In high school, our creative writing teacher tasked the class with a writing assignment that called for taking a choice song lyric and creating a fictional narrative. Using the example of “Your hair is everywhere,” pulled from teen-heartthrob songwriter Chris Carrabba aka Dashboard Confessional’s breakout song “Screaming Infidelities” (showing my age, here!), it was explained that said narrative could be as lyrical as a story about a heterosexual couple at odds, or as literal, yet random, as a tale about a six-foot-tall monster who can’t stop shedding around the house.
Precocious thing, I chose the line “over and out, Captain” from Coheed And Cambria’s “Delirium Trigger,” the title song off of the 2002 EP and the first from the band I had ever heard. The result a story about a girl and teacher who gets fired for her unorthodox teaching methods (asking students to grade themselves then failing the modest ones), I had connected the line to Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” which I then connected to the movie Dead Poets Society…you get the rest.
It makes sense that Coheed And Cambria’s music lends itself so well to story. Most of Coheed’s eight studio album discography follows the sci-fi narrative of The Amory Wars, a comic book series written by Claudio Sanchez, lead singer, guitarist and one of the only two founding members still in the band, the other being vocalist and second guitarist Travis Stever. The heavy-proggy-alt New York foursome fronted by the wild-haired dude with the crystal clear voice were never one not one for labels, except for the nature of the narrative that gave the songs an otherworldly quality that both lyric and music could not split.
With Zach Cooper on bass and Josh Eppard on drums, Coheed And Cambria released an exception to the epic last year with The Color Before The Sun, a deeply personal album and the first to break from The Amory Wars narrative. Featuring songs like “Atlas,” a tribute to Sanchez’s young son of the same name, the poppy power ballad “Island,” and “You Got Spirit, Kid,” the first single, The Color Before The Sun is Coheed’s foray into creative non-fiction songwriting, and serves to tell their story with unprecedented access.
While touring the album and promoting the new deconstructed deluxe edition of The Color Before The Sun released this summer, drummer Josh Eppard talked through the process of writing the album, the sold-out Starland Ballroom show, and today’s story of Coheed And Cambria.
Hi Veronica, How are you?
I’m doing good. How are you doing today?
Pretty good. Just getting ready to play the show in Nebraska…Yeah, just down here on the road. But I’m doing good, thank you for asking.
Yeah! I was going to you ask you about tonight. How is everyone feeling? What’s Nebraska like?
(Chuckles) Nebraska’s dope, honestly. We don’t get to spend too much time here. It’s not like New York or L.A. or Boston, it’s not somewhere we hit a lot. So we really enjoy our time here. We even had an off day yesterday. So we got to spend a whole day here. A couple of the guys went out to dinner, kind of went out and checked out the town.
But, I like it here. In fact, I like a lot of these cities we’re playing on this tour that are kind of off the beaten path, so to speak. It’s been really great and it’s really exciting to get to see other parts of the country.
How did you go about assembling support for The Color Before The Sun tour? Of course, we have Saves The Day. Tell us about Polyphia.
[Polyphia] are an all-instrumental, extremely progressive band…they’re on Equal Vision. I had heard of them and met some of the guys, like…I was in one of their towns and we met their drummer [Clay Aeschliman], who has a whole Coheed sleeve of tattoos, which is pretty cool. He’s a big fan.
Yeah, it’s pretty wild. But I actually was in Florida touring my side project, Weerd Science. And he was in a band, not Polyphia, but a band that was playing in town. And he ran down to the show to meet me, which was really cool. And they all seemed like really great guys.
But it’s wild; they’re on Equal Vision. Which is Coheed’s first label, it’s Saves The Day’s first Label, so it’s kind of fitting that they’re an Equal Vision band. It’s a testament to Equal Vision always trying to kind of stretch their own limits and boundaries and sign bands that are outside of the box, because it’s certainly a different band for Equal Vision. But they are just a really talented, really creative, really just immensely talented band. It’s been awesome getting to watch them. I’m excited to get to watch them for the next month
Tell us about Weerd Science, Terrible Things, 3 and Fire Deuce.
Well, Terrible Things was a band that I was in at one point in my life; it’s not a band anymore. Weerd Science is something I do. I have, like, five records out. It’s hip-hop music. Nerdy, weird…Hence the name Weerd Science.
Fire Deuce is Travis’s side project, that’s just Travis having fun. But Travis has a really tremendous band called Davenport Cabinet…they’re always putting out music. And Travis is actually working on some other stuff right now with Davenport Cabinet, which is really incredible.
I think everybody in Coheed is always kind of creating and being creative and having an outlet for other things at all times. Claudio has a children’s book that comes out October 4, we have some copies here at the shows. It’s limited to five per show, but it’s really incredible, tremendous stuff…
And I think that’s true for the rest of us, our projects may not have the same visibility, but the members of Coheed are always creating something.
