Coheed and Cambria Is Still Chasing Infinity
Listen to their new song "Eraser" and read our interview with frontman Claudio Sanchez.
There's a lot to take in about Coheed and Cambria, even if it doesn't appear immediately. Maybe one night way back when, your buddy invited you out to see Thrice at a show, and in the process you watched a young Coheed prove themselves to the crowd. Or maybe you picked up Rock Band and tried day after day to master the vocals, reaching farther into their discography after each play. Either way, eventually you'll come to realize that underneath the riffs and sonic assaults by the band, there is a huge story underneath it all dubbed The Amory Wars. It's a sprawling story by singer and lead guitarist Claudio Sanchez covering novels, comics and albums about 78 planets entitled "Heavens Fence," telling a huge story including a destiny known as the Crowing, evil archmages bent on destroying the universe, even Claudio himself both appearing as a character and as the writer. This absurdist approach is what's been the underbelly of Coheed and Cambria for the last decade, and for the first time in their career, they're putting it all aside.
Because, at the core of this band, their story is one of quintessential escape. Four kids start a band playing ambitious rock escape their home commuter town, in the physical and metaphorical sense. Twenty years later, the band has become a staple in modern rock music, and real adults. Claudio Sanchez and his wife Chondra Echert recently had their first child, Atlas. Despite their upstate New York home being turned into a grow house while the two were living in Brooklyn, they've adapted to living in the city and raising Atlas. During my conversation with Claudio over the phone, I could hear the faint noises of Atlas sitting by him in the background, presumably doing baby stuff. The human side of the band is a relatable one, seeing Claudio do well being a father and balancing the band is like seeing your buddy get a promotion. You know they're a good dude and it's a well-deserved reward for what they do.
This October 16, the band will be releasing their eighth record The Color Before The Sun. In an inverse, the album may prove to be their most ambitious, leaving behind the setting of Heaven's Fence and their sprawling narrative for songs about the wonders of our every day reality. Coheed has always had a side of poppiness to it, which is here amplified with singles like "You've Got Spirit Kid," which you would totally play really loud if your baseball team was training to win the big game. But they didn't abandon anything in the process, in fact the song that we're premiering "Eraser" blends the heaviness of previous songs with their knack for writing insanely catchy hooks. There are no boundaries for a Coheed and Cambria record, and this is proof of such.
Listen to their new song "Eraser" below, and pre-order their new album The Color Before The Sun right here.
NOISEY: So I’ve always been curious, there’s a bunch of different mediums you work on, obviously the band but there’s also the comics. When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
Claudio Sanchez: Probably when I started writing lyrics. I always had this creative sort of, I tend to be reclusive and shy and I keep to myself for the most part. I tend to live inside my own head and even my wife will start talking to me and all of the sudden she’ll bring up an anteater. And I’ll be like “what?” And I’m obviously in my own head thinking of something else. She catches me, all the time. But I think a lot of that attributes to my youth and trying to create scenarios all the time with whatever resources I had. Whether it was action figures, or drawing or whatever. I always had this storytelling sort of imagination. I think it started happening when I became the singer of the band and writing lyrics and trying to create more elaborate pictures of myself with the words. I had a hard time writing about me, and if I did I wanted to create a facade to work behind.
It seems like throughout the years, there’s always a different tag for the band. In the beginning people wanted to claim the band as emo, now it seems people are going for prog-rock. Does that ever feel comfortable?
It never does. But it’s okay, I don’t mind. I always wanted the band to progress and for it to always grow so to see these tags, it feels like maybe we’re doing the right thing. At the end of it we’re pretty much a rock band with tendencies to go outside the line a little bit. But yeah, part of me feels comfortable knowing one day we’ll one day just be called a rock band.
So in your video for "You Got Spirit Kid" you and the band go back to high school. What do you remember most about high school?
I remember the things my parents tell me. And one of the things my dad told me, and I remember this moment because it was kind of funny. He always brings it up when my wife or friends are around, he says “I remember when Claude went to school in a dress.” And he talks about this story, and my dad asked me, he had a day off from work, he asks “what the hell you doing going to school in a dress?” And I guess I told him “I’m going to shake things up.” [laughs] And he went “okay!” So I do remember that moment.
