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Coheed And Cambria's Claudio Sanchez Talks Comics, Kurt Vonnegut & What's Next For 'The Amory Wars'

Claudio Sanchez

Photo by Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

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Coheed And Cambria's Claudio Sanchez Talks Comics, Kurt Vonnegut & What's Next For 'The Amory Wars'

The hard-rocking frontman goes deep on Coheed's multi-dimensional storytelling, attempting to play D&D, his first-ever live music experiences and more

GRAMMYs/Sep 11, 2019 - 10:32 pm

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 VaxisAct 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.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

Joan as Police Woman

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Quarantine Diaries: Joan As Police Woman Is Bike Riding, Book Reading & Strumming D'Angelo

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 07:21 pm

As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer/songwriter Joan Wasser of Joan as Police Woman, whose forthcoming covers album, COVER TWO, includes tracks by The Strokes, Prince, Talk Talk, and more, shares her Quarantine Diary.

Thursday, April 2

[10 a.m.-12 p.m.] Went to bed at 4 a.m. last night after getting drawn into working on a song. Put on the kettle to make hot coffee while enjoying an iced coffee I made the day before. Double coffee is my jam. Read the news, which does not do much for my mood. Catch up with a few friends, which does a lot of good for my mood. Glad it goes in this order.

[12 p.m.-2 p.m.] Make steel cut oats with blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of cinnamon and cardamom, and of course, coconut butter to melt on top. If you’re not into coconut butter (sometimes marketed as coconut "manna"), I’d suggest just going for it and getting it (or ordering it) and putting it on your sweet potatoes, your oats, anywhere you’d put butter. I’m not vegan but I do enjoy hearing the tiny scream uttered by a strawberry as I cut into it. 

Contemplate some yoga. Contamplate meditating. Do neither. Resume work on the song I want to finish and send today. I have a home studio and I spend a lot of my time working on music here. The song is a collboration sent to me from Rodrigo D’Erasmo in Milano that will benefit the folks who work behind the scenes in the music touring system in Italy. 

[2 p.m.-4 p.m.] I traded in a guitar for a baritone guitar right before all this craziness hit but hadn’t had the time to get it out until now. I put on some D’Angelo, plugged into my amp and played along as if I were in his band. Micahel Archer, If you’re reading this, I hope you are safe and sound and thank you immensely for all the music you've given us always. 

[4 p.m.-6 p.m.] Bike repair shops have been deemed "necessary," thank goodness, because biking is the primary way I get around and I need a small repair. I hit up my neighborhood shop and they get my bike in and out in 10 minutes, enough time to feel the sun for a moment. 

I ride fast and hard down to the water's edge and take in a view of the East River from Brooklyn. There are a few people out getting their de-stress walks but it is mostly deserted on the usually packed streets.

[6 p.m.-8 p.m.] Practice Bach piano invention no. 4 in Dm very, very, very slowly. I never studied piano but I’m trying to hone some skills. Realize I’m ravenous. Eat chicken stew with wild mushrooms I made in the slow cooker yesterday. It’s always better the second day.

[8 p.m.-10 p.m.] Get on a zoom chat with a bunch of women friends on both coasts. We basically shoot the sh*t and make each other laugh. 

Afterwards I still feel like I ate a school bus so I give into yoga. I feel great afterwards. This photo proves I have a foot. 

[10 p.m.-12 a.m.] Record a podcast for Stereo Embers in anticipation of my new release on May 1, a second record of covers, inventively named COVER TWO. Continue to work on music (it’s a theme).

[12 a.m.-2 p.m.] Tell myself I should think about bed. Ignore myself and confinue to work on music. 

[2 a.m.-4 a.m.] Force myself into bed where I have many books to choose from. This is what I’m reading presently, depending on my mood. Finally I listen to Nick Hakim’s new song, "Qadir," and am taken by its beauty and grace. Good night. 

If you wish to support our efforts to assist music professionals in need, learn more about the Recording Academy's and MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

If you are a member of the music industry in need of assistance, visit the MusiCares website

Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage

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Report: Music & Culture Infrastructure Can Create Better "Future Cities"

How sound planning for a creative future in our urban areas makes all the difference for artists and musicians

GRAMMYs/Oct 24, 2019 - 01:27 am

The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.

To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."

"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"

According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.

"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."

The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.

"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."

On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate

"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."

For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.

"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."

The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.

Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."

In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.

