With their unique take on prog rock, Coheed and Cambria have created their own world through their music and comic books with a science fiction storyline called The Amory Wars.
Since their 1995 formation, Coheed and Cambria — whose current lineup includes frontman Claudio Sanchez, guitarist Travis Stever, drummer Josh Eppard and bassist Zach Cooper — have garnered a dedicated fan base that would even go to war for them, metaphorically speaking that is.
On their ninth studio album, Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures (due out Oct. 5 via Roadrunner Records), Coheed return to the Amory Wars concept with the first installment of the Vaxis series, which introduces new characters and a new cinematic story.
Heavy Consequence caught up with Claudio Sanchez to chat about his band’s latest concept album, Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures. Read the full interview below:
ON RETURNING TO THE BAND’S AMORY WARS CONCEPT
I think most people are asking because the last record was a departure from it. I always knew we would (return to the concept). When I wrote the last record, it was the first time I had experienced becoming a dad and I thought it was important for me to tribute that new record without the idea of a concept. This time around, I felt like coming back to it. I left the Afterman story sort of open-ended. I don’t know if we’re necessarily concluding that story within the Amory Wars, but I always knew there would be a return.
It’s sort of a new story, but as the stories come out with Vaxis, the later records II and III, we sort of unveil where this story truly fits within the timeline and how these characters are related to Coheed and Cambria’s arc. So, right now, it’s really kind of an introduction to a new set of characters within the mythos and after the continuation of the Good Apollo Two story, No World for Tomorrow, just the fact that it is a pentalogy and the idea resembles the symbol number five.
ON CREATING 2015’S NON-CONCEPTUAL ALBUM THE COLOR BEFORE THE SUN
I loved writing that record. But it was this experience of becoming a father that was really only going to happen once. Regardless if I have multiple children in the future, this is the first time I’m going to feel these emotions. So for me, it was important to try to create that in the record. There’s one song on that album where we kind of hinted to the fans that we’re not leaving (the concept). I so much appreciate the Amory Wars as much as our audience does that we created a song called “The Audience” on that album.
But to come back into the Amory Wars, I think we needed to make that last album to step away from it to understand what story I wanted to tell. And I think it did us some justice. Had I done another concept record in place of The Color Before the Sun — I had an idea of what I wanted that story to be — but I don’t think it’s nearly as fulfilling as the one we’ve constructed now. Unheavenly Creatures is really just the first part. It introduces us to the new characters and rules of what feels like a new mythos.
But as the other stories come out — II, III and IV — we start to really reveal where this takes place and the connection of these new characters to the characters that we’ve already come to love in the pre-existing Amory Wars: Coheed and Cambria, Sirus Amory. And you start to really understand what their relationship is between the Unheavenly Creatures Vaxis, and I think that’s where the reward is. This is really just the set up. It gets really intense as we get further along in the storyline of Vaxis.
ON WRITING THE SONGS FOR THE NEW ALBUM
I had no direction. I started writing the record after The Color Before the Sun. The first song I wrote was in February 2015, which was “The Pavilion.” And at that time, I didn’t really have the concept in my mind. It wasn’t until after I sort of reverse engineered that and gave that song the backstory to the characters. Really, I let the songs tell me what they wanted to be.
Until I got to the point where I started to see what the concept was. I was just trying everything, but when I got to “Old Flames”, for example, that was the first song where I started to really visualize what the concept was. The visual I had was the cover of the album, the two of them embracing, creature and sister as the sub servers were rising up to meet their makeshift army and having to support them on their ascent out the “Dark Sentencer” the prison planet that they were inside of. I started writing that song on piano and I noticed my son started singing the melody after I played it maybe three times just working through it, so I thought it was speaking to him and I’m getting this tuneful visual of a climax of a movie or a book, I let that stuff tell me when the song was the song.
