Following the release of an epic double album The Afterman: Ascension / Descension, prog rockers COHEED AND CAMBRIA are heading back to New Zealand for a one-off show on 17 April 2013! NZRock caught up with drummer Josh Eppard to discuss his recent return to the band, the theme of spiritual meets sci-fi, what makes the COHEED’s music so unique…
NZRock: I was just looking at your tour schedule and you’ve already packed a ton of shows into the year
Josh: Yeah, we’ve had quite a bit going on but this is a good thing though you know. We’ve enjoyed playing and I think at this stage we’ve been doing this for so long that I think you really learn how to enjoy it. I think when we were young, you know when we were in our early 20s it was certainly different than it was now, you know living in a van, I think it’s the crash course that you have to take and I think at this point, as the band has been around for over a decade, that we’ve really learned how to enjoy it. So being busy is a good thing and I feel pretty lucky that we get a chance to do that.
NZRock: COHEED AND CAMBRIA is a the prefect vehicle to express art using a number of mediums. You have the music, the comics, the artwork. Do you think that compared to other bands you guys have something unique and special going on here?
Josh: COHEED AND CAMBRIA is a multi tiered band. Somebody put it to me like that years ago and I always thought that was a really good description of the band, that there’s like different levels. You know, you could just enjoy the music, and then those things are there you know… the artwork, and the comic books and the stories if you so choose to dig them which you know I think it’s clear certainly the die hard fans, the ones that have been there for years, obviously they really like to discuss the story and they’re fans of it. It’s part of what sets us apart you know. I don’t think there’s a band that has ever really done that before and it’s not like I write the story but I’m certainly proud to be a part of it and I think that doing anything in this day and age that hasn’t been done before it’s an important thing and really quite exciting. In the beginning I could’ve never known that this would take on kind of such a life of it’s own like it did but it’s become the defining factor of COHEED AND CAMBRIA, probably even moreso than the music. I think even the rest of the guys who don’t write the story, we still take a lot of pride in it. Even before we were able to do these things we had these lofty goals and we talked about visual aspects even just during the live show on the last tour we did we had these manniquins… it’s about setting the mood and I think that’s even true in the comic books and with the artwork on the records. It’s always about setting a mood to evoke certain feelings that’s really important to us and I think it’s something that dare I say we’re good at.
NZRock: I was listening to the Ascension and Descension albums last night and thinking that sometimes even the softest passages of COHEED’s music can be incredibly powerful and heavy in their own right. And I think you guys really have mastered the art of doing that. It’s very cool.
Josh: That’s really nice of you to say. I always felt like we’ve always been in our own minds when making a record… kind of in a way been making movies. It’s an interesting analogy only because we’re all such fans of movies and what are movies? They’re stories. In a sense you know songs, even from older records songs like ‘In Keeping Secrets’ or a song like ‘Domino The Destitute’ off a new record like ‘Ascension’ to me it moves like the movie and it tells a story beyond just the lyrics you know the mood, the way that it carries you through just musically and then obviously the lyrics are where you can really reign in a story but to me it’s like a movie and I think it’s something that that was one of the things that we always had in common going back to when we first started playing together that to us it’s kind of like a movie and to me, my favourite kind of bands were PINK FLOYD, LED ZEPPELIN… I mean people don’t often refer to LED ZEPPELIN as progressive but they did some really out there stuff. ‘No Quarter’ was a song that to me that song was like a movie. I went to a place when I listened to that song. It created a backdrop in the story line in my head and do this day when I hear it, it takes me on a journey. That was the stuff that really spoke to me and without speaking for Claudio, I think that’s true for him too. That kind of stuff just spoke to us and it doesn’t speak to everybody. I have friends that love music, love rock n roll music and fucking hate PINK FLOYD. They just don’t get it… not that it’s over their head, but it didn’t touch them like it touched me and certainly Claudio feels the same way about that kind of music. It’s something that I always enjoyed but maybe other people think it’s like full of itself or pretentious, it never came off like that to me. I love the mood setting, the tones and the layers and what it creates and… I appreciate you saying that. We took a lot of pride in playing these records. There’s never been a song on a COHEED record that was just quickly thrown together. We obsess over this stuff and that’s part of the fun. Something’s bothering ya and at the time you’re super stressed out and you can’t figure it out but that’s part of the fun. The whole thing is an experience and I do think that we’ve gotten better. Some fans like the older stuff better and some fans like the newer stuff better. You can’t please everybody all the time. But when we made Ascension and Descension I think it was clear that not only were we better musicians but we had grown as musical story tellers as well and that’s all you can ask for. I think that if ever got to a place were we felt like that was it, we had reached the top, then maybe we would stop. I can’t wait to make another record and to see what we can do together as a band and see what kind of things we can create.
NZRock: Cyrius Amory’s journey into the keywork leads him to discover that the source is created from the souls of people both good and evil. The whole theme is sort of like spirituality meets sci-fi which makes for an interesting concept. Do you think the two subjects go hand in hand well?
