Reverb Interview: Coheed and Cambria’s Travis Stever

After almost 20 years in existence, Coheed and Cambria has created eight studio albums, gone through lineup changes and undergone a (conceptual) intergalactic war with Travis Stever and lead singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez at the helm. But the dynamic nature of Coheed and Cambria has them drawing festival crowds and pumping out the best arena rock this side of 1987.

Their new album, The Color Before the Sun, is simultaneously new territory and familiar ground. The band’s first non-concept album, TCBTS also is the first that the band has recorded live in studio. That said, the same anthemic expanse the band’s trademarked over years of playing is front and center.

We caught up with Travis via phone before he went out on Coheed’s new 25-date tour to talk about recording live, putting out the band’s first non-concept album, growing older and how to continue evolving as a group.

How are you Travis?

I’m great, I've been practicing, getting ready, learning some of the songs we're putting in the set list — or re-learning them, I guess you'd say. That's about it.

Has it been a minute since you've been playing these songs?

A couple of the songs, yeah. One or two of the songs we've never played. Three or four of the songs, actually, we've never played in front of an audience. We recorded them and played them live, recording them from the new record. And there are a couple from older records that either we haven't ever played in front of an audience, or we haven't played in a long time. We're giving ourselves that challenge but making it an ultra-cool show for the people who have seen us the last couple of years to get some new songs in there.

This new album is the first non-concept record that Coheed has done. Did you feel anything different in the recording process? Was there a different approach to recording the album?

We cut it live. It's very naked. The blemishes are there."

Not because of “no concept,” but because we cut it live. It's very naked. The blemishes are there. And I think that was the approach Claudio wanted to take, with things being so personal on the record. I think that he had a group of songs that he really didn't know what he was going to do with, whether they were going to be something that he would just release on his own or it would be Coheed. Everybody loved the songs he had, so it was just like, you know, let's turn them into Coheed songs. He had already sold himself on them being more personal and not having the concept involved. Concept’s not over, it's just, like, a little bit of a step out. All of the albums are different, even if they have the concept involved.

Musically, the way a lot of things are written, it’s just a different approach for the band but like a really refreshing and reassuring approach, too, because now we know that cutting things live can come easy. And that live aspect of the band kind of shines through in cutting it live.

Was there a specific catalyst that led to going with Claudio’s more personal songs? Or was there something else specific in the realm of the band that led to you guys going down this non-concept album route?

I think that it was just, like, life. He had these songs that really had nothing to do with any concept. All of the albums — I know lyrically for him and musically for all of us — it's always personal. The songs are being written about real life, and then the concept comes in. But I think that this just had, for him especially, so much substance that came from his own life. He was just kind of like, "Let's just let this one be outside of that." It doesn't give any negative connotation to the concept of being a part of it or not being a part of it. It just made more sense.

It's just kind of where he was at with the songs before we decided to go in and actually track them. Once we did it live as a band, everything came together. It was just so naked, and it was this kind of record that just felt right to not have the concept involved. I think that it was just more, “let's just release a record.” These songs are awesome and there's nothing tied into it conceptually, just personally. It's not at all that we feel like we're freer when we do that, it's just a different thing. And, like I said, every Coheed record is completely different. So it was just a no-brainer. We want to make this as different as possible. How do we go about doing that and enjoying it and doing it live? Well, all right, it's outside the concept. But that doesn't mean that something couldn't be in the concept on the next record or whatever we decide to do.

Travis Stever performing live with Coheed and Cambria. Photo by Adam Sims

Travis Stever performing live with Coheed and Cambria. Photo by Adam Sims

With this new live recording approach, did you alter your recording rig in any way?

No. We demoed the same way that we have with a lot of stuff. A lot of that would come from Claudio cutting stuff at the house, maybe me going over and cutting some guitars over there, maybe cutting some guitars here in the little studio that I have in my house and sending them back and forth. And that's how we demoed a lot of stuff, got ideas. But then we got together as a band and we really hashed out the songs and the parts in just a few days. Then we went out to Jay Joyce's studio. We had planned on trying live but we were like, "Aw, man. It's scary." His approach is to do everything live. So we got there and we went through two of the songs.

We started in the track-by-track sequence that was already planned for the album. So we did "Island" and "Eraser" with a little segue in between it. We did all of that live and it was kind of like, "Hey, we can do this!" So then we just went down the line of the album. It was about a week and a half and we were done. And then we were on to mixing. Yeah, it was really organic how it happened. That's kind of reassuring. And also, with the concept side of it, it's reassuring to know that if we don't want to have the concept involved in the album, we just don't. It's fun for us to have it involved, so I would imagine, if not the next record, at some point it will probably come back around. We always just like to change it up. That's all. Doing it live, experimenting with that, I know it's something we'll use again in the future.

How did you guys decide on Joyce to record with? Had you recorded with him previously?

No, it was really an experiment through the A&R 300, the label that we released Color Before the Sun on. Pete Giberga was very good friends with Jay Joyce and kind of made us look into him a little bit more and check out his work. We just thought it would be a really cool experiment. Yet again, like another kind of experiment to see what it does for the band. His approach is to do live. So, really, he turned into the one who pushed us off the cliff. Well, that gives it a negative; basically he was the one who said, "You can do this." So that worked out well for us. We don't want to say he pushed us off the cliff!

Sent you soaring into new territory.

Sent us flying off the cliff. Pushed us off the cliff and all of a sudden we were flying. There you go. Not that we fell to our death. It was a really interesting way that it went down because we had talked about doing live for quite some time before that. And it was just like, "Ok, let's try this producer." And he even said, "If it doesn't work out: fine. It's my approach, but fine. You guys can do it however you want, but we should try live first." So we went and we tried it and we would cut things. He has a beautiful studio. It's a huge church converted into a studio. We would cut in the live room. There were little studios separate from that set aside. There was a live room that we did a lot of the drums in. Sometimes the drums were just in the middle of the huge room in the church. Sometimes the drums were in the small live room. It was perfect! We would set up the instruments in all different rooms, yet still stand there looking at each other and track the song. Do you know what I mean? So everything is isolated. It was really cool.

Coheed has been in existence for about 20 years, and I understand that you've been playing with Claudio even longer. How did this feel in regards to writing and developing the feel and atmosphere of the album?

We never just stay in the same place with it all. That's how we keep it refreshing."

I think that it fits into what I said before about us always wanting to change. I think that that's healthy for us. We never just stay in the same place with it all. That's how we keep it refreshing. We're just like every other band, but it's a marriage in certain ways. We've had our ups and downs, of course. But I think that the band is at it's strongest right now, especially personality-wise. We've all grown older, too. We've all gone through a lot of these things together. We've all learned certain things about each other that probably nobody else could understand, aside from our wives and families. It becomes your family. So it's just a reverberation that influences the recording; it’s a reverberation of trying to make it evolve with every record to keep you, and everyone, satisfied. And that's why Coheed changes all the time.

Photo by Brandi Schulz


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