Their infamous comic-book storyline might be winding down, but the question remains: What new dramas await COHEED AND CAMBRIA? Story: Ben Myers Photos: Brion Toploski
An unexpected cold front has swept across Great Britain, when the country should be enjoying somewhat of an Indian summer. At a bar in a non-descript hotel in Islington, North London, the reception is far warmer than the air outside, which is kind of surprising, given that between sips of beer and coffee, Coheed And Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez and bassist Michael Todd are explaining the nightmare 12 months they’ve endured.
In the past, the band released three albums in under four years, the products of a frenzy of productivity that culminated in 2005’s major-label breakthrough Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness. In late 2006, however, Coheed’s trajectory was knocked off course when both Todd and drummer Josh Eppard announced their departure from the band, citing “personal reasons,” which as any student of rock history will tell you, is usually a code word for something darker. Eppard failed to join the band on their 2006 European festival tour due to “panic attacks,” forcing Coheed drum tech MP behind the kit for several dates. He was let go after the third no-show. (Eppard did not return AP’s request for an interview.) In Todd’s case, it was a chain of drug problems, with an addiction to pills following a dependence on heroin.
When they should have been enjoying their first true round of success, Coheed And Cambria found themselves reduced to a duo of Sanchez and guitarist Travis Stever. The pair enlisted Chris Pennie, the former Dillinger Escape Plan drummer who left the New Jersey tech-metal legends last fall amidst much acrimony and mudslinging. [see sidebar.] Last January, the band met with producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush) at the suggestion of a member of Coheed’s management team, a friend of the producer. Newly appointed Columbia Records VP Rick Rubin was overseeing the project and was excited to have Raskulinecz on board. However, another roadblock occurred when Pennie learned he was still legally bound to Dillinger’s label, Relapse Records. Undaunted, the producer enlisted Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins to replicate Pennie’s parts. (“Taylor was awesome, he fit in and picked the songs up right away,” says Sanchez. “But credit should go to Chris for actually writing the drum parts and then being there to show him how to play them.”) After an absence of nine months in which he attended rehab and therapy, Todd rejoined the band two days before recording the next C&C opus, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow.
These travails are nearly as complicated as the Coheed concept itself. No World For Tomorrow marks the end of Sanchez’ conceptual series, “The Amory Wars”, which encompasses both albums and comics. Even to diehard fans, the concept itself is complicated and arguably convoluted. If you’re a fan, you already know (or think you know) the story; if you’re not, that’s why online forums were invented. What is undeniable is that No World is their most accessible work to date, embracing everything from classic-rock signifiers, bids for rock-radio stardom (“Feathers”) and the epic-length opus (the five-part “The End Complete”). Coheed And Cambria may be bloody, but they remain unbowed-and feeling like they’re all finally facing in the same direction, perhaps for the first time.
“There were no personality or artistic conflicts at all,” explains Todd about his tenure in the band in the bustling hotel lobby. “Every day that went by [when I wasn’t] speaking to the other guys, things got worse. I was full of existential questions, which weren’t helped by self-medicating with chemicals, [taking] me down a dark path.” As Todd recounts his self-described “dark dilemmas” and days in a 12-step rehab program, his life-long friend Sanchez remains quiet, shifting uncomfortably in his chair beneath his explosion of hair, keeping a respectful silence. “Drugs weren’t the problem,” Todd continues. “I was. But with a lot of free time, a handful of pills and no answers to those big questions, it’s easy for things to get dark. I could have carried on, walking around like a wraith for years. But I came to a crossroads: Get better or die. I didn’t die.”
Fortunately, both Todd and the band avoided their own personal endings. But not all endings are tragic: Though Sanchez says the new album is the end of a series, it doesn’t mark the end of the story that focuses on the characters his band is named after. Instead, he is toying with various future directions, in the form of prequels and parallel storylines. What nearly killed Coheed the band was not their desire to top the concept and all its fictional conceits, but their need to maintain the very real and flawed humans behind it. The obvious question: Did Coheed think about splitting?
“Of course, it was a possibility,” says Sanchez, frowning deep into his impressive beard. “That’s why we called it No World For Tomorrow. What was happening [with the band members] all has its place within the concept of Coheed And Cambria, but it’s a very real theme for us. For a moment there, it felt like there was going to be no band. When you lose half your members, it’s hard to pick up the pieces. But that’s the real story here: We’ve endured. Mic is alive and happy, we’re happy and it feels like the beginning, which is important because for a while, it certainly didn’t feel that way.”
The vibe in Camp Coheed today marks the point where their convalescence ends and tentative excitement for the future begins. They claim the band are stronger and more together than ever and that their new album is their best work yet. But then, all bands say that. Instead, you have to read between the lines to find the truth. It’s there in the way Sanchez and Todd finish each other’s sentences and laugh at each other’s in-jokes; the way they make a point of discussing manager Blaze James’ role in holding things together during the toughest times. It’s there in the way their businessman-like manner soon dissolves into goofy laughter and reminiscing of their roller coaster career to date. When the pair tell you Coheed And Cambria fans seem particularly obsessive and are in it for the long haul-another platitude you tend to hear from most bands-you’re actually inclined to believe them.
We really are a brotherhood that extends beyond the band,” says Sanchez. “Every day on [last summer’s] Warped tour, we met 20 or 30 fans who had branded themselves with the Coheed emblems. Some might not understand such levels of dedication, but as fans ourselves, we do. Things like that drive you onward, and it actually feels like a new beginning right now. Making the new record felt like making [2002 debut] The Second Stage Turbine Blade. All I really know is this isn’t the end of the band. We’re open-minded individuals who aren’t short of ideas for the next record-and beyond. I find that lots of conceptual bands tend to add the concept after the record has been made. If any of them are reading, you know who you are.”
Before Sanchez and Todd head off for a pre-show dinner, they reflect upon the strange trip the band have embarked on to get to where they are now. Sure, their past year may be best described as hellish, but they’re finally daring to consider a future together; something which was considered an impossibility almost a year ago.
“Last year, I was fortunate enough to be able to save some money to buy a house in the woods in New York,” says Sanchez. “It’s what I’ve nicknamed the Big Beige. Before that, we were operating out of my parents’ place but felt like we needed to move on. It was a priority of mine to have a place where we could be free as a band, a place where we could be really loud. So now, I have five acres on which we hope to build a studio where we can sit and be creative.”
Now that he’s a woodsman, does Sanchez have an ax?
“That was actually the very first thing I bought!” he says, laughing. “I wanted to get a chainsaw, but there was no real need. It’s the lazy woodsman’s tool, but there is something attractive about them. Maybe because there’s so much scope for disaster.” At that point, Sanchez seemingly ponders the past year, sighs, and then deadpans. “We should only be so lucky to chainsaw off our arms.”
He pauses for a moment, then smiles. “There’s your quote, right there.” ALT