"Let this colony know in the name of the dead we're coming," Claudio Sanchez sings on the latest Coheed and Cambria album, and right now he's probably wishing he had kept his big, non-conformist, sci-fi-rocking mouth shut.
Few contemporary indie bands have been examined and picked apart like Coheed and Cambria, the preternaturally foreboding man-boys who burst onto the scene in 2002 with lyrics that made Gene Roddenberry roll in his grave and hair that needed trimming somethin' fierce.
Years of listening to Coheed won't help you to understand their narratives (why not write about painfully obvious real-life situations like every other emo hero? Why the stories in space? Why the hell would you call a song "The Camper Velourium II: Backend of Forever"?). But their punk-metal-edged rock is like that first date you want to get to know better, and Sanchez and his bandmates-bassist Mic Todd, guitarist Travis Stever and drummer Josh Eppard-are stuck with it and the subsequent popularity.
When Coheed and Cambria get it right, they frolic seamlessly through the love stories and war tales of their two characters. Sometimes in space, sometimes on the soapbox, the band relates their stories through Sanchez, who also preys on our pathetic desires for metal-meets-pop-meets-punk and vocals so high-pitched they might be hurting dogs.
Coheed brilliantly intimate the pitchy growl of Mars Volta's hardcore, psychedelic rock and freeform jazz measures, but find a quirky niche that permanently beaches critics and fans on their shore. It may leave the band wishing that maybe, just maybe, we'd leave them the fuck alone to write their spacey psychoticisms.
Up in the Catskills, watching the snow fall outside, Todd is speaking in a half-whisper over the phone. He's thoughtful and sticking to dry atmospherics this day, anticipating his next tour, which starts in less than 24 hours.
"At first it was tense when we toured and then we got used to it," he says. "It almost broke us there for a little while. But this popularity has been great. At first, it was a bunch of 22-year-olds in a van and we were all really stuck in our ways. That's the worst situation because nobody wants to budge. Now, we're a bit more comfortable on the journey. Like family"
This year's In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 revels in their familial bonds, and their audience revels in turn. Like Trekkies or role-playing convention types, Coheed and Cambria is truly assembling an audience in its own image, an army of rock that pays little heed to stifling conventions such as song structure or the combing of hair. Todd readily admits the band uses its characters for its own vices-there's little personal boundary between real life and Coheed and Cambria's world.
"This is still personal music even though we're writing through characters," he says. "It doesn't remove the reality of our songs and of our music. But we do write on our own, producing and playing for other projects that take, well, a more conventional approach to song structure."
He stops talking suddenly, interrupted by the not-so-far-off wail of a siren that sounds like it's signaling a nuclear apocalypse. Or at least a small war.
"Oh, that?" Todd explains. "Um, well, I live in a very small town-a hamlet, you might call it-and every day at noon they test the fire engine sirens.
"My little town is almost as weird as the characters I play about," he laughs. "Reality ain't so far from fantasy after all." ©
Coheed and Cambria perform with Vaux, JamisonParker and Bear Vs. Shark at SOMA, 7 p.m. on Jan. 24. $12. 619-226-7662.