The Truth Hurts: Coheed And Cambria gets honest on new album

Coheed And Cambria
photo: LeAnn Mueller

For seven albums, Coheed And Cambria’s music has been focused on The Amory Wars, a narrative conceived by frontman Claudio Sanchez and which took both the form of comic books and records. With their eighth full-length, however, the band has produced their first album outside of that concept. Rather, The Color Before The Sun is a collection of songs inspired by, and written about, Sanchez’s personal life—specifically moving to Brooklyn, the destruction of his house in rural New York and the birth of his first child Atlas, all of which has significantly changed who and what Coheed And Cambria is, and how Sanchez operated as a songwriter.

You’re probably already fed up with questions about why The Color Before The Sun is autobiographical, so let me ask you if that was always the plan, or if it was something that just arose out of the circumstances you found yourself in, with the place in Brooklyn, the baby, and all that stuff?
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ: Yeah, I think it was accidental. When I was writing the record, at the time I was living in this Brooklyn apartment—my wife and I were traveling around just trying to find our place to become parents—and being there, I had this sense of exposure that I wasn’t normally accustomed to. It’s very uncomfortable to write in a situation like that, and I think for a while that spilled into the songwriting, but while I was writing this material I didn’t necessarily know that I was writing a record. I was in a panic that I wasn’t accomplishing anything in my situation. After about a year-and-a-half and all of the things we endured there, between myself losing my identity and the anticipation of fatherhood and the destruction of our country home—all that leaked into what became the record. When I first looked at the 10 songs, I was like “This doesn’t look like a Coheed record, it’s more like a solo album.” But that’s when I realized with Coheed that I have this idea of no limitations—and we shouldn’t have to feel so tied down every time we make a record that we have to do this other thing. And becoming a father and moving into that next step of my life feels like a new beginning, so I thought why not try to do that artistically.

Was it nice to let loose and write something that had nothing to do with The Amory Wars?
I guess so, but it didn’t feel that good. When I was writing it, I was so perplexed I didn’t have any sense of accomplishment. I didn’t see the forest through the trees. I didn’t see that a record was getting written. I just panicked! It sort of presented itself as “Here are these 10 songs that encapsulate the emotions and experiences that I’ve had in the last year,” and that’s when it felt freeing. But the writing process—I think even more so than when we have the concept—felt almost imprisoning. Because I was in that apartment and I could not see myself artistically in there and I went down this hole that I just had to climb out of and I was having a really hard time.

It’s interesting, because a lot of people go to New York to explore their creativity and soak up the influence of the city, and it was obviously the opposite for you. Was that a surprise?
It was. I mean, I’m from a suburban town maybe 35-45 minutes north of Manhattan. So for me as a suburban kid, New York City is Oz. I can see it from the bridge in my hometown, and there’s a sense that there’s this place of wonderment. And when I got there, it was amazing. It’s totally inspiring. I just think that there’s so much inspiration that it’s really hard to weed it all out. For me, I like to walk and take in the people and the energy, and I found myself doing that more so there than in any place in the world. I think I became addicted to it, and so it was hard to get back to the apartment and work, because I felt so exposed. I’m a pretty shy, reclusive individual. I can perform in front of thousands of people, but when my stuff is out there in the world before it should be, when I know my neighbors can hear me singing, it makes me feel very uncomfortable and very insecure. I just felt like, “Here I am taking in all this inspiration and I get back to my workplace and I can’t let it out as best as I can.” But, like I said, that’s what was so frustrating—that I was doing it. And maybe I needed that premature exposure from the idea that my neighbors could hear me and that’s what allowed me to expose myself a little bit more.

Did you also feel more vulnerable writing about your actual life, as opposed to having the concept of the Amory Wars narrative to mask it?
A little bit. But all of the Coheed records are very much rooted in a real setting. I created the concept in 1998 because, as a singer, I was afraid. I’m an insecure dude. I didn’t want people judging my music because of my personality. So I created a concept with the power of suggestion to get the focus off of me, like, ”Here’s this thing you can draw your attention to and I can feel somewhat disconnected from it and my feelings won’t get hurt when you judge this.” And I think it took this growth, myself becoming a father—I mean, I’m 37 years old now—it’s taken this long for me to become comfortable in my skin as the guy that fronts this band. I’ve always been singing from the heart, narrative and all. It’s just now I’ve decided that this is the right time to remove the mask. S

A version of this piece was published in Substream #48.