It’s 3 PM, and there is much activity at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Sound checks, merch table setups, people with brooms, people filling coolers at the bar. And of course, prog rock band Coheed & Cambria hang out in the back corner of the 90-year-old building, waiting for their gig tonight.
Comprised of Claudio Sanchez (lead vocals, guitar, keyboard), Travis Stever (guitar, backing vocals), Josh Eppard (drums, keyboards) and newest member, Zach Cooper (bass), Coheed & Cambria are touring in support of a new album, The Color Before the Sun, which topped at #10 on the Billboard 200.
Travis Stever and I wander around the venue looking for a quiet place to talk, while opening act, Glassjaw, rolls through their sound check. Travis looks chill in sweats and a hoodie, and we finally find a suitable place to chat– their tour bus, quiet as a library, parked in the back alley.
Elmore Magazine: Last year the news with you guys was the saga of Claudio’s country house, it was widely publicized that the tenants trashed it, and there was a grow house in there. What’s the update with that?
Travis Stever: They’re renting the house out now. The house was basically fully renovated, it’s like a brand new house. It was totaled, they were running a huge operation out of there. I guess that’s been happening a lot with houses like that, in the country and somewhat isolated.
EM: What a nightmare! Ok, but shifting gears to music, what was your first instrument?
TS: Guitar. My father plays guitar, and always had a lot of guitars laying around; the first guitar I played was probably and acoustic.
EM: Did he teach you?
TS: Yeah, he taught me chords at a very young age, but when I was a little, little guy, I would fiddle the strings pretend I was playing a song, like my son does now, not really having any melody. The first two songs I wrote were “The Guy Who Wants to Do Something” and “The Guy Who Wants to Do Nothing,” or something like that. Funny enough, my Dad actually recorded it. That’s probably the first time I even played, and it’s documented.
EM: Did you fall in love with it then?
TS: No I didn’t play for years, I had this kinda thing where I was deathly afraid of heavy metal and stuff for about 3 years 3rd, 4th, 5th grade, and then I started listening to it. The same thing happened with spiders, at first I was afraid then I was fascinated. I loved music and became a music freak
EM: Do you remember some of your favorite bands?
TS: Well I kind of went backward from loving Guns N’ Roses as a kid. The first record I ever bought by myself was Somewhere in Time, by Iron Maiden.
EM: That’s a great album.
TS: Yeah, but I bought it because of the cover art more than anything, because I was still in that period of being slightly afraid. I remember my stepbrother was like, “A bunch of kids were listening to this album while doing a séance and they died because the house burned down!” (Laughs) I used to pull out the first Black Sabbath album, the one with the witch on the cover and stare at it. But those were the records that came out and I played them, and then it was about listening to them and loving them and being fascinated by them. Those and Led Zeppelin. We had I and II on vinyl, so I went out and bought them on cassette. But the modern albums that made me go, “I wanna do this” was Appetite for Destruction or Dr. Feelgood. And all those era bands. I had stepbrothers and stepsisters that got me into punk and new wave, but I started with those. I would go back and forth or into classic rock. I loved the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a kid, the early stuff. I grew up around Leonard Cohen because of my Dad, so I have a huge place for that in my heart.
EM: I’ve seen your video for You’ve Got Spirit, Kid a bunch of times. Did it take you back to your high school days?
TS: It took me back to the movies that we grew up watching in the ’80s, the John Hughes films and especially when the actors are supposed to be 16 but they look 25. So we thought it would be over the top if a bunch of 36 year olds were supposed to be these high school kids.
EM: What about social media?
TS: It’s a mixed bag, we all have our own social media accounts. I’d say Josh is the most proactive with his social media, I mean we all are, but he’s out there doing it. Right now we have someone touring with us, taking pictures and putting them into a Dropbox folder and kinda leaves it up to use to post photos on our own. Otherwise he’ll put up pictures on the website.
EM: Do you like the influence that it has?
