes a full on wild composition.
AF: Oh geeze. My pop-punk past will never leave me. I remember when FBTMOF started some people refused to listen because I had been in a pop punk band. It’s laughable. I like a lot of music. I still like pop punk. As far as influences for this record, I think I was mostly influenced by movies. I can’t really say there were any bands that I was listening to religiously while writing for this. I was more moved by imagery and storylines.
CFD: The production team on Past Life Regression is stacked. It’s wildly diverse in terms of whom they’ve worked with in the past. The quality everyone brought in production/mixing/mastering is certainly noticed in hearing these first two songs.
DB: Well let’s not confuse the producer role here, in terms of music it can mean so many things. This is an Orbs-produced album. But we did work with talented engineers, Kris Hilbert, and Will Yip brought just a lot of positivity and artistic excitement to the project. It’s definitely a sonically difficult album, but we tried to go into it focusing on presenting it as the 4 instruments in their respective places in the mix, leaving room for the keys and vocals and not muddying it up with too many extra layers. Will found a great way to take the tones and takes we did with Kris and give everything its own space and was very attentive to the dynamic shifts. You can’t really mix the middle of “Exploded Birds” like the ending, the drums ended up very much in the background, everything a little more subdued and more gentle. A part like that outro, Matt Lynch really did an incredible job tracking drums and evoking a very musical approach to his dynamics as well.
AF: All I can say about this is that were very lucky to have worked with the people we did. I want to take credit for all of it, every perfect guitar tone, every subtle nuance you hear in the piano playing, every perfect drum fill, but oh wait…I just showed up and sang about weird shit that would bum out my parents.
CFD: Ahh, my apologies for mixing up terminology. Does either of you have a favorite song or something that stands out to you on Past Life Regression? I’ve got a small sample size of the album at the moment but these tonal shifts in “Exploded Birds” blow my mind.
DB: I’ve been rehearsing songs for the set we’re playing later this summer, and “El Burro” is very exciting and ugh…the end just evokes a lot of emotion. It’s the last thing you hear on the album, the closing statement about this character who is constantly being reborn and fucking up, and I don’t want to spoil it but the ending lines of the album sum up the whole idea and just crush me every time. Adam and I have talked about how it’s going to be thrilling and so exciting to play the song, but I think there’s an emotional level that could be present that I’ve never felt live before. That’s both exciting but like, is my guitar going to end up in pieces? Will I rip all my strings out?
AF: That’s hard to say. There’s so much I really love on everyone’s part. I love the opening track “Death is Imminent, However Relative” because of the feelings it conjures for me. I love “Exploded Birds.” If I really had to pick one I’d probably say “El Burro.” I can’t wait to sing that live. There’s no filler on the record, though. There’s just a lot of really cool different songs. I’m allowed to say that because I didn’t write them. I just mouthed off on top of them.
CFD: You’re doing an East Coast tour this summer; do you all know who will be joining you on this tour yet or who you’d like to join Orbs on this tour? If you’re stopping in Chapel Hill or Raleigh, let me know. I’ve got air mattresses and couch spots!
DB: Ivadell from South Carolina will be with us. They’re good friends, a great honest DIY rock band. The dates should be wrapped up and announced next week hopefully, but really it’s a week + of shows, and they’re our first in 5 years. I really hope people are willing to get with some buds and carpool an hour or two if we’re close by, it’s a special thing for us, we’re celebrating this album and obviously some older songs, and it’s just exciting to see what will happen in the future.
AF: I just heard a song from the band that’s going with us. Dig it big time. More importantly, though they better be able to hang when it comes to talking movies. I can’t spend much time with someone who hasn’t seen The Thing (80s version) or The Fly (Cronenberg version) or I don’t even want to say it but Jaws. We just won’t get along. It will just be awkward.
CFD: Past Life Regression is being released through Dan’s Hogweed & Fugue Records which is an imprint label (a division of sorts) of Equal Vision Records. Dan, one of your other projects, Trioscapes, and its prior albums as well as Orbs’ “These People Are Animals” was released through Hogweed & Fugue. Are there any current aspirations to expand your label to release music from other projects in the future?
DB: Haha no, I have enough money sunk into releasing and re-releasing my own stuff. It really just started when Trioscapes was doing our first album and Brian Slagel at Metal Blade asked what my plan was, and I said I just wanted to be able to release the vinyl version myself. All it really means is I put a bunch of money on a credit card and then pay it off as the album is released haha. But yeah, two Trioscapes LPs, a Trioscapes live CD, the Orbs “These People Are Animals” 7”; and we also have an expanded digital version of “These People Are Animals” available in our pre-order with both Will Yip and Ken Andrews mixes, plus an acoustic version of “Giving Tree Hanging Me” and a pre-production version of “Peculiar, Isn’t It?”
CFD: Adam, I read in the debut of “Dreamland II”, that you got the title of the track from one of your favorite X-Files episodes. What did you think of the reboot? I’ll admit, I haven’t checked it out yet… Second question, are there other science fiction references hidden within the rest of the album? I know “Dreamland II” also alludes to Mark Tatum losing his face to a rare mold as well.
AF: I actually haven’t watched it yet. If I’m being totally honest I’m saving it till I get bed ridden sick so I can just watch it straight through in a Nyquil haze without interruption. I don’t want anyone to talk to me or any responsibility besides rolling over to pee in my pee bucket and reaching for my solar powered electric butt scratcher when I dive into it. There are not so many references as there is an influence. There is a song called “Not That Kind of Ouroboros” that ties into X-files as well. I just got one tattooed on myself. Same one Scully got in a certain episode. I’m not a dork. Promise.
CFD: Dan, I wanted to thank you again for contributing your favorite releases from last year to The Amalgam, it was really cool getting some insight into the music you like. If I’m being honest, I geeked out a lot about it. I read, Dan, so far in 2016 you’re all about David Bowie’s Blackstar and, Adam, you’ve been really into the new Death Grips and Head Wound City albums is there anything you are looking forward to later in the year? I know there are Neurosis and Mastodon albums on the horizon and I am itching for their arrivals. Hopefully, they come this year.
DB: I haven’t heard the new Garbage album yet, shoot maybe I’ll go pick that up after finishing this up. Savages, Sounds of Ceres, Head Wound City, Pity Sex, Esperanza Spalding, Lush, Autolux…if you haven’t heard the records from those artists get on it.
AF: I’m so bad at staying up with new music. I always wait for my friends to suggest new stuff. I hope the new Orbs is good, though…
CFD: I can’t thank you, gentlemen, enough for your time. It is always a humbling opportunity to have the chance to talk to musicians about their craft and to get a look inside the work that goes into making an album. I’ll mention again how excited I am to hear Past Life Regression and I can guarantee you I am not alone in this anticipation. Best of luck in the months leading up to the release and I hope to see you all on tour very soon!
DB: Thanks! I appreciate your interest and support, we also just can’t wait for the album to come out…and honestly am still finding it hard to believe some days that it is actually coming out!
AF: Thank you!