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Grounds for Parliament

Paul Waggoner of Between the Buried and Me talks coffee and music

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As guitarist for the popular progressive metal band, Between the Buried and Me, Paul Waggoner takes head banging in stride. His long locks whip back and forth to the thrashing melodies that ensue when the group performs — as they'll be doing on Friday, May 6 at Rock City Campgrounds at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord for Carolina Rebellion.

After 16 years of being in the band, Waggoner, a Charlotte-native, has gotten used to the physical demands required for being a musician in a metal band. But you won't find him slamming beers on or off the stage. Deeming himself as straightedge, he's developed a fancy for coffee after years of being on the road. He credits touring as his gateway to trying coffee from roasters around the world. Last year, he unveiled Parliament Coffee Roasters, his own family-run coffee company based in the Q.C.

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"I never considered it an alternative to the band. I always just thought of it as something I could do in addition to the band. It's something we want to grow organically," he says of the venture, where he serves as owner and head roaster. "The biggest thing for me is that it was a passion of mine and I wanted to pursue it. It's not a money making endeavor, it's just something I'm very interested in doing and I want to help put Charlotte on the map in terms of coffee roasters."

While he views Not Just Coffee and The Daily Press, as two of the Charlotte's more prominent specialty roasters, he hopes Parliament can add some flavor to the mix.

Though members of BTBAM are mostly straightedge, Waggoner shamelessly credits himself for turning them from casual coffee drinkers to coffee aficionados.

"They wouldn't admit to that but they have totally become coffee nerds. Like, Tommy [Giles], our singer, he bought my old espresso machine when I upgraded and now he's making lattes at home and sending me pictures of his latte art," says Waggoner, who brings his own coffee and contraptions on the road. "A year ago, he would have never done that. If he wanted a latte, he'd just drive down the road and get a latte from Starbucks, but now he's totally into it."

While on the road, they've developed a habit for seeking out the best coffee shops during their down time. That will be the case when the group travels to Europe later this summer.

"There are always differences in the way that certain places treat coffee and that's fascinating and interesting to me and I love exploring that," says Waggoner. "So, I don't really have to bring coffee to Europe because there's no shortage of great coffee over there and I feel like it's my job to seek it out and to find it. It's like I'm like a treasure hunter over there."

And while Waggoner considers coffee his vice, he showcases an alternative to the traditional rock star lifestyle associated with sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

"I don't think it's as unusual as you think. I think there are a lot of band guys that are into coffee," says Waggoner. "In fact, Parliament has started roasting coffees for bands for their own brand. We just recently did a brand for David Ellefson who is the bass player for Megadeth. He started his own coffee company [Ellefson Coffee Co.] and he doesn't drink either, so coffee is his vice. He wanted to brand his own coffee line and we collaborated with him on that and there are a number of other bands that we've done that with. I think that's part of this new school of musicians. I think gone are the days where you can be a successful musician and party all the time and get drunk every night. It just doesn't really work like that; it's more of a blue-collar job these days. More and more bands are settling down on the drinking and drugging and stuff like that and getting safer addictions, like coffee."

Paul Waggoner of Between the Buried and Me (Photo by Ray Duker)
  • Paul Waggoner of Between the Buried and Me (Photo by Ray Duker)

He credits much of this to coffee's complexities. "It's something that can be very interesting, if you go down that rabbit hole and learn about coffee. I always tell people, 'The more you learn, the less you know,' because there's just so much to it from the way it's farmed, harvested, packaged and shipped all over the world and the way it can be roasted and the way it can be brewed," says Waggoner. "It's a fascinating agricultural product that knows no bounds. Flavors can be manipulated in very scientific ways and it's just very interesting, which is part of what attracts me to it."

Though Waggoner has no background in coffee — he was never a barista at a coffee shop — he credits much of his knowledge to coffee experts, many of whom are fans of the band, that he's met on the road. He also compares his DIY-approach to learning about coffee and becoming a roaster to being a musician.

"There wasn't a school I went to or on the job training, you just pick up a guitar, you learn it and you start jamming with people and see where it goes," says Waggoner. "It's kind of like what I did with coffee. I got an espresso machine, brewing contraptions and just jumped into it. I played with it, experimented with it, and it was a trial by fire kind of thing. That's just how I learn and that I'm just better suited for that self-taught kind of route."

He reflects on the early days of BTBAM, when he was just a 20-something-year-old playing for fun. Now, at 37, his band has blossomed into a successful endeavor. On the business side, selling band T-shirts for $20 a pop is a no brainer, while roasting and manning inventory for Parliament Coffee is a challenge that reminds him he's a small business owner.

Product demands are always changing, especially as the company roasts a variety of different types of coffees. When the business first started, its Mexican Chiapas coffee, which has a chocolate, nutty flavor, was the most popular. Now, the natural-processed Ethiopian coffee with hints of fruit and sweetness is the front runner, though the company's owl blends are close behind.

The most distinct Parliament offering is its coffee cherry tea, better known in the world of coffee as cascara. Though it is technically coffee, the beverage is steeped like tea and packs a sweet caffeinated punch.

Currently, Parliament Coffee sells all of its products online, but two Charlotte shops also stock select bags. Those include Rhino Market, the biggest supplier, and Fud at Salud, which sells sample bags and does pour-overs, mixing the coffee with beer. Pinky's Westside Grill also sells the coffee and rotates brews on draft. There are several startup coffee subscription companies, including Charlotte-based The Best Damn Coffee, which has featured Parliament coffee bags as a monthly offering.

Though Waggoner is at peace with the company growing slowly, he hopes Parliament will be in more places in and around Charlotte in the future. He also has plans to open a café modeled after some of the ones he's seen in Europe. Though it's still in the initial planning stages, he would like to have latte throwdowns, which are all the latest rage in the realm of coffee culture, at his future café. He would not, however, participate in those.

Paul Waggoner of Parliament Coffee Roasters.
  • Paul Waggoner of Parliament Coffee Roasters.

"We stick to the non-dairy milk like soy, or almond, or even coconut milk and the latte art is a ton harder and a ton more difficult with nondairy milks, any barista will tell you that," says Waggoner. "So, we [me and my wife, who are vegan/vegetarian] struggle. We've gotten where we can get some decent hearts or rosettes, but we would never enter a competition. I think that would embarrass ourselves to no ends."

Though he doesn't plan on perfecting his latte art, Waggoner does plan on adding more to the Parliament product line, which consists of owl-themed labeling.

The name Parliament was inspired by the band's record, The Parallax II: Future Sequence. "Part of the story involved owls as being like the deliverers of souls," explains Waggoner. "Without getting too much into it, owls were a key component to the storyline and we had a song called 'Silent Flight Parliament.' What a lot of people don't know is that a parliament is actually a group of owls — like a herd of cows or a flock of seagulls. Since owls usually don't travel in groups, that's maybe why people don't really know that a group of owls is called a parliament."

Parliament's logo features two owls perched on a coffee cup that's branded with the Q.C. crown logo, constructed of beans.

"I think there is this sort of connection between coffee and music," says Waggoner. "It's very encouraging and makes me feel like I'm doing something that's kind of neat and I'm tying the two together in a very real way."

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