Concept albums, death, and rock and roll

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First Posted: 8/5/2013

The Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival boasts a unique lineup this year, and few bands are more distinctive than progressive rockers Coheed and Cambria.

Named after characters central to the ongoing saga told through their music, the New York quartet is eager to share the stage with bands they are friends with or grew up listening to, particularly guitarist Travis Stever, who called The Weekender from a show in Hawaii to discuss their new double album, “The Afterman: Ascension” and “The Afterman: Descension,” and its philosophical inspiration.

THE WEEKENDER: As a songwriter, are you hearing (singer) Claudio Sanchez’s story and then kind of writing the soundtrack to it?

TRAVIS STEVER: Most of the time, Claudio will come up with the skeleton of the song, and we’ll all write around that… There are those cases where I come up with guitar parts or riffs that he’ll want to build the song around, and that’s not per say making a soundtrack around the concept – it’s the same way that Claudio will write by himself. What we do is whatever’s best for the song first, and the lyrics are telling the concept of the story, but when they kind of combine forces, no matter what, they’re bound to work.

There’s nothing fully dictating it. I mean, you could be talking about a war and still be playing a pop song, and somehow it will still work. You’re just painting a different picture on how that war zone or that battle was, or another aspect of it, that person who’s thinking of their loved one.

W: What made you guys tackle the ambitious double album this time around?

TS: There was material being worked on, but as a band and really as the ball started to roll, it probably took like a year, only a year. That’s why it became a double record because, first off, we had this material that just kept flowing that we were so excited about, and also conceptually with the story and stuff, it would just be too short to clump it into one thing. And then also Claudio had the idea to split it up, which we were all really excited about, because it kind of left it as a sonic cliffhanger – give everybody the first half of the story and give them a “to be continued” and let it all out in the outcome on the second side, “Descension,” and eventually everyone will know exactly what happens in the story. There were a lot of reasons why we did it. It just worked.

W: The latest set of albums talks a lot about the afterlife. Is that a reflection of anything you guys were thinking about at that time?

TS: I think it’s consistently on most people’s minds a lot of the time because they don’t really know. And “Afterman” is a good example of if somebody did find out, would they be able to handle what it is? You know what I mean? Can you really handle finding out all the answers? And once you do, how are you going to handle the rest of your life, and how are people going to handle you having the biggest discovery in the world? Jealousy, envy. And in order to discover these things, when a man or woman or whatever goes out in search of the unknown, obviously you’re going to leave a lot of things behind. Really it’s just questioning all the different things that we go through as humans, and the afterlife is one of those ultimate concerns and questions for everybody who lived.

“Afterman” is my favorite part of “The Amory Wars” being that it’s almost like a prequel to the prequel – it’s the origin of what the Amory Wars is. It’s probably my favorite part of it because I can relate to it the most. I’m one of those people that a lot of questioning goes on in my mind about our existence, as it does with a lot of people. That’s why I think it’s the easiest album to connect with. I think it was the easiest album to connect the songs with too because it is really just about the human condition and the quest to find out the answers and how you can lose so much being caught up in trying to figure out why.

W: With an ongoing story and comic book tie-ins with the band’s music, are you as much of a sci-fi fan as Claudio is?

TS: No, not really. Honestly, before the show and everything came around, I was very into “The Walking Dead” (comics) and I collected all those. I got into that through him. I got into things throughout the years. As a kid, of course I loved Batman, but it’s not as much my world. Being a comic book writer and a story writer in general, for Claudio, that’s his world. For me personally, I’m more on the side of music, like bands and stuff like that, reading books and rock star’s biographies. If you can name a biography of a rock star, I’ve probably read it throughout the years… I’m one of those people. I spent my whole upbringing very much a pop culture vulture.

W: What is it going to be like for you to share the stage with Jane’s Addiction and Alice In Chains?

TS: It’s going to be f—king awesome. We grew up listening to Jane’s and Alice In Chains, and Circa Survive are our really good friends, and there’s other really great bands on the other stages as well. As for our stage alone, Jane’s Addiction was the first concert I took my now-wife to. I think I was 19 or I was turning 19.

When Claudio and I were in bands when we were very young, those were the bands we were listening to – Jane’s Addiction and Alice In Chains. Those two bands were very important to us, so it’s going to be incredible to share the stage.