Coheed and Cambria: Burning IV You
“I think that my desire to try something like that comes from my childhood,” Sanchez continues. “My father played a little bit of guitar, but he was more into the classical side of it. I remember when I was young and we’d be driving in the car he’d always put on a cassette of these guys called Strunz & Farah [instrumental world fusion duo Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah]. They were these two cats who would just sort of duel with each other on acoustic guitars, and they were absolutely sick. So at some point I must have said to myself, ‘Okay, I’ve heard all this stuff, let me try to do it.’ Although compared to those guys, I definitely see what I do as sort of the ‘Fingerpicking for Dummies’ version!”
Stever introduced some new sounds into the mix as well. He contributed lap steel to the song “Once Upon Your Dead Body,” and played both lap steel and mandolin on a hidden track, knowingly titled “Bron Y Aur,” that appears at the end of Good Apollo. “It sort of reminded us of Zeppelin’s ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,’ ” says Sanchez, “so we went with it.”
For the majority of his guitar work on Good Apollo Sanchez relied on his trusted Gibson Explorers, as well as a Les Paul Studio and his newest acquisition, a white Gibson six- and 12- string double-neck. Stever favored Les Paul Standards and on occasion used an SG and a Fender Stratocaster. Both guitarists’ primary rig consisted of a Bogner Uberschall head fitted with Mesa/Boogie cabinets. Other amps used on the album included a Marshall JCM800, a Fender Dual Showman Reverb and an Ampeg Jet. Despite the fact that both Stever and Sanchez depended heavily on the Uberschall, they took great care in crafting distinct sounds. “You can always tell whether it’s me or Travis playing lead,” says Sanchez. “He goes more for a cutting, Jimmy Page–type tone, while I have a rounder, thicker sound that’s closer to someone like David Gilmour.”
While both guitarists take their share of solo turns onstage, neither had done much lead work in the studio. As a result, they opted to work out their solos prior to laying them down on tape. “One thing that was important to me was the idea of ‘vocalizing leads,’ ” says Sanchez. “I usually convey my message through my voice, but here I had to do it through my guitar. Instead of just being flashy, both Travis and I wanted to do something that the listener could sing along to.”
“That was particularly important on stuff like the solo tradeoffs in ‘Welcome Home,’ ” says Stever. “We knew we wanted to have this sort of ‘guitar duel,’ but it would have been boring if we were both just shredding. It had to be melodic, and it had to have structure. It couldn’t be clumsy and ridiculous.”
As for the ‘duel’ nature of their leads, was there any friendly competition going on?
“Maybe Claudio was worried about that,” says Stever with a smile, “but I wasn’t.”
“We’re such different players that it’s hard to even compare us to one another,” says Sanchez. “We come from totally different areas of rock and roll, whereas Travis listens to Neil Young, I listen to Spyro Gyra.” He laughs. “But yeah, there were times where I was sitting around with Travis’ family and I’d be like, ‘Oh, I totally smoked him!’ ”
III: The No Fear Factor
Here’s a quick drinking game: Perform an online search to find any articles that have been written on Coheed and Cambria. Every time you read one in which the words “Led Zeppelin,” “Queen” or “Pink Floyd” appear, take a swig. “I see those bands mentioned so often in stories about us that it’s become programmed in my own head,” says Sanchez. “Every time I get asked the question, ‘Who are your influences?’ I just rattle ’em off: Zep, Floyd and so on. And those bands are influences. But the truth is, there’s such a broad range of stuff that we listen to that comes out in our music.”
“It doesn’t bother me too much that people focus on the Seventies hard rock and prog thing,” says Stever, “because that is a huge part of what we do. But I wouldn’t mind if they paid more attention to the other aspects, too.”
Those “other” aspects appear in abundance on Good Apollo. Take, for example, the bouncy, almost whimsical guitar line that runs through “The Willing Well II: Fear Through the Eyes of Madness”: “I was trying to write a guitar part that reminded me of something [Jethro Tull singer] Ian Anderson would play on the flute,” says Sanchez. “And what came out was this weird, carnival musicsounding thing.” Or the shimmering, heavily chorused verse riff that appears in “Mother May I”: “I’m sort of biting Andy Summers on that a little bit,” admits Stever. “I’m a huge Police fan, and I’ve always loved his tone.”
Sanchez and Stever are clearly not above acknowledging their influences. Coheed and Cambria are, after all, a band that, having been saddled with endless Zeppelin, Rush and Pink Floyd comparisons, recorded songs titled “Bron Y Aur,” “2113” and “The Final Cut”—but they make a point to stop short of aping them. “Everybody’s influenced by someone,” says Stever. “That’s nothing to be ashamed of. The trick is in taking the stuff you love and creating something new with it.”
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