Where does everyone call home nowadays?
We all still live in New York, except for Zach. Zach moved (and Zach was from New York) with his family, wife and young daughter, down to Florida. Zach’s wife Kiera, she’s a teacher. (Like my wife, as well—she’s a gym teacher). Some of us guys have moved around a bit but we all still call New York home, at least for the time being
The Starland Ballroom show in Sayreville, NJ, as have several other dates on the tour, sold out very quickly. The band’s first live DVD was filmed there back in 2004, you’ve been there several times and we the fans obviously love it. But what is it about this venue?
I mean, it’s an awesome club. Anywhere we play sort of close to New York brings out a lot of our friends and family. But yeah, I guess the people that Coheed And Cambria speak to tend to gravitate towards it. Hell, we filmed a DVD there. I’m totally excited to go back. It’s been a while; we haven’t played there in a while.
But I’m not really sure. The band started putting together (kind of funny), like, a Coheed prom. It was just like Gangbusters. It’s insane. There are people flying from all over the county for this show.
Maybe because it’s the last show on the tour. The last time, on our Feb/March tour, the last show was in Denver and the fans just started calling it “Denver Ender.” And people just flew from all over the place to go to that show.
But think it’s a mix of how Starland is kind of this storied, amazing club, it’s the last night of the tour, “Let’s make this something special.” And then the [fans] do it!
Coheed fans are nothing if not very creative, they know how to get stuff done. When they have an idea, they really do it. They don’t just talk about it, they really do it. So you got me all extra excited for the gig, and I think it’s just going to be a really special night. It’s just going to be tremendous. I can’t wait for it.
The Color Before The Sun is Coheed And Cambria’s first studio album that does not follow the Amory Wars narrative. How was approaching the music different on this one?
Well, it was insanely different, but each record is kind of unique unto itself. Like, yeah, we’ve been a band for a long time and we’ve done eight studio full-lengths, but each one kind of had its own character, or its own process.
The being said, The Color Before The Sun was definitely really unique. We tracked the record in much more of a live setting. We left New York and went to Nashville with a new producer. And his set up was different. He had no control room. I had never seen that my whole career. A studio with no control room. So the producer is sitting on stage with us while we’re recording, and we tracked that sucker live.
I would say that The Color Before The Sun is almost more of a live record than what a lot of bands out there have for their live records. And I think the end result really speaks for itself, we have a really unique sounding record. Certainly within the lineage and history of Coheed And Cambria, I think that The Color Before The Sun will stand out as a really special record. And no doubt, I think that was a byproduct of the process.
Could you speak more on the process of writing the album?
There were a few demos that Claudio had that we worked on while we were on tour (I forget what tour it was, but…). We’d throw up some microphones, some sound equipment, put some drums down. But the bulk of the record…This record was supposed to be Claudio’s solo record, at one time in his mind, you know. He thought of this group of songs that would be not a Coheed record, not a Prize Fighter [Sanchez’s side project] record, but a Claudio Sanchez record. This was personal, which ultimately why I think he decided to remove the kind of veil of the [Amory Wars] story and let the songs just speak as what they are.
But basically what we did besides working on a couple demos on tours was get together at Claudio’s house, the “Big Beige,” where we’ve done a ton of demos and ton of writing. Claudio had made tons of records there, and a lot of work’s been done down there. And we set up in the basement, just the four of us, no engineers, no techs. Just four guys on a carpet in a basement. And we worked these songs out.
And it was funny because when we rolled into the studio in Nashville, I think the producer (Jay Joyce, God bless him) was used to bands coming in and having nothing: like one guitar riff, no vocals, lyrics, and then they write a record together. And we came in knowing the track listing, we were really prepared. But again, that was the product of being in Claudio’s basement and just working out the songs.
And looking back, it was a really great time. You kind of just strip away all the bells and whistles. We just got back to four guys in a room bringing these songs to life. And naturally, in the two weeks that we did that, the songs and the parts evolved, and I think to us it becomes pretty clear what’s working and what’s not.
I remember Jay Joyce said, “No band has ever come in and been so prepared.” And he kept saying, “I feel like I’m not really doing anything! I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But I thought that was really kind of a badge of honor for us. He was into it.
But the preparation is what’s fun. Is it challenging? Hell yeah! At times frustrating? Absolutely! But ultimately, it’s the most rewarding part and that is the real meat and potatoes of making a record.
That sounds like a great time, and you seemed to have made someone’s job a lot easier.
Well, yeah. We also did the record in about two weeks. The last two records we did took six months each. This one being in two weeks was by design. Again, talking about how this process differed from other records, we had never worked that quickly before. But I think that the idea was to try to capture what happens when four guys just play in a room together…
But I think we learned a lot from the process and I would imagine that every Coheed record from here on out will take some big lessons that we’ve learned from The Color Before The Sun…I think it was a great, tremendous learning experience and a really fun one, too.
