Claudio Sanchez of prog rock group Coheed and Cambria tells us how he gets that unique sound.
On the surface, it’s tempting to tuck Coheed and Cambria into the hugely popular emo/pop-rock genre, with those riffs from 20 years ago and their angst-ridden lyrics. But there’s more to this band of New Yorkers than meets the ear. Coheed and Cambria is actually the name of a science-fiction novel that founder member Sanchez is writing.
Like Star Wars, the albums are being released out of sequence. However, each track represents the soundtrack to a chapter. The heroes are a family of two humanoid robots (Coheed and Cambria) and their four children. They live in an average American suburb, dealing with the ill-effects of mutation and its imminent threat to the galaxy.
Like the story, the music is futuristic and daring, but it hails back to the past, with Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. On the band’s fan site, www.cobaltandcalcium.com, guitarist Travis is quoted thus, “We strive to be a part of what could be the revival of our bedridden rock gods.” So what’s behind this mission?
You’ve been described as a progressive rock band with some major punk influences. Does that sound about right?
Claudio Sanchez: Yes, but the punk influence is more because of the indie label we were on (Equal Vision) and the scene that the label was already associated with.
Unusually for this era, your albums are concept albums. Was that a conscious decision from the outset or did it just evolve during the writing and recording process?
CS: It was a conscious decision from the very beginning, but actually Coheed and Cambria was originally created as a side project to the band that Coheed once was, and even then the concept was a big portion of the project.
You’ve come a long way in terms of style from your first incarnation in 1995 as Beautiful Loser and then Shabutie…
CS: We have come a long way; those two bands didn’t really have a vision, whereas Coheed and Cambria definitely has one.
Interestingly, you spent a year experimenting with a multitude of sounds, from acoustic rock, funk to punk rock and metal. That sounds like quite a cathartic process. Did you find it so?
CS: Sometimes you want to go out and experiment and do different things but unfortunately you can’t, because you create boundaries within the project you do. That’s what we try to do, experiment as much as possible with different sounds.
In terms of songwriting, you always seem to have been incredibly prolific. You wrote over 100 songs in that early period and seem to have continued with an impressive catalogue of material. Does songwriting come easily to you?
CS: Yes and no. Usually I think that the better songs come easier and quicker because there isn’t a lot of thought involved and it’s very honest that way… the hard ones require a lot more thought. Not to discredit them but some of my favorites happen to be the ones that just come straight out.
Do all the band members write the songs? Who does what in that respect?
CS: I’ll come up with the skeleton of the song, the basic framework. I present it to the band, they write their parts around it and together we arrange the song. Some artists record songs very soon after writing them without giving them a chance to evolve in a live setting.
Do you like to play the new material in front of an audience first?
CS: Yes, we’ve done it with most of our records before, only because when you play a song live it takes on a life of its own, and that feeling can easily get lost in a studio environment.
How did you approach the recording of your latest album (Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV Vol. 1 From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness)? Do you tend to play everything live as much as possible in the recording process or do you prefer to layer one-by-one from the outset?
CS: We prefer to lay down the rhythm section and initial guitars live and then layer from there.
We know you’ve got a VOX AC30CC2X in your set-up at the moment… what exactly do you do with it to get your signature sound?
CS: I’m playing a 1980 Gibson Explorer E2 guitar through it and the sound I go for is a mildly dirty channel, not too over the top. I think it has a very large spectrum of sound, but when pushed to its fullest it can really growl. That amp when you push it, it can be pretty nasty, but I tend to use it more for studio work.
How are your settings arranged on the amp?
CS: Everything on full through the Brilliant channel.
Are you making the most of those tremolo and reverb sounds?
CS: Not in the live setting, but we do plan on it for the studio.
There is a back panel switch that lets you run the filter caps at a different voltage for a vintage or modern sound. There is also a mini toggle in the reverb section entitled Dwell that gives you an impeccable surf sound. Have you tried either of these effects out yet?
CS: Yeah, I’ve messed with all of the options. I try to mess with all of the options before I commit to the definite sound I will be using in a live situation.
Coheed and Cambria finished their tour in August with a replacement drummer and bass player. The to-be-confirmed line up is currently working on a new album, expected to be Good Apollo I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two. The last album to be released will be the first part of the series, entitled The Bag On Line Adventures Of Coheed And Cambria. For more details, visit the band’s website: http://www.coheedandcambria.com/