In each decade, no matter the genre, there’s always a handful of artists that push the boundaries. Where there’s a culture-defining band like Nirvana, The Beatles or The Ramones, or a band on a smaller scale that turns a specific genre right on its head. Coheed and Cambria are one such band that has turned alternative rock music on its head, by fusing multiple genres, influences, and ideas by creating a sound and art-form that challenges listeners and transports you directly into the Coheed universe. The beauty of Coheed is that they are a band that has never really happened before. From the background of the band to the basis behind all of the band’s music. Thanks to their lyrics, stories and the passion of Claudio, Coheed been able to evolve and create several art forms that have shaped not only their career, but the landscape of alternative and even progressive music too.
The band’s music is all based around a series of stories called The Amory Wars (that have now turned into graphic novels) conceptualized by Coheed frontman Claudio Sanchez, who created said narrative whilst on holiday in Paris in 1998. Initially, Sanchez started writing songs the way anyone usually does but soon found it difficult to be as open as he wanted to be. “When I started writing music, I just had a hard time conveying and confessing my feelings in music,” he tells me.
“Essentially, I was afraid. I was afraid people were going to take every word I said as truth. I just didn’t want to wear my heart on my sleeve, so I created this concept where I wrote these fake stories around the [musical] compositions that would allow me to hide my personal feelings inside the characters I’ve created”.
Sanchez continues. “I realized that if I was going to do all of that in individual songs, why don’t I just do it as these entire album narratives? Why don’t I just write these bodies of work that act like an episode inside of a bigger story?”.
And that’s where first album, ‘The Second Stage Turbine Blade,’ began it’s life, introducing the main characters of future albums and the band’s namesakes: Coheed and Cambria Kilgannon. Although he says he was afraid to convey his personal life in the lyrics, Sanchez found a way through his sci-fi storytelling to talk about past and personal stories by using Coheed, Cambria and their storylines in the narratives.
“I can always pass-off and blame the stories, so when people ask what a certain song is about, I can say that it’s part of the overall concept, but truly it’s about something very deep and personal”.
On the other side of the fence, fans (myself included) have connected to the lyrics in Coheed and Cambria songs since day one, with their latest release ‘The Unheavenly Creatures‘ covering a lot of relatable topics, but Claudio never anticipates how people will relate to his writings because he always expects the worst: “I think back to when I put out music when I was younger and it was always received negatively and no one really liked it, so I guess I’m still scared to really think about how someone is going to consume this art that I’ve created”.
Yet, when thinking about if fans will have a personal or emotional connection to his songs, Sanchez sees it a little differently.
“Because I see myself personally in these songs, they’re mirror reflections of things that I’ve experienced, a person trying to define who they are in this life, and that’s the concept. So I know what they mean to me and I really don’t know what people are going to think of our music, and that’s the beauty of it”.
But not all of Coheed and Cambria’s albums are based on the pre-written series of Coheed and Cambria, as 2015 saw the band stray away from the Amory Wars concept and release ‘The Colour Before The Sun,’ a more traditional album in terms of lyrics and themes.
“It wasn’t that different [writing the lyrics and music for that album], because a lot of music comes from a very personal and real place, it’s just how I translate every later is what makes our albums and novels the more fantastic, science fiction story,” he says. “So the only difference I had between The Amory Wars saga and The Colour Before The Sun is that I just didn’t have a concept. I didn’t have something that I was going to translate it into. I really just wanted to allow the experience of me becoming a Dad be the story for the album, as opposed to me turning the event into science fiction, I just decided to make it autobiographical.”
When the time comes to hitting the road and unveiling new songs (and for Coheed and Cambria, new storylines and concepts) compiling a setlist for a tour can prove difficult, when a lot of the band’s material is meant to be listened to as part of the entire story arc, especially for festivals where set times are a lot shorter and the band has a lot of material they want to or are expected to play. Sanchez explains.
“It is quite difficult, you want to find that perfect balance of the new songs you want to play and you’re out promoting and the stuff people are really familiar with and the fan favourites that have a lot of history behind them, concept aside, that’s where we really find the most trouble”.