Coheed and Cambria have built a steady following by delivering a unique musical formula – a vibe that’s part punk and part classic rock, combined with pop hooks, prog rock chops and sci-fi concept albums. It all adds up to a sound unlike anything else out there these days. The band is about to hit the road in support of their new album Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow, which is a sequel to their previous release, 2005’s Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness.
The sequel almost didn’t happen, as lineup problems left guitarists Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stever wondering whether or not to continue. Bullz-Eye recently caught up with Stever for a discussion that included the trials and tribulations of dealing with those sudden lineup changes, the band’s creative processes and what makes Coheed’s music different.
Bullz-Eye: So you guys had some lineup turmoil in between albums. What was going on there?
Travis Stever: Yeah. The drummer and bassist both kind of started to get distant and it wasn’t a very gradual thing, it was very abrupt…there were certain signs of what they were going through, none of them were musical or personal differences, it was all their own shit. To be honest, it’s not my place to say the big reasons why it was going on, but we could just say that they were going through a lot of personal dilemma.
BE: Which probably made it kind of difficult to be out on the road all the time?
TS: Yeah, all that feeds in, but as far as I’m concerned they had some just normal cliché rock kind of things, not saying what that is but you know, those kinds of things. And beyond that, they also were going through their own personal crises. In the end, we were kind of left in the dark because we didn’t know what to do, being left in the middle of Europe, in the middle of a tour…
BE: That’s tough.
TS: Yeah, so it ended up being a pretty shitty situation. Claudio and I were left with a big question mark going on as to whether the band was going to continue.
BE: But Michael Todd is back on bass now, right?
TS: Yeah… The fact is we decided that we were going to continue and we went on, and all different songs were coming up, in all different ways. And we put together this whole album and demoed it and worked with Chris Pennie [drummer from Dillinger Escape Plan] who we had met from touring a couple shows with Dillinger. We found out that he was willing to jam with us, that he was interested because he found out what we were going through. And he ended up doing some stuff with us and we ended up really clicking with him. From then on we started putting together this album and Chris was there every step of the way. Now I’m sure you did hear he couldn’t play on the album?
BE: Right, [Pennie was not allowed to record for the album due to contractual obligations] and you guys hooked up with Taylor Hawkins [from the Foo Fighters]?
TS: Yeah, we had Taylor play on the album. But the funny thing is, though Taylor is an amazing drummer and added his own sprinkles to it and everything, Chris is the person who we wrote this album with. And we demoed everything out, so all the ideas were there. And Taylor of course added to it, but the fact is he had some amazing parts to work with because of Chris. And by the time we were about to get in the studio, Mike had gotten in touch with us, and he sent us an email just trying to say he wanted to get back together and hang out as friends, and that was the first thing he approached us on. And we decided that we had missed him and we really wanted to get together, and we got together with him one day and at the end of the day, it was the old Mike, he was doing really well and we could see that. At the end of the day he said “I’d love to play music with you guys again,” and we thought it over and here we are.
BE: You guys have a lot of interesting meshing of different guitar parts. How do you and Claudio go about working those out?
TS: We’ve been playing with each other since we were in junior high school, so we kind of know…sometimes it’s like we almost know what the other one is going to play. And somehow we just have a way of working around and with each other, and making it. That’s one of the things I love about the band, is that the way we play guitar together is very different from most bands. And it’s not like it’s just a rhythm and lead kind of thing, it’s like we both play lead, we both have rhythm, it just goes back and forth and sometimes both of us are playing lead at the same time but somehow one of works out to be rhythm. It’s just different, and that’s why I like it. It’s a very fun thing for us to put stuff together because we have very open minds when it comes to the guitar and how we’re going to work out the songs.
BE: “Gravemakers and Guns” is a good example of that – it has an old-school vibe that’s sort of a cross between Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy.
TS: Yeah, well that’s obviously music that we love, so it’s going to come out in our music.
BE: What’s the songwriting process like? Is it all Claudio or are you there with him making some suggestions?
TS: It differs, especially on this album. With albums prior, it was usually an acoustic skeleton was there from him, that even had vocal melody most of the time. So the song was there for us to just add shit to and arrange as a band. But now, as it happened, there are three songs on the album where for the first time – you know, besides “Ten Speed” on the last album – there are three songs were us just sitting together, which are “Justice in Murder,” and “The End Complete” and “Radio Bye Bye.” There are a couple of songs that started out where Claudio wrote them on keyboard and then we wrote guitars around that, which was really cool. And there are a couple other songs that were actually done with these two guys that Claudio worked with, just to go back to the fact that there was a big question mark at one point, where he was kind of under the mind frame of, “What am I going to do?” And so “The Running Free” and “The Road and the Damned,” those two songs were actually written for soundtracks, which were never used. But he didn’t know whether it was going to be a Coheed project or it was just going to be his own. And then therefore we decided we were going to keep this going, Coheed adopted the songs.
So there are a lot of different writing processes on the album. With an example of “Justice in Murder,” that’s us just really working together, like it was an idea that I had a rhythm part to and we got together and threw it together, the two of us. And the other songs I mentioned were the same way. And then the songs with the keyboards, everything revolved around what those keyboards were doing. And then there’s even some arrangement changes, of course, when we went in the studio. Because we came in with [producer] Nick Raskulinecz and there were a couple of arrangement ideas he had that worked very well. For instance, there’s a song called “Mother Superior,” and that was really a keyboard-based song but in the studio it turned into more of a guitar-based song. So yeah, it was cool. This album we’re very proud of, just because of the amount of work that Claudio and I put into it. And Claudio and Chris and I… because Chris, like I said before, did put in a lot of work on this album as well.
BE: And is this album concluding the storyline of The Amory Wars, or what’s going on there?
TS: Yeah, it’s the end of the story. And then we go back to the beginning for the next album.
BE: Does Claudio work out the stories in the graphic novels before the songs, or after?
TS: I think it usually comes after, because the song is the storyline anyway, so therefore the storyline is there. All he’s just waiting to do is, once the music’s done and the songs are done, then it’s about him making it into the comic book and graphic novel and such….
BE: All right. Anything else people should know?
TS: I think we’re going to have a really great lineup on this tour coming up, with Clutch and Fall of Troy, I think it’s going to be a great show and I hope people want to come out. Because it’s really diverse and it’s great fucking bands, so I extend my invitation.