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Coheed And Cambria's Claudio Sanchez Talks Comics, Kurt Vonnegut & What's Next For 'The Amory Wars'
Coheed and Cambria don't simply make albums, they create musical and lyrical universes. Specifically surrounding the story of The Amory Wars—sci-fi-ish storylines that mesh with comics, books, videos and visuals to create a linear through-line among nearly all the band's albums. If that sounds like a Pink Floyd or RUSH fan's dream, maybe; but it’s also captivating for the everyperson who likes their rock heady and multi-dimensional. As evidenced on nine albums since 2002's The Second Stage Turbine Blade debut, Coheed and Cambria's unique conceptual approach can be grandiose but never pompous; poppy but never lightweight, creative but never unwieldy.
Comprised of Claudio Sanchez (vocals/guitar), Travis Stever (guitar), Josh Eppard (drums) and Zach Cooper (bass), the band began in Nyack, New York in 1995. Driven by Sanchez's fully realized tales, CandC's latest album, 2018's cinematic Vaxis—Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures, debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hard Rock Albums chart and Top 15 on the Billboard 200 chart. The record kicks off with a spare piano and a spooky spoken-word "Prologue" that sets up the chant-along rocker "The Dark Sentencer," delving into gems like the pop-tastic "Old Flames" before concluding its 78-minute journey with the gentle guitar/vocals/strings "Lucky Stars."
The Recording Academy caught up with down-to-earth frontman via phone from the Brooklyn apartment he shares with his wife (and frequent collaborator) Chondra Echert and son Atlas Hendrix. The conversation ranged from his 100-year-old grandfather (a.k.a. Beep Beep) to Kraftwerk to Dio to co-sleeping. And, drum roll, please—Sanchez also revealed a brand-new CandC endeavor that will thrill fans.
Since all your songs and albums have such storylines, as a kid in school, what kind of writing were you doing; was English your best subject?
No, not really. It wasn't until I picked up a guitar that I actually started to write. My imagination was always very alive. Certainly when music was acting as the soundtrack to [words], whether it was like a mundane car ride with my mother or father, whatever was playing on the radio would conjure up visuals in my mind, whether superheroes or science fiction characters, I would always pictures, scenes, as long as the song was really strong, you know?
At that age, what were you reading?
I think it was mostly comic books. I wasn't the most active participant in school, putting it nicely. I did well, though; I did enough to, to pacify my parents. I wasn't a bad kid or anything. But for the most part I liked the story telling told in other mediums, whether it was movies, video games, or the ones that I would construct with action figures. Comics were a big one. I would frequent shops on the Wednesdays when new things would come out, Batman or whatever. When I got into high school, Kurt Vonnegut was a big one. I actually remember when I bought my first edition, at the used book store in Nyack. Slaughterhouse Five. I remember looking at the cover and seeing that it had two titles and being totally intrigued by that. I forget… the First Crusade or something? It was like Slaughterhouse Five or Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah, Dah. [The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance With Death.] So from there to Breakfast Of Champions [(or Goodbye Blue Mondays)].
The two-title thing explains a lot about you now in Coheed! No one-word titles!
[Laughs.] No way!
You mentioned that a job you had as a teen really spurred the music and lyrics of what became Coheed and Cambria.
Yes, my pet store job, just 'cause the guys there allowed me to do what I needed to do to allow the band to grow. You know, they gave me the weekends off when I needed them. Working in that store inspired a lot of like little details within the Amory Wars, the Coheed story. Like the name of the solar system that the actual story takes place on is called the Keywork after the guys that own the store. I named the solar system after them. I chose the color of the interlocking theme of Keywork to be blue because I worked on fish tanks, and they'd have these blue backdrops. The main villain I named after one of the managers because he actually said, "Hey, if you ever do make this story, I want to be your villain." The fact that he sort of believed in me, that I would actually make this thing … So I named the character after him.
I know it was in Paris where you first created the Coheed and Cambria characters and more. Was it the city itself that that was influential or was it just being out of your normal environment?
I think it was a little bit of both. I went to Paris for about a month to visit a girlfriend at the time. I had never been that far away from home. Jersey was probably the furthest distance I'd traveled, literally, and here I was at 18, ready to hit Europe, with really no idea what to expect. Once I got there, the architecture had a lot to do with maybe feeling like I was in an alien environment. Originally the story with the title The Bag On Line Adventures Adventures of Coheed and Cambria after the bag shop I was living across the street from. I thought that that was appropriate because I was traveling and, you know, sort of the wild things that would come out of your bag.
