After a brief diversion from their usual conceptual path in their 2016 full-length ‘The Color Before The Sun’, New York progressive rock troupe Coheed & Cambria returned to their sci-fi saga The Amory Wars and with a whole new five-part arc too.
Their ninth album and the introduction to their new pentalogy, ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’, tells another extravagant tale of another world with new characters and, put out through their new label home at Roadrunner Records, the band are pushing this next chapter out to as many fans as possible to bigger shows than before.
Whilst at the Manchester date of the tour at the Academy, a venue with an extra 1,000 capacity compared to the O2 Ritz where they played when they were last here two years ago, we spoke with bassist Zach Cooper about the new record, the story behind this new arc, progress on a The Amory Wars film, the idea of playing with an orchestra, and more.
DP!: You’re past the halfway point of this UK tour now. How’ve the shows been?
Z: They’ve been amazing, awesome shows. We didn’t come over here last year, and I thought we were playing at the O2 Ritz again this year. Then when we got here I thought “Oh, I don’t think I’ve ever been here.” It’s a bigger venue.
DP!: The tour is promoting your new album, ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’, which sees you returning to The Amory Wars concept. At what point did the band decide to return to that concept?
Z: I think that was mainly Claudio’s decision, but I know that even as early as him bringing up doing a record outside of the concept he was like “But, we’re not going to stay outside of the concept.” I think it was kind of something that he just wanted to do, but I’m not entirely sure when the conscious decision was made to return to the concept. I don’t know if I knew for sure, or if I just had a hunch, but I kind of figured that we’d be coming back to it for this one.
DP!: In regards to the story and concept that surrounding this new album, can you briefly explain what the story is of this record and the new ‘Vaxis’ arc?
Z: The super abridged version is that there’s these new characters, Creature and Sister Spider, who kind of pull a heist, some stuff happens where you think that Sister Spider is killed and there’s a rift between Creature and Colossus now, and they end up at this prison planet called The Dark Sentencer. The rest of the story plays out from there in terms of trying to escape and deal with this rift between the two of them. It’s very in-depth and elaborate, but that’s the most basic gist of it.
DP!: A lot of your fans are very much fixed into the whole universe of and the saga in all formats, and then you have some other fans that just gravitate and relate to the music and the lyrics in their own circumstances without ever knowing or connecting them to what they’re in reference to in The Amory Wars specifically, or at the very least a very abridged version like you’ve explained.
Z: Absolutely, and I think that’s a great thing that this band has which I would say is entirely unique only to this band. There’s fans and people that I’ve spoken to in the past that know the story even better than I do, and I’m in the band. A lot of people will spend a lot of time really analysing things, and there’s a lot of people who have a general understanding of what’s going on, and then there are people who are like “No, that’s not why I listen to the band. I don’t even pay attention to that. I just them for the music and shows.” The cool thing is that it still speaks to those people across all of those levels. You don’t really have to know the story to just enjoy our records, it’s just another layer that’s available to you if you want to dig a little deeper into it.
DP!: Obviously, this is just act one out of, at least what’s planned for now, several acts. How do you as a band prepare the foundational groundwork for multiple arc albums, in terms of planning out how it’s going to be split into multiple acts, how those acts will weave together sonically, especially when a large part of the whole arc has not been finalised and written just yet?
Z: Yeah, there’s going to be five acts in total with this Vaxis arc. It’s a pentalogy. As far as I know, it isn’t all fully planned out yet. The story isn’t finished, but there’s a basic skeleton. The last time I talked to Claudio about this, he had some of the major beats and plot points in act two; some of the big reveal kind of things. It’s pieced together in a sort of outline, and then we kind of piece through things to get a little more detail. I mean, I didn’t write the story so I can’t comment on the story too much specifically, but it’s not like Claudio has written all five parts and it’s ready to go. It’s like “Okay, I’ve got the first part of it, we can leave it open-ended, and from there pick up and continue telling the story.” I’m pretty sure that’s kind of the idea. Even with the past records, you’ve got the story but you want to do a little more with it, so you leave it open-ended and kind of pull from it.
DP!: I just find it really interesting, because obviously before you go into a record the concept is already set, and that concept is essentially directing you and the record to where it’s going. For example, at this point in the story this happens so we need a big song, and then for this part a dark and heavy song, and this part needs something more sombre and like a ballad, etc.
Z: Oh, yeah, there’s definitely an element of that for sure. This record was particularly unique because before we even had went into the studio, Claudio had given all of us a story outline and concept art too. He had artists draw the story’s characters and some locations, so we had all of that stuff when we were sent demos of the songs, which was really cool. So, now we have these visuals to go along with the songs, and you can kind of- now you know all of the major plot points and things like that, and so going into it you have a better understanding of the narrative, and the music is going to help tell this narrative. In the past, and I’ve only done one other concept record with the band, ‘The Afterman’ albums, but I know that’s never been done before. It’s usually that the story is piecing together, but it’s not as upfront at the start when we begin making the album. It was a really, really cool way of doing it, because now we have a better understanding of the universe and what’s going on.
DP!: Being a concept and sci-fi driven band, the music is very cinematic and grand at times. Do film scores and soundtracks play a heavy influence on Coheed & Cambria and the records?