It was never a sonic thing I was going for. I think you can tell when you see songs like “Love Protocol”, “Black Sunday”, “True Ugly”, “The Pavilion”. It kind of jumps around from these musical aesthetics, and I think that has a lot to do with letting the concept tell me when the song was right and where it sits within everything.
ON THE ALBUM’S 78-MINUTE RUNTIME
I wasn’t necessarily worried about that. I’ve never been worried about that, even back when Coheed was [recording] Second Stage or Good Apollo, it’s never really been something allowed to dictate my approach. I just want to channel things where they feel like they should fit. I think we’re lucky because we’ve built a loyal fan base that wants to invest in something like this, or invest in a long story or a long tale. That’s just the makeup of Coheed and Cambria. When you’re telling a conceptual story, there’s going to be some length to them. I guess it’s the ritual of it. I’m sure it’ll turn some people off, but that’s not who we’re going for.
ON THE ACCOMPANYING SCI-FI NOVEL ILLUSTRATED BY CHASE STONE
For Chase and the band, I created a synopsis of what the story was before [writing it] with my wife. For Chase, I gave him some reference material of some things that I liked aesthetically and then for each piece gave him a brief idea, almost how we do in comics, basically describe what the panel is, what the action is happening in there, what the focus is. not too dense of a description because I also want the artist to explore their strength, I don’t want to suffocate them with a bunch of language and make them feel chained to the wall. My wife and I picked about 28 discovery pieces that we thought would be good dots and then take the language to help connect. Finding these moments that we thought were appropriate to illustrate and help guide the reader through the story.
ON WRITING THE ALBUM STORY WITH HIS WIFE CHONDRA
I don’t know if I can write without her. It definitely frees me up you know when the band is recording in the studio and that’s where my focus has to be. I fully trust my wife. After we have our discussion of about what the stories are, we go back and forth a lot. We just have a really great chemistry. She injects a quality to the work that people connect to. She’s the best partner I could have in this collaboration.
ON THE STATUS OF VAXIS – ACT II
[Editor’s note: Spoiler alert ahead in this answer if you’re one of the handful of people in the world who haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens]
At the moment I have all the parts what I like to call the ‘oh shit’ moments. For example, The Force Awakens, Han Solo dies. to me that’s like an ‘oh shit’ moment. I have all of those sort of mapped out, those are sort of my guides to get us out of it’s all about writing better to have those beats, I just have to write everything else that goes around it. I’m not exactly sure when those will come out.
ON SIGNING WITH ROADRUNNER RECORDS
The last label we were on, they were brand new, they were constructing their identity and we just felt a little out of place. Ultimately, I was really excited about this material, so we wanted an infrastructure behind us to help get as many people to listen to it. Sometimes when you’re on a label, not this one in particular, but in the past, it almost felt like some people think that the band doesn’t exist anymore. So, I just wanted to reach those people who don’t necessarily know that we’re still around. And I think that has a lot to do with after Sony, we started to self-release. We didn’t have the reach that we did before, so to some they may have felt that we went away. So, we just wanted to reach as many people as possible.
ON THE EXCITEMENT OF RELEASING A NEW ALBUM
I think for me the most exciting part is revealing song by song, just seeing the reaction of the audience and seeing whether they except it or deny it. I like that. I don’t know why. I mean it’s hard to take negative criticism, but for the most part this record feels very special and I think some of the reception it certainly feels that way. So, I just enjoy that part of it. Planning is difficult because for Coheed and Cambria, it’s just an odd band, even for people on the inside. No one ever knows what the right song is to be the flagship song, or what’s the single, all that stuff. It’s not an easy conversation, it never is. There’s never just the obvious thing. Everything needs to be taken into account. So that part sometimes can be a little frustrating. But I do like the revealing, just because regardless they’re all our children in terms of the music and it’s fun to see if they’re accepted or denied.
Our thanks to Claudio Sanchez for taking the time to speak with Heavy Consequence. Pre-order Coheed & Cambria’s Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures at this location, and see the band’s upcoming tour dates here.