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COHEED & CAMBRIA INTERVIEW by renee reeser zelnick

Help us, COHEED & CAMBRIA! You’re our only Hope!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a rock band rose to rebel against the tired musical landscape, making it safe to once again, turn on FM radio.

Coheed and Cambria are not a Vegas lounge duo. Coheed and Cambria are not varieties of French semi-soft cheese. In fact there is nothing cheesey about them.

Coheed and Cambria is however, a neo-prog rock band out of Nyack and Kingston, New York. Coheed and Cambria are also lead characters in the band’s comic book/graphic novel saga. Each and every track mirrors a chapter in the story of a futuristic human robot hybrid couple, forced by circumstance to sacrifice their own children to save the universe. One child survives, and the hero’s journey begins.

I was first drawn by this band’s twisted sense of humor in the “A Favor House Atlantic” video running on launch cast back in 2003. With hair as huge as the Death Star, and sounding like the vocal love child of an unnatural three way union between Geddy Lee, Donald Fagin and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (KHAN!-That was my best Shatner impersonation)- guitarist/lyricist Claudio Sanchez really caught my eye and ear. I ran out immediately and bought the album In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3. I read the trippy lyrics and found them to be the work of Senor Sanchez- Imploding universes and impaling babies to really hot guitar licks paired with kicky alterna-pop hooks. Nice. Not since Operation: Mindcrime have I been so intrigued by the concept of the concept album. And I’m not even a real ryche-head.

Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume 1: From Fear Through The Eyes of MadnessI did a little more digging back then and found their website,, as well as their fansite, Here’s where I really cut my teeth on the band’s scifi connection. Turns out the album I bought was actually part of non-linear Lucas-like saga (was a trilogy, now it’s looking like a pentilogy - and I’ve been waiting all week to use that word). The Second Stage Turbine Blade comics are published with Wes Abbot illustrating Claudio’s words. The latest album, the brand new album on Columbia Records is entitled “Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume 1: From Fear Through The Eyes of Madness" is coupled with a beautifully illustrated graphic novel of the same name, illustrated by Christopher Shy. The story runs long and deep. Let’s start with Heaven's Fence and the Keywork, twelve sectors containing seventy-eight planets, The Fence are actually star transformers, visible beams of light, running like celestial ley-lines, intersecting the planets. Three races live in this world, the Mage, the Prise, and Man. The creator gave Mages rule over man, and man was to live under the Mages’ protection. God then assigned the Prise to guard the Keywork. Sanchez’s god gets ghost, but first leaves a prophecy of a time in which he’ll return. In each of the Twelve Sectors, one Mage is appointed leader, but power corrupts and war ensues. When the Prise attempt to intervene, the Mages unite against the Prise and defeat them. In the end, all of the sectors are put under the rule of a Supreme Tri-Mage.

A man, Dr. Leonard Hohenberger, devised a plan to keep tabs on the Mage. Like a futuristic Dr. Frankenstein (that’s pronounced Franken-steen) bio-engineered a new superman robo-hybrid, the Interceptive Recon Operative (IRO)-Bot. The first three produced, he named Cambria (Knowledge), Coheed (Beast), and created as a complete clone of Hohenberger himself, with some enhanced capabilities, Jesse (Inferno). Covertly, Hohenberger’s team designed ultimate weapon, the Monstar virus. If triggered, the Beast would be capable of disabling the Stars of Sirius and bringing complete and chaotic end to the Keywork, and life as all three races know it. There is but one hope. The sole surviving messianic offspring of breeding bot’s Coheed and Cambria, the monstar virus carrying Claudio (yep, he’s written himself into the framework).

I was hooked. Creation. Conflict. Intrigue. Destruction. What was the story behind the story? I had to locate the dude with the death star ‘do and find out more!

I caught up with C&C in Ventura, California, touring in support of Good Apollo and they’ve brought bands mewithoutYou, the Blood Brothers, and dredg along for the long ride. Arriving at the Ventura Theater 90 minutes before the show, the all-ages line went around the block. It harkened me back to my hardcore days in Philly and South Jersey, getting kicked by cops, waiting in line for the likes of the Misfits and bad brains. ‘Twas a simpler time, when Jon Stewart didn’t have the Daily Show, just a great bartending gig at the late, great punk venue City Gardens in Trenton.

