Coheed and Cambria: War of the Rainbow
Words: Brendan Crabb
Latest release: Year of the Black Rainbow (Roadrunner)
In the Internet age and the ensuing era of instant gratification, music fans can be too hasty to form opinions. A 30-second teaser clip of a new song is released online, a studio diary video is posted, an album’s cover art or tracklisting is revealed and it’s dissected to the nth degree by fanatics throughout the world, without really taking the time to properly digest it. Or wait for the finished product to arrive and then make a more informed decision.
American progressive/hard rock outfit Coheed and Cambria know plenty about this sentiment. Which is why the band diligently guards which aspects of their art fans have access to, and when.
“I’m excited, but I wouldn’t want to put it out there yet,” immediately friendly guitarist Travis Stever responds when asked about the (ahem) progress of the writing of their next record. “Our fans, they’re awesome, but if you put something out there, they’ll track it down, really analyse it and take it to another level. I understand, as I’d probably do the same for some things. It’s great that they connect with it on that level that they’ll analyse it. But we want to keep it under wraps until we’re ready. I know it’s exciting, but I can’t really talk about it. It will have a conceptual side, but that’s always Claudio (Sanchez, vocals/guitars/keyboards)… I’ve talked to him about some stuff and I’m excited.”
As Stever points out on several occasions during our conversation, Coheed and Cambria need to constantly evolve to stay creatively viable. This is not a simple task given the complex musical compositions, cryptic artwork and detailed storyline concepts that permeate from their records. For instance, their latest disc Year of the Black Rainbow is a prequel to the band's previous four concept albums, which comprise the multi-layered The Amory Wars narrative. When it’s suggested that sequels and prequels rarely live up to the standards of the original works in many fans’ eyes, the axeman isn’t fazed.
“There’s always going to be people like that,” he says. “Every record carries elements of the previous ones, but just with that evolving of the sound too. I’ve wondered why bands couldn’t just make a record one way; I’ve done that with bands myself. But when you get in the business, you realize your favourite bands were trying to enjoy what they were doing and express themselves.
“The tastes of our fans can evolve and that’s happened to me with bands I’ve grown up with as well. The hope is that maybe you’ll change with your fans – if they fall behind, maybe they’ll catch up. They might not like one record as much at one time, but a few years later they’ll discover that they love it. Because we progress so fast, sometimes the fans have to catch up a little. After a while though, it’s like, ‘oh okay, I get it now’. It’s exciting because I know as a band we’ll never stop evolving and will always be able to spark people’s interest – at the least.”
On the topic of progressive music, Loud prods Stever about the bands of that ilk which played a vital role in his musical development. As it turns out, he finds it increasingly difficult to determine what even falls into the prog realm, especially in the current musical climate.
“There are bands that I grew up with in that field, like King Crimson,” he muses. “After all these years, sometimes it just becomes really foggy as to what is labelled what. Take a band like King Crimson; they sounded a certain way, but they also added a pop edge to some of it. I think Dream Theater is more along the lines of progressive music in the sense of the complexity – complex rhythms and guitar wizardry. That is the ultimate definition to a lot of people as to what progressive rock is.
“But in the end, it’s all rock – it’s all sub-genres of rock ‘n’ roll. I love a lot of progressive rock, but I just love rock music and other stuff too. I grew up loving Tool, but I never thought, ‘oh, this is a great prog-rock band’. At the time, ‘alternative’ was the thing to say and I always thought that was stupid too. It comes back to painting a band into a corner; I don’t like that. I like to be surprised. I love to throw a few curveballs. I love to play acoustic shows when we can, for example.”
When in a festival format, unless you happen to be a rare exception (such as the aforementioned Tool, who can justifiably headline such events), progressive rock acts performing 45-minute sets at festivals such as Coheed and Cambria’s upcoming appearance at the Soundwave Festival almost seem like a bit of a tease. Stever is quick to reassure otherwise.
“We fit into a category with a lot of those bands (on the Soundwave bill),” he enthuses. “A lot of fans want to hear the seven, eight-minute songs, but we have a lot of songs that fit the festival situation. We have songs with a pop sensibility and rock songs that fans love that are only four or five minutes long. I think we can satisfy people and get a good number of songs into the set. There will be songs from every album.
“I can’t wait to get out there to Australia. I hope the summer clears up and the weather’s good for us. I’m blown away by some of the bands we’re getting to see on the festival and the bands we’ll be sharing the stage with as well. My first vinyl record I bought myself, with my own money when I was seven, was Iron Maiden’s Somewhere In Time when it came out. I’m excited to see them a bunch of times; I’m just excited,” he laughs.
In wrapping up our chat, Loud can’t resist but query Stever about the biggest news that hit the progressive music world in 2010 – the departure of drummer and band mastermind Mike Portnoy from the Dream Theater ranks.
“I hope for his sake he made a decision for him to be happier,” Stever diplomatically states. “I’m not familiar with some of the newer Dream Theater stuff, but I know he was a major part of that and his drumming style was an integral part of their signature sound. I hope those (remaining) guys can – and I’m positive they will, because they’re all great musicians – gel with someone else. If he’s happy with what he’s doing and they’re happy with where they’re going and can keep doing it, I wish them all the best.”