Having just recently released their fifth studio album, the highly awaited prequel to their concept album series ‘The Amory Wars’, Coheed & Cambria are the sort of band your slightly dorky, but really cool cousin fucking loves.
With their previous four albums making up the aforementioned sci-fi saga The Amory Wars, the band have taken a somewhat different direction with Year Of The Black Rainbow, not only taking the concept back to the very beginning but also bringing in legendary producers Atticus Ross (Nine Inch Nails, Jane’s Addiction) and Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age) to help them re-write the album in the studio.
Always a band with more ambition than the Japanese before they bombed Pearl Harbour, they will soon be embarking on a epic world tour, barely leaving themselves time to breathe between the recording, rehearsal and release. Considering the fact that they may soon expire due to their addiction to workahol, we caught up with bassist Michael Todd to discuss the changes in the bands sound as well as what it was liking working on the album, and how much he fucking loves touring.
Music Feeds: So, tell me about Year Of The Black Rainbow, how does it fit in with the rest of the band’s work?
Michael Todd: It basically serves as an introduction to the characters of Coheed & Cambria, how they were created essentially, and it introduces the political struggle that goes on within the mythos of the band. It’s cool, and it’s also an introduction to Chris Pennie being a member of the band and playing with us, and he’s very present on the album.
MF: Awesome, he’s such a good drummer
MT: Yeah, he’s great, and a lot of the songs, or parts of songs wrote themselves around what he does on the drums.
MF: So how does the writing process work, do you guys just jam out ideas together? Is there a main songwriter in the band and do you try and suit the music to what’s happening lyrically in the songs?
MT: It varies. The concept comes later, that’s more a vocal thing. We don’t really take any direction from what’s going on lyrically in the song, we kind of just write the songs as is. Sometime Claudio will come in with a song, and some songs we wrote in the studio, so yeah there are a lot of different ways we write.
MF: With Year Of The Black Rainbow essentially being the prequel to The Amory Wars Saga, does that mean that’s the end of The Amory Wars? When you come to work on the next album are you going to start a new concept?
MT: Well there’s going to be more albums, but it might come from a different place within the mythology rather than anything from within The Amory Wars, The Amory Wars sort of stand alone now. So we’re not really sure where we’re going to go after this record, we’re probably going to continue storytelling in one way or another, but we’re not sure yet.
MF: What is it about this idea of storytelling through songs and long concepts that attracts you guys?
MT: I think it’s definitely a Claudio thing, we’re all kind of influenced from the same science fiction writers and movies and stuff, but he’s definitely the author. I’m not too qualified to answer that question, but I think it’s just a love of the genre of storytelling.
MF: Was it hard joining a band with such intense ideas and such an ambitious approach to their identity?
MT: I was on board from the get go. We were kind of a band before the concept existed and I’ve always just gone along with Claudio, I appreciate that dude as an artist and he can do whatever he wants with it. The songs are his babies and I’m just supportive.
MF: Cool, going back to The Amory Wars, could you give us sort of an abridged synopsis of the story?
MT: Sure. It’s basically about these two characters, Coheed & Cambria, their lives and their children the decisions they make within this political struggle and how their decisions kind of bring about the end of that universe.
MF: With this sort of over arching concept to the music, do you feel pressured to keep things consistent in terms of the tone from album to album?
MT: We do whatever serves the music; sometimes we make a lot of really different creative decisions, sometimes we stick to what we know but as a band we evolve and we try to keep evolving.
MF: How then is Year Of The Black Rainbow an evolution from what you’ve done before?
MT: Well, in terms of how we approached it in particular, we wrote the album and then we kind of re-wrote it in the studio with the producers, Atticus Ross and Joe Barresi. A lot of the sounds and a lot of the different things we’ve tried were the ideas of those guys.
MF: Do you usually work so closely with producers or is it normally more a case of coming into the studio with the ideas already pretty much finished?
MT: The reason we choose a producer in the first place is to have an outside perspective, someone who’s not too close to the music. And these guys, I mean with Atticus having worked with Trent Reznor and being very involved with that whole thing, he has a lot more to add than most producers. A lot of producers will talk about sounds and maybe some structural ideas but he actually pushed this way or that when actually compiling the parts of the songs and doing the structuring. I mean sometimes he would say, you know, let’s just jam on something, and overnight he would take that and make a song out of it and we’d kind of re-play the song. He was kind of like a fifth member, he definitely had a lot of input and he brought ideas that we wouldn’t have had on our own and I think the outcome is pretty cool. It’s definitely a different sound for Coheed & Cambria, but I don’t think it’s alienating, I think it lives in the same universe and I think people will feel comfortable with it.
I don’t want to say that we have something for everybody, but we definitely like to have different things that might attract different people because we come from some vastly different backgrounds. I mean I can’t imagine being a in a band where we’re pigeonholed into like our own genre, where we can only really do what we’ve always done. But I mean we’re lucky, we’ve already done really different music, even from what we’d done before.
MF: Yeah it seems to me you have a fan base who would encourage you to experiment and take risks rather than condemning you for not keeping to some sense of purism.
MT: We’re definitely an artistic band, I mean we’ve had some marginal commercial success but we’ve never really relied on some a-b-c formula for writing a single; our fans expect us to try and do different things and write longer songs. I don’t think our band is for people with short attention spans.
MF: What about your touring plans for the album, will we be seeing you down under any time soon?
MT: I would be really surprised if we didn’t make it there this year. We’ve got a very full touring schedule that’s going to take us all over America and the UK so we’re definitely going to be back to Australia and New Zealand and all those places we don’t get to visit too often, if not this year then definitely early next year.
MF: Do you enjoy touring?
MT: I love it, cos to me it’s like practice, and practice and practice and practice. I love to play and the only way to get better is by playing with each other, so the more we tour the more the live show just gets stronger and stronger. We’ve been touring now for ten years… god damn that’s crazy, but yeah, we’ve always kept a hectic schedule and now we’re grown ups, some of the guys are married now, I’m a divorcee, but yeah we got our partying out of the way when we were younger and now we’re all just a bunch of megalomaniacal workaholics.
MF: Really? So even on tour there’s no joking around and getting wasted?
MT: All day long, if we’re not sound checking, doing interviews or playing, we’re on our computers working on music. We’ve all got side projects.
MF: Is it weird going from such intense bouts of activity to being at home again?
MT: I feel more at home on a bus than I do at my home, just because I get so much work done and the only time we really go home is to have a rest before we get sick.
MF: Oh well, I guess it means the live show gets pretty polished
MT: Yeah, our live show is something that is ever evolving, and we kind of jam all the songs anyway. Chris and I have a lot of fun in the same way that Josh and I would have a lot of fun just jamming songs and coming up with different parts so that they’re a little different for us and for the fans. I wouldn’t go so far as to say we’re a jam band, but there is definitely some magic that happens up on stage and we definitely have the ESP going. I think we only make records so we can tour so we can play shows, that’s all we want to do you know.
MF: Definitely man, it’s always great to see bands who really enjoy playing live rather than moping around on stage like a bunch of limpid tampons.
MT: There’s no point in doing something if you are going to be miserable and cranky doing it, and we’re very lucky that people still want to see our band. We get to do what we want to do and it just happens to be our job also, I mean what else could you ask for?
If you’re miserable that’s going to translate to the fans, Axl Rose (laughs). I mean if you’re that miserable, just stop, go wait tables. At the end of the day you have to do what makes you happy, you have to! If what you do doesn’t make you happy try something else. I just feel really blessed, cos I get to do what I want to do.
Year Of The Rainbow is out now. Find it on iTunes.