I followed tour manager Chuck (who coincidentally grew up 10 minutes away from my hometown-weird) onto the C&C tour bus. Bassist Mike Todd was stretched out, relaxing a bit before the show. Bearded again (these guys all seem to have ever-evolving facial hair), with beautifully intense eyes and sporting a tucker cap, he reminded me of a dude from my junior high FFA class rifle team (yes, we had one). What?! A girl can’t enjoy a little target practice? I spied a few bottles of Vodka, and we verbally bonded over our favorite brands. I read recently the band has been known to tie a few on while touring (Hey! They’re not drivin’!), but today mostly Snapple outweighed the Skyy.

Then, from the back of the bus, with serpentine spirals springing from his head, dressed in Johnny Cash black, HE emerged. Wow! I haven’t been this nervous since Iggy Pop laced me into my patent leather boots on the set of the Crow 2. This alterna-rocker is a ringer for my husband, and I’ve got a fetish for Slash-like coifs, so can I help it if I’ve got a little crush? Claudio Sanchez is however, quieter than the frontman I’d imagined. And while he’s SciFi, he’s not much of a Slacker. I’d read elsewhere, that when not on tour, he gets up at 5am to start writing. That is so not punk!

I realized quickly he was rather shy and hermetic, a self-described anti-social, living boldly through his characters on paper and on stage. I had to know first what his favorite science fiction films are. Without missing a beat, “Dune!” he replied, looking quite intellectual, hiding behind dark framed glasses. Ah, I love a man who loves Herbert. “Every time I read it though, I find things I’d do differently in the movie.” Hmm. In a fight between Dune director David Lynch and Sanchez, well, my money’s on Claudio. The spice must flow!

I’d pegged Sanchez for an avid Asimov fan, due his IRO-Bots reference. “Actually, no I’ve never read it. “ He chuckles. “When I saw the title I-Robot online for the film in production I was like, huh?” The collective consciousness rears its’ head in a cosmic giggle. Born out of Claudio’s skull, like children of Zeus, this mythic world rings with remnants of many great stories. I ask how all this started. He started Shabutie in high School. “Everyone thought Shabutie sounded like a funk band. And folks at the Equal vision label weren’t thrilled with it. So where did the names ‘Coheed and Cambria‘ come from? “Well, an ex-girlfriend was doing a semester abroad in Paris. She was in class a lot, so I had time to kill. She was sitting around doodling all these weird little aliens. I’d always been a fan of sci-fi. I decided to name and write about them. I’d always loved the name Cambria. Coheed I’d originally read somewhere as Cobeed, but I didn’t think it sounded masculine enough. So I changed it.” Fair enough. “Music became a vehicle to tell the stories. And I didn’t want to have collections of random songs here and there. I wanted something cohesive…”

“Coheed-sive!” I interject. He smiles politely at my sad pun. “We hooked up with Equal Vision records. They took out our demos on the release called the Second Stage Turbine Blade.” That makes sense to me -Guess that makes In Keeping Secrets the REAL first album. SSTB doesn’t have the polish it does. And you’ve got your whole life to make your first record, but only about a year to knock the second. And boy did they. Good Apollo is a result of a shared effort between EVR and SONY’S Columbia record label.

“Oh, yeah, the original Star Wars trilogy, they are also a big influence on me. Those are films I loved. Still do.” It seemed somewhat a synchronistic comment, as I’d just returned myself from the land of Skywalker Ranch, that previous Monday. We went on a bit about George Lucas talking on the DVD about his archetypal character and storyline work greatly inspired by the late Joseph Campbell. And dating hot Sarah Lawrence chicks.

I asked him if he has a “dream guitar” he’s jonesing over. Looks like he’s already got it. Gibson has sponsored C&C with a coupla great axes. The newest addition being a hot double neck SG Jimmy Page number, featured in the “Welcome Home” video. I ask if he worships any guitar gods besides Mr. Page. “Jimmy Hendrix. It’s all about Hendrix!” Seems fitting, as for me Hendrix’s music was such a cosmic portal. But I’ve got to expand on the Zepplin thing. Asking if the band’s logo, a graphic representation of the Keywork, was somehow derived from Zep’s rune-like Zoso symbols. “Not really, it’s just the Keywork actually. There are twelve sectors and 78 planets...” I interject with a reference on the Seven Circle theorem. Apparently he was told there would be no math. I then try to hit him with Quantum Holographic Theory, and I realized I am probably the nerdiest interview he’s had to sit through. I look down and confirm this, realizing I’ve got my laptop flash dive on a lariat around my neck.

