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LAist Interview: Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria

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Coheed and Cambria (Photo courtesy Velvet Hammer Music and Management Group)
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Claudio Sanchez is BUSY. Coheed and Cambria is galloping back into Los Angeles tonight to perform their first album, Second Stage Turbine Blade, in its entirety at Club Nokia, commemorating the 10th anniversary of its debut. It's a performance that demonstrates their commitment both to their devoted fans and to the cohesiveness of an epic musical mythology, also known as Neverender, that has been a decade in the making.

Tonight's show comes hot on the heels of last year's world tour to promote their fifth album, Year of the Black Rainbow, which was co-produced with Golden Globe-and Oscar-winning Atticus Ross of The Social Network soundtrack fame. The tour also saw endless promotion of Sanchez's latest book, a companion novel to the album also called Year of the Black Rainbow (and co-authored with famed sci-fi novelist Peter David). There are also several graphic novels tied into each album's concept, as well as the non-canonical "Kill Audio" series, and any number of side projects and merch tie-ins. Finally, after the SSTB run ends, they'll be touring in support of grunge legends Soundgarden on the East Coast at the end of this year.

“I just like to be busy!” Sanchez is mild-mannered, quick to laugh and quicker to put six guitar strings between his teeth, but despite his epic Puerto Rican froth of hair, he is almost totally lacking in rock star excess -- think more Joss Whedon, less Dario Argento. His wife and co-author of the “Kill Audio” comic series is a regular presence on the tour circuit, and this kind of family-oriented atmosphere pervades backstage. After a near-fatal brush with rock-star excess a few years back, it seems that domestic bliss and a re-commitment to sobriety have re-energized the band. They have always been prolific -- five albums in eight years. (To keep things in perspective, it takes about eight years for Axl Rose to take a shit.)

If anything, their work ethic, tour schedule, and genuine interest in brand-building/marketing/merchandise is an honest and engaging reflection of the predicament of most modern rock bands. As MTV focuses less on music and more on reality television, the C&C Mythos Factory continues to construct an immersive world of music, art, and performance that has created one of the most loyal fan bases in the industry.

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LAist: So where did the idea for Year of the Black Rainbow come from? It's a prequel, correct?
Sanchez: I was looking for something to inspire me to write that -- most of the CC records are based out of some sort of event that is happening in my life.

So for you, emotion comes before the story?
Pretty much -- that year I was getting married, and with all those changes, the changes that went with that, they started to come out in the songs, and it all started to work.

There's a much harder sound to YOTBR -- a song like "Guns of Summer" seems much more "industrial" in sound than your previous works. Did working with Atticus Ross [Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction] and Joe Barresi [Queens of the Stone Age, Tool] influence that?
They’re both tremendous talents, that’s what they do -- one of the things that I wanted to do was start to incorporate synth, a bit of programming into the band, and that’s why we wanted to work with Atticus. Atticus suggested bringing Barresi into the band, as an engineer, because he got such great tones and sounds and things like that. We had all been fans of his stuff, like Tool and stuff like that -- so it was the perfect marriage for what we were trying to accomplish, and I think they did a great job, especially those synths and those percussive sounds, it’s certainly a landscape that helps texture the tunes and reinforce the emotion that’s trying to come out in those tunes.

Does that change how you perform live?
Yeah, for this record particularly, because there’s so much programming. We brought “stems” along with us, so certain things trigger when we play, and we brought along Wes Garren [auxiliary percussionist/keyboards], so he covers that territory for the new songs and for the old ones. The old ones there are no stems for, we never cut them to click tracks.

You've been doing this series of concerts called Neverender -- you perform all of your studio albums in their entirety, one album per night. Chris Pennie, your new drummer, helped you guys write No World for Tomorrow but didn't perform on the album. But for YOTBR, he's a full-fledged member.
That was exciting, because that was the BAND. Not to disparage “No World” in any way --

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Cause you had Taylor Hawkins [Foo Fighters] on that record!
It was great. But no-- when we wrote the material for No World it was before Chris had actually started recording with the band. This time around -- “Guns of Summer” was actually the first thing I wrote, because I thought it would be a perfect song for Chris to play on -- to explore that territory of what the new band is.

Were you all writing together during the Neverender tour?
A little bit. one of the things I wanted to get out of Neverender was the experience of revisiting the catalog, that maybe some of that would spill over into writing the record. we gained some perspective from doing that -- writing a little bit here and there. I’m always writing.

