Big, Rotten Apple

For The Comas, New York cured the blues at the cost of creativity

It took the hills of Tennessee to shake The Comas' singer and guitarist, Andy Herod, of his bad habits. But the story goes back farther, to 2004's breakout release, Conductor, penned in the wake of his breakup with Dawson's Creek star Michelle Williams, a heartbreak immortalized in the woozy song "Tonight on the WB."

Full of big, tuneful psych rock, Conductor told a space-age love story draped in fuzzed-out guitars worthy of The Jesus and Mary Chain, only more anthemic and with a soft, buzzing electronic undercurrent. After the album's release, Herod relocated the band to New York City.

"There's always something that prompts you to do it when you do," Herod says of his decision to move. "That was definitely the case. Now I've been there long enough to have a whole new set of problems," he adds with a chuckle. He's speaking from Wilmington, N.C., his old stomping grounds, where the band is filming a video for "Come My Sunshine," off the new album, Spells.

Though Herod shook the memories of his old flame in the bustling streets of Manhattan, he accomplished little else. The Comas convinced their label, Vagrant, to book studio time on the promise of an album of songs that largely hadn't been written. When producer Bill Racine (Rogue Wave, Mates of State) suggested the band get out of New York to record, they jumped at the idea.

Until then, The Comas had been driven almost entirely by Herod's creative vision. Short of songs and absent the major-label budget that allowed them to record Conductor three different times ("We were given too much money to make a record," Herod notes dryly), he was forced to lean heavily on his bandmates.

They pulled out songs they'd never finished ("Come My Sunshine") and wrote new ones. As a result, Spells feels organic and live, despite the size of the productions, whereas Conductor's majesty felt icy and distant at times. While not as labored as Conductor, it's otherwise quite clearly The Comas — the soaring boy/girl harmonies and sugary synth fills are sprinkled like sugar over supersized hooks as distorted as Monet's vision. Again, there's a theme of failing technology ("Transmission's down," Herod cries on "Light the Path") and even a sci-fi style story about a civilization on an asteroid, "Thistledown."

"Someone told me that however you do anything is how you do everything. And I think that's true," Herod says. "I want [my records] to be grandiose and I want them to be big events."

After recording Spells, Herod again found himself getting into trouble in the city, so he took a touring hiatus as the bassist for Bishop Allen. Finally, he abandoned his New York apartment and ended up in a "crappy little town" in Tennessee a month or so ago, visiting his sister who recently had a baby. Staying with her had an immediate impact on Herod.

"I started writing songs like — more songs in the last month than I've written in the last two years," Herod confesses. "When I'm at my sister's, I'm well-behaved, and there is this element of boredom, but I think that you have to a little bit of that to be productive, or I definitely do. I'm pretty easily distracted and I get into trouble."

Herod plans to return to Tennessee for a while when the tour is over, and describes himself as "giddy" with the idea of not living in New York. Meanwhile, the past couple of years have taught him a lot about what's important in life.

"Until my mid-20s, I obsessed about relationships with girls, almost exclusively. And after you get burned really bad a few times, your friends start to become really important to you," Herod says. "Some people know that instinctively. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. My friends are the best, and my friends are my bandmates."

 
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