Claudio started playing guitar around twelve or thirteen. His father, a blues guitarist, taught him his trade. And he always sung with his mom. I ask if he has to push his voice into a falsetto. “Nope, this just what comes out.” The band members all have family musical pedigrees. In fact drummer Josh Eppert’s pop has played off and on with The Band. No, I don’t mean Coheed. For the uninitiated, The Band is a group from Woodstock days led by Robbie Robertson. I think they still hold record for the largest concert ever, at Watkins Glen in New York, with Allman Brothers and the Dead sharing the bill. Additional guitar and vocal support comes from long time friend and original Shabutie (Sanchez’s band’s old moniker) band-mate Travis Stever. He’s a kick ass lead. I already told you about the bassist Mike Todd. They’ve just added keyboardist Dave Parker for a little more punch. Don’t let that scare you. There are no overly pretentious Rick Wakeman solos here.

I ask him about the paranormal or if he’s had any experiences that he’d like to share on the “unexplained”. “Well, I am fascinated by several aspects of the paranormal, especially UFOs, but I don’t necessarily run and specifically buy books on it. I also have in interest in religion, but I’m not religious. For instance mewithoutYou somewhat consider themselves to be a Christian band. I stay out of debates, though I really don’t have an opinion.”

I stay for the show and am thrilled I am not the eldest at this all-ages show. In the tradition of Pink Floyd, there’s a giant winged prop onstage- The guillotine for the album/graphic novel artwork. And a sweet light show gets me in the visual groove. Get down to your local comic and grab a book, or hit your favorite record shop for Good Apollo. I’d write the rest of the title, but all this typing has got me in burn out mode.

I then ask him about the alternative, punk, neo-classic, emo thing. How would he classify the band? “You know what, people call us alternative, people call us emo, in music today there are so many classifications, and there are so many genres and sub-genres.” People are always comparing them to Rush, but I think that’s a mistake that carries too much baggage. Confidently he adds “Bottom line, we’re a rock band.”

Claudio Sanchez – vocals, guitar
Travis Stever – guitar
Michael Todd – bass
Joshua Eppard – drums

As celebrity gossip shows and reality programming continue to be the dominant choice of entertainment for millions, many musicians have opted not to challenge the masses and instead write short, simple and predictable songs that sound good on the radio…

…then there’s Coheed and Cambria.

For three years now, the New York group has been releasing dynamic, multi-faceted albums that are as infectious as they are innovative. Their songs are packed with undeniable hooks and contemporary textures, but their sonic vistas are reminiscent of great progressive and atmospheric bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Best of all, like the musicians themselves, the mix is neither pretentious nor alienating.

“Rock n’ roll today is not the rock n’ roll I wish it was,” explains front man and songwriter Claudio Sanchez. “I’m a big fan of the music my father grew up with, and I’m very jealous of that time because back then music wasn’t a marketing tool and you had to be a good band in order to sell records. It wasn’t about the quick fix. It was about really being able to play and write great songs.”

Coheed and Cambria’s new album, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star V - Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, is a showcase of the band members’ artistry and musicianship that’s a refreshing alternative to most mainstream rock. Like the band’s 2003 gold album, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, Good Apollo is euphoric, conceptual and challenging, but it’s even more steeped in the classic rock of the band members’ youth.

“Playing that kind of stuff is very exciting for us,” drummer Josh Eppard says. “We’re really going back to our roots and giving a nod to people who inspired us to make music in the first place, whether it be Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Police or something else entirely.”

