Coheed and Cambria: Creative Minds are Always Creating

With the return of drummer Josh Eppard last year, Coheed and Cambria are almost back in their original line-up. No surprise then that the new album The Afterman: Ascension, which was released in October, sounds a bit like back-to-the-roots. We met Josh before the band´s gig at the Grünspan in Hamburg.

You just escaped the monster hurricane Sandy. You´re all from New York, right? Was there any damage to your homes?
Yes, we´re all from New York. Travis´ mother in law had three feet of water in her house. It was really flooded bad, lots of damage. Pretty much everyone I know in New York lost power. But what was really scary about Hurricane Sandy was that… last year there was a hurricane that wiped out a town up where I live. I mean literally the town is gone. Just destroyed. It was about 7 to 8 feet of water, and all the water from the mountains… it collects in this town called Ellenville and it just absolutely destroyed it. So, everybody was really terrified about this one but the reports I´ve heard – cause I can´t call my family, I have to talk to them over email because I don´t feel like paying 500 dollars for a phone bill – they say it wasn´t so bad. Thank God. All is well.

You flew here from the US, right?
Yes, from Atlanta. It´s our second day here. We got good sleep last night. We´re just excited to be here. We love Germany.

Really, why?
I think because we have better shows here and we´ve been here a lot. We´ve been to England so much, it´s almost like home. When we come to Europe, we´re always most excited about the German shows. The shows are better. And Germany is pretty cool, I like it here. It´s always really exciting to visit here. That´s not to say that I don´t like France or Italy but the shows in Germany have always been better historically for this band.

Tonight you will play two sets, one acoustic and one electric set, how come?
I don´t know (laughs). But I know that we enjoy playing acoustic. It´s kind of a different animal, if you will. It´s a show different from a loud rock show. You know, it´s just another side of music. It couldn´t be anymore… it´s night and day different from the electric set and it´s something we enjoy. And the fans, certainly, in America – it remains to be seen here – seem to really enjoy it as well. So, if we enjoy it and the fans enjoy it, then we want to do it.

Actually, I´m also very excited to see the acoustic set.
Yeah, it should be cool. It´s always fun and it´s definitely different. It´s very quiet and then the loud show, where we are going crazy, rocking. It´s like the other side of things. From a musical perspective, it´s really just as enjoyable – superdifferent but just as enjoyable. I think a lot of Coheed and Cambria songs translate well acoustically, certainly some of the more prettier ones. But we even do some of the heavier ones that, if played the right way, also seem to translate. I don´t think every band could do that.

I guess there are also songs that don´t translate that well?
Oh God, yeah. There are plenty OR we haven´t found the right way to make it work cause certain songs… the window is so big. There are so many things you could do, from percussive stuff like shakers and tambourines to Zach, the bass player, playing an acoustic bass, or with a bow, with a stand up bass… It´s a pretty big window. If we had to I bet we could make any song work but we take a lot of time experimenting and finding what works. Going through the songs and picking out which ones we´ll do acoustic – at least for tonight, it´s only about a 25 minute acoustic set – it´s only the ones that worked pretty quickly.

But isn´t Claudio writing most of the songs on his acoustic guitar anyway?
It´s always different. There´s not one way. For any songwriter or for this band, there´s never one way. Claudio could write a song on a keyboard, Claudio could write a song on a shoe (produces rhythm with his hands on his shoe, “Oh, shoe, that´s awesome”). It´s always different, creative minds are always creating. If something speaks to you, whether it´s an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar… Certainly, there are a lot of songs that I´m sure started with Claudio in his bedroom on his acoustic guitar – probably, a majority of them. But when someone is creative everything becomes an instrument, almost.

