Coheed and Cambria: Burning IV You
“If I were a fan of the band, that’s what I’d talk to my friends about,” he says. “I’d want to know what other people thought about a certain character or their interpretation of a particular event. That’s kind of the idea—to get people thinking, open up their imaginations and let them have fun with it.”
Good Apollo is the next installment in the ongoing saga. But it is also the Coheed and Cambria album that puts the greatest focus on the band itself. “Apollo is by far our most personal record,” says Sanchez. “There was a different point of inspiration for these songs. They’re mostly told from the perspective of the writer, rather than that of the characters, so I was able to put more of myself into the lyrics. And musically, it’s slicker and more focused than anything we’ve done in the past.”
Slicker, perhaps; more focused, without a doubt. Tightly wound tracks like “The Suffering” and “Crossing the Frame” sharpen the propulsive riffing and infectious hooks of the previous album’s hit singles, “A Favor House Atlantic” and “Blood Red Summer.” When the band chooses to indulge its prog-rock tendencies, as on the album-closing quadrilogy “The Willing Well,” it does so with wild abandon and stunning proficiency. Over the course of just under a half hour, the four-part song cycle veers through a variety of musical moods and styles and features some impressive instrumental interplay between the band members. “I listen to some of the stuff that’s going on in that, and I just have to laugh,” says Sanchez. “It’s awesome.”
The album’s first single, “Welcome Home,” is a mammoth, six-minute-plus epic built around a towering minor-key riff that gives a nod toward Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” piles on orchestral strings and ethereal background chants and climaxes in a guitar duel between Sanchez and Stever. “Claudio and I both share a big love for bands like Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden—bands that just rip solos,” says Stever. “I think in the past we’ve subscribed to a ‘solos don’t fit here’ mentality. But this time we just said, ‘Well, they may not fit here, but let’s fit ’em in anyway,’ you know?”
If the guitarist appears nonchalant about tampering with his band’s sound, perhaps it’s due to the fact that, for better or worse, it is a sound that has never been easy to define in the first place. “We just play what we like,” says Stever, “and as a result I don’t know if we really fit in with what’s going on around us. But in this day and age you can either be accepted as part of the gang or you can get pissed on and made fun of by everybody for doing your own thing. I think we’re at the point where we really don’t care which one happens.”
II: Apollo’s Creed
Good Apollo came together in much the same way as has every Coheed and Cambria album: Sanchez composed the majority of the material, including the basic structure of the songs, the melodies and the lyrics, at home using just an acoustic guitar and an eight-track machine. He recorded rough demos, burned them onto CDs and made copies for each band member to listen to and come up with their own parts. “I pretty much wrote all the stuff around the end of 2003 and beginning of 2004, before we even signed to Columbia,” says Sanchez. “So we were still doing a lot of touring for Silent Earth, and there were times where we’d all sit together on the bus and just listen to the acoustic demos. A lot of ideas came out of that. Our drummer Josh, for example, would just start playing along by slapping on his knees, and work up some beats right there. That experience functioned as somewhat of a ‘runway,’ so that when we started rehearsing about two weeks before recording began, we were able to take off pretty quickly.”
When Coheed and Cambria entered Applehead Studios in upstate New York—the same spot in which they recorded In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3—they did it with the same production team, Chris Bittner and Michael Birnbaum, as well. “Columbia threw the names of a bunch of different producers at us, some of which were pretty interesting,” says Sanchez. “But we figured, this is our first album for a major label, let’s not add any extra stress to the equation; let’s just be comfortable. So we brought in guys who we were familiar with and that we knew would do a good job.”
“There was really no pressure anyway,” says Stever. “I think someone from Columbia came up to the studio once the whole time we were there. I don’t think I ever once felt like, ‘Oh shit, we’re signed to a major label now—I’d better step it up!’ ”
That said, both Stever and Sanchez give performances that in many spots far surpass their prior work. Coheed and Cambria have always been a guitar-driven band, but Good Apollo is without a doubt the album on which the two players most strut their six-string stuff.
“Instead of writing eight-minute songs that have a million different parts to them, we tried to play creative and interesting lines in a more concentrated space,” says Sanchez. “And there are so many cool little things all over the album. One of my favorites is this short three-part harmony solo that Travis does toward the end of ‘The Suffering.’ It sounds like he went up to [Queen guitarist] Brian May and was just like, ‘Um, could you write this part for me?’ It’s really amazing.”
Sanchez himself offers up some impressive playing of his own, branching out into styles he has not previously incorporated into a Coheed and Cambria record. On the song “Always and Never,” a hushed ballad that features nothing more than acoustic guitar and vocals, Sanchez proves himself to be quite an accomplished fingerpicker. “I always write on acoustic, but with the intent that whatever I come up with will eventually be performed on electric,” he says. “But I knew right off the bat that ‘Always and Never’ would remain an acoustic song.
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