Coheed and Cambria: Eating, Sleeping and Playing Music

In their home country, the US, the guys of Coheed and Cambria are already a big name, in mainland Europe, though, it´s not panning out for them just yet. And that even though, the band doesn´t only have euphoria-, ass-shake-inducing but most of all professionally played prog rock music to offer – a whole science fiction saga, available in comic format, is only waiting to be discovered as well. Before their support gig for the Deftones in Cologne, STALKER met drummer Chris Pennie (ex-Dillinger Escape Plan) who made his official debut on the band´s new album Year of the Black Rainbow. Being the really nice guy that he is, he went to great pains to answer all curious questions about the new album, the backgrounds to the story, life on tour and, on top of it, even eliminated a few preconceptions about those guys behind the kit.

You just came from the UK, what did you do on your day off, relax or maybe some sightseeing?
I´m pretty much over the sightseeing thing, over here in Europe, I have seen enough, hehe. So for me it´s important to just relax and recuperate and also work on, you know, other music writing, learning, studying. That sort of thing. I´m fairly engrossed in a lot of creative things, that are related to music outside of the band and I also feel it helps the band. So for me it´s very, very important to just, eat, sleep, drink a lot of water and study.

What are you studying then?
I´m studying composing, anything that goes into that, like, reharmonisation, music synthesis, working with a lot of this technology. Actually, a lot of the companies come from around the area, things like Abelton Live, Steinberg Cubase and Vienna Symphonic Library and stuff like that. Everything that kinda goes into, you know, what would entail writing or learning how-to write film score.

So you are a music nerd?
I am! Absolutely, yeah.

But why are you a drummer then?
Because drumming is just one aspect of, you know, that encompasses music and I love that, too.

But you can play other instruments as well?
I can, yes I can. I think it´s very, very important because one benefits the other. And all the other things that I do, I think it helps. As I grow, I´m able to interject ideas into Coheed and that sort of thing so… I just feel like, it just helps me, you know, be better, well rounded and more aware, quicker to react to certain situations. And to interact with people.

This was actually my last question but since we´re already talking about it, there´s this general preconception that drummers are not musicians, they are just people who hang out with musicians. I think you wouldn´t agree with that?
(laughs) No, I would tend to think that a lot of drummers… they are probably the hardest working musicians because they have… I mean they are, obviously, they are the backbone of the band usually in a rock context or a jazz context. They are leading the band, they are driving the band, you know. But I also find, they are the most dedicated because they have a lot of equipment to set up usually, you know, more drum pieces to put together than a couple of amps, not generalising but just, you know, matter of fact speaking. And I find that a lot of drummers and musicians that I hang out with that are drummers usually put the most time in practising, way more than guitarists or vocalists.

Chris at this year´s Download festival ©Cristina Massei

But tonight you´re supporting the Deftones, I was wondering whether you wouldn´t like to have it the other way around? They play before you?
Before us? Aaah, no! I mean they are a great band, a band that all of us, in Coheed, look up to and were inspired by growing up and to this day. Cause they still continue to put out, what we consider very, very great and inspiring records. And so, it´s nice to be a part of that, to share a stage with the band that you look up to, look forward to playing with. I feel there´s a small handful of bands… and the Deftones are one of them, so we´re happy to be a part of it.

Let´s talk about the new album “Year of the Black Rainbow”. I found it sounds very different…
(enthusiastic) Yes!

I thought it sounds way more serious than previous records and basically only two songs have that typical Coheed and Cambria sound?
Hmm, well I think, naturally it´s gonna be different cause it´s my first time recording with the band. Even though I was part of the demoing process for „No World for Tomorrow“, ultimately I wasn´t allowed to play on the record [for contractual reasons]. But, yeah, I think the record has a little bit more of a serious undertone and I think there´s a little bit more… it´s very dense in terms of what is being thrown into the mix now. There´s a lot of loops and synthesizers and sequencing and stuff like that …and who we picked as engineer and producer to be a part of that record, Atticus Ross and Joe Barresi. They kinda come from that background. Being in a band for such a short amount of time, for only 3,5 years now… the band has a very eclectic mix of musical taste, meaning everybody has their certain bands that they draw from and so the band just continues to grow. Whether that´s in a serious manner, that´s hard for me to tell because I didn´t come from square one to get to there but… it´s naturally going to be different, that´s the one thing I can say on my behalf and it´s because this is the first time, really interacting 100% all the way.