Do you write lyrics first, or music first?
It’s music for lyrics. When I started playing, I was a guitar player in a band, I wasn’t a lyricist, so that just felt comfortable. I understand where each part sits in the story, so that’s the broad stroke -- but also, what in my life is going to dictate the feelings of that particular piece of fiction? And then the music will help channel where I want to go with that, in a given song.

You worked with Peter David on the book companion to YOTBR. How did that happen?
That suggestion was made by agency. I was familiar with Peter’s work in the comics, but not so much the prose. But my wife actually read a book called Tigerheart that she really enjoyed, and I thought although those characters were really embedded in a piece of fiction, they were still very personal, very human, you know? We met at a [comic] convention, actually, and we started talking. Conventions are a cool place to meet people! He just asked the right questions -- questions that I thought, in answering, could really help strengthen the story, things that I never would have thought of when I started putting these stories together. Right off the bat, it seemed like the story would gain something from this relationship.

Are you a musician first, or a comic book writer? Does it all come from the same place?
It’s all kind of the same thing to me -- I created the idea because I was like, afraid to express myself in music. That’s why I created the concept [of the albums], as a disguise to hide behind -- in doing it, I’ve always had a love for comics, and it’s just a new way for me to express myself creatively -- it actually kind of helps the songwriting in a way. I also just like to be busy!

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Do you enjoy touring? Sleeping on buses?
I didn’t know that this was a part of it, growing up, I didn’t know that touring and promoting records really was a part of anything, and when it happened, I was like -- oh shit! I should have stayed in school!

You’ve spent lots time in Los Angeles recording, though -- what do you enjoy out here?
I really enjoy Pasadena, actually, so much so that my wife and I were contemplating moving out here -- for what we do, it’s really the place the be.

How is this latest album unique for you guys? What did you learn in the process of recording?
I think we really learned about spontaneity. In the past, it was so structured, and there was a framework, and we went in and that was what we were trying to accomplish. But this time around with Atticus and Joe, we were very much into...well, let’s just see what happens, let’s just put down the foundation and throw things at the wall and see what sticks -- and that’s what we did. We would go through the takes and get oddities, and put things through the guitar and see if it created anything interesting, then find where it works in the song, and cut it out of that, and arrange it properly.

So you had a lot of time with this album to revisit and experiment.
A lot of that had to do with [Ross and Barresi] being so relaxed. In the past, we would stress on every minute detail, if it wasn’t perfect, you’d keep going, take after take, to the point where you’ve exhausted your passion. These guys are the extreme opposite of what we’ve been used to, it was just such a breath of fresh air.

What’s the plan now? Are the Amory Wars done? What’s next?
I have this idea, but I can’t really -- although I’m really excited about the idea. I think the core fanbase is going to dig it -- but at the same time, I’m not so sure. I want to keep it open, see if I can come up with something else that might be better. But the idea that’s stirring is exciting.

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What are you listening to?
The Cure, Head on the Door, Deftones, We saw them in Europe and their live show is just -- I mean, I used to go see them all the time around the “Fur” days when we were young, Travis and I both, and this is the first time we’ve seen them since, and they were amazing. Really good. So we picked up the Diamond Eyes record, which Nick Raskulinecz had done, a fellow we worked with on No World with, and it’s a great record.

What are you reading or watching?
Crooked Little Vein, by Warren Ellis, his first prose work. William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

Do you read a lot of sci-fi?
Not really -- although it’s funny I picked one who’s a comic book writer and the other is a hardcore sci-fi writer. But growing up, I read a lot of literary pieces, just fiction -- Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, Bukowski.

What are you eating?
Tofu and seafood! I’m not really a vegetarian, sometimes on and off, but I’ll eat seafood. Although last night for the first time in a long while I had a hamburger.

Anything you like to do in L.A. when you are here?
We used to stay at the Best Western, and we’d eat at Cafe 101 -- we like to walk down to the Arclight, check out the guitar shops. I also like to visit Meltdown Comics.

So the fans can expect you guys to continue performing Neverender throughout the years?
Yes. Without a doubt. Now that YOTBR is done -- we would probably play that one first, as the prequel.

You can catch Coheed and Cambria tonight at Club Nokia. Doors open at 7:00pm and you can find tickets here.