Travis Stever of Coheed and Cambria Explains The Band's Comic Fixation

For music fans who are also inclined to delve into comics books from time to time, Coheed and Cambria are the perfect band. The name of the band itself comes from the writings of the New York-based band's guitar playing lead singer, Claudio Sanchez, and his Evil Ink Comics series, The Amory Wars, which began in the late ’90s. The genre-bending band is actually named after two of the main characters in the series, which is based in science fiction and comes in novel version, as well.

Sanchez is joined by longtime collaborator and childhood friend, Travis Stever, on guitar and vocals, Josh Eppard on drums, and Zach Cooper on bass. Stever is ready to get out of the East Coast winter and do some touring, which will bring the band to the Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Wednesday, March 21. We chatted with Stever by phone a few weeks ago and here's what he had to say.

So where are you guys all located these days?
Claudio [Sanchez] is in Brooklyn, I am up in Warwick, Josh [Eppard] is in Albany, and Zach [Cooper] lives in Florida. We all grew up in different areas of New York.

How does the distance work?
We’ll rehearse in one location before the tour. Zach flies out and meets us wherever we are. We’ve had to deal with everybody moving around. It’s really just about when we are going on tour or working on record, everybody getting together in one area. Nose to the grindstone, that’s how we roll.

How long do you spend on a record typically — and this one is the first not to focus on Claudio’s fiction writing, correct?
[Writing the album took] close to a year. It is interesting when you have six or seven songs that you are working on when you can go back and look at a song again and see if it works or not. We got together in Claudio’s basement and hashed out what we were going to play and then recorded live. It was a lot of fun. It was the first time we ever tracked together a full record. Most of the songs are exactly what we did together when we recorded.

Claudio had quite a few songs he’d been working on. The "concept" [basing the lyrics on material from The Amory Wars and related works by Sanchez] is not over, but this album is an album that is more personal. They were just songs that he was working on and everyone really liked them.

For every record, the "concept" doesn’t dictate it. It always does come from personal places. This album just seemed to fit more to be outside of the "concept."

Time between records — you guys seem to have a little gap between each record.
It’s usually about two years. The majority of it is touring, at least a year of it. When we are touring very heavily, that’s kind of what we’re centered on. Right now, though, we’re jamming a lot during sound checks, and cool stuff is coming from it.

Do you think being parents will change the way you set up tours?
We were complete road dogs for years in the beginning. We would tour for nine or 10 months out of the year. If the audience will have us, we will stay doing what we have been doing and we’ll be out all the time. We’ll just figure out different ways of doing it. Maybe we’ll have our families with us some of the time or we’ll figure out something else.

Do people come to the shows dressed up in character from Claudio’s books?
We have had people come dressed up as characters in the story. There are some people fully dedicated to the "concept" and follow it word for word.

We’re the type of band, you can come and enjoy the show as just a regular rock band, just the same as every other, but there are some people who get really into the "concept." I think it is great.
You can listen to our records and not know a damn thing about the "concept" and still enjoy it.

What is left to conquer with the band?
I don’t think it is about conquering anything anymore; well, ... I guess it is about conquering in a way. A band is a relationship, and it is kind of the same thing. If you stick together and keep creating, whether it be a family or music, then you’re accomplishing something. I guess you could say you’re conquering. We like to keep people in suspense as to what is coming next. Coheed and Cambria is lucky because we’ve been able to stick around and that’s because of our fans. If we keep making them happy, then we’ll be able to keep going.

The band is as strong as it has ever been. To keep going like that, and to keep making the fans happy, to me, that’s conquering, but we haven’t explored everything, so there is still more to do.

How do you answer the "What do you do for a living?" question when it comes up when you are out and about?
I do "the music." I do music for a living and I tour. A lot of times I will say I’m in a band and tour. Sometimes I will say the name of the band and if they know it or say their kids listen to us, that’s an added bonus. I guess there is a stigma that comes with the music thing — that we’re all nutcases. When we were younger we got a little nutty, and on stage, we still like to get a little nutty, but we’re older now. If you were to see the dressing room now, you’d be quite bored.

When people ask, "What do you guys sound like?" what do you say?
We’re a rock band that explores many different sub-genres of music. Down to the wire, we’re a rock band at heart. We have elements of heavy rock, but we have elements of acoustic as well. There is something in Coheed for everybody. We’re spread out enough that there is something for everybody. It is so hard. People want it spelled out for them ... "Are you a metal band or a hardcore band or an emo band?" … but I just, you know, we’re all over the place. We love all those things. We don’t want to be handcuffed to just one thing.
For some reason, when we first heard the name of the band, we thought you guys would be a lot harder than what we heard.
We love metal just as much as we love Leonard Cohen or Nick Drake, but we love that as much as we love Gorilla Biscuits or Bad Brains. It’s a big cauldron; we’re mixing together all these different musical influences, and that’s what Coheed becomes.

What drove you to pick up the guitar?
My father actually played acoustic guitar and played guitar in bands when I was young. My mother and my father met in an off-Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar, to give you a glimpse of what I grew up around. My mother became responsible because she had a son and my father kept chasing the dream. My mom has such a good ear for music that she tells me when things suck. I had friends who were great influences growing up, musically. Claudio was one of my friends and had a great influence on me, and I hope I had a great influence on him as well.

When I saw the Guns N' Roses video, “Patience.” I looked around at all the guitars in my dad’s house and figured I should probably pick one of them up.