Growing old with Coheed and Cambria

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I’ve been told not to meet my heroes. “Your heroes will disappoint you,” they say. “They won’t be heroic. They’ll be divas. They’ll be dull. Don’t do it, save that pristine image of how cool they are in your head!” Still, like a lot of good advice I’ve been given in my life – such as, “Don’t major in English,” and “Logan, get down from there!” – I chose to ignore it.

And, thank God, Travis Stever and Zach Cooper of Coheed and Cambria were some of the nicest, most gracious, and humblest dudes I’ve ever met.

Coheed and Cambria has been my favorite band for the sum entirety of recorded history – since I was about 14 years old. They have provided the soundtrack for my growth from a child into the man-child that I am now. I clearly remember when Coheed “clicked” for me – a kid that lived down the street had lent me an Equal Vision records sampler CD. The CD contained two Coheed tracks – “A Favor House Atlantic” and “The Crowing,” in addition to songs from a couple other bands. I remember lying in my bed, listening to the sampler as I drifted off to sleep.

And then “The Crowing” came on.

I was energized, engaged, intrigued. This song…my God, this song! It’s just…how can I describe what I heard? How I felt? The sky cracked open and angels descended, serenading me. I’m only being a little bit hyperbolic – I listened to that 6 and a half minute song over and over for the next hour, unable to get to sleep. I was falling deeply in love.

It was the first step in a long and beautiful relationship.

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The next year, when they released Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume I: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness (and yes, I wrote that out from memory), my rapid descent into fanboy-dom was complete. The deal was sealed, it was official: Coheed and Cambria was to be my favorite band, for all eternity.

So when the opportunity to interview Coheed fortuitously fell into my lap last month, how could I do anything but doggedly pursue that chance? There may even have been a bit of begging and groveling involved in getting the gig.

We were supposed to only have twenty minutes to talk to the band – we were told they had to get right into sound check after the interview, that we were being squeezed in to a schedule that was already air tight. Instead, I ended up talking to Travis Stever (guitar) and Zach Cooper (bass) for almost 35 minutes.

When Mr. Stever and Mr. Cooper joined the Impact video crew on the balcony of the Fillmore, they shook each of our hands and introduced themselves. Like I don’t already know your names, I thought to myself, wryly (and yeah, maybe a little bit giddily, too).

“I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t shower. I just rolled in,” Travis said, sitting down in front of the cameras.

“The rock star lifestyle, huh?” I said.

“No, no, it’s not that! A lot of days we’ll go to the gym and then we’ll go shower, so we have a routine, but we had interviews. Not that that’s bad! The fact that you want to talk to us is awesome.”

And here’s the kicker: I believed that he meant it. Travis wasn’t just putting on a façade of false modesty, I felt that he was truly grateful that a dopey kid like me wanted to interview his band.

It was the same sense of gratitude I felt when I told him that Coheed’s new album (The Afterman: Descension) was incredible, and he said, “Ah, thanks man” – even though he’s likely being told that same thing four thousand times a day: “I love your album, I love your band, you’ve changed my life,” over and over again. It has to be overwhelming, and I can only imagine how difficult it is to avoid becoming jaded.

In fact, Travis touched on that notion when I asked him about how it felt to be part of band with such dedicated fans – to the point where fans get the tattoos of the band’s logo, lyrics, or even the members’ signatures:

“Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming, with the names and stuff. When they ask us to sign the names, and then they get the names tattooed. I’ll be completely honest, for me personally, I’ll be like, ‘Really?’ But, you know, in a way I understand. That’s something that they’re gonna carry, that’s a time period in their life. It’s like you carry the music. I mean, I tend to want a soundtrack to go through every moment of my life, so, some people need the reminder through a tattoo. I have a bunch of tattoos and they’re reminders of certain things in my life. You know, I have a Thin Lizzy tattoo, so how could I judge? I have some pretty stupid tattoos. And I have ones that I still love. But they’re probably stupid to somebody else. I don’t know where the f**k I’m going with this, but it’s intriguing to me when somebody gets actual signatures on their arm, but I don’t judge. I’m honored, we’re all honored.”

