by Jacob Fricke
Ten years and five albums into his career, guitarist Travis Stever thinks his band is the best they’ve ever been. It’s hard to argue with him. His band, Coheed & Cambria, have sold millions of albums. Their fifth studio album, “Year of the Black Rainbow,” was released in April to general acclaim. The concept album completes the story the band has been trying to tell since formation.
Now Stever, lead vocalist Claudio Sanchez, bassist Mic Todd, and drummer Chris Pennie are embarking on a tour that extends through spring 2011. The group will play the Sokol Underground in Omaha on October 11th. Talkative and jovial, Stever was kind enough to discuss songwriting, band relations, and keeping music fresh.
Dailyer Nebraskan: Drummer Chris Pennie has been with the band for almost 4 years now, how is the band dynamic with him in the relationship?
Travis Stever: It’s been great. We all get along; we all have similar outlooks and similar ambitions musically, in life, in traveling, in touring as much as we do. It’s just one of those things when you lock in with somebody and you’re able to just speak to each other musically when you’re together.
Chris joined and, especially after 4 years, his amp and his influences are really in the band.
DerN: The band has gradually shifted genres over the course of your 5 albums. Was this a conscious decision?
TS: No, not at all. Basically we’ve just gone with what is influencing us at the time. I feel like it’s been a natural progression with us as a band. On Year of the Black Rainbow you’ll find a combination of all the things we’ve experimented with throughout the years, and it’s kind of a perfect album in that sense for us, after all these years, to come out with an album that shows all the aspects of the band.
It’s like any artist or band. We’re constantly trying to find ourselves and move forward when we’re creating. I think that naturally, that is what Coheed has done, just by the kind of musicians we all are. We have also moved a bit quicker and further ahead when it comes to jumping from musical experiments. I don’t know whether I’d use the word “genre,” but I count it as all in the name of Rock. I count us as a rock band. There are all the different types of music that each one of us individually listens to, and it finds its’ way creeping into our music. It’s always been a natural thing, for us to keep progressing.
DerN: Did Chris bring any new influences to the band that you hadn’t had before?
TS: Definitely! If you listen to some songs off the new record, such as ‘Guns of Summer,’ there’s definitely Chris’s influence there. Any other drummer probably would not have chosen to move the song in that direction. The way that he plays off Claudio’s riff on there, it changed the dynamic for everybody. For me, playing these lead parts above it, or just texture bells and whistles that I’ll throw above certain parts, or above the melody, is all affected by how the drummer chooses to play.
One of the first songs we demoed for the record and recorded was ‘When Skeletons Live.’ It’s another song that’s got a Coheed feel to it. I could’ve heard that song, especially in the way Claudio and I interact guitar-wise, on one of our prior albums. But the way Chris plays on it makes it completely different. His stamp is on it.
DerN: Most people that I know who dislike the band don’t like the story behind the albums. How often do you encounter that sentiment?
TS: It’s definitely been something that has interested a lot of people and also something that has turned a few people off. To be honest with you, I think we’ve had that since day one. Our albums are all based on the Amory Wars concept.
Lyrically, people don’t realize half the time that when Claudio’s writing the lyrics, it’s coming from a real life experience just as much as it is the concept. This means that a lot of his real life experiences, day-to-day stuff which in turn is the bands experiences, are what he writes about. People just kind of push it aside because they don’t realize that a lot of real life experience is dictating what’s going on in the concept.
Throughout the years, it’s been a tough thing. We’re passionate about having it that way. In its’ own way, it’s been praised as an amazing idea, to mix up storylines that way. But with all the praise has come some really harsh critique, too. But it’s only natural. It’s tough for some people to wrap their head around, and people will definitely shun what they’re afraid of or can’t understand.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s been a blessing and a curse at the same time. The one thing I and the band would like people to know is that they can connect with our music as a normal rock band and they don’t have to be thinking about the concept. That’s another misconception. People saying, “we’re not going to deal with that, because we don’t know anything about the concept.” They give up on it too soon.
