Claudio Sanchez, lead singer for Coheed And Cambria, has spent the last two years writing the double-album series "The Afterman: Ascension" and "The Afterman: Descension".
The former album was released late last year and the latter record has just come out the first week of February. They are not concept albums in the strict sense that all of the earlier albums were but there is a loose thread that runs through the pair of records that is based on Sanchez's experiences during the two years it took him to write the albums.
Produced by Michael Birnbaum
and Chris Bittner
, the same team who worked on the original Coheed And Cambria records, the two Afterman albums will come out on the singer's own Everything Evil label. Having jumped ship from behemoth Columbia Records, Claudio wanted more control of his music and what better way to do that than to create your own label. Here, in a conversation from Florida, the singer/author talked about the new record and what it took to create it.
UG: For the uninitiated, can you describe the premise behind the two "Afterman" albums?
Claudio Sanchez: I wrote the songs about what I was experiencing in the two years I had written the record. So that was sort of the concept. I didn't know where I was really going to base this story in terms of the "Amory War". I just kind of let my life sort of dictate or inspire what the songs are.
"I started to build the concept, that's what helped me place the songs where they needed to go in terms of the ascending and the descending of the story."
So you didn't set out to write a collection of songs that were going to fit into a concept idea?
No. I mean this was very much like I said. We had come off the road on "Black Rainbow" and we took some time off. I wasn't sure being that the "Black Rainbow" record pretty much concluded the "Amory Wars" story of Coheed And Cambria. So I was kind of, no, I wouldn't say at a loss. I mean I had ideas but I just wanted to write a record that didn't really have any walls or any boundaries. Not to say that the story does that because the story essentially is very limitless. It allows me to do other things outside of the music. I just kind of wanted to write a record that was very much inspired by the time I was having. And the Afterman made for a great concept - taking all of those elements and transforming them into what is The Afterman. It really worked.
You had said in press releases that your wife read on Facebook that one of her friends had passed away on Facebook. Was that one of the triggering incidents for the writing of the two "Afterman" albums?
Umm, for sure. That song happened to be "The Afterman" and when I wrote that song and then I thought about the songs I had written previous, I just started to see sort of a journey of myself and kind of the things I was going through up to that moment. And I just kind of decided to stay on that path and basically chronicle that two-year time span.
What was the writing process like for the "Afterman" albums?
For me I always have some sort of device to record on and usually it's a laptop nowadays. But I'll just kind of start with some sort of instrumentation whether it be the guitar or some sort of sequence or programming or what have you. Whatever that day is and what I gravitate towards, that's the instrument I use. And with that I start to kind of create a melody against it and that melody will usually kind of help form the words. From there I'll start to find what that song is about and paint that picture a little more.
Then you'll bring the music to the band?
Once that skeleton is complete, I'll show it to the band and the band will start to kind of arrange all the sections around it. In terms of the drums, the guitars, and that all of that stuff essentially enforces the statement instead of stepping on it. So yeah, that's pretty much it.
When you began writing two years ago, did you know there were going to be two separate albums?
Most of the stuff was there but then as it got closer to the end of the writing cycle and we started getting into recording, there were moments where things started to kind of pop up. A song like "Number City" was just something I wrote on an old '60s Hohner bass that just happened to be in the studio. And a song like "Sentry" (full name: "Key Entity Extraction V: Sentry The Defiant") was written on a baritone Danelectro guitar in the studio I picked up and started working on. The "Dark Side Of Me" was a riff Travis was playing in the lounge area I really liked and I recorded it. I took it to the hotel we were staying at and just started working on lyrics and counter-melodies and such. But for the most part all the stuff was pretty much written together.
Were the songs written chronologically?
Chronologically not so much because as I started to build the concept, that's what helped me place the songs where they needed to go in terms of the ascending and the descending of the story.
Were you always attracted to concept-styled records?