If it isn’t apparent, let me just say it: Travis Stever is a bit…loquacious. Talkative, even. But I don’t mean that as a slight, I’m not faulting the dude. He had a lot of interesting things to say. On a couple occasions, he’d say, “Sorry, I don’t mean to be going on and on like a buffoon,” and “I am talking too much.”

Zach, for his part, would back up what Travis had to say, or offer tidbits of his own, but listened more than he spoke. He’s new to the band, and perhaps that affected the dynamic of the interview.

“I just kinda walked into it. Kinda fell into it, really,” Zach said. “Coming in it was a little overwhelming at first… It wasn’t until we actually did the first tour that I kind of realized what I’d gotten myself into.”

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As Travis succinctly phrased it, “He had to just come in and throw down some riffage.”

The dynamic between the two was fun to watch – even though Zach’s been in the band for a relatively short amount of time, these guys are obviously good friends. The way they’d laugh at one another’s goofier answers (“Sorry. Obviously we’re in a silly mood,” Travis said), the way they shortened each other’s names (Travis -> Trav, Claudio -> Claud. It was adorable). I truly got the sense that they enjoyed playing music with one another, that they weren’t just going through the motions, as if touring was simply a way to pay the bills. There’s real camaraderie amongst these guys.

“The man [Zach] fits right in,” Travis said. “I mean honestly, he’s somebody we would have hung out with anyway. Zachleberry.”

The interview wasn’t all silliness and tomfoolery, though. I asked them hard questions, like a real journalist. Questions about how they deal with the negative, outside pressure they face as a band -

Travis: “Does that stuff affect us as people, outside of the music? Absolutely. It can be really trying, it can be a major pain in the ass. We wanna be out here and touring and making a living playing music, so [it’s difficult] when you have to hear someone go, ‘No, you’re not doing it right, you need to change this, you need to change that.’ We’ve been in a band for what, eleven years now? If somebody’s gonna tell us how we need to do it, you’re gonna get defensive. It’s a pain in the ass.”

…and questions about moving on from a major label to their own imprint -

 Travis again: “Most of what we did before we were on Sony was build our own fan base and do everything on our own anyway. Equal Vision were a big part of what we did early on, but let’s face it, touring for us has always been the most plentiful when it comes to spreading the word and gaining fans. Even, you know, with making a living [touring is important], because we’re all trying to make a living doing this. Records don’t sell the way they used to, let’s put it like that. Obviously, that’s no secret.”

When I asked them how they stay fresh and excited on tour, if it ever gets boring, Zach said, “As the tour goes on, I settle back into getting into a routine. I don’t get bored. We play the same set for two months, and I love it every night.”

If nothing else, that’s what I want to take away from the interview, from meeting Travis Stever and Zach Cooper: they love it every night. They love playing music, they love being in this band. Being in Coheed and Cambria hasn’t just been about making bank in a big ol’ rock band, nor is it even necessarily about making capital-A “Art.” They’re just a bunch of dudes having fun, playing some rock and roll.

I don’t know. I find that really encouraging and inspiring, that the process of making and performing music has made these guys as happy as I am when I listen to it.

When the stage lights were just right, the silhouette of lead singer and guitar player Claudio Sanchez was thrown onto the far wall of the Fillmore.

 Then there’s the show itself. You know, the reason that 2,000-ish people descended upon downtown Detroit.

Uh…I had fun? I don’t know, the concept of a concert review is kind of odd to me (and I say this as someone who’s written a few). It happened, I saw it, you probably didn’t. And if you didn’t, you won’t. The show’s left town.

I guess the way that I would “review” the show would inevitably be filtered through one fact: This was my seventh Coheed and Cambria show, since 2006. That is, by most measures, an excessive number of times to see a band. “How different could it be each time?” the uninitiated have asked me.

My God, it could hardly be any more different each time!

When the stage lights were just right, the silhouette of lead singer and guitar player Claudio Sanchez was thrown onto the far wall of the Fillmore.

When the stage lights were just right, the silhouette of lead singer and guitar player Claudio Sanchez was thrown onto the far wall of the Fillmore.