How did you pick the producers, Atticus Ross and Joe Barresi?
We picked them because of their track record, because of the bands that they had worked with. Joe Barresi had worked with Tool and bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss. Atticus Ross with Nine Inch Nails, Jane´s Addiction that sort of thing. Kind of a wide variety, Joe coming a little bit more from the real heavy rock kinda world and Atticus kinda coming more from the electronic side. And those were things that we were…when we we´re writing the record those were things that we were kinda entertaining with our own little self-production, pre-production. We felt that those guys were the best suited for that, you know, given the track record and given, what they can bring to the table and kinda help us with.

And then the visual concept, like for example the cover…
It´s very different, too.

Yeah, I feel it looks very futuristic even though the story line actually goes back to the past, do you know anything about that?
Yeah, it is going into the past. Yeah, because it is the first record. As far as I know, as far as that goes, being the prequel, kinda like the last series, you know, the main part now in the story. I don´t really know if that was a conscious thing or aesthetically, it was just like, let´s go for something different. That was more along the lines of what Claudio´s [Sanchez, singer, guitarist and general mastermind of the band] taste was. I just happened to show up at the house, at his house and he just presented me with a proof of what the record was looking like. And I really loved it, I really liked that kinda, little bit simplistic, futuristic. I think it´s simplistic because I mean when you compare it to „No World For Tomorrow“…

(someone from the venue, most cleverly, decided to play loud music) Oh, sorry for the music, yeah. Oh, boy, hehe, Oh yeah, we got a little lounge music now for the interview. (laughs)

…It´s simple, kinda direct to the point and I think that kinda fits the music, the recording.

So the music is written by the whole band but what is your personal contribution?
Well, as far as, how it goes, there´s kind of a little bit of a system. Claudio usually comes up with a lot of the riffs and the phrasings and what we have done in the past is that…we just pass along the file, to me and I put some drums on it and then Travis [Stever, guitar] and Mike [Todd, bass] will put bass and guitar and then… once we get, like, a working demo of it, we all get together obviously and really flush the songs out. Everybody has their own contribution; it´s just depends on what the timing is. There´s really no set time for, like, raise your hand and ´can I add a part here?´ It´s just however the emotion may kinda bring it across, if I feel like I have an idea for something I will immediately present it.

Like guitar riffs, too?
Loops and certain melodic ideas and vice versa, too. Claudio will be like ´here´s my idea, how the drum beat may be for that´. It´s very open, I think we´re all very open and nobody has a set certain kinda pride about them to say like ´I can play something better´, it´s not like that at all. It´s very, very open. Ok… what´s best for the song?

About the title, do you have any idea what actually IS a black rainbow?
The black rainbow? Well, the simple thing it´s just what Claudio said it´s a cut in the sky. A cut in the sky but in the story, let´s see if I can explain this right cause it´s very hard sometimes to explain it. Uhm, basically as he describes it, it´s that it´s like… this cut in the sky and people, you know…uhhh, what´s it like? Hang on…… I can´t, I can´t totally describe it, it´s very, very hard for me to explain. I´m just gonna leave it as, what is a black rainbow? It´s a cut, it´s a rip in the sky. Alright? Let´s leave it with that (laughs).

Ok, so you already tried to tell me a bit about the story but I was wondering, before you joined, did Claudio tell you what was going on in the story, did you know it before, or do you even care?
I do care, it´s just gonna take a lot of time for me to really dive into everything. I haven´t had the time to do it, to be honest, but coming into the band, it wasn´t forced upon me. That´s one of the great things about the guys that nothing´s ever forced or preached or put upon. I know kind of the motto is: if you like the band and the story is something for you to get into as another dimension to the band…. And I think that´s a great thing. I have a very basic understanding of it. We´re gonna have a lot of time off and honestly, in that time off, which is about three months, I really plan to kinda get caught up on all of that or as much as I possibly can. It´s something that is very intriguing to me but it is very in-depth. I´m not gonna say it´s intimidating but it´s definitely gonna take some time to really do it right.