I was pretty quiet. Music was a big part of my high school existence and that’s what I wanted to spend my time doing. Rehearsing with the band, and I did. There were moments before Coheed, I’d actually go to school with a guitar on my back and a combo amplifier and my parents would ask me “what are you doing going to school with your guitar?” and I told them “oh it’s for jazz band.” And it usually was. But one time, I walked down to Nyack, I jumped on a bus to Suffern, New York. From there I’d get on the Adirondack trail way, and I’d go up to Woodstock. And that’s where the band started, sometimes I’d be up there for a week. And my parents were cool about it. I’d go up there, four track in a backpack and we’d just work on demos. We’d hone in on whatever craft we were working on there.
Are you an anxious person?
Oh hell yeah. You have no idea! I’m a nervous wreck, John. [laughs] Yeah, I am kind of. That would probably be more of a question to ask my wife because she’d probably be able to go more into detail the extent of my behaviors. But yeah, I’m kind of an anxious guy. I don’t know, I don’t know what it’s from. The less interaction with the world sometimes the better.
When did you realize you were a nerd?
I think probably, when the nicknames started coming. They weren’t bad nicknames, I think at the time they’d call me “Spirit” because at the time they knew my thing was spirituality or whatever. But I don’t know, I’ve never been affected by the idea of that in a negative way. Sometimes I look in the mirror and i’m like “I look like a monster!” And I feel like I looked this way when I was fifteen. [laughs] I felt like this lumbering monster so I never got affected by the nerd thing because I think people may have feared me, because I looked so freaky. I don’t know! [Laughs] Y’know, at 37 years old I tend to go into Toys R’ Us, and before my son, I’d always make sure my wife came in with me. Like “you have to come into the store with me.” She’d always be like “well why do you need me to come in?” and I’d say “well someone is gonna think I’m going to steal their kid.” But now I have a son so I can go into Toys R’ Us no problem. [laughs]
“Oh, you want this Star Wars figure? This one too? no problem!”
Were you anxious on stage in the beginning, or did it help to be in front of people like that?
You know, it’s funny. I was definitely nervous and there was always a sense of nervous energy. Which is why I like to wear my hair long, it just covers my face. To the point where I don’t see anything but my hair, it’s a curtain. And so at first, yeah I didn’t always have long hair, but there was a nervous energy. But at the same time, there was a sense of confidence from being up there. Everything feels like imaginary to me. I feel more comfortable up there then I do in everyday life. Like those are my moments up there, I’m alone and even though I’m accompanied by friends there’s a sense of disconnection and it’s like a physical manifestation of my imagination. Like I can be whatever I want to, I can think whatever I want. But I’m still in the eye of the public, and I’m interacting with them to some degree.
I can’t imagine, like at this point in your career being in front of these huge crowds and trying to reconcile it being real.
Yeah, I gotta tell you, I’d rather be in front of a lot of people than a few. Because a few, you start to single out personalities just by the mannerisms you see, and it becomes a bit more personal. Whereas the more people you play in front of, it becomes a wave of white noise. It feels like static. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, I don’t want the fans to feel that way. But their energy is what we feed off of, their love is this undulating power. Like a heartbeat, where it’s all sort of encompassing and that’s what we draw from. The more it feels like that, the more power or juice I feel like I’m being fed.
Who was the Coheed for you growing up?
I’m trying to think. If I had to pick an artist ultimately, it’s two things. And I like a lot of music and this is going to be a classic rock-y answer, and I don’t want it to feel like Coheed is this “classic rock blah blah blah.” But Jimmy Hendrix would be one. I mean to this day, I mimic what he does with the playing behind the head and the teeth. My son’s middle name is Hendrix, there was something about that, a connection. I don’t know what it was but it felt like more than just a musical thing to me. And the other was The Beatles. One of the things I really liked about them was the mythology that came with The Beatles. All of a sudden albums cover had this double meaning, like the idea of Abbey Road with the license plate that said “28If” and that being the age of Paul [McCartney] would have been, “had he lived the accident.” And taking Sgt. Pepper and putting it in the mirror, and all these little parts that maybe they had nothing to do with, but just gave it a mystique I sometimes try to emulate with the ideas and the comic book concepts. Because everything in Coheed in terms of the concept had some double meaning. Little things, like the idea of The Heaven’s Fence being composed of 78 planets. 78 was the year I was born. There’s these cryptic sort of things that if you go down the rabbit hole you can piece together to a real person. So those would probably.
