Daily Fiasco: Coheed Leads Strange Charge – Interview with Chris Pennie


August 13th, 2010
by Jason Scavone

Coheed and Cambria

Awfully agrarian for sci-fi guys.

Sci-fi epics and prog rock aren’t anything new together — just ask Styx. Actually, you know what? Let’s leave Styx right the hell out of this. Anyway, it’s the scope and breadth of Coheed and Cambria’s overarching story, The Amory Wars, that separates it — at least by an ocean of ambition — from any of its sci-metal peers. Not only is it told over five albums, not only is there a series of comic books to tell the story, but the final (and chronologically first) installment of the story, Year of the Black Rainbow, was released this spring in a deluxe edition that included a 352-page novel.

Coheed kicks off a big weekend for, lack of a better term, hard rock for nerds. They’re doing a free acoustic performance and autograph signing session at 5 p.m. at Zia Record Exchange (4225 S. Eastern Ave.) Then later in the evening, they play The Joint with Porcupine Tree and The Dear Hunter. Tomorrow night The Joint has Primus (and you can get tickets for both shows as part of a Prog Rock Package for $54.50). Plus, prog grandpas Rush play the MGM Grand Garden Arena tomorrow as well.

Drummer Chris Pennie joined Coheed in 2007 after leaving pioneering experimental hardcore act The Dillinger Escape Plan. He helped write Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow (album titles are one of the many, many dense and baffling elements to Coheed outsiders) but couldn’t play on the studio album for contractual reasons. Black Rainbow, was his first studio joint with the band. We had the chance to talk with Pennie about jumping into a space-epic, playing complex music, and why Coheed fans are better than ICP fans.

What was the transition like going from Dillinger to Coheed. What attracted you to the project?

The main thing was just the personnel. Given that Dillinger was going through some tough times. There were definitely some strained personality clashes that kind of happened throughout the years. First and foremost, music is all great and everything, but when you do things like this and you tour with a band and with other individuals, you have to get along with them.

There are definitely a lot of parallels between Coheed and myself. I think they were going through a tough time with (drummer) Josh (Eppard) and stuff like that. He kind of bounced from the band for a little bit and left things kind of very weird. (Guitarist) Ben (Weinman) left Dillinger for a little while and left everything kind of weird. Ironically, Dillinger opens up for Coheed. A week later I end up talking to (Coheed singer) Claude (Sanchez) for a little bit. Then I end up going up there to just jam with them. That was ultimately it. Just to kind of see how the vibe was, and the vibe was great. For me that was something I was really, really looking for. It’s something different obviously musically but also just personally. I think we were all in the same boat and connected on the personal level. That was the main attraction.

Beyond that, when we all started kind of writing and getting into that process and jamming on some of the old tunes, that’s when it became a lot of fun. There was a whole different world that was kind of opened up to me. Then getting into the touring situation, it wasn’t an easy transition. I had written a lot of the stuff for No World but was just not allowed to record on it because of contractual obligations and stuff like that. It wasn’t easy, but it was something that I felt was very, very important to me to make the transition to where the personalities were and how great of people they were. That’s continued to this day. I feel like I’m still growing and learning and learning how to fit in in my role and how to be a better drummer for the outfit.

How familiar were you with the whole Amory Wars story when you joined the band. Does Claudio have a big flowchart to break it down for you?

No, not really. I had known of the story, but I didn’t really follow it. For me, it was mainly about the music. The music and the personality and where that was all that. The story is something I kind of picked up as it went. I’m still kind of learning about it. There’s a lot to that story. It’s something when I have the time I try as much as possible to catch up on it.

With Black Rainbow theoretically completing the original story has there been talk of doing more music set in that whole thing, or would you prefer to do something that stands alone? Or does it not even matter to you?

It depends. I think there’s always going to be something that pertains to it. Even know that story’s done now, I know Claude has talked about all sorts of other little things that could pertain to the story. Little side things. He said he has something he wants to reveal at one point and he thinks it will be really exciting for the diehard Coheed fan that’s very into the story, but he’s not going to reveal it yet. But I don’t really have any preference. That’s mainly his thing. He pens all the story and the lyrics and stuff like that, so that’s coming from his angle. If there are other things that could pertain to the story, I think that could be really cool. Maybe he wants to take it to another side thing. It’s not really for me to answer. That’s mainly his thing.

There was speculation about a movie. Have you guys talked about that at all?

Again, that’s mainly up to him. He’s the one that kind of mainly deals with that. That’s something I don’t really hear about.

In terms of the fanbase, are there a lot of similarities between Dillinger and Coheed?

Yeah, I think so. It’s a little bit different. They’re different and the same. Both of them are very, very loyal to what’s going on. Kids like to feel that they’re like a part of an army or belonging to some type of thing that’s big. Something that’s like a unit. I think that’s cool. I think sometimes that’s also a trap. I just don’t believe in believing in something so much that you’re all the way completely down in it, and there’s nothing else. There’s so much going on with life to think one thing is the be-all, end-all. Most people, most fans of both have a pretty eclectic range of musical taste or being fairly intellectual. I would much rather pick a Dillinger fan or a Coheed fan over an Insane Clown Posse fan. It’s a good representation, too, of who we are as band members.

What was it that kind of attracted you to this kind of complex, technical music?

I don’t know. I guess for me growing up I always before even playing in bands, I always wanted to be challenged. Or be with people who wanted to challenge themselves and constantly better themselves. I think that’s a healthy attitude. I don’t ever want to be stagnant. I want to keep learning and keep working on things and incorporating more stuff into music. Working on stuff by yourself helps when you’re bringing in stuff to the band-fold. If I’m growing as a person that can only help the band. Just as much as there are technicalities with both bands, because they are labeled progressive bands, there are still moments where things are very simple. There are tunes where for four minutes it’s nothing but lay down the groove. I like to think that I have enough of a palate to draw from to compliment the players.

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