Coheed and Cambria: Burning IV You
Originally printed in Guitar World, November 2005
Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stever talk about Coheed and Cambria's new, incendiary creation, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV: Volume 1.
I: Through the Eyes of Madness
The lobby of the Ramada New Yorker is not the most desirable of places to experience a life crisis. Situated less than a block from the always bustling Penn Station in midtown Manhattan, the space is well worn and inundated with people who shuffle in a constant stream through its revolving doors, giving it an air that is more truck-stop practical than luxury-hotel chic. But if it is here that Claudio
Sanchez chooses to undergo some major soul searching, then so be it.
“It doesn’t feel very good to be told that you’re nothing,” says the ordinarily animated Coheed and Cambria singer and guitarist. His demeanor is uncharacteristically somber as he sits at a small corner table that is only slightly removed from the general chaos. “To have someone look you in the eye and inform you that you have no control over your own life—that you’re essentially a puppet—is tough to hear. Particularly when you know that it’s true.”
Could it be that Sanchez, surrounded by throngs of cellphone-abusing businessmen, map-wielding travelers and vacationing families, has decided in this unlikely spot to reveal a dark and troubling secret? Will he curse his new major-label employer, Columbia Records, and claim it’s exploiting his band’s music in an effort to make a quick buck? Out a vengeful blackmailer in possession of a potentially damaging explicit videotape? Cop to an ill-advised deal with the devil that has now gone sour?
The answer proves far less scandalous, if just as bizarre. The puppet to whom Sanchez refers is not himself but Claudio Kilgannon, the young, much-put-upon hero of the fictitious tale that has served as lyric fodder for Coheed and Cambria’s two albums, 2002’s The Second Stage Turbine Blade and 2003’s breakthrough In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3.
As for the puppet master, his identity is revealed to Claudio on Coheed and Cambria’s much anticipated new release, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV: Volume 1. From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (Columbia). “The guy pulling his strings,” says Sanchez, “is the guy who’s writing the story.”
In more direct terms, then, Sanchez himself.
“Well, sort of,” he replies sheepishly. “See, I am the writer, but on the new album the writer is also a participant in the story, and his reality affects what happens to the people he is writing about. When Claudio, the character, comes face to face with this other guy who has been directing his path all along, he finds it tough to accept.”
So which of his two alter egos—the one being manipulated or the one in control— does Sanchez feel more of an affinity to?
“It kinda feels like I should be laying down in a psychiatrist’s office to answer that.” He laughs. “I’ve never been to one before, but maybe I should think about going!”
It may, however, be a bit hard for Sanchez to find the time to schedule an appointment. Coheed and Cambria, which also includes guitarist Travis Stever, bassist Michael Todd and drummer Joshua Eppard, look to be pretty busy for the foreseeable future, as Good Apollo is poised to be the record that elevates the band from indie-level curiosity to full-blown rock phenomenon. The fact that their music is now being distributed by Columbia, who signed the band last year, may play a role in this transformation, but it’s more likely that the major label merely had the good fortune to land what was already shaping up to be an inevitable success story. In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3, which employed visceral hard rock riffs, sugary power pop hooks and proggy instrumental excursions as a backdrop for a truly mindtwisting sci-fi lyrical narrative, sold upward of 200,000 copies and spawned two hit singles during its initial release (Columbia reissued the disc in late 2004) on the New York–based indie Equal Vision. Those impressive numbers were aided in no small part by Coheed and Cambria’s incendiary live shows. Support slots for a slew of emo and punk acts like Thursday, the Used and AFI saw the band unleash torrents of Technicolor guitar bombast (along with the occasional Iron Maiden cover) upon a new generation of rock fans unschooled in the majestic pomp and circumstance of Coheed’s musical touchstones—Led Zeppelin, Queen and Pink Floyd, to name a few—but clearly ready to learn.
No less a factor in the band’s success has been “the story.” Sanchez’s account of the doomed lovers Coheed and Cambria, the fictional couple for whom the band is named, has spawned a cult-like following that pores over every detail of his lyrics as the narrative unfolds from song to song. Though largely abstract and nonlinear in its construction, it is in essence a timeless telling of good-against-evil that is part Star Wars space drama, part Who-style rock opera, with Claudio Kilgannon, the sole surviving offspring of Coheed and Cambria, as the messianic, Tommy-like figure. That the tale has generated numerous internet chat room and message board discussions doesn’t appear to surprise Sanchez in the least.