Why isn't Coheed And Cambria's new album about space this time?
Claudio Sanchez reveals why The Color Before The Sun has both feet on the ground
This is Coheed’s first non-concept record. Honestly, when I started writing it I didn’t even know I was writing a Coheed record. I think that has a lot to do with why the concept element is sort of absent.
My wife and I were living in a country house in upstate New York at the time, and we decided to do this thing that she likes to call ‘our transient life’, where we kind of travel around and move into different situations – before we started to consider having children.
One of the places we found ourselves was in an apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. And coming from a country house in upstate New York, I kind of fell out of my comfort zone. I like to wake up very early, usually around five o’clock in the morning, as that’s when I tend to be at my most creative.
In a country situation, in a house of our own out there in the woods, I can do that whenever I want. But in an apartment it just doesn’t work out that way, and I found myself writing these songs later in the day when my neighbours were home. And I knew they could hear me because I could certainly hear them. So this sense of exposure started to leak into the execution of both the music and the lyrics.
I ended up thinking I had some sort of writer’s block, because none of these songs fit into the formula that I was accustomed to with Coheed. For a second I almost thought of this record as a solo album, because I couldn’t see a concept around it and a lot of things were happening in my life.
I just wanted the songs to speak for themselves, and it wasn’t until everything was finished that I looked at it and said, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted Coheed to be limitless when it comes to creativity – both in terms of the bands we play with on tour, and the type of music that we write.’
So at this major moment in my life I thought, ‘Why should the concept be any different?’ I was making a huge change in my life by becoming a father, so why not make a huge change in my life creatively, too. And that’s essentially what The Color Before the Sun is. It’s a time capsule of that struggle of identity when writing new material, and the hopefulness that came with fatherhood and the birth of my son.
Island is very much the beginning of the record. It opens with the sound of the Q Train going into Brooklyn, and that’s the train that I would frequent when going in and out of Brooklyn into Manhattan. It’s very much the beginning of my identity crisis when writing this record, too. I had a hard time writing songs in this new apartment – or at least I thought I did. And it’s basically a song to my wife, saying that she needed to hear me and understand that it wasn’t working for me. I needed to leave and get back to the country, and that’s essentially what Island is about – just the apartment being too small, and the exposure being too much for me. When I started the song it was all on acoustic, and that was the beginning of this idea of the album being a solo effort. But we transformed it into a rocker, and the guitar at the beginning claws into the idea of distance and landscape, which I really didn’t have being in that apartment. I was longing for space, and the opening guitar line is supposed to resonate that. Then the band comes in, and everything becomes tight and crunchy. Again, that’s meant to be a musical representation of the chaos I was experiencing inside the space of that apartment.
Eraser is a continuation of exploring that idea of identity, and falling out of the comfort zone. I started to question what life would be like if I didn’t have Coheed and Cambria, and all the preconceived ideas of what the band is supposed to create. I felt free to do whatever I wanted, and that’s essentially what the theme of this song is. It’s about turning the clock back to a less tampered sort of me, and one that doesn’t feel like he’s in a box but rather is free to explore whatever he wants. Musically, when the chorus explodes I wanted the guitars to be all encompassing. So right at the start of the song, in the first verses, it’s a much more stripped down guitar sound and the drums occupy most of the space. But once that chorus hits the drums become mono and smaller, and the guitars overtake everything to become the fuzzed out lift of the song.
Like I said earlier, I like to wake up super early. But doing that in this apartment, I just didn’t know what to do with myself. So I’d end up leaving the apartment and walking around Prospect Park, which was just a couple of blocks away, until the sun came up. I was having this struggle, but I was sort of coming to a resolve and finding peace within myself as well. I was learning to accept all the colours and shades of who I am – whether it was me from 16 years old, or me now, at 37. It didn’t matter, because it was all one and the same. The keys are really sparse and just one note, and to me they represent this coming together and solidarity of these two personas merging into one. I incorporated the piano to feel that resonance of this split becoming unified. And the chorus echoes the idea that when the world all comes crashing down, it feels good to just let go and allow things to take their course. That’s the big theme of this record.
4. HERE TO MARS
This is a love song for my wife, and it allowed me to look at her in a different light. My wife and I collaborate on a ton of things together – a lot of the comic books and the lyrics and music that I write – and now here we were about to collaborate on a life together, and it was just a really special moment that framed her in a way that made me want to express myself in a song for her. So that’s basically what I did, and Here to Mars is me trying to encapsulate that emotion. I wanted the song to feel epic and explosive, and distant like a journey. Some people might get literal with it and say, ‘You only love your wife to Mars? But that’s only the neighbouring planet of our solar system – it’s not really that far away!’ But to me, Mars might as well be the other end of the universe because I’m never going there. Maybe I should just do a series of love songs about the solar system next time out? Ha ha!
