Down the Rabbit Hole
The legend of Coheed & Cambria goes beyond the three albums of music the band has released. It goes beyond its wiry, Yes-on-emo histrionics, beyond New York, where the four-man group is based, beyond Earth, even, and far out into interstellar space. In fact, Coheed & Cambria isn't just a band but also a pair of embattled characters in an ongoing science-fiction story cycle that transcends the musical medium and spins off into a series of graphic novels -- multichapter comic books -- penned by the band's lead singer and guitarist, Claudio Sanchez.
If that all sounds a little whacked-out, just ask Coheed & Cambria guitarist Travis Stever what he thinks.
"I've never been a fan of comics," Stever says of his band's far-flung imagery, "but it all turned out really cool. If you're into rock but you're not into any sci-fi or fantasy kind of shit, then you can really dig the music. At the same time, if it's the kid that's really into the sci-fi part of it, then they have something to dive deeper into."
Let's assume you're that kid who wants to "dive deeper" with Stever and Sanchez. Get ready, because this story line is more twisted than an Aldous Huxley mescaline binge. In its barest form, C&C's sci-fi opus is about a rebel orphan fighting galactic, apocalyptic forces. Easy enough. It starts with the band's first album, 2002's The Second Stage Turbine Blade, which is actually part two of a quadrilogy that introduces Coheed Kilgannon and his wife, Cambria. It seems our hero, Coheed, is a bit tortured, missing memories because he carries a gene that, if activated, will destroy the universe. Ouch. The story continued in 2003's album Volume 3 -- In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth: 3. We find out that everyone Coheed loves -- his wife and three of his kids -- ends up dead. The latest album, Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness, and its accompanying graphic novel were released this summer -- wherein Coheed's only surviving son, Claudio Kilgannon, sets out for brutal, glorious revenge. In a direct nod to Lucas' backward storytelling, the prologue -- Volume I -- will be released sometime later as the final chapter.
Got that, sport? And you thought the Mars Volta was convoluted.
The whole sci-fi epic format is Sanchez's vision, a series of concept albums in the vein of artists his father had turned him on to -- Pink Floyd, Queen, Jethro Tull. Judging by Stever's tone, the rest of the band plays along, since the conceptual element doesn't interfere with the music. It's all an evolution from Sanchez' original project, a pop-metal trio called Shabutie.
"We were searching for a new [name] and came up with a bunch -- some shitty, some good," Stever says, "but we ultimately decided to take the name of Claudio's side project, which was Coheed & Cambria. He had the story going along with it, so, by adopting the band name, we took in the story as well."
So now Stever is a partner in the execution of Sanchez's grand scheme. Despite his limited interest in the Gilgannon story line, he has submitted to being reimagined by the art he participates in, a notion that really isn't all that different from the underlying themes Good Apollo takes on. "What happens with the new album is that the writer [Claudio Sanchez/Claudio Kilgannon] steps into the story and you see everything from the writer's perspective and how the story begins to take over his life," Stever explains.
Sanchez's romp might sound like the sort of brainfuck that could send you screaming down the rabbit hole, but Stever isn't worried. In fact, the new story line finally makes sense to him. "It's much easier to follow since it's the writer going a little kooky and getting sucked into the story. I see how the lyrics connect to that."
Stever might not give a damn about comic books, but, as Sanchez suggests with the new album, what you create creates you right back. It's a reflexive kick in the ass that begs the question: What does the future hold for Coheed & Cambria when the Gilgannon story line is complete? When you are one thing for so long, how do you become another?
"I don't think we have that quite planned out yet," Stever answers. "We'll see what happens."
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