Yeah, I kinda lost track after the first two books, now I don´t know anything anymore…
(laughs) Yeah, it takes some patience. I feel like at the heart of it, all the parallels, all the things that he [Claudio] draws from, like his personal experiences, it leaks into the story, that´s pretty amazing. So, I wanna know about it cause I mean, it´s something that he´s pretty much telling, you know, his little anecdotes, his life through this story, so it´s important.

The Amory Wars comic book series tells the story of the characters, Coheed and Cambria

The story does have some similarities with another science fiction epic, Star Wars. Now you have this prequel, too. Did you get a call from George Lucas already?
I don´t think so, no. There are definitely, on a base level, yeah, there are a lot of similarities you could draw to it but I think deeper than that, though, it´s not like that.

So, he has no reason to sue you?
Oh, not me, definitely not me! I´m not penning the story.

You might lose your job, though?
I don´t think that´s ever gonna happen, no. I don´t think we get sued whatever we do with that. Nah! (laughs)

But there might be a movie?
Oh, yes. I definitely think so. With the right amount of time, the right amount of energy and the right amount of money to bring across the vision right, yeah I definitely think so. I think he [Claudio] should pursue it. I know that it´s one medium that he hasn´t tapped into yet and I know he´s very interested in doing. So hopefully he will do it.

Why did you actually want to join Coheed and Cambria three years ago?
I wanted to join because from where I started out from… I played in a band called The Dillinger Escape Plan, which was very, very heavy… a very eclectic mix of music in a heavy context. But throughout that time, personal relationships in that band became very strained with a couple members, of the guys in the band and it all kinda really culminated while we were opening up for Coheed and Cambria. And one of the guys just walked out on the band and was all involved in a lot of illegal activities and all sorts of things that had nothing to do with music, nothing to do with where I wanted to be personally and I wasn´t happy. You know, I wasn´t happy and the pretty ironic thing about all of that was… as I was going through that moment in time with Dillinger, I know the guys, Claudio and Travis were kinda going through certain similar times with a couple of the other guys in the band and ultimately Josh [Eppard, former Coheed drummer]. There were just personal differences there and so the interesting thing of it all was… I remember like, after we opened for Coheed, Dillinger finished out the tour… I remember feeling at an all-time low personally because I felt, like, mistreated as a human being, first and foremost, and I felt that the people that I was playing with, growing up, wanting to play music weren´t there for playing music. So I wanted to meet people that rekindle that foundation of ´let´s have a good time doing what we´re doing´. And it was very, very interesting because after all that happened, a week later I got a call from one of the guys from the management and then ultimately, a couple of days later I ended up talking to Claudio and Travis. And I just honestly really connected with them and I felt like we were all kinda in the same boat. Let´s get back to that basic foundation of having fun and spending good time, getting to know one another. I felt almost off the bat, at home…you know.

Actually I saw Dillinger Escape Plan two years ago live and, to say the least, the gig was pretty wild. I think it´s a bit different now with those guys…
Oh yeah, yeah, it´s a lot different. It´s interesting because…I think there are lots of similarities…people want to compare, put things into categories and stuff like that. I still feel, like, both bands have such a tremendous wide range of talent and depth to draw from, you know what I mean. It just really makes me happy to be able to do something different and step outside of the box of doing the same thing I´ve been doing for ten years. Now, I´m in a different situation, personally, my mental health is way better and that just allows me to do and interact and be a part of many more things and ultimately that´s the most important thing.

But no one´s jumping on your kit anymore, I guess.
Not now, if they did, it wouldn´t matter. I would still love it.

How´s life on tour? What has been the most rocknroll moment so far?
There really isn´t any of that, you know and that´s why I love being with these guys so much. It´s a relaxed atmosphere. It´s not ´oh, we have to go out and do this´ or ´we have to go out and do that´, we´re all adults, you know. We´re in our early thirties now and I know that sounds very boring but I mean at the same time…this is like why you do this, this is what I grew up wanting to do, you know. And when you´re young, there´re all these other things that are going on, you can easily just dip your hands into certain different pots but ultimately, at the end that stuff just burns you out. It´s all really just ´excess´ and it´s all kinda facetious and it´s bullshit. So I feel that´s why the band has done so well for so long, there´s a great focus, it´s very focused and onto itself, it´s void of like rocknroll cliché and I think that´s awesome. Because so many people now are so into the rocknroll cliché ´yeah, drinking and drugs and chicks´ that it´s just like ´dude, I´ve been in this for like 15 years now, I´m tired of hearing that, like, I don´t care about that shit anymore´, you know. I never really cared about that growing up and I don´t care about it now… I don´t care about what you did after the show, do you have enough energy to do shit after the show? You should be expending it all on stage, that´s pretty much, what it´s all about.

