by Crystal K. Wiebe
Coheed And Cambria
“I can’t stop saying fuck!”
According to Josh Eppard, that’s part of the reason Sony banned him from doing radio interviews for his band Coheed and Cambria. That, and he mouths back too much to ignorant DJs.
Apparently, as of July 18, at least, tape-recorded chats with CREEM are still A-OK, which is why Eppard and bassist Mic Todd are allowed to entertain me in Denver, a few hours before they play a main stage at Warped Tour.
As I climb onto the bus, I don’t have to bother hiding my regret that lead vocalist Claudio Sanchez, whose impossibly high vocal parts are really the violent and beautiful storylines to his comic book series, didn’t show. (Also absent is guitarist Travis Stever, who eventually stumbles out of his bunk, begging for a glass of water.)
“Bet you’re disappointed, huh?” Eppard barks knowingly.
“Not at all,” I try to convince myself. “Everyone wants to know about Claudio. Who are you guys?”
Todd and Eppard don’t write comic books, but they’ve been known to read them. (Denver is the second day that “The Second Stage Turbine Blade,” Sanchez’s first comic book and the companion to Coheed’s 2002 album of the same title, is for sale at the merch booth.)
They are both high school dropouts.
Todd, 23, a pony-tailed outdoorsman who lives “deep in the fucking woods” with his parents, quit school to become a chef. Soft-spoken and a little self-conscious, he seems every bit the opposite of hyperactive Eppard, who gave up his education to pursue rock ‘n’ roll dreams.
Although he was drumming for a major label band when he was 16, Eppard, now 24, says he’d probably be working at a gas station right now if Coheed hadn’t come along.
“Hey, I might be assistant manager,” he points out optimistically.
Pragmatic and professional, neither Eppard nor Todd seems to mind the attention often showered on Sanchez.
“Certainly in any band the singer’s gonna be in the forefront,” Eppard says. “Last I checked, bands needed awesome drummers.”
“I don’t expect 800 fucking teenyboppers to be like, ‘Oh my god,’” Todd’s voice raises in a question, “‘it’s the bass player?’”
Members of the same Upstate New York local rock scene, Eppard and Todd have known each other since they were 12. They even worked together as phone hustlers for the Policemen’s Benevolent Association in Kingston.
But, Todd says, they’ve only become close over the last two years of touring. “Now, when I’m home for 20 minutes, I call Josh,” he says.
Given the rapid pace of Eppard’s speech, it’s almost not surprising that he’s also a rapper. Like Sanchez, he has a side project. Eppard goes by the moniker Weird Science when he’s busting out rhymes.
Todd plays a couple tracks off Eppard’s upcoming album. A guy they refer to as Baked Beans notes aptly that Eppard’s style lies somewhere between Eminem and OutKast.
“I had a unique style way before Eminem,” Eppard spouts.
His favorite song by himself concerns a real-life buddy’s girlfriend, who got pregnant four times by four different guys. In his sarcastic hip hop response to her lifestyle, Eppard threatens to kick her in the pregnant stomach.
Somehow, it’s not surprising that my interview with Coheed and Cambria is laced with vulgarities. I didn’t speak to them then, but my last experience with the band had a distasteful quality to it, as well.
At an outdoor South by Southwest showcase, cherub-faced Sanchez struggled unsuccessfully to reach his trademark, dog’s ear vocal register. Blaming too much partying the night before, he finally gave up, tearing into his guitar with his teeth to make up for his muteness.
When I mention I caught the second gig in Austin, Eppard and Todd apologize in unison.
I ask the question I’ve been dying to ask for four months, desperately wanting to hear that, yes, Sanchez usually treats his pipes with opera singer sensitivity. SXSW was the exception to the rule.
A half grin on his face, Eppard describes his singer’s health regimen as cigarettes and booze.
Matter-of-factly, Todd adds: “He’s started doing warm-ups for a hot five minutes before he goes on.”
They may not be quick to defend their singer, but it’s not because his performance inadequacy bothers them. They live life on the road, too.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta fucking cut loose and drink six bottles of booze and then go play at South by Southwest,” Eppard says.
“If I had to practice bass for an hour before I went on, I wouldn’t do it,” Todd chimes in.
It’s hard to tell whether Sanchez practices before stepping up to the mic in Denver. Until shortly before he goes on, I see him talking and flashing a thousand-watt smile at a tall blond.
When the set starts, he doesn’t butcher every note. But more often than not, he sounds less like the tortured angel he is on the 2003 album “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3″ than a Japanese businessman at a karaoke club.
I don’t like to admit that. I really like this band.
For now, his unreliable voice doesn’t seem to be a hindrance. The ground in front of the stage in Denver is packed with eager listeners; on solo tours Coheed can sell out 1,700-seat venues.
Eppard would say Sanchez’s difficulty isn’t so extraordinary, especially considering his unusual natural range: “Have you ever seen a band? Most singers suck.”
So, maybe it doesn’t matter that Sanchez can’t do the castrati thing consistently, as long as everyone knows it takes balls to try?