"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Ice-T In 1993

Photo by David Corio/Redferns

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Nearly 30 Years After Their Debut, Body Count's 'Carnivore' Is The Thrash-Metal Band's Most Fully Realized Album

Led by iconic rapper Ice-T, the L.A.-based seven-piece keep their socially conscious themes consistent and the music louder than ever on their seventh studio album

GRAMMYs/Mar 10, 2020 - 10:06 pm

In early 1992 Ernie Cunnigan visited the Burbank office of Howie Klein. The guitarist (who goes by Ernie C.) and the then-president of Reprise/Warner Bros. Records were listening to the upcoming self-titled debut from Cunnigan’s band, Body Count, fronted by his Crenshaw High School buddy Tracy Marrow, already famous as rapper Ice-T. Ice, with the savvy creative connectivity that guides his multi-hyphenate media career to this day, introduced his forthcoming metal band in 1991 via tracks on O.G. Original Gangster, his fourth album.

It's not unusual for high school pals to form a band. What was unusual, though, was that Body Count was a hardcore thrash metal band comprised of all-black musicians, with point-blank lyrics that were both insightful and incite-ful concerning racial and social inequities and the climate of America. Listening to the 18-track debut, Klein praised it, while voicing concern about the lyrics of "Momma's Gotta Die Tonight," a song about the matricide and dismemberment of a racist parent. Turns out it was the last track, a ditty called "Cop Killer," that should have given the executive pause. 

While Klein was and remains stridently opposed to censorship and is a dedicated free speech advocate, Body Count, per the era, was released with a parental advisory sticker (as was Original Gangster). Less than two months after Body Count dropped, Los Angeles exploded in fiery violence in reaction to the acquittal of four policemen in the beating of Rodney King, as well as the shooting death of black teenager Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer. (The grocer was given only probation.) It was the worst possible climate for "Cop Killer," with lyrics including "F**k the police, yeah!" and shout-outs to then L.A.P.D. chief Daryl Gates, Ice's "dead homies" and King. The blowback went all the way up to then-President George Bush, and though Time Warner supported Ice-T in his fight against the song's opponents, he eventually pulled the cut from new pressings of the album.

Currently, streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music offer the version sans the group's most (in)famous song, replacing "Cop Killer" with "Freedom Of Speech" from Ice's 1989 solo album, The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say, edited to add samples of Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady" and the voice of political punker Jello Biafra. On YouTube, "Cop Killer" has more than 1.5 million views, with most of the comments thoughtful and positive, understanding the intentionally incendiary messages Body Count was delivering. Ultimately, if Body Count isn’t a classic record in the way that critics consider Nirvana’s Nevermind or Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back to be, it’s an important and groundbreaking one. As Ice-T has said, Body Count is: "a protest record,” not the norm in the metal world, but still the way BC's songs operate today.

Indeed, 28 years later, things haven’t changed. Biafra is also on Body Count's powerful new album, Carnivore. Police actions like "stop and frisk" (the NYC law enforcement program that was proven to disproportionally target black and Latino men) wasn’t legally discredited until 2014. Body Count’s one-time bassist, Lloyd "Mooseman" Roberts III, was murdered in South Central Los Angeles in 2001 in an accidental drive-by; in the last 12 months, 126 black men were killed by guns in L.A. County, as opposed to 23 white men. And Ice-T and Body Count are still raging against the machine.

Ice-T enjoys pushing buttons lyrically, and if they’ve sometimes been heavy-handed or misguided ("KKK Bitch" or "Bitch In The Pit"), Ice-T is a politically eloquent, passionate and personal songwriter, which can be too easily overlooked given Body Count's volume-heavy metal chops and Ice's delivery, a speedy vocal style that’s been traditionally more aggro-rapping than melodic singing.  

That said, Carnivore is Body Count’s best album to date; it’s the most fully realized musically, and there’s a cohesion to the vocals and music that led Body Count bassist Vincent Price to lay out the band’s growth in a Metallica timeline: "Manslaughter [2014] was basically Kill ‘Em All; Bloodlust [2017] was our Ride The Lightningand Carnivore’s our Master Of Puppets."

He's not wrong, and though Ice-T’s more than 20-year stint as detective Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit has precluded lengthy Body Count tours, the buzz is loud for this seventh album.

Ice-T may be the original gangster, yet he’s patient, articulate and fervent in explaining songs and motivations to audiences and the press alike. "When I'm Gone," featuring Amy Lee of Evanescence, was inspired by the killing of Nipsey Hussle. It’s a reminder, as he says in the tune, to "tell the people that you love, that you love them now. … Don't wait; tomorrow may be too f**king late."

His prolific musical social criticism and seemingly left-leaning views are thoughtful and targeted, despite the vitriol of so many Body Count songs. In the nearly 30 years since founding his revolutionary band, Ice-T observes, "I think you’ve got less racism; less people, but more avid racism. It’s unnerving to think that we’ve come so far but there’s still so far to go." As he advised in a 2017 interview, "Don’t just be angry. Know what you’re talking about so you don’t alienate someone who should be an ally."