Let´s talk about your new album The Afterman: Ascension. It´s the first part of a double album, with the second part being released in spring 2013. Why a double album, is it because you wrote too many songs?
That was it, really (smiles). First of all, a double record I think is cool. We were talking about maybe doing a double record then we scratched the idea, we said ´no, it´s going to be one record because maybe it will be perceived as kind of hokey, doing two records.´ But then, we just had too many songs. We kept trying to cut it down to one long record and we couldn´t do it. We did cut some songs out even for the double record. It´s not like we just kept everything we recorded. And even the songs that got cut, I sure hope they see the light of day cause I think they were awesome. Then we started again, over the course of making this record, over the six months, it was going to be a double record, it was a single record, it´s gonna be double, single… And then we kinda entertained the idea, ´alright, it´s a double record but what if we released them differently, so that each could live on their own´ and then tie all together, which I thought was a great idea. I was always pushing for the double record. But the bottom line, the real home base reason is that we just had too much material and we couldn´t live with cutting certain songs.

So it was a difficult birth, picking the songs for the record?
You have to have a hard heart to do this, you have to have a hard heart to make music. There´s a lot of disappointment, things like that that come with this business but we couldn´t live with certain songs being off the record. It was like, ´no, man, people got to hear this, this is one of my favourite songs´. I always said, ´hey, that´s my favourite song´ about the ones that were up for getting cut.

When I listened to The Afterman, I found many similarities to your older material like In Keeping Secrets.
Yeah, true but we didn´t sit down and say we have to write a record that sounds like our older stuff. No way! I think when you have a) me back and b) we recorded at my uncle´s studio where we did the first three records, including In Keeping Secrets, with the same producers, my uncle Mike, my friend Chris, I think it´s just a natural progression that yeah, it´s gonna sound a bit more like that era. You know those first three records were all done at that studio. And here we are at that studio again. The drums, too can change everything. If you wrote a song and you brought it to five different drummers, you´d have five different songs. Is it going to be slow and atmospheric, is it going to be fast and pounding – there are so many things that the drums, well every instrument, the bass, the guitars, they can take it. Certainly, having me back in the fold… Songs like “Good Night Fair Lady”, who knows what they would have sounded like with a different drummer… As a fan of Coheed, as a member of Coheed, I was glad to hear some of those DNA threads from the earlier records. But I don´t know if it was a conscious decision. We didn´t sit down and say this is gotta sound like this but I think we were all aware that it did and that that was a good thing.

Speaking of similarities, the starting riff of Vic the Butcher reminds a lot of Al the killer from the In Keeping Secrets record, am I correct?
Well, they are really not the same at all but it´s not not correct but it´s not correct either (laughs). I can´t even remember how Al the Killer starts. You mean the noises like this? (makes slurping sound)

No, no, not the noises but really the guitar riff.
Al the Killer starts (sings first notes) and Vic the Butcher is (sings first notes). I guess they are *kinda* similar. Ones up here, ones down here. I don´t know, I hear what you are saying. There´s definitely some similarity there. I never noticed that before. I mean, trust me there´s a lot more similarities chord-wise than that, that are far more established. But I hear that. I just haven´t listened to Al the Killer in a long time. But you know what, Claudio might tell you that that was on purpose, I just don´t really know. If he did, he would be lying (laughs). Al the Killer and Vic the Butcher, they are both about specific characters throughout the story, so maybe when Claudio was writing it, he taught, ´oh, that´s a bit similar but that´s cool´. There is a song on the second record where we actually used elements from all the other records. There´s one little bar of notes from Backend of Forever, one little piece that´s like Time Consumer. We thought that was kinda cool, and it would really be only for the die-hards cause it´s very short, very subtle. It´s not in your face.