Ghost is a very introspective song. It’s an acoustic track, and it ends Side A of the record. Once I knew we were expecting the birth of our first son, this song allowed me a moment to question myself and ask what kind of a father I was going to be. It was all so new to me, and I wondered whether it was going to be an original experience, or if I was going to echo the ghost of my parents and their upbringing. I’m sure it’ll be a little bit of both, but that’s why I approached the song in such a stripped down manner. It’s me contemplating my future as a father. And the more I look at this album now, the more I think there is a concept there, it’s just more autobiographical rather than a science-fiction fantasy. It’s a story about a man and his wife, and the trials that they endure pre- and post-parenthood. It’s like a Coheed and Cambria concept record, except that it’s about Claudio and Chondra.
Atlas is my son. My wife and I had a boy, and we named him Atlas because he was going to be the guide and the map to this new chapter in our life. I wrote the song before he was born. I was so excited and I couldn’t wait to meet him, but I also knew that inevitably I was going to have to leave him for my job and what I do. So that’s basically what this song is about: although I’m leaving him, he’ll be the anchor that will allow me to remember where home is, and no matter where I am in the world he will be with me. Home doesn’t have to be a structure that sits somewhere, you see. It’s just the comfort of family, I think. With the opening riff I was trying to echo a lullaby, and when the band kicks in I wanted the song to feel energetic, happy and hopeful because I was excited about having a son. I’d already written the introspective question that ended Side A, and so I wanted Side B to start off with a rocker.
7. YOUNG LOVE
Young Love is a song about our house. My wife and I left our country home to live in Brooklyn, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to sell it so we decided to rent it out. The house is very important to the Coheed DNA. We wrote No World For Tomorrow [Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two] in it; we wrote Year of the Black Rainbow and both The Afterman [Ascension and Descension] records there, and I’m pretty sure I actually wrote You Got Spirit, Kid when we got back to the house as well. But we found out after a year of living in Brooklyn that the people renting out our house weren’t actually in it – they didn’t exist. They were in fact a ghost family, and our house had been turned into a cannabis farm for growing marijuana. So the house we were preparing to move back into with our son had now been destroyed, and we had to pick up the pieces and put the house back together. I wrote this song as sort of an apology to the house, because it was such an important place for me and I left it in the wrong hands. That’s kind of why I approached the music in that sort of washy way. It feels very lonesome, and that’s because we left our house alone with the wrong people. Everything got handled eventually, and we moved back in there for a year or so, but in August we actually moved back to the city because we missed living there. The house is still out there though, and we’ll figure out what we’ll do with it, I’m sure.
8. YOU GOT SPIRIT, KID
This song is almost like the punctuation of the record. All the things that we had endured; between my little identity crisis and the birth of our son, which was the best part about the whole thing, and then the destruction of our country home, which was the worst, is all in this song. My problems are no bigger than the next person’s, and we’re all in this race against time togther, but the things that happen make us who we are. This song is about accepting that your problems are no bigger than the next, so accept the bad as part of the good and move forward. That’s pretty much what You Got Spirit, Kid is about, and it’s been going over great live – unlike anything we’ve experienced previously with the other Coheed records, actually. We’re getting some great energy off this new material.
9. THE AUDIENCE
The good and bad reactions to our music are all a part of The Audience. I receive all of it: the negative and the positive. It all makes me who I am. When we started making this record I kept thinking, ‘This is the first non-concept Coheed record, how will it be received?’ The reason I created The Amory Wars [an ongoing series of comic books written by Claudio Sanchez, and the focus of all Coheed and Cambria’s music up until now] so many years ago was because I was a shy guy, and I was afraid to express myself in songs. So I created a fictional world that could take the beating, and I could remain unscathed. And now here I am coming to accept that The Color Before the Sun is going to be concept-less, and that negative feedback is not going to bother me as much as I thought I would when I first started writing music back when I was 24. Now I’m 37, and I’m going to be as open to both sides of the audience as possible, because it all makes me who I am, and Coheed what it is. This song is really just addressing both sides of the positive and negative reactions to this record as a whole.
10. PEACE TO THE MOUNTAIN
This song is the resolve. It’s coming to accept everything. At the time I wrote it we were returning back to the country, and it was like we’d come full circle. We’d left and experienced everything that we could, and then we went back to the peace and quiet of the mountain. And that’s pretty much it. This song is really a recount of my personality and who I am, and my obsessions with time and death, and I think it all resonates pretty well in the song. I think about the present and the future all the time, and I’m very excited about this record coming out. But I’m also looking even further ahead, too, and maybe there’ll be a moment like this again where it’ll call for the songs to speak for themselves. Or maybe I’ll decide to go back to The Amory Wars. I do very much love science-fiction fantasy and that whole conceptual world. Only time can really tell where I’ll land when it comes the next Coheed record, but I’m open to both sides. And right now I’m just really excited to play all of the new songs from The Color Before the Sun live.
Claudio was speaking to Matt Stocks. Coheed And Cambria's The Color Before The Sun will be released on October 16 through 300 Entertainment.