Interview: Claudio Sanchez of Coheed & Cambria (2009)


Half-Hawkwind, half-Warped Tour, when Coheed & Cambria played Austin’s Waterloo Park a few years ago, they added Mother Nature’s own Sturm und Drang , when a massive electrical storm hit during the group’s set in Waterloo Park. Since then, the martial stomp of “Welcome Home” has become ad execs’ favorite guitar track, overdriving promotion for Rock Band and the trailer for the Tim Burton-produced animated apocalypse 9.

The post-prog New York quartet also took to the trend of bands resurrecting a classic album live with the Neverender project: Four-night residencies around the world wherein Coheed & Cambria played its entire back catalog. “It was perfect for us to revisit this massive work, because it will certainly influence what happens next,” recalls vocalist, guitarist, and visionary Claudio Sanchez.

That last point is crucial considering that Coheed’s body of work to date is really one project: a five-album concept tale of epic science fiction and cryptic autobiography. Such an archive trawl means that alongside set regulars like 2003 breakthrough “A Favor House Atlantic,” vintage tracks such as “The Velourium III: Al the Killer” started turning up live.

“The task was daunting at first, having to relearn all this material, but it was nice to revisit these songs we hadn’t played in very long,” continues Sanchez. “It made us realize these are songs we want to play.”

Then there’s his comic, Kill Audio. Sanchez was already midway through adapting the epic science fiction saga behind Coheed’s albums into graphic form through his own Evil Ink imprint and Image Comics, but this was a whole new venture, released through Boom! Studios. Like He Man, it actually started life as an action figure (actually, a limited edition vinyl art piece of Sanchez), but evolved into a full title. Described by Sanchez as “the tale of an immortal little man, seeking out his purpose in life,” it’s also the highest profile project to date for buzzworthy artist Sheldon Vella.

Richard Whittaker: With the recent Neverender tour, you went back and revisited your back catalog in a way that no other band has really ever done, doing four-night residencies and performing everything you ever recorded, in order. How has that experience affected the band?

Claudio Sanchez: It was definitely a bit difficult at first. The task was a bit daunting, going in relearn all this material. But it turned out to be really fun, and it was nice to revisit some songs we haven’t played in very long. It made us realize that these are songs that we want to play as a band. With the last couple of shows, we’ve been incorporating a few of them. Sometimes, when you play a festival date, there are those immediate go-to’s that people want to hear, but at the same time there are those that want to hear the deep cuts. It’s easier to pick now, whereas before it was, ‘God, it’s going to be difficult to relearn the material.’ Now we all know it. It’s refreshing, really.

HM: Some tracks, like The Final Cut, have always changed a lot from night to night. Has Neverender changed the way you play them?

CS: “Final Cut” always evolved as a song, and when we wrote it the idea was to hopefully allow it to grow in a live setting. So we didn’t go too far in the recording so, that way, when we did play it live, it would become a special event. But most of the stuff, I think energy-wise, being able to play “Al the Killer” or “Heartshot Kid Disaster”, there’s a really young energy. Not to say that we’re old, but we’re coming from such a different place, and it reminded us of that place. When we play them, we really feel them. I know for me personally, playing a song like “Al the Killer”, one that we haven’t played in a while, I’m always excited to play it.

HM: Performing Neverender also meant you were doing the story all in one go. Being confronted with not just the science fiction narrative, but your life over that time, how was that experience?

CS: Revisiting the material, I certainly knew where these songs were coming from, from a personal place where, in the light, they are very much riddled with this science fiction concept. Bringing them back up was certainly about revisiting times in my life and memories, and times as a band when we were recording. It was certainly emotional, but at the same very fun, because it brought me to where I am now. It’s also inspired what we’re working on now. I think it was perfect for us to go and revisit this massive work with the intent that this stuff is certainly going to influence what happens next – next being the origin tale, the beginning of the concept. So that worked out perfectly, timing-wise.

HM: Did that remind you of narrative themes you needed to finish up?

CS: That happens a lot, and not even in Neverender, but just playing, as shows go by and as you’re thinking about them and playing. Certainly for Neverender, as we were developing the light show and the visuals that we were going to incorporate within the nights, a lot of that stuff, even if it isn’t literally from the book, we tried to take stuff that resembled what was happening at that moment in time in the story and put it up there. For example, on “33,” which involves the character of Patrick driving away from one of the Onstantine priests, we tried to put a car chase scene or some visual that resembled a car in panic. Certainly when going through that with Pete Stahl, who was doing production, and Blaze, our manager, I definitely started remembering things and making sure there was closure within the story, at least in terms of what we had already done. Just making sure all those end are tight.

RW: In the early days, the story was left very ambiguous: You even deliberately started out of order, at album two. Were you surprised that people got so into the mythology?

CS: Definitely. For me, as a lover of music, I had always wanted more. I would hear a song and always wonder what the story was behind it. It seemed much bigger than just a rock band. Then you have [Pink Floyd’s] The Wall, where it started to spill over into cinema. I don’t know if that’s for everybody, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. To see that it’s been embraced by this audience, it’s just awesome. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m just very fortunate that it’s been received so well, and being that some of this material comes from a very personal place, I just thought it would be nice to share where these songs really originated, how the concept came to be. That’s why we had the documentary on the Neverender DVD release.

RW: There’s the core Coheed continuity, and then there’s your work as The Prizefighter Inferno. How exactly does that side project album, My Brother’s Blood Machine, fit into the bigger story?

CS: Prizefighter, in terms of the story, is really a prequel before the prequel. When I first conceived the story, the only character that was linked to the Amory Wars was Inferno, who gets resurrected. Before he can tell the story of the Amory Wars, he has to tell the story of the Blood Machine, and that’s what links the stories together.

RW: Now you’re both adapting this for comics, and coming up with new graphic stories. How did you make the move between media?

CS: I’ve always loved comics and wanted to do something in comics. Originally, I wanted to be an illustrator, but it just turned out that sequential art just wasn’t my thing. But I’ve always loved telling stories, and even before Coheed and Cambria a lot of the songs were taken from personal experience and embellished on until they almost became fiction. Being able to bring that to comics as a writer opens new doors for me.

RW: This the first time you’ve stepped outside of the Coheed and Cambria continuity and the recording studio.

CS: Music certainly plays a role in Kill Audio, but it’s not involved with Coheed and Cambria. There are certainly things within the imagery that fans may catch, but they’re very small and you really have to look into the panels to see them.

RW: So how did you hook up with Sheldon Vella?

CS: That was Joe Keatinge at Image Comics. For a while, we were looking for an artists after the first volume (of The Amory Wars) was finished, we weren’t sure who was going to complete the second volume, and before we found Gabriel Guzman, one of the suggestions was Sheldon. I loved his work, but for The Amory Wars and for continuity, his style was a bit too stylized. I thought the contrast would a little awkward for the people that had invested in the first volume, because we wanted to find someone who could take what was happening in the first volume and give it new life. At first Sheldon did a coloring job for us on the graphic novel cover, but I always thought there was something we could do. So when my fiancee and I were working on the Kill Audio doll, I was looking at it and realized that there was a story behind it. Not just a likeness or caricature of myself. So I started working on the concept and when it clicked it was obvious that Sheldon was perfect for it, and it just spiraled from there.

(parts of this interview previously appeared in the Austin Chronicle and Hub Fiction)

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