DerN: Speaking of Claudio, you and he are both very talented guitarists. Is it ever hard to find a compromise on songs?
TS: We’ve played together so many years, we’ve definitely had our times with butting heads on playing. He’s the primary songwriter, so for me I’ve always had a position where I have spaces to fill, and I want to fill them really well. But not in an egotistical way, I don’t want it to be “look at me, look at me!” I care about the song. I want to add to the song.
I’ve had a lot of fun playing stuff when he’ll have a skeleton to a song, he’ll give it to me, and I have a lot of room to grow on that and to make the song grow.
There have definitely been the tough ones, too. He’ll have this great idea, and I’ll just be like “eh.” If I’m going to play it, it’ll be different because I play different.
But really now, in our older ages, we’ve played with each other so many years and we’ve found this natural understanding and I think that we really have had the ability to really play off each other without having to try too hard or stress too much on things. It just comes naturally.
That’s how we started from the get-go. We were always had a silent understanding, and our playing and what came out of it was usually really good. I think when you have two guitar players in a band; it’s bound to happen. It happens both ways. You don’t stick together as long as we have unless there’s something there.
On the other side of the coin, naturally when people create together, butt heads at certain times. But it’s been great now; so what more can you ask for?
DerN: Especially on the new album, bassist Mic Todd has a huge part. Does he share your same vision?
TS: Firstly, we have the way that Claudio plays. Then you throw me on top of that, and Mic has to fill that. Really, for Mic, he’s more in the position of having to play off of Chris, and before that it was Josh [Eppard, former Coheed drummer].
His dynamic is really to lock up the rhythm section. He started as a guitar player too, when he was younger. I think that that definitely shows itself in his playing, because he will lock in with the drums. But at the same time, he’s filling spaces with some very complicated, sometimes even off-kilter rhythm parts that work perfectly with us. It’s very much his own style. He’s just as good at laying down a straight bass line. He’s going to lay down what the song needs. Usually it makes a Coheed song to hear Mic playing that bass.
DerN: Soon you’re starting the tour again. You’re playing Omaha on Oct. 11.
TS: It’s been a long time; we’re really excited to come there. It should be a lot of fun.
DerN: Your tour dates currently extend through March, is it daunting looking that far in advance?
TS: No, no, I’m actually really excited about a lot of the shows coming up. We’re playing with some really cool bands…. We have dates in Europe. And then the band has the holidays off. It’s all in good time with this, and we’re still really on the ball with playing all the songs and playing a really great set. You can’t stop too long when you’re locked in like we are. Maybe I’m just being too cautious, but you don’t want to lose the momentum. I’m excited, to make a long story short.
DerN: How do you keep shows fresh?
TS: It naturally stays fresh. We don’t switch up the songs drastically, or anything. Every show will be a little bit different, even if we’re playing the same song. You’ll find fans that are disappointed if they go to three cities in a row and don’t hear different songs, but we do tend to mix in different songs if we’re in a place that’s close to another show.
We like to give everybody a good show. That adds spice, because we have to stay on our toes. Every night feels different. On stage I find personally that once I’m up there, it’s a familiar feeling and it’s really easy to get lost in the different experience of every night. It’s not a bland, ”let’s get this over with” kind of feeling. We really enjoy playing together right now.
DerN: Our final question: How tired are you of playing “Welcome Home?”
TS: I’m actually not tired of it. It’s so funny; I think a lot of people are looking for us to seem tired of it when we play. There’s been a few shows where Claudio does some really interesting things. It’s funny, during the ending solo when we trade off, I’ll play different riffs. But do things like playing with his foot and dance on the guitar and crazy shit. It think people think, “he’s just doing that because he’s so tired of the song” but that’s not the case. That’s his way of keeping it fresh.
To be honest, those fans love seeing that, they love seeing something really interesting. For me, I feel like I’m just making my addition by experimenting with different riffs. Our fans love to see cool shit in every direction.
When it comes to guitar playing, we both have our own way of doing it, but we put on a good show. We do the best we can every night, and that goes for Mic and Chris as well. The music speaks for itself.