On Good Apollo, Coheed and Cambria never shy away from their ambitions. The album starts with the cinematic piano and strings intro “Keeping the Blade,” then evolves into the gorgeous acoustic “Always & Never,” which features swirling keyboards, Claudio’s laughing niece, and harmonized vocals. Then, it’s time to rock. The first single, the six-plus minute long “Welcome Home,” is epic and symphonic, resounding with start-stop strings, squalling electric guitars and dramatic vocals. This ebb and flow of the opening three songs is evident throughout the album and contributes to its thematic feel. “Everything was very carefully worked out,” bassist Mic (pronounced “Mike”) Todd says. “This is definitely the record we wanted to make. We’re super-proud of these songs and I think they represent everything we’re able to do as a band.”

Sanchez wrote the song frameworks for Good Apollo on the bus, backstage and in hotels while the band was on tour. “I try to be as productive as possible,” he says. “I’m a workaholic, but like my dad says, ‘if you love what you’re doing, it’s not work.’”

After he wrote the basic ideas for songs on a acoustic guitar, Sanchez recorded them onto a CD and gave them to his bandmates. Then, everyone spent a month and a half in a rehearsal space evolving and fine-tuning the songs. “That really helped us nail things down,” Eppard says. “When we did In Keeping Secrets, we walked into a studio, learned the songs and recorded them that day. This time, we had a lot of time to take the material and make it even better.”

The band entered into the same Woodstock, NY studios in February 2005 where they worked on both of the group’s previous records, with the same guys – Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner at the controls. But this time, Coheed and Cambria took a different approach during the four months they were living at the studio recording the album.

“Instead of working on drums and bass for every song, then doing rhythm guitar, then leads, then vocals, we did it a little mismatched- like a puzzle,” Sanchez says. “I didn’t want to have to do all of the singing over and over all and once and get tired of it. So, I said, ‘Let’s do a song and work on to a point, then I’ll take it next door to the house and work on it vocally.’ I had a good time doing that because I could be really creative without anyone sitting there waiting for me to finish.”

Sanchez also took a fresh approach to the lyric writing for Good Apollo. The record continues in what what will end up being a 5 album saga based around a doomed married couple who are convinced they must sacrifice their children in order to save the world from being infected by a virus that is embedded in their genes. Only, this time, in addition to progressing the story line, Sanchez writes lyrics from the vantage point of the narrator. “On this one, the listener chance to step outside of the story and see it from the writer’s perspective and how events in his life will affect the outcome of the story and we get to watch the world of the writer and characters collide.”

The story of Coheed and Cambria will come to a conclusion on the band’s next record, and for those who want a more comprehensive account of the intergalactic odyssey, Sanchez is chronicling the complex tale in a series of comic books he has created with artist Wes Abbott, as well as a 116 page graphic novel with artist Christopher Shy that will tell the full story of “Good Apollo…” due out on the same day as the album. But fans who want to enjoy the band’s music without delving into the science fiction adventures can easily do so since Sanchez’ lyrics can be interpreted in different ways, and the music crosses so many boundaries.

“For the longest time, I didn’t even know there was a conceptual thing to the lyrics,” admits Eppard. “I was always just a big fan of the imagery he used and the way he wrote. I always thought he had a way of putting things that I could really relate to. Then when I found out everything could be part of this wild story, I thought it was really cool.”

Since the band’s impressive debut album for Equal Vision Records, The Second Stage Turbine Blade in 2002, the band has been touring nonstop. They traveled from dingy clubs to big festivals in the US, Europe and Japan for 18 months in support of the first album.

After a brief break, Coheed and Cambria reconvened and started working on songs for In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth: 3. If the first album showcased a fresh new talent with revolutionary ideas, the follow-up turned those ideas into fully-formed, finely wrought songs. The single “A Favor House Atlantic” introduced new fans to the ever-improving outfit, but it was the hauntingly memorable “Blood Red Summer” that made Coheed and Cambria one of the most buzzed about cutting edge rock bands on the circuit.

Because of the success of “In Keeping…” and the new relationship with Columbia Records, it gave the band members a little extra time to tweak the new songs and come up with even more original ideas for presenting the new material both on record and onstage. Also, working with mixer David Bottrill (Tool, Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), the band finally feel like they achieved the big sonic sound mix they’ve been looking for.

“The thing that’s so rewarding about this is that every day I’m able to try new things and I’m constantly learning,” Sanchez says. “It’s very exciting to feel like you’re on the edge of something really powerful and have a lot of fans who feel the same way. And whenever I dive into writing or performing, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.”




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