Yeah, that´s true. Then I was wondering why you play so many gigs in the US but not so many here in Europe?
Well, it depends, the US, I mean, we do really well over there. We do really well, earlier this year when the record came out we did a major market tour over there and it was all sold out. It was great and then we came over here and we played a lot of festivals and they were received really well but it depends on certain areas. A certain demand, what certain kids like. I can´t totally pinpoint it and say this area doesn´t like us. Certain kids, they like what they like. For us, we have to stick to certain areas where it´s important that we get in front of those kids, get in front of more kids but, on the other hand, taking opportunities, open up for bands like Deftones and get in front of different kids that may have not seen us before. One thing that´s undeniable about the band is that we put on a good live show, I think everybody in the band is obviously very proficient, we have something to say and I think we sound great. I´m very proud of how we come across live. And you can´t deny that. And, whether it´s your personal taste or not, it´s something that is respectable, you know what I mean. And I think we all take a lot of pride in that. So anyway, getting to the point, it´s just that there might not be as high demand over here as in the States…

Then you have to work on it!
Well, and then there´s the question of time, too. I mean, the United States is quite big. It´s very, very big and you know, we tour 8 or 9 months out of the year already. So we do what we can (laughs)

You also have those acoustic gigs and some acoustic songs are available for download. Are there plans to do something a little bit more official?
We´ve talked about doing acoustic records and certain things like that. I think it´s a great element and it´s a lot of fun to do cause there are, like, different arrangements of the songs and it´s nice to step inside and kinda really be creative and dynamic and very on the spot. It´s not something that we really rehearse for, we just kinda roll up to a gig like that and play three or four songs. And we just go for it and it´s cool because it´s very loose, the format is very loose. So it leads to certain improvisation within the confines, the form of a song. Whether that is going to be officially done, I don´t know. There haven´t really ever been official plans, there are talks of it. Maybe we will one day, I hope we do. It would be a lot of fun to do it.

When you play those acoustic gigs in a record store, then people are just one meter away…
Right there, that´s great, that is really cool. I think it´s awesome because you get used to a certain sound, to a certain style when you´re playing shows like this, like tonight, there´s a barricade, kids are far away from you, so you lose some of the intimacy sometimes, you know what I mean. And those shows are great cause you get to really kinda feel the vibe of the kids being there.

And there´s also lots more interaction…
Yeah, kids get into it. And it´s cool cause we´re playing so quiet that you can make out every conversation, what everybody is saying. So it´s cool, it´s definitely a lot of fun and I don´t know, I like to just really keep the format like it always has been. It´s inspirational in that sense where…if you think about it too much then I think it would kill some of the vibe. Keep the vibe fresh, just have a good time and just let it go. I don´t know, maybe it would be awesome to just be like not really plan for it but just one day, even if we did it on our own, self-recorded, just throw out some mikes and let´s go for it. Let´s just do it. And see how it will turn out, that would be cool.

Yeah, and for example an acoustic tour in Europe, that would be my dream…
(laughs) Uuuuuuhm, we´re gonna talk about it, haha.

So this is the last question, what are your plans for after this tour?
Just to go home. Go home and be home for the holidays, we´ve been out quite a lot. We still have a little bit more touring to do, we´re gonna play Australia in February, which should be really nice. It´s part of the Soundwave festival, that´s something we always wanted to be part of. I think Iron Maiden and bands like Slayer and a couple of heavier bands of that nature… and I know there´s a whole wide variety of other rock bands and that sort of thing so it´s gonna be great. Yeah, just kinda get home, recharge the batteries, just kinda get together and play but not play, like, the songs, maybe work on a riff or something like that and really just take our minds out of being in that situation that we´re in right now. I think that´s healthy and it´s a great decompression period. Three months home is a great thing and I think it will be great for everybody to just kinda grow and relax, decompress and learn more stuff and then kinda bring that to the table and go back out and tour a little bit more.

Thank you!
Alright? Yeah, you got it!

See you later!
Alright, I´m gonna go and eat.

Photos: Cristina Massei, Coheed and Cambria

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