During the time you were not part of the band, they released two records. Did you listen to those when they came out?
Oh, yeah. I know those records well. I think No World For Tomorrow is my favourite Coheed record and that´s Taylor Hawkins from the Foo Fighters playing drums. He´s one of my favourite drummers. I thought that that was just a real leap forward in the song writing and it really pissed me off that they made such a great record without me. It really ticked me off. A lot of the lyrics on that record really spoke to me. I was a terrible heroin addict for years and years and that record actually helped to clean me up. Claudio said things on that record that he couldn´t say to me and just the fact that they were in a song, it really spoke to me, you know. That record taught me a lot about myself and I really enjoyed that record. That being said, I really like Black Rainbow, which is very Chris Pennie. Am I happy that I missed two Coheed records? No, I wish I didn´t do that but to be here now, to come back to the band after everything that I´ve been through and everything that they´ve been through, I kinda wouldn´t change it. That´s easy to say when things are going good, if you´d asked me that two years ago I´d have said, ´I´d had changed everything´. But being here now, maybe it´s what needed to happen. Me and Zach can bring some freshness, bring some new energy to Coheed. Maybe it was all supposed to happen like this. But yeah, to answer your question, I knew those records very well and I was a fan. I was a fan of Coheed, I´ve always been a fan of Claudio and Travis. I totally listened to those records. I knew those songs better than the ones that I played on from my records cause I never listen to those.

Coming back after a five year break, did you notice any changes within the band?
Yeah, some things but not really… Five years is a long time but not as long as you think. More of what I notice are personality changes… and for the better. When we were doing The Afterman, there were specific moments where I said to myself, five years ago that would have been a fight. That would have been a balls to the wall fight. And now, we are a little bit older, it wasn´t a fight at all. I think the communication within the band was never as good as it is now. Back then, we were kids, growing up in a van together. All of a sudden you have gold records, you´re on tv, there´s some money that comes with that. We all kinda went our separate ways. I think after the years apart, you realise that that´s worth something, knowing someone like that and growing up with someone. Those guys are my best friends. Maybe we didn´t realise that back then. So I guess it´s one dose of maturity, one dose of maybe realising the world is much bigger than you and that we´ve been able to navigate things that used to maybe be a problem… that´s the biggest change. And it´s certainly a positive change.

How about musical changes?
Again, not as many changes as you think. It´s just like playing with Travis and Claudio again. And, you know, from the first minute we played together, and I kid you not, in 30 seconds, I knew it´s right and I know Claudio did, too. We just play together in a way that you can´t really… they tried to, they tried with Taylor and with Chris. We just have a thing that works together like an eternal meter that works. You can´t really put a finger on it, it´s not tangible but when you grow up with someone in a van playing music every night and essentially learning how to be a professional and you do that together, there´s like an unseen, unwritten bond between those guys that you can´t recreate with someone. If you put two players that are great together, it doesn´t mean it´s gonna work. I´m sure there´s plenty of schooled, great players that like playing with this guy but don´t like playing with this guy because there´s a certain thing, there´s a chemistry. There is a meter inside of your heart and in your being that for some people, it doesn´t link up but for me and Claudio and Travis and Zach it links up. I don´t know if that makes any sense at all (smiles), I´m insane.

(Coheed guitarist Travis Stever and his interviewer finished their interview, walk past us)
Josh: Oh, are you guys done, (to me) are we done?

Almost, one last question.
Interviewer: Ask him about the Halloween costume.

What was your question exactly?
Travis: He asked me about the Halloween costume that we´d create to represent the band.

You answered what?
Travis: It was really long.
Interviewer: It just got more and more fucked up (all laugh)
Travis: It does have three testicles and an elephant dong.

(To Josh) So, you have to top that.
No, we would be The Beatles. That´s what we should be for Halloween. Especially, since we are in Germany.

But the Beatles are not from Germany, how about the Scorpions?
I actually like the Scorpions but The Beatles cut their teeth playing here in Hamburg. This is where they learnt how to play. The bar is right there, it´s like right over there. We are all big Beatles fans. Even though they are not from here, in their books this is where they say they learnt to be a band and learnt to play. I actually tried to get the band to dress up as The Beatles tonight but they didn´t want to do it.

Too bad, thanks for your time.

Photos: Band (Justin Borucki, Ryan Russel), K. Gransalke

Kathleen Gransalke

Kathleen Gransalke

Editor for Reviews - translations, reports, photos - - - Favorite genres? - Punk, Rock, Death Metal, Mathcore - - - Favorite bands? - Coheed & Cambria, Black Dahlia Murder, Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon