For the past 24 years, music has been a lifeline for the members of the progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria.
“We suck in music like air, and we breathe it in and out,” said guitarist and co-founder Travis Stever. Claudio Sanchez, Josh Eppard and Zach Cooper round out the lineup of the band. Each feels the need to constantly be making things, so each has various side projects.
“I find when I’m not doing that, I’m very restless,” Stever said.
Much of the band’s prolific career has revolved around “The Amory Wars,” a series of comic books written by frontman and vocalist Sanchez. Every studio album the band has released has been a new chapter in the science-fiction saga, except for one: 2015’s “The Color Before the Sun.”
In a sense, most of the songs in the band’s catalog flow together to tell the story in Heaven’s Fence, the world in which “The Amory Wars” takes place. Starting from “The Second Stage Turbine Blade,” the band’s debut record, to “Vaxis — Act 1: The Unheavenly Creatures,” the band’s latest effort, “The Amory Wars,” takes place over seven records.
Continuing the saga over the past 17 years has been a massive effort. If you talked with Stever at 22 years old about his thoughts on the project, he would say that he wasn’t always sure what was happening. Over the years, he started to better understand Sanchez’s concept.
“I grew to realize that having the other side of the music has really set us apart,” he said. “It’s made it so that the people who dig into our music have something else to dive into! In this day and age, [especially] in this day and age, where music should be just as important as it ever was.”
For a lot of the band’s fans, having the comic book saga accompany the music as a “side thing” has helped them better connect with the music. Stever goes on to add that younger generations have everything “a click away.”
“They don’t listen to records the way that we did, and stare at the cover and really think about what’s going on in every note and every detail. What we do gives them a reason to at least try.”
The band’s diverse offerings have helped propel the musicians into the spotlight, giving people access to their artistic endeavors in multimedia.
“It seems like there’s something a little more grandiose and deep there than what the normal band or artist would give you. It’s a blessing that we’ve had it,” Stever says.
Over the course of the band’s history, Claudio Sanchez has always been the lyricist. Stever said that when they worked on “The Second Stage Turbine Blade,” he’d throw a word “here or there with a scream and it would stay,” with Sanchez finding a way to make it work for the song.
“He’s very particular about making sure what words he’s going to use to tie into the theme or story. He found the middle ground. He writes songs from a personal place, but finds a way to combine them with what’s going in the concept.”
Occasionally, Stever will notice songs that are much more concept-driven, while others have Sanchez’s life experiences woven into them.
“When I said before that we give people that other thing to dive into, they don’t have to. They can listen to a song off of any of our records and it’s a song. It has a theme that they can relate to, but it also has that other side for the people that want to dive in,” Stever notes.
Many fans have relished the opportunity to immerse themselves deep into the world of “The Amory Wars.”
Eventually, the band hopes to see “The Amory Wars” turned into something bigger than the comic books and developed for the screen. Sanchez recently did an interview with The Grammys, in which he talked about how a possible animated series is in the works.
“I can even hope that, musically, we’d all be involved and be able to recreate some of the stuff, or be able to make new stuff. It’s not something we’ve fully discussed, but it’s something we’ve touched up on before,” Stever said of the possible animated project.
It’s the music that has resonated the most with fans over the years. To the band, and Stever in particular, the most memorable songs are the ones most popular with fans, such as “Welcome Home,” from 2005’s “Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness.”
“ ‘Welcome Home’ has been a staple in our set for years, and I know Claudio was excited when he wrote that song. I was excited for the guitar parts that I included. To come into that place in our career where we could just free-for-all play guitar and every instrument and have fun with it, that’s [what] I felt like it was a marker for.”
That record hangs in Stever’s mind as well, because it was the first record on which the band members could explore their instruments more.
In terms of recent music, the band members see “Old Flames” from “The Unheavenly Creatures” as a work that moved them into the next chapter, as a song of hope and ascension.
“It was the first song that Claudio showed me from the new record that he was really excited about. He had showed me other songs that had carried over and became songs on the record, but the first song he showed me and Josh [Eppard] was a demo of ‘Old Flames.’”
Despite the band’s popularity as a progressive rock band, the musicians sometimes use instruments more commonly associated with bluegrass and Americana music.
In “The Afterman” chronicles, Stever experimented with a few instruments.
“ ‘Iron Fist’ was a song Claudio and I worked on together. We were working in the studio that he had in his house called ‘Big Beige,’ and I picked up the banjo, said ‘Let’s just try this,’ and it stuck,” he said.
For other songs, such as “When Skeletons Live” from “Year of the Black Rainbow,” Stever said that he could hear lap steel at the beginning before the song was recorded. Other songs go through a trial-and-error period with other instruments.
“That’s not throwing paint at the wall; that’s really thinking about it. There are also those times where we’re like, ‘What if we throw some lap steel here? What if we throw some banjo?’ It’s not exactly what the song may have called for, but it’s worth trying,” he said.
When Stever lived in Warwick, New York, he had a studio in his house — a “sonic playground” — in which he would experiment with various instruments.
“When it comes to writing music, it’s never just one way. It can start one way, perhaps with acoustic guitars, specifically for Claudio or me on certain things. It usually ends with a lot of different approaches,” he said. “Even if the song’s already there, there’s all these different approaches at making the song the best it can be. That’s just how we roll.”