“We could be up there with all this production and be uncomfortable every night but we’re not, we’re really enjoying it and we enjoy playing with each other so that all matters.”
This year has had a lot of big albums come out so far, and it’s safe to say that one of the best has been Coheed and Cambria’s 10th album, Vaxis II: A Window Of The Waking Mind.
When the Nyack, New York-based sci-fi prog rock shredders released the record last month, it was met with an abundance of positive feedback from folks including yours truly. It also reached the top 25 on the Billboard 200 while nearing the top of numerous alternative and hard rock charts.
Coming off this success, the band will take the stage at the Agganis Arena at Boston University on July 29 as part of their current expedition. Chicago punks Alkaline Trio and Oklahoma City indie-pop artist Mothica will kick off the show at 7pm.
I spoke with guitarist Travis Stever about the making of the album, being satisfied with the process and how it came out, abiding by a concept, and always keeping ideas floating around.
For Vaxis II: A Window Of The Waking Mind, it has been noted that working without limitations and taking risks was emphasized during the making of the album, so how did you guys go about doing that?
For this record a lot of my stuff was sent in remotely, pretty much all of it. Claudio was recording the material in his studio in New York and for the demoing process of drums, he sent a lot to Josh and he would do some ideas at his house. Then they went out to LA and got together with the producer Zakk Cervini. A lot of the material was already created throughout that process and especially in Claudio’s home studio, but once he got out there I was still in New York. The pandemic definitely affected it in that sense but it worked out really well because that helped with having no limitations; we were able to experiment a lot by just sending ideas back and forth. There’s a couple of songs that were more ironed out in the sense that they were already written but made to create in full in LA with Zakk at his studio.
With the album continuing the story of the Amory Wars, which is what most of Coheed & Cambria’s albums are centered on, how does the songwriting process align with the concept? Does Claudio just give you, Josh, and Zach parts to learn for each song? Or is it more interactive than that to go along with the concept that you’re abiding by with the music? How do the songs and the story counteract and coexist with each other?
Sometimes he’ll give little details of what’s going on in a song that coincides with the story but for the most part they’re songs that live on their own already. When he sends a song, basically he’s looking to see what kind of melodies you can come up with to it. For a majority of the time, the skeleton of the song is already there so my job is to see if I hear anything that represents me but also makes the song sound better and it’s usually already a good song. I can say that with confidence but if I can add something that makes it more interesting or cool that’s where I come in. Josh and Zach give a little bit more in the sense of the foundation that they’re adding so I’d say that when Josh plays drums it’s going to add this foundation that’s gonna make or break.
For the most part, all of us are the building blocks that have made Coheed [and Cambria] what it is together with Claudio being the nucleus. It’s always kind of been a thing where musically it comes together in the end once everybody’s on it. Every song is different, so if you talk about one song I can tell you how it came about but at the heart of it it’s Claudio creating whatever it is, usually as a skeleton first.
There’s times where maybe I would have a riff and he would write around that, but on this album in particular he had all these songs, quite a few of them, for even a long time before. Conceptually, he already had an idea of where he wanted to go with them as well, so the music and the concept live separately in the creative process but they also somehow coincide. It’s not as complicated as I’m making it sound, but it’s still a little complicated.
It’s more like how they weave within and around each other rather than combine or stay parallel.
Yeah, it’s not like some set thing where this is the process and Claudio tells the rest of us what’s going on in the story and where we’re going to write a part to or what he had as an idea. It differs, it all differs and it depends on the song.
You mentioned how you contributed parts to the album remotely, so from your experience was this a drastic change for you doing it this way? Was it more convenient for you because it gave you more time to spend with your family?
I enjoyed it to a degree. If I had my way, we would do it both ways and that’s how it would be. We would do a lot of stuff remotely, perhaps demoing, then we’d get together, especially after everybody is already happy with a lot of parts, and we’d re-record it. I know that sounds like a big process and I wouldn’t change anything about this album, I think it’s incredible, but I’m just saying for personal excitement and how I would want to do another record if it was going to be compared to what this was. I would want to be able to track and go back-and-forth the way we did remotely because there’s an energy there when you’re alone and you’re not worried about what everybody thinks in the control room in the studio. I’d also like to be able to re-record those songs or work on new ones in that atmosphere, I think it’s cool to have them both.
I love the process of how it ended up because I was able to kind of be more comfortable, we could go back-and-forth and communicate and it wasn’t a rush. At the same time, I did miss that studio aspect so in the future, minus the pandemic, it would be cool to basically be able to do all of it. It was cool to experience it this way and it’s nothing new, Claudio and I have sent stuff back-and-forth to each other for years. Even when we both lived 20 minutes or a half hour from each other, which we do now actually, but during the pandemic he was in Brooklyn and I was in Nyack and it wasn’t like I was going to jump in my car and head to the city when that shit was going on or at least during the height of it. Eventually I did and I would head down to work on stuff with him there so I should add that I was able to because we lived the closest to each other and we’ve always worked together that way.
I’ll go in and just hang out with him to work on stuff, so there were a couple times in that sense but not as often as we usually would. Even still, before the pandemic I would send guitar ideas via email because it’s just so convenient. It’s like I’m working on this song, especially with how fluent Claudio is and how constantly will be working on an idea. If I want to be a part of it, I better jump on it the minute he sends it to me. I would let him know that I tracked these ideas and he can let me know if it sparks any interest, so remote recording is not very new to us.
On this current tour in support of the album, the band has been playing some huge venues including arenas, amphitheaters, and other places with thousands in attendance. How has this been for you and the rest of the guys when 20 years ago you were playing small clubs and cutting your teeth?
It’s been incredible, we played DC the other night and I think that’s one show where the energy was monumental for our band. Just the production and everything that we have going on has been something special. I don’t think we’ve ever been as tight at such an interesting show, we just haven’t. We were going to try and step it up on this tour but when it comes together with how we feel on stage, that’s what matters. We could be up there with all this production and be uncomfortable every night but we’re not, we’re really enjoying it and we enjoy playing with each other so that all matters.
Vaxis II is part of a five chapter story arc, so are there already plans in store for Vaxis III or are you guys taking your time with the next release?
There’s always ideas all around, I know Claudio has a million ideas. We’ve talked about it and there’s already a lot of ideas of where to go conceptually, we’re already starting to break things down with him and his wife Chondra who write and they’re probably already outlining it as we speak. As far as musically and just how it all comes together, I’m sure it’ll be about touring on this record now and taking our time with anything that comes next in Vaxis III. I’m not saying that it’ll be that long but it’s not going to be next week or next month, it’s gonna be a while but ideas are always there, always.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Brooklyn Rail, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, New Noise Magazine, Flood Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.