It did. When I was in high school, my second concert was Pink Floyd on The Division Bell Tour. My first concert happened to be Black Sabbath at the Beacon Theater with Dio. But I had no idea about the live counterpart to music. So it was really sort that first concert and to see how the lights were triggered with music and the relationship between those things and the dynamics they created. Then going and seeing The Division Bell was just completely mindblowing for me. It was certainly I think one of those moments that sort of defined what I wanted to do with my life. I think that was kind of my first real introduction to Pink Floyd so I started to kind of get into that.
"When I started writing, we didn't really know if we had a label. And it felt like the closest thing to that was creating our own and it feels good."
You saw other Pink Floyd shows?
Seeing The Wall and having that cinematic counterpart to the music, that album lived in another genre and on another medium. That for me was kind of what I've always wanted to do. I've always wanted these songs to live off of their records and give them a new identity and essentially kind of metaphorically paint legs on them so they can walk in another world. So that was always sort of intriguing to me and it certainly became a big part of what I do.
Which is why you're interested in comic books and that sort of thing?
Yeah, the comics and the novels and so on.
Talking about putting legs on your songs, Mark Wahlberg has expressed an interest about making a live-action film based around your comic books?
I'm totally excited. We've just been working on a game plan really since we made it public at the San DiegoComic-Con. We've just been trying to work on a game plan to find the right people to get involved. So that's pretty much it.
Will the film be built around the two Afterman albums?
We're a little unsure of what the starting point is going to be. If it will be the "Afterman", it will start with the Coheed And Cambria story. Ultimately that's something I would love to see happen is to kind of cover all of the stories. But right now it's just trying to pinpoint what is our starting point.
You hadn't worked with producers Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner on the previous two records but you brought them both back for the two "Afterman" albums. Why?
Certainly there's a comfort zone there. We've known Mike and Chris since we were teenagers. For me, Woodstock (the recording studio is there) is only an hour from where the Big Beige is - the Big Beige is the house I work out of. And so I wanted to have that luxury with this record and certainly because it was double album. To have the opportunities to go back to my home and work on these things if I chose to do that. Because there were moments on these past records where being up at the compound in Woodstock, you get a little cabin fever. I don't drive really so I got a little stir crazy. So for me I just wanted to have the luxury of going home.
Choosing to work again with Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner was more about being comfortable than what they brought to the music sonically?
Working on "Year Of The Black Rainbow" with Atticus Ross and Joe Barresi was a huge learning experience for me. I learned so much from those guys and I really appreciated what they did. At first I think the idea really was for this was to be near home and not be in L.A. So that was really my first kind of thought about returning to "Applehead" (the recording facility located five minutes outside of Woodstock, New York). And then with the return with Josh, it just made so much more sense to go back up there and rekindle our friendships with those guys.
Michael Birnbaum and Chris Bittner work out of the Applehead studio?
Yeah, and they do tremendous work. Their studio is fantastic. Before we actually did Afterman, I brought a soundtrack song up there ("Deranged") for that Arkham City Batman game that came out. Just to kind of test the waters before Josh had returned and something I knew was going to have to happen for me eventually to do this double record. So I brought that song up because essentially the studio is a converted barn and is a very big room. I wanted the drums to sound tremendous and I wanted to be in that massive space and I knew we could get that going up there. They're great at what they do for sure; they certainly have a history with the band and I just really like them. I do. They're friends of mine and ultimately I guess I missed working with them.
You live outside of Woodstock in Nyack, New York?
Yeah, and Woodstock has so much of a history there. In high school, I would cut class for weeks. I would take my stuff, may amp and my guitars to school and my parents would ask me, "Where you going?" And I was like, "Oh, I got jazz band." I would get to school and walk down to Nyack getting on a bus, take the bus to Suffern and then the bus up to Woodstock. I'd stay up there and my parents were cool. I would play in a band that I was in at the time. I just always knew that's what I wanted to do and Woodstock had a big part to play in that. So, I just wanted to return there.
