Coheed and Cambria have survived their fair share of upheaval over the years, but frontman Claudio Sanchez says the band has never been stronger than it is now, with Josh Eppard back on drums and bassist Zach Cooper completing the rhythm section, while their fans are as devoted as ever.
Following the release of The Afterman: Ascension last December, the New York quartet are set to release the second half of the double album, The Afterman: Descension, on February 8. As ever, the music is entwined in the epic saga of The Amory Wars, but Sanchez's lyrics are at their most personal. We caught up with the singer-guitarist to discuss the themes on the latest record, why he isn't afraid to weed out Coheed's fickle followers from the true believers, and the forthcoming movie based on The Amory Wars.
Are you gearing up for the release of The Afterman: Descension at the moment?
Yeah, pretty much. We've got a couple days off after we did a performance out in LA, we shot a video for 'Dark Side', we did Conan on television, so we got a couple days off before we get back into the studio and start rehearsing for the tour. But yeah, I'm really excited for Descension. I mean, I love both records very much and I can't wait for both to be out so the listeners can put them together and experience them as a whole.
'Dark Side of Me' is a relatable song in that everyone battles their own dark sides at some point. What inspired you to write it?
I definitely have my dark side that the people outside of my "walls" don't really see very much, but my wife, who is a strong partner of mine, she's seen it a lot. I guess it's sort of a testament to how she endures that side of me. It's something that I know is mine, but I know everyone can relate to, because we all have that struggle with that side of ourselves. I mean, it makes us who we are, it's not something that I think you can just discard.
In other album tracks 'Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry the Defiant' and 'The Hard Sell', there's a feeling of "me against them" and wanting the truth to be exposed, is that how you were feeling when you made the album?
Yeah, definitely. You know, when I was making Ascension and Descension, I didn't have a concept in mind, so everything was very personal. That's been the case with a lot of Coheed records, but this one in particular because there was no idea of what the concept was going to be. I was getting influence from just things in life. Blaze James is my manager and a great, great friend of mine. He tries to steer me on certain paths and sometimes his suggestions are great and I will follow them, and sometimes I feel like I need to combat them a bit, and that's where 'Sentry' and 'Hard Sell' sort of came about. Well, not so much 'Hard Sell'. 'Hard Sell' was about the conflicts of the industry and sometimes the preconceptions of what people believe Coheed to be, yet we still endure, we're still here. But those songs are definitely reflections of feeling like we're misunderstood in our industry.
'Sentry the Defiant' represents Coheed and Cambria's music well in that it conveys a sense of anguish with an underlying send of hope. Do you consider yourself an optimist?
To some degree. Here's the thing: I can feel as pessimistic as I'd like but at the end of the day, in terms of what these songs are about, the band is still here. The band is still relevant. We might not be Linkin Park, but I don't know if I've ever wanted to be Linkin Park. I know that for me I wanted to play music, you know, express myself, but be respected and I think we get that a lot from our fans. Our fans, they'll go to war for us, and I don't think you can ask for more than that. They're not fair-weather fans, and that's the part that makes me optimistic. Not everyone can have what Coheed has and it's very special. So yeah, I guess in that respect I'm definitely an optimist.
Speaking of your following, were you hoping to reach a wider audience by performing on Conan?
That was something that sort of came to us, and we thought why not? My wife is actually a big Conan fan and one of her dreams was that we would play on it, so when that came about I was like, "I have fulfilled your dream, my lady." So we did it... Sure, but I want it done the right way. Coheed has always been an organic band in terms of its growth and its audience. I don't want to just go out there and overnight become something. I want to fight for it. And I think we do. There are things about this band that not everybody likes. There's certain little things - whether it's my voice, or the idea that it's progressive - and we filter the fair-weathers from the hardcores and the die-hards. That's what's important to me. It's like, let's get away from the fat, so to speak, and let's get to the muscle. The muscle are the fans that follow us, that's the Children of the Fence. That's what I want. So by doing things like Conan is to find those that find this music resonates with them and is important to them.
Which goes back to what 'The Hard Sell' is about.
Does the whole Amory Wars concept, because it has so many different elements, allow you to explore and use more types of music than you could if you were releasing typical albums?
Even before Coheed, when it was Shabutie or whetever incarnation before that, I always explored music. The concept's never really dictated what the music was going to be. As a musician I never wanted to create walls. I always wanted to explore music because I loved it. I never wanted to fit into a scene, I never wrote songs to fit into a scene. That wasn't my goal. It just so happened that when we signed to Equal Vision they were part of a scene and that's the sort of bands we toured with, and we got the "emo" tag and yada yada yada. But that was never our intention. As songwriters, it was like, let's explore as many avenues as possible, because music is vast. It's not about figuring out where to fit yourself... let's fit ourselves in every place. Sure, from an outside perspective the concept certainly seems like it helps for people to digest those approaches, but had we not had a concept this would still be the music I'd be making.
