Revisited: A Q&A With Coheed and Cambria
by Katie Price (Music Industry/Journalism), published July 15th 2011
With Coheed and Cambria being back in the news, it seems appropriate to revisit this interview with the band’s guitarist, Travis Stever, from last year. Since 1995, Coheed and Cambria have been melting faces while telling the story of The Amory Wars, an epic series created by singer and mastermind Claudio Sanchez. The story of Coheed and Cambria is a theme that unifies the band’s albums and solidified them as a true concept band. Fifteen years later, Coheed and Cambria released the prequel to the series, Year of the Black Rainbow, and have been touring on it ever since (which is where their recent incident occurred.)
Although primarily known as a concept band, Coheed and Cambria’s infectious hooks and irresistible guitar riffs make them relatable on any level. I got the chance to catch up with guitarist Travis Stever to talk about the being a concept band, the writing process and summer festivals.
OS: First off, how did you get into music?
TS: I know a lot of people probably hear this, but my father was a musician. Actually, it was my mother and father. But, my mother decided that she didn’t really want to do it anymore. So I grew up around my father and his songwriting and at the time, it seemed like the least appealing thing ever. Then I guess I started to hear bands that I liked from Metallica to Guns ‘N’ Roses and then got into the older stuff like Sabbath and Iron Maiden. Eventually I got into even more classic stuff like Neil Young and I wanted to be a musician. I realized I wanted to try it because I saw my dad doing it. So I picked up one of the numerous guitars around the house and was like, ‘I’m gonna try that thing.’ It’s been a passion of mine ever since.
OS: Through the years, you have told the story of Coheed and Cambria all while growing as musicians with side projects and as a group. How has your personal growth manifested in the music and the story?
TS: Well, we’ve all grown as musicians in terms of musical growth. In terms of personal growth through the concept, Claudio’s personal life has been dictating the outcomes of that concept throughout the years. It’s very much a big part of it. If you take The Year Of The Black Rainbow novel, however, it’s very concise and to-the-point introduction to a complex story. You can follow every word and understand exactly what’s going on. It still has parts of his real life in it. Anyone who feels like they’ve been missing out before because they didn’t know where to start‘ this is it because this is the beginning. It is a prequel. I think it’s the most to-the-point, even though it’s a long book. It’s a perfect place for anyone to start digging into the concept. Back to the growing part, I think really on The Year Of The Black Rainbowyou can just tell how everyone reaching into the bag and going back and taking some of their earlier sounds from the first albums and also adding in the new aspects of our individual playing. On the other side of the coin, you have Chris who this is his first album to be able to record with us. And you can his influences are all over the album. So, that’s definitely played a huge part in how this album turned out.
OS: So Claudio writes the hard copy story, but it needs to translate to music somehow. How does the writing process go for you guys?
TS: Well, he’ll have the skeleton of the song and we’ll all write our parts around that and there’s been occasions where he and I will sit down and put the music together. Usually with a lot of the songs, he already has the skeleton and lyrics and already gone in a direction, but the music can completely change when it comes to the band. The lyrics most likely won’t, because he’s telling a story. But, the story doesn’t dictate what’ll be played musically. His music is really influenced by real life experience, just like anyone else. That’s why people who don’t give a shit about the concept whatsoever can still relate to our records. When it comes to it, it’s a group collaborative in every angle. Especially on this album everyone’s parts and every note is paid attention to so everyone felt happy.
OS: What would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of being a concept band?
TS: People sometimes won’t take it seriously because there’s this concept going on and sometimes people take it a little too seriously and it can get a little complicated. You don’t have to read into it too much. Like I said, you can enjoy us as a rock band and relate to us on the normal, ‘I can get it’ level. Whether it be about heartbreak or something about religion‘it’s masked by a concept and some people can’t get past that concept to accept the music on its own. So sometimes we get judged quickly for that in reviews and such. People just take a shit on something that we’ve done because it’s concept‘Dungeons and Dragons, which is bullshit. We’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, let alone it’s totally the opposite of the way the band is. We are first and foremost all musicians and we’re very proud to have this concept going through the music because it’s very, very unique. It’s a unique way to get your point out and get your music be more of an inclusion to the story. Have the music have something extra so that the listener can feel more included in it. The story makes it so that the listeners can indulge more in the music and become more involved in each song and each note and know what it means.
OS: How have you seen your audience grow with you guys as you’ve gotten bigger and your story’s progressed?
TS: We have the best fanbase ever, so’¦ Sometimes they can find it hard to take certain new things and be like ‘why did they go this direction?’ For some people, it’s hard to see your favorite band change and go in a new way. For me, I’ve always been a fan of seeing those bands change a little bit from album to album‘especially in classic records. I mean, there are people who listen to Led Zeppelin and love that early sound and then Graffiti is their cutoff. Then if you mention In Through The Out Door, it has the more kooky keyboards going on and they think that album doesn’t cut it. But I love that album and I love it because it’s different. Sometimes it’s hard for people to accept those changes and to have an open mind like that. When I listen to our newest records, I actually think we have a lot of the old sound and old albums on it. It’s probably because we did the Neverender endeavor where we played all 4 albums and released them on DVD. I think that that affected our music more than the fans realize. When we put new music out, there are so many ready to critique it. I’ve been there before and done the same thing. Sometimes in this day and age with everything at our fingertips, I guess they’re more prone to be a critic right away. I think the fact is that most of our fans, it’s been a grower. They’ll listen to the album a couple times and then come back to it and get blown away and get really excited about it. I think it’ll be that way with a lot of the people because there’s a lot to take in. But once you take it in, I would hope that it’s inevitable that it will grab you.
OS: I think what’s going to pull people in even more is your video series giving insight to each track of this new album. How did you get the idea to give fans an explanation of where you’re coming from with album?
TS: Honestly Kathryn, I think has to do with the way things are with the Internet. You’ve got to brainstorm and be like, ‘Okay, how do we work with the way things are?’ Because we love giving things to our fans. We always have and we’ve always wanted to make them as happy as possible. It’s almost like we’re working with the times because everyone’s looking for that extra thing now. Music is so easy to get, which in it’s own way could be sad. At the same time, it’s music. You have to get creative in finding other ways to make it more unique and more personal. That’s why we find thing to make it more special.
OS: Well, as a fan, I’m interested in what you have planned next. Now that you’ve gone back and done a prequel, what will be the next step?
TS: Right now, we’re just really excited to be touring on this record because we’re so proud of it. Within the concept, I know there are so many different angles we could go with. There’s this whole universe that Claudio has developed and we can explore things in there or we could just record a regular rock album. I hate to skim the top, but really the sky is the limit.
OS: Speaking of touring, I got the chance to catch you guys at Coachella in 2010.
TS: With USC? That was awesome! That was a lot of fun playing with the marching band.
OS: How did that come together?
TS: Pete Stall, who works in our management, approached them because they had already played ‘Welcome Home.’ It was a no-brainer. We wanted to do something special for Coachella and they already knew the song so we put the combination together and we have a really fun experience. A lot of bands have done that before especially with USC. Fleetwood Mac did it and Outkast used them. It was a lot of fun’¦ a lot of fun. It was one of the highlights of being in the band for me.
OS: What is your favorite song to play live?
TS: Right now, I’m really enjoying playing ‘World of Lines.’ It’s been a lot of fun, but it changes night to night. Obviously, ‘Welcome Home’ is a blast to play because we feed off each other from fan to band. Everyone knows that song and goes buck wild and it’s a blast. It always feels like brand new.