"I've always wanted songs to live off of their records and give them a new identity and essentially kind of metaphorically paint legs on them so they can walk in another world."
You mentioned earlier about Josh Eppard returning to the band. What has that meant to the music?
It's amazing. I never thought it was gonna happen because of the way we split. But when I was writing this material, we had been demoing a bunch of it before Josh. And there were just moments where I felt like again - and this is going back to the earlier answer - the statements in the songs weren't being reinforced properly. It wasn't gluing together. And I had a feeling and I knew Josh was perfect for it. He is the original drummer and the original backbone of the band. I just knew he had this intense way of punctuating statements in the way he plays the drums. He's a song -minded drummer and he comes in and puts stuff to the song and he finds things in the lyrics that he thinks are very important and he punctuates it. You know what I mean? I was missing that intensity and that kind of drive behind it and pushing it forward.
You're obviously very pleased to have Josh back in the band?
I'm really happy; I really am. I love Josh as a brother and I'm so happy he's back. I feel like it's where he belongs.
Bassist Zach Cooper also came in and replaced Michel Todd.
Bass (laughs). No, but seriously, it's a tough position to fill. I think Zach fills it very nicely. He's just overall and the bass playing aside, he just has a great personality. When he came in and started to audition for the part, right off the bat I knew he was someone that I liked and I'd feel comfortable with. If I were getting into this situation, I feel like I would have approached it in the same way. He's very shy and tends to defer but then he just started kind of opening up and playing these lines that were very melodic. So he certainly had his color that he was bringing in the band but also sort of locking it down with Josh and really helping stabilize what made a good rhythm section.
That's what you look for in a bass player? Someone who locks with the drummer?
Those are my favorite bass players - the ones that can really lock it down but also are very melodic and have a lot of color with what they do.
Who would some of those bassists be?
For example Nate Mendel from Sunny Day Real Estate who is now in the Foo Fighters. He was one of my favorites. We would always back in the day try to emulate him. Certainly when Mike Todd was in the band, we would always reference Nate because he's almost got like this guitar playing beaty feel but yet it's solid. If I had to pick a rock bass player, yeah, that would be one for sure.
The last couple records you’ve done have been on your own label, Everything Evil. What has that been like?
When I started writing, we didn't really know if we had a label. We knew that there was something with Sony and we weren't necessarily sure if it was going to be the right move to return. Which felt really good because we didn't have this obligation looming over us. Not that they were ever that way but it just felt good to not have the label and I kind of wanted to keep it that way. And it felt like the closest thing to that was creating our own and it feels good. It feels like a real accomplishment.
"For me I always have some sort of device to record on and usually it's a laptop nowadays."
You must now feel the pressure of having to do everything yourself.
It's a lot of work and especially that we wanted to do a double-album as our debut. There was so much work to be done and with the limited-edition package and all the writing that Chonda (Echert, Claudio's wife) and I have done for the story. We knew what we were sort of getting into and certainly with "Year Of The Black Rainbow" and the prose novel (that Sanchez wrote with author Peter David) that came with it. Doing it ourselves was a lot of work but it felt like a real sense of accomplishment like, "Now we could do anything."
Are you happy with what you created in "The Afterman: Ascension" and "The Afterman: Descension" albums?
With any artist you look at something and wish you would have done something different. But the one thing I really get excited about is being in New York and having the luxury to be home. A lot of the things that made the album were from the demos and in the past we didn't have that luxury. Instead of saying, "Oh, because we recorded on this device here doesn't make it any good" it was like, "Forget tonality and let's go for the vibe and what feels right. If this right here feels right because it was recorded at the right time of day with the right feeling, then let's not try to beat that." Because that's where the passion is and let's keep that instead of trying to beat it to death. So that I'm really excited about. In that regard, I think of these albums as totally capturing everything I wanted because it's honest. All of those little mistakes and happy accidents are there.