Hendrix makes total sense. It’s funny, there was a point when my Dad wanted to get into newer music, and I suggested Coheed because of that energy and sense of exploration on stage. We went to the Neverender show for Burning Star IV, and I said “I hope it brings out some of that” and afterwards he told me “that was exactly it.”
Oh wow. That’s fucking– I’ve got goosebumps happening. That’s the hugest compliment. I mean, there’s just something. My first introduction to Jimi Hendrix was, I remember listening to “All Along The Watchtower” in my dad’s car, and the solo effect with the wah happening. To me I was like “what the hell is that?” At the time I had no desire at all to play in a band. I was young. But it was intriguing enough for me to ask a question, which either may have or may not have answered. But ever since that moment I go back to him, and again everything I do on stage is an homage. I appreciate everything he sort of brought to me, and it sure looks like I’m copying it or ripping it, but it’s really in hopes a fan will go down that road and see there’s a connection.
You mentioned this felt like doing a solo record rather than a full-length. Do you attribute that to writing away from the larger Amory Wars narrative?
Honestly I didn’t know I was writing a record because I was so perplexed by my situation. So all of the songs started to come, and they were just reflections of how I was feeling with the sense of exposure. So I kind of finished the ten songs and looked at them, they didn’t scream a Coheed album. They were the shorter and conciser side of the band, it felt like extremely different to me. So I started to toy around with the idea of it being a solo record. And I thought a bit more, and I’d always hoped Coheed would be limitless in terms of creativity. I didn’t want to put walls up in the styles of music we did, or the bands we toured with. Bring it my way and let’s do it. So I thought why should the concept be anything different? The progressive side doesn’t really show itself too much on the record, so I figured why not be so different. And I was making a huge change in my life. All of these things are happening, and those songs reflect those hurdles we had to jump before he was born and then when he was here and among us. So I thought why not allow the songs to speak for themselves. Since I’m making this huge move for myself in life, maybe I should do that artistically with Coheed.
Did living in Park Slope and losing a lot of space from what you had upstate make its way into the songwriting?
A little bit, certainly “Island” being a testament to living in the apartment. When I say struggle, I wasn’t struggling it’s just I posed this limitation on the songwriting that I didn’t see. Like “Coheed needs to write like this.” That’s why the record is so different, realizing the neighbors could hear me leaked its way into my consciousness and the lyrics and the record. I looked at it like a solo record, but I realized that’s not what Coheed is. Concepts should be no different, I should be allowed to live that. But the environment certainly seeped into that. The record starts with the sound of the Q train coming into Brooklyn, which is what we’d take up to Union Square and meetings in midtown. I loved it. I mean that’s the thing, as much as I struggled living here in the city I fucking loved it. I’m from a suburban town, I don’t like to drive. I like to walk a lot, walking is what I do all day. I’ll walk from the Manhattan Bridge up to Central Park just for the sake of clarity. I love just to experience life. Being in the sticks, where we are is so reclusive and so far removed, it’s hard to get out and experience the energy of human life. So it definitely made its way into the music.
Did you ever imagine you’d be writing a song about your kid?
I know. All the Coheed albums are very personal to me, they’re very cryptic. They all have their starting points in reality and then I just mold them into pieces of fiction that live in these comics. So they turn into experiences that I’ve shared with people, and here I am writing about someone new. My wife and I collaborate on all sorts of things, we do comics together, we collaborate on a whole bunch of things. And here we are collaborating on a life.
The ultimate collaboration!
Absolutely! Absolutely, and maybe I’ll experience it again with a second child, but this is the first time. Like this is a complete metamorphosis of my being. I want people to know about this life I’m in right now. And he’s so great, I wrote "Atlas" before he was born. Like I had an idea at the time what it would be like, I leave my wife and family behind on the road to go out and had a feeling this might be what it’ll be like to go out. If he was out on the road with me and my wife, I wouldn’t feel like I left. Like home just sort of travels with them. They are the home. They are my home. So we can be anywhere, and I can feel safe and at ease.
John Hill made it, cause he believes. Follow him on Twitter - @JohnXHill