Lyrically, would you be as personal without the veil of the Amory Wars?
Yeah, certainly. Here's the thing, when I created this idea in 1998, I created the concept because I had a hard time confessing myself in lyrics. So it was easy for me to say, "You know what, I'm gonna take these songs that I'm writing and I'm gonna create a world of fiction and I'm gonna hide myself behind it." All of Ascension and Descension was created, mind you, without a concept. There was no concept when I wrote those records, as well as some of the other Coheed records. The concept is just something that I've fixed to it, and figured out ways to manipulate so it made sense. But with Ascension and Descension, it wasn't until after I wrote Afterman that I started to think about what the concept may be. Once all the records were finished my wife and I took a trip to Paris, where I created The Amory Wars initially back in 1998, and we started to pen what the concept was gonna be. So if there was no concept, the lyrics would be the same.
Going back to your performance on Conan, Josh looked like he was having great time. How has it been having him back in the band?
Oh, it's great. I've said this in the past, and obviously before everything sort of happened, but Josh is my favourite drummer. And one of the reasons he's my favourite drummer is that he is so animated. As I said years ago, one of the unfortunate realities of me being the singer in this band is that I don't get to watch Josh play. You know, we were kids and we were playing in Woodstock, New York, in different bands, and I would go see his band play, and I would watch him. That's who I'd watch, I'd watch Josh. He had this tremendous sense of groove and rhythm, yet he was so animated he reminded me of, like, Animal from The Muppets or something. Nobody plays with as much enthusiasm as Josh. You can look at other drummers and you can tell sometimes some things are forced, but Josh is always genuine in his approach. So it's been amazing. It really has been amazing. I'm so grateful that he's returned. One of the sad sides of everything that went down when Coheed sort of fell apart before No World For Tomorrow, is sometimes I feel like Josh is my musical counterpart. In terms of the way I attack the guitar, he punctuates it with the way he attacks the drums, so it's really great that he's back in this band.
How has the dynamic of the band changed from having Chris Pennie on drums and then having Josh back? Because it's not like you didn't make great music when Chris was in the band.
Yeah, I don't discredit No World or Black Rainbow, I think those are really great records in the Coheed discography. But when I was writing Ascension and Descension, we started demo-ing this material with Chris and he did a great job with the songs but there was something about the approach that made me feel like maybe there was something lacking in terms of the punctuation of the messages that I was trying to get across in the vocal. I knew that Josh was probably the guy that could do it, being the original drummer and I know his sense of song. That's why we opened the doors. But in terms of the difference in dynamic, Josh has definitely matured since Good Apollo, so he's certainly open to suggestion. There were a lot of suggestions that I'd given because the material had lived so long with us, but there were also things that he just took from my hands and made his own, and it was great for it. Again, his enthusiasm, and what I must stress, is that he gets in there and it's like a kid in a candy store. That enthusiasm is very infectious. It brightens up the room a bunch. You don't feel like you're going through the motions again, because sometimes you do feel that way in a band when you come off the road to make a record - although when we made this album it wasn't in that scheduled momentum. But having Josh come back into the band is like a breath of fresh air. The room is filled with this bright light of excitement, and whether that's because he hasn't been in the band for some time or not - which I don't think it is, I think what it is, is that he's just really, genuinely enthused to be there. That stuff is important. Like I said, it's infectious and we're ready to go.
Sounds like it will translate well on tour.
Oh, it has been for sure. And not just from him, also from Zach. That guy's amazing as well, and he's excited, he's enthusiastic. It's great to have the rhythm section with this energy like that. Especially for Travis and I, to fit back into them and feed off of that. It's a really exciting time for this band. I mean, every time is exciting for us because we continue to persevere and push forward, but now I feel like this band has been solidified and it has the right members in it to continue forward and be positive.
Fans are excited about the Amory Wars feature film that has been picked up by Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson of Leverage Productions. Do you have any updates on that?
Not at the moment. I mean, I've gotten some updates, but I can't tell YOU about those updates. It's still very slow moving. I think that's the way Hollywood works. It's definitely a mystery to me but we're just trying to get people attached to the title that we feel are the right people and are excited.
Finally, when you tour Australia in April will you play mostly songs from the new album?
There will definitely be some selections from the new album, but because we don't really get to come to Australia all that often we'll probably try to do a nice collection of everything.
- Jed Ahern
Coheed and Cambria + Circa Survive Australian tour dates:
Friday 19 April
The Tivoli, Brisbane - 18+
Saturday 20 April
The Metro, Sydney - Lic A/A
Sunday 21 April
The Palace, Melbourne 18+