Charlotte, North Carolina, can proudly boast of one rather spectacular prog-metal mini-orchestra in the form of Between The Buried And Me, whose new The Parallax II: Future Sequence is a 72-minute, 12-track concept album drawn in widescreen proportions of near-insanely detailed intricacy. Blake Richardson is the human octopus who’s been given the task of both propelling and hurling heaps of stutter-stepping, polyrhythmic bombs at the band’s grandly drawn futuramas of astral planes and dying planets. A mostly self-trained musician of frightening precision, power, and fertile imagination, Richardson joined the band in his second year at North Carolina State University, writing and recording the band’s third album, Alaska, and finally leaving school in 2005 to tour full time.
For the former “grunge kid” Richardson, the opportunity to play the big stages in the big time was a childhood dream he felt certain he could make come true to life, if he just kept his eye on the prize. He recalls what set the whole thing off.
“My uncle had a drum set in his basement – it was the first time I’d ever seen a real drum set – and he was jamming and stuff. So he went upstairs, and I just sat behind it and tried to hash out something, and by the end of the night I got something down and somewhat solid.”
This 12-year-old kid wasn’t so sure that drumming felt like his particular thing, though, being obsessed at the time with soccer and karate, like any wee shaver his age would be. But the experience made him think that maybe he needed something different. Cut to the following Christmas morning – kid wakes up and there’s that drum set he’d been playing: His uncle had gifted him those ’65 Ludwigs with “a pearl finish! ... And I still have it,” he says with a laugh. “I’ll never sell it, ’cause it’s awesome. I still set it up, and they’re ready to play.”
Richardson started bashing those Ludwigs every day, flailing out his best Dave Grohl simulation to his favorite Nirvana tracks. All good, but his parents said if he dug it so much then he had to get serious about it and take lessons. They found him a local jazz and orchestral drummer named Robert Crutchfield.
“This guy was just super well educated, and I lucked out with him,” he says. “I got lessons that I still use, now more than ever. His specialty was jazz, but he was very good about showing the basics of as many styles as possible.”
Not the least of which were those essential rudiments. “He gave me the first 13 or so, sat me down in front of a snare drum and said, ’Once we get through these basics we can move on to bigger and better things.’ I’m glad to this day that I got that down, because they’re important. That’s what you want to do to be a really well-rounded player.”
Richardson studied with Crutchfield for four years, and had meanwhile begun to whack the tubs with other people on his own. When he was 15 he started a deathcore band called Glass Casket with current BTBAM guitarist Dustie Warring, an experience that really sunk into his head that being a musician was what he had to do.
“We started playing shows when we were 17 or 18,” he says. “Then there was a band in high school who needed a drummer, and the singer called me and said, ’We’re going to do this national tour with all these big bands,’ and I was like, ’Oh, yeah!’ But I wasn’t about to drop out of high school just to do a tour with a local band. So that was a bummer, and I turned that down.”
After high school Richardson got accepted at North Carolina State and was in his third semester there when he got a call from Between The Buried And Me, who’d been hearing good stuff about Richardson’s versatility – and brute strength – and asked him to be a part of the group.
“By now I was okay with leaving school and getting to play in a band as a professional,” he says. “Ever since I was a little kid watching Nirvana videos, I wanted to be in a band and tour all the time, so when that offer came up, it was really a no-brainer. I’d get to travel, see places I’d never get to see otherwise, get to do what I want to do, have fun.”
When the time came for Richardson to hit the pro stage, he was fully prepared for the job, with well-honed chops and a philosophical attitude toward the drums gleaned from a vast array of percussion innovators.
“When I was really young, I was a grunge kid,” he says. “Nirvana, Alice In Chains – I still love them, but the guy I was taking lessons from would always show me new drummers, saying, ’You should just check this out,’ and I was like, ’I’m a grunge kid, but yeah, all right.’”
Richardson never left home without his treasured compilation tape of solos by his drumming discoveries: “Dennis Chambers was on there, Simon Phillips, Neil Peart – I was always a big Rush fan. Then a friend of mine showed me a band called Dream Theater, who had a record called When Dream And Day Unite. I fell in love with that record and I got all their back catalog. I was a total fan of Dream Theater, just great players.”