Even though the bags had nothing to do with the story, there was just something about the shop that made sense to me. I loosely based the characters of Coheed and Cambria after myself and my significant other at that moment. But as I started to really write songs and flesh out the ideas of the story, Coheed and Cambria really started to take on the likenesses of my mother and father. And it really became like a science fiction story about my family; that's where all the little details from life started to spill into it. Like the pet store stuff. The Amory Wars; Amory is actually the road I lived on. And 78 planets of Heaven's Fence was actually taken from the year I was born, 1978. There's a lot of symbolism in the real story that sort of resides behind the science fiction.
As so much of your art is interconnected; is it possible for people to just listen to the music and not even be aware of the books and comics, and vice versa?
I love that it can be consumed in any way; the consumer can choose how to ingest it. When it comes to the music side of things, I try not to force the concept. The themes are there. But I also want it to feel universal because it is, it's coming from someplace very, very deep, very real. I want it to feel in a way separate, but if you were to conjoin it with the comics, then there's a whole other experience. And vice-versa. It does happen at comic conventions where someone will come to the booth and say something like, "I really enjoy this story." And then wonder what the T-shirts are. Then they’re like, "Oh, wait a second, this is a band?" Sometimes that'll happen. You know, clearly the band is definitely the fuel for everything, but it does have its own legs in the other sort of dimension of the whole thing. I'm really all for however you want to perceive it. It's totally fine.
So releasing a single from the middle of an album is OK by you?
I don't think there's anything wrong with listening to the one song outside of the context of the whole. I've had a magic of watching MTV as a kid; the television that you would like turn the dial and instead of the remote! I remember seeing Madonna's "Material Girl." Michael Jackson's "Beat It." I didn't need to know that there was anything else. That was enough for me and I wanted to hear it over and over again! I get that sort of that method of consuming music.
Of course, Pink Floyd's The Wall and Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime are conceptual landmarks. What did you dig?
My first year of high school, that's when I started to go to concerts. My first two concerts were really, I think, what cemented me into the idea of this much bigger story in terms of music. The first one was Sabbath at the Beacon Theater with Dio fronting. This is my first concert. I didn't even know that the live sort of thing… I mean, I think I even know that was a thing! I went and I was like, "Wow, this is amazing the way the lights are interacting with the band." Then my second one was Pink Floyd on the Division Bell tour. That's when I started to fall down the rabbit hole of progressive rock and conceptual albums and things like that. ‘Cause after that it was The Wall, Dark Side [of the Moon], Animals. Again, just watching the visuals and music interact with each live, but even the myth of playing Wizard Of Oz against Dark Side, you know. Of course I tried it!
I read a while ago where Mark Wahlberg and his production company had interest in Amory Wars as a live-action film. What happened with that? Are there any other projects related to that universe?
Yeah, the Mark Wahlberg agreement expired, so nothing really happened with it. But at the moment we are working with an animation company on turning the Amory Wars into either a full-length animation or sort of a serial animation. We're in the process of that, as well as looking to adapt the stories into board games.
Wow! That's exciting.
You know, I notice our fanbase will sometimes come to the shows early, and I wanted like to do something that will get them involved with each other in these moments. I thought board games was an interesting thing, or even card games, these legacy card games a la Magic [The Gathering], you know? At the moment that's what we're in the middle of.
Did you play Dungeons and Dragons?
I tried. I did. The thing is, I played it a couple of times before I moved, and really enjoyed it, but then I could never find people to play with again. Like I'm pretty socially awkward. I have a hard time meeting people. I really do. I'm really horrible at that.
Aww. Well, any Coheed and Cambria game endeavor has so many ways it could go…
I'd want to do something really cool like either being part of the events of the story or maybe multiple games that are the events of the story. But I'm very excited. I think it's a really cool time to be a Coheed fan ‘cause all of these sort of things are percolating. I know that the fan base really desired something on another platform. I'm really excited for the animation. I think it could be really cool. So we're just sort of working our way through all the details and trying to put together the team that makes the most sense to really bring it to life.
Do you think it could be out as early 2020?
Oh, that might be a little too early. We haven't announced the actual partner, so we're just still trying to get that piece in place before we actually announce.