Concept albums have been around for a few years by now; many point to Frank Sinatra’s 1955 In the Wee Small Hours as the first concept album, for its cohesive theme and pervasive mood. And while much has been made in the last two decades of “the death of the album” and rise of the single, plenty of big recent records have been concept albums. Many fans might not even realize they are listening to a concept album. Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs centers on lost youth and regrets. Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster is one too — each song tackles a different monster associated with fame, something she was terrified to deal with.
We learned recently that progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria have always produced concept albums — but with a twist. Each album is based on a science fiction storyline called The Amory Wars, a series written by lead singer Claudio Sanchez. Coheed and Cambria just released their latest album, The Color Before the Sun, and it is the bands first nonconceptual album. We spoke with guitarist Travis Stever by phone about the new album, why they finally pushed away from The Amory Wars, how they stay relevant, and Mark Wahlberg.
Metro Times: The new album is the first record you've done that strays away from the concept album approach. How did that happen?
Travis Stever: A lot of the songs that Claudio was building up were very personal. As a matter of fact, he wasn't sure if they were going to be Coheed songs, or songs for a different project. But when he showed them to everyone, we all loved them so much — so why shouldn't they be Coheed songs? Then, as more material came, it all just fit together.
MT: Were you guys initially trying to make another concept album?
Stever: He started this new project without a concept in mind, and it just stayed that way. Enough things were happening in his life to dictate the lyrical direction of the songs. He didn't feel that the concept was needed.
MT: Did personal stories and experiences influence the other records, the concept albums?
Stever: Oh, of course. We all brought our own personal stuff to the concept albums, but this group of songs just didn't need to concept around them.
MT: Were there any nerves when you decided to go this route?
Travis: We really didn't know. There are a lot of fans that really love the concept albums, and the story. There was a chance that they would be upset, but they've really welcomed it with open arms. Every album is so different for us, so it's the fun of the ride with being a fan of our band. We always have something new for the fans and ourselves.
MT: How do you think your sound has changed over the years? The first couple of albums had a lot of metal and hard rock sounds.
Stever: It just seems to be what everyone is feeling, especially Claudio. Every album is its own time capsule that has its own sound. This new album we recorded live, so that was fun to do too.
MT: What was that like, recording live?
Stever: It was great. Other albums had aspects that were live, but the sound for this album came out so much more raw than any other one. The sound isn't really a reflection on music today but where the band is at today.
MT: Do you think you'll go back to the concept album and that story?
Stever: This album to me feels like an intermission. I can't answer for the entire band, but I think so. It's a major part of the band and something that we're really proud of. Making this new album just validated that we can do something outside of the concept.
MT: Have the new songs been meshing well with older ones during your live show?
Stever: Oh, absolutely! We've even been rehearsing some really older songs to bring back for this tour. Some of them we've never even played in front of an audience. The entire band is really excited about this tour.
MT: I remember seeing you guys at Warped Tour ages ago, and a lot of those bands from that era just aren't making music anymore. Is there a secret to how Coheed and Cambria has stayed relevant?
Stever: It's not like we've not been through our ups and downs, but we've stuck with it. I think not staying stagnant with the kind of music we create and always trying to make new sounds has helped a lot. We've also been keeping our fans on their toes by switching up what kind of albums we're going to produce. Claudio has developed this world that the fans really, really love. He has reached out to comic books and transformed the albums into a different medium. So there are a lot of different avenues to go down with Coheed and Cambria. I'd like to think that's kept the fans intrigued.
MT: You guys do have a great fan base.
Stever: They are the best. They keep the band going. They are so dedicated and loyal to us. I think we're at the strongest it's ever been right now. The Color Before the Sun represents a little bit of stability for the band right now. Every record from here on out will.
MT: You guys have had a couple lineup changes, right?
Stever: We definitely have. We have our original drummer back, and it's just like he's been here the entire time. We have gone through different things in the past, but it's just the past now.
MT: You'd think that would be a recipe for disaster for some bands.
Stever: Oh, 100 percent. But we've stayed strong through out it all. Claudio and I have had to make a lot of decisions, and it all just goes past the music, past the fans, past the tours. It comes down to: Can you survive? I'm proud that we have.
MT: I read that there was a movie based of the albums? True?
Stever: There was supposed to be something in the works based off of The Amory Wars with some production company.
MT: Was Mark Wahlberg supposed to be involved?
Stever: (Laughs) Yes, apparently he was. I have no idea if the production company is still involved, but I think their contract expired. The story is always there, though. I think it would be great if it could get to that side of the media. I don't really understand the whole Hollywood side of the business, but if there was something major happening I would know about it.
MT: Are you guys excited to play Detroit?
Stever: We're excited to play every city, but Detroit is a beast. You guys are a tough crowd to win over. But if you do, then the payoff is amazing.
Coheed and Cambria plays Royal Oak Music Theater on Feb. 25; Doors at 6 p.m.; 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; royaloakmusictheatre.com; $29.50.