The new deluxe version of the album, in my mind the super duper deluxe version, has got a ton of goodies for fans, making it great for discover, as well. What made you put it together?
I think Coheed has always done things like that that allowed that kind of access. I always think it’s cool for people to hear where the songs came from or hear the earliest demos. A lot of times, there are certain performances or energies that are a part of the demo that you kind of miss in the recording sometimes. We call it “demo it is.” It’s where you hear a demo so many times that the actual recording will never live up to the demo. Sometimes the demos are recorded on an iPhone or something, but it has a really special energy to it. Coheed’s always been keen on letting the audience hear those things.
As for as the live recordings, I remember when it got sent to me, and I was like, “I think this is great. It’s not perfect, but this is a real band playing real songs on a real stage.” A lot of bands put out a live record and they’ll retouch the vocals, they’ll retouch the backing vocals. It dilutes the element of the realness of it. So I love it, I think it was a really brave move on our part to let people hear that. It’s straight off the boards, there’s nothing. It’s barely even mixed. It’s just mixed as it comes off the board, so…
And I’m glad that we made the decision to let people hear that. Because I think it’s pretty cool. There’s mistakes, too, by the way. There are definitely mistakes on there, and I think that’s pretty…I love mistakes.
There was a period where bands were constantly in the cross hairs of genre splitting i.e. “they aren’t prog, they’re pop; they aren’t this, they’re that.” I blame it on the MySpace era of the internet. In my opinion, Coheed And Cambria had that problem. Do you have an opinion about that?
Even when we were kids, before record deals or tours, it has always been such a wide net. It has always been such an eclectic mix of music. I’m still not sure what kind of band we are. As far as genre splitting, or having to define things, I’m really not sure. I’m 36 years old, I don’t know what’s hot on those streets anymore. I know when I hear music and it speaks to me, that it speaks to me. I could care less if it’s cool or hip or what genre it us. As far as Coheed goes, it’s always been an uncomfortably pop melody, and then the next song could be heavy as hell, but that’s always what we’ve done.
Not to be corny (and I know it sounds a little corny), but I think we come from a really sincere place and it’s about what speaks to you on that day. And on that day, it would be a super heavy song or it might be an uncomfortably pop worthy song. But looking back, it’s like, we have dug ourselves a path where we can do anything. And I feel like we do, on certain records. The deconstructed deluxe version of the new album, The Color Before The Sun, relies heavily on more concise pop sounds.
It doesn’t mean that the next record is going to be like that. I think that we can do whatever we want. That’s a really gratifying and freeing feeling, and though I don’t think we could have drew it up any better, I don’t think it was on purpose. And lucky us, we’ve cast a pretty wide path. Thank God.
The band is now old enough to drink (as in the band is 21 years old). What do you credit with the band’s longevity?
I’m afraid to really dissect it because I know how extremely lucky we are that we’re still standing and getting to do this. But I like to think that in a perfect world, that our music really struck a chord and really mattered to people, and the people that it did speak to didn’t think it was something they would allow to go away or be a flash in the pan. At the same time, I just feel so lucky. There’s no other word. We are really lucky. Sure, there’s talent. And I know we’re a great band. And I know we work exceptionally hard. And made a lot of sacrifices. But when it all boils down, we’re all lucky sons of bitches that we get to do this, for this long.
And maybe when I go to bed at night I tell myself, “It’s because we are so great,” but no matter what, anybody that has any success, there’s a stroke of luck somewhere in there. And I think we’ve had a big stork of luck, and think we’re lucky to make music that spoke to people that to them it wasn’t disposable. The things that we touched on in the music spoke to people in such a powerful way that they hung on. And we have the best fans in the world, and I know every band says that, but man, it’s so true.
Every Coheed fan I meet, they’re just like us. A lot of times they’re musicians, they’re smart, they’re creative souls, they are into music, they’re into movies. Many of my friends are people I met, who were fans of Coheed. That doesn’t mean you have to be a fan to be my friend, but it just so happens that a lot of my close friends I met as a result of this band. And I think that’s special, in and of itself.
The kind of people that Coheed spoke to weren’t the kind of people that would let a band disappear on them. It wasn’t about one summer where we had a big smash and it was over, and how we all have jobs at a bank or whatever. The fans are the reason we get to do this. And we never lose sight of that. Another reason we knew that the deluxe edition could hit well was because of access. The fans, they want to have that access. They want to hear those things. We like to lift the curtain, if you will, show the songs in their rawest form. The fans get a kick out of it. And so do we.
Coheed And Cambria will play at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY on Oct. 14, and the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, NJ on Oct. 15. For more information, go to coheedandcambria.com.