A concert is so much more than a handful of guys standing onstage and routinely, robotically playing music, while the crowded, stupid masses in front of them jostle for a better position towards the front. I’ve said it before: going to a concert, not just a Coheed and Cambria concert, is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a religious experience. A live show is an opportunity for me to worship at the altar of Rock and Roll.

There are so many things that influence the atmosphere of a concert, the show changes and morphs each time a band plays. People didn’t follow Bob Dylan or The Grateful Dead across the country because they wanted to see the same old, same old night after night.

On one level, the same dudes just might not be in the band each time (the very first time I saw Coheed, I only actually saw half of the band – the bass and drum duties were being covered by temporary replacements for that short tour). On another level, as the years go on, the band has more and more material to draw on as they keep releasing records, obviously (thank the gods that Coheed is such a consistent band. I never say, “Ugh, they’re going to play the new stuff…” at one of their shows).

Places change – I’ve seen Coheed and Cambria in Grand Rapids, Chicago, Ft. Wayne, and Detroit. I’ve seen them play Lollapalooza, club shows, and theaters. I’ve heard “Welcome Home” enough times to last me the rest of my life, but I still love it every time. I’ve heard them cover Church’s “Under the Milky Way,” and Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” and I’ve heard Chris Pennie (drums, former) play a ten-minute drum solo after they’d just jammed on “The Final Cut” for fifteen minutes.

I’ve gone to Coheed shows by myself, with my brother, with my closest friends, and with complete strangers. My dad brought me to my first Coheed show, forever ago. I’ve been at the front of the crowd, at the very back, and smack dab in the middle. I’ve gotten elbowed in the throat, knocked to the ground and pulled back up by my hair, and had portly crowd surfers dropped on top of me (and at some shows I don’t get hurt at all!). I’ve left every show dripping with sweat, ears ringing, the happiest sumbitch around.

So, for all of those reasons, this show was a good illustration of why seeing a good live band multiple times can be a great thing. It builds on a narrative, it ties into the story of my life. Each show is a benchmark, a way of crystallizing and capturing a moment in my life. When I’m an old man I can look back at the ticket stubs and remember, “Gee willickers, 2006! Back in 2006 our brains weren’t wirelessly connected to the internet and we liked it! Oh boy, at that concert – it was at the Orbit Room! Now every room orbits… in space! Why, I, uh, I…” and then I drift off and fall asleep and start drooling on myself.

Though I will say, one thing about this show that struck me – not more than the music necessarily, but it certainly made me pause – were the dudes in the crowd near me that kept checking the setlist on their phones. It’s weird to me, why someone would do that, want to know what songs are being played and in what order – I love the surprise of a show. Yeah, I’m disappointed if they don’t play my favorite songs (I saw Coheed five times before they finally played “The Crowing”), but I like to get caught up in the experience. I’ve listened to the albums enough that I know the track orders by heart, and it’s fun to not know that they’re going to follow “Sentry the Defiant” with “A Favor House Atlantic,” or to get caught off-guard because they teased the crowd with the opening riff to “Delirium Trigger” before diving into “The Crowing.”

Yes, the light show was incredible this time around, they have a knack for whipping a crowd into a frenzy by just shutting up and playing, and the crowd sing-alongs were as great as they’ve ever been (so many goosebumps during the “woah-oh-oh-oh” part of “In Keeping Secrets”). That’s all stuff you’d find in your average concert review. And sure, the show was a beautiful experience in and of itself – but it was also informed and influenced by all of these other outside, ephemeral elements.

I am an unrepentant fanboy of this band. I can listen to them every day and not get bored, and still find new things, little tricks and flourishes, hidden in the arrangements. The music of Coheed and Cambria holds a special kind of power over me; it casts a spell on me with every riff and every vocal melody.

Coheed and Cambria makes me feel alive, and they make living a joy.

Written By Logan Pedersen

See our interviews with Coheed and Cambria HERE

Logan Pedersen

Logan Pedersen

3 Responses to Growing old with Coheed and Cambria
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    Growing old with Coheed and Cambria – Impact 89FM – Student Radio at Michigan State University

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