TS: I have a love/hate relationship with it. I hate how it’s destroyed the mystery of things. At the same time, it’s helped in so many ways—especially us—in this era of bands. When we started it was before downloading music was huge—it was there but not huge. Napster was just around, with the release of the first record we got to the point where it was like still records selling, second record still records selling, third record, well it’s over, people are downloading everything. There’s got to be other avenues, so you take to social media and it’s a whole other way to get people to interact, to get excited about the band. And that’s how you get everyone out to shows, and how you make a living, the newest T-shirts, and that stuff. Coheed also has the other avenue, although this album is not in the concept, we have a pretty amazing fan base and cult following of people who really love the comics and that’s a whole other world. We sell the books here at the shows.
EM: What’s your creative process like? Do you come together with music and ideas and try to blend them, or do you get together fresh and jam or maybe a combo?
TS: The songs really stand on their own, they’re personal from a lyrical stand point, especially for Claudio. The concept’s never really dictated by that, it’s more what fits for the record. For this album it was very different. He had a group of songs he didn’t even know if they should be Coheed songs. Everybody really loved them and we wanted to work on the rest of the stuff. It all fit into the same category and he didn’t have a concept in mind, and it works for Coheed because we always do something different. It was kind of like our way to do an intermission, but it doesn’t mean it over. There’s always a group of songs that Claudio has, the skeletons of songs, and we all add to that. Sometimes he and I will build a song, sometimes I have a riff that I bring and if he likes it we’ll build a song out of that. On this record in particular, he was already ahead of where he wanted to be with the material. I guess that can be hard with some musicians, but when its great material like it was, it makes it easy. One of the songs that we loved was the song “Atlas,” about his son. We play that on this tour. He had that song a long time before. There’s an acoustic version of that online. It was kind of touching because we all added something to the song, additional parts to what was already there and it became a dedication to his son. That’s a great example of some of the songs on this record. Very personal to him but we were all able to add our own touches to each song.
EM: Since almost all of your albums are concept albums, how do you choose the songs to be played on tour? Do you put them in a special order, maybe something that would make sense chronologically or just what sounds good together?
TS: We put together a set that we think is going to work out and people are going to be excited about. It should be about the music first and foremost, it shouldn’t be about fitting into a story, unless we’re doing a whole album, but on this we have a very mixed batch, we’re trying to do a lot of songs that people haven’t heard, some we’ve never even played live before.
EM: Who do you listen to? Who are your favorites, and what new stuff has been making it onto your playlist?
TS: That’s tough, because I haven’t been listening to as much lately. When I’m driving, I tend to do playlists now, a mixed bag of either classic rock or metal stuff. Sometimes I’ll do a new wave, like a new new wave sort of mix, like Empire of the Sun, I guess that would be more electronica. I like driving around to that kind of stuff, but I like driving around to a Fleetwood Mac or Leonard Cohen mix too.
EM: How do you balance personal life and being on tour?
TS: It’s been three days since I’ve seen my son, and I miss him. It’s gonna be five weeks. But we’re gonna split it up, we get to be in New York next week, and I get to go home and hang out with them for a few hours.
EM: Is it hard to go from touring to home?
TS: It’s brand new to me, so it’s even harder. He’s only two. He’s at the terrible twos, or “Twouchbag,” they call it. (Laughs) It’s frustrating, but when you go away you want to be there, I want to be there dealing with him when he’s a Twouchbag. It’s something you’d never think that you’d look forward to dealing with the fact that he just walking in his dirty diaper. YAY! But in my 37th year on this earth, I feel lucky to be around, to be here and to be in a band that people give a shit about. This is what I chose to do and I have to be away from family every so often, but that’s OK. When I’m home it so much sweeter.
EM: If you could open up for any artist on tour who would it be?
TS: I always thought that we would fit pretty well opening for the Foo Fighters or something like that, or maybe the Police if they got back together.
EM: Where would you like to be 10 years from now? Playing the stadiums?
TS: That’s so tough. (Laughs) I’m not going to put that kind of pressure on us. I just hope that we’re lucky enough to be doing things the way we are. Maybe a little less frequently? But still be able to work together, I get to play with my three favorite musicians. It’s pretty awesome to think that in 10 years’ time we’d still be doing it.