Z: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. That’s for everybody in the band too. Film scores are kind of the soundtrack of our youth, especially for me. I’ll hear things and it’ll flash me back to seeing a movie as a kid, and in my teenage years – even now. There’s something about that element, and you can hear a lot of pretty clear influences, especially in this record, of film stuff. Not even just compositionally, but sounds on the record, and some of the synthy sounds. Right away when I first heard ‘Night-Time Walkers’ I kind of heard a John Carpenter-esque feel, you know what I mean? Those things are there. Some of it is intentional, and I think some of it is also self-conscious, but it just flows out because it’s engrained.
DP!: Just on the subject of films, there’s a lot of talks and speculation online of The Amory Wars film that’s been floating around for a good while now, and sometimes it’s quiet and sometimes it fluctuates back. Do you know what the current status of that is?
Z: There is nothing happening with that right now. There was the whole situation where Mark Wahlberg’s production company had the rights to shop it or whatever, but that never happened so it just got transferred back to Claudio. I don’t know why. Making a movie, and Hollywood, is such a crazy thing, and it takes a long time to get things going. It’s a different beast entirely to making a record. Well, nowadays you can make your own movie too with the cameras and software you can get and use at home and DIY, and that’s the same with making a record. If you want to make a record at home then you definitely can now, but it’s just a lot easier to get music out to people than you can a film. I hope that one day it does happen. I think that Hollywood is starving for new stories to tell. They’re rebooting a lot of stuff, and it gets boring after a while. They’re just shooting for what’s safe and using brand recognition. I mean, they made a Battleship film. They made a film based on a board game. Obviously it’s not totally based on the game, but it’s like, “Hey, people know this so let’s do a film about it.”
DP!: That’s true. I mean, at this rate a movie about Monopoly or Scrabble isn’t totally out of the question.
Z: Yeah, totally. That sounds absolutely ridiculous, and at the same time it would not surprise me if that were to actually happen. There was the emoji movie too, basing the film over simple graphics made and sent via text message. It’s just like, “We need to make this easily relatable to people quickly.” I understand that it’s big money and stuff, but yeah. I just hope that one day there’s enough of a draw that they understand and see that people know this, and that’s enough to push it forward, and it’d be another layer to unearth like we discussed before, and draw fans from other areas not only to the band, but also to the comics.
DP!: The new record was your first through your new label home over at Roadrunner Records. What made you want to sign a deal with them particularly?
Z: I think one of the main driving forces with that was that Roadrunner is an established rock label. They have the ability to get the band in front of as many people as possible, so it made a lot of sense. They understand the band too. You know, we have a few records now, we’re not a new band, so they know us and how we sound, and how they in turn can get behind and market it, and, again, help push us to as many people as possible with that infrastructure that they have in place. It’s a really good decision for us, and one we’re all really excited about.
DP!: You also solely handled production duties for this record for the first time ever too. Was that a scary or nerve-wracking experience for you?
Z: Actually, it was the least scary situation. It was the four of us and an engineer, Chris Bittner, who engineered so many of the band’s previous records, so it was actually really exciting because there was no pressure. I mean, there is pressure, and obviously there’s pressure, but in the room it was more like we could get excited about something and there wasn’t someone standing in the corner saying “That sucks. That’s rubbish. Don’t do that, dude.” You know, someone who wasn’t totally invested in it. From my point of view and my experience, it was a lot of fun. You’d hear something and it’d be a lot more like, “Woah, wait! Do that!” or “This is cool, I like that.” A lot more was left to us and that’s what was exciting. There were less hands outside of the band all over it. Sometimes in the past, for me at least, I’d play something that I think is really cool and someone would then come by and be like, “Nah man, that’s not cool. Take all of that out and just do this one thing,” and you’re like, “Oh, well that’s not cool.” After all of that anyway, I’m just thinking in my head “I’m just going to play it the other way live anyway.” Us doing what we want makes it more organic, and this is where I hear it. I’m not downplaying the important role of the producer. It’s good to have someone doing that, but I think this was a good experience. The band have been doing this for a long time, I’ve been playing for a long time; I think we can handle ourselves, and this record is a good representation of that. I think it’s a really great record.
DP!: You’ve got nine albums now, you’ve played all across the world, performed at multiple festivals worldwide. At this point in the band’s career, what are the next milestones and goals that you’re hoping to achieve?
Z: I think that the band has been extremely lucky and fortunate to be able to maintain this level of fan interest, and being able to play these kind of rooms. I think that, as with anything, the main goal is to just keep pushing, keep trying to make more fans, and play bigger and better shows. I think that’s the ultimate goal of any band, to just keep going.
DP!: I’ve always thought you guys and your music would be well suited to do a show with a full orchestra, like Metallica did once with their ‘S&M’ album, or Bring Me The Horizon did a few years back.
Z: I would absolutely love to do something like that. That would be a lot of fun. That would be cool if that ever happened, and is somewhat of a dream scenario. Hopefully, and maybe one day we could put something like that together. Maybe one day.
DP!: What’s planned for the rest of 2018 and 2019 for Coheed & Cambria so far?
Z: For the rest of this year we’re going to finish up in the UK, head home for about two weeks, and then we do a quick run through the States. Then next year it’s really just a matter of getting out there and touring, and playing the new songs to as many people as we possibly can. That’s pretty much the plan for now. It’s a little far out to even think of when we’ll start piecing together ‘Vaxis – Act II’, but I’d hope that it’d be not too long after we’ve wrapped up the cycle for ‘Act I’.
The band’s ninth studio album, ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’, is out now through Roadrunner Records.
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