Josh: Well, I don’t think they have to go hand in hand but my favourite thing about this record was while still residing underneath the Amory Wars umbrella it was a fresh start. A fresh start by keeping with the theme of the concept but in the story that took place so many years before the Amory Wars that it was really a fresh start and the coolest thing to me about the story, about the spiritual meeting the sci-fi, that in the end of the story when the main character, when Cyrius Amory comes home and has this great loss I just thought it was really relatable. I thought it wasn’t just those two things tied together, it had these fantastic elements of really discovering the afterlife and having the spiritual meet the sci-fi but also having it also having it be very human. Certainly on ‘Descension’ storyline-wise that’s where the human part of it really takes place. Cyrius loses his wife, I thought it was relatable, I thought it was a fantastic story, I think it was Claudio’s best story as far as per the records go. But to answer your question more specifically, I don’t think they have go hand in hand but I think Claudio found a really interesing way to make them go hand in hand and that’s one of the great things about telling stories that are not steeped in reality. You can really flex your creative muscle and kind of let the story take you places and I think that’s what happened on this record. I think there’s a really great marriage of a relatable human story intertwined with this fantastic science fiction backdrop. So I don’t know they have to go together but I think we found an interesting way to make them go together.
NZRock: For the artwork alone ‘Ascension’ and ‘Descension’ seem like the sort of albums you just have to own on vinyl. Do you think it’s still important to keep releasing vinyl records and the box sets that you currently do even though for many it’s a digital world out there when it comes to purchasing music?
Josh: For a band like COHEED yeah. I don’t think it’s important for everybody, I don’t think Taylor Swift has to put out vinyls and box sets but I think releasing a double record in itself was like the throwback classic thing, something we’ve always wanted to do. Man, we were in a band after ‘Second Stage Turbine Blade’ our first record came out and talking about the next record and how it was going to be a double record. It’s just something that we’ve always wanted to do and I think in this day and age there’s a real kind of classic, not even an undertone… it’s just very classic to do that. So I think the way that these records were packaged and presented all kind of held on to that classic element. It was tied into that perfectly, the vinyl, it really gives you a chance to see the artwork which goes right along with COHEED AND CAMBRIA. The box set is part of creating that mood, the vinyl is part of creating that mood. But the thread that ties it all together at least in my eyes is that they’re all classic to me. When I hold the deluxe edition in my hand I feel like this could’ve been something from 1975. To me I love that, and I think the producer Michael Birnbaum called us neo-classic rock and that’s kind of a term that I’ve held on to over the years and I think that perfectly describes not only the band but also the imagery and the way we present out records, it has this futuristic thing but also really tied to a lot of classic rock n roll elements. So the vinyl and the artwork all that is a part of that and it’s immensely important at least in the eyes of the band.
Josh: The artwork really reminds me of 70s books I used to collect like Spacewreck. It’s really cool to have that mixture of futuristic stuff and the whole nostalgic vibe as well.
NZRock: Yeah I thought so I mean, there’s always so many places you can go you know. You have a batch of songs, everybody has got ideas, you’re working on these songs and the artwork. I think that’s one of the coolest things about COHEED AND CAMBRIA with the band. It’s very clear to us that the fans are the reason that we get to do this. They are the reason that we get to play rock n roll for a living and we don’t take that lightly, that’s the most important thing. But when they know a new COHEED AND CAMBRIA record is coming out I like the excitement and the questions of how is it going to be presented. You know it’s so much more than just the music and I think we’ve been able to really tap into that. They’re all just extensions of creativity but when we put out another record that on the message boards and on Twitter the people will be wondering well how are these going to come out. So we always try to do something special and I really thing that we hit it out of the park with this one. When I first saw the deluxe edition I just thought it was so cool and beautiful. I’m looking at it right now, we’ve got it on display in my house. I was really proud to be back in this band after an absence and to be a part of a record like this was important and really powerful for me. I couldn’t like it any more, I love the deluxe set, I love the vinyls, I think it all ties together and it’s all beyond important. I don’t want to say that we’re special, I don’t want to sound cocky, but to me COHEED is special, it is. So when we put out artwork like this and things like this I think it’s special for the fans and I just love that they’re excited before a record comes out to see how we’re going to present it. We always try to one-up ourselves so hopefully they’re excited for what we do next time because we sure will try to out do ourselves like we do every time.
NZRock: Yeah I was meaning to ask, have you thought to yourselves, how are we going to actually out-do the double album?
Josh: Yeah I think that’s what we’re going to end up thinking next time. This thing was pretty grandiose, it’s wild man. Just the box itself, now days nobody even buys records so to have something like this was pretty wild. You know when we first did the pre-orders, it’s not like I had a number in mind but whatever that number people had in mind, it tripled. The people that were taking this journey with us, they came out in droves and all of a sudden the pre-orders were just beyond what anybody had expected for this giant box set that, you know… you could buy the record on iTunes but the COHEED fans don’t want to buy the record on iTunes, they want to hold it, they want to see the artwork, they want to experience it. So next time I think we’ve definitely got our hands full that’s for sure.
NZRock: You briefly touched on your absence from the band before, and I know you get asked about it all the time, but what I was wondering is what was it like getting the second opportunity to drum for this band.
Josh: Oh my God are you kidding me it was like… you know it’s not a secret, I was a horrible heroin addict and just you know, it really cemented that my life had changed, and I felt like it had changed. I wasn’t using drugs anymore and you know, it wasn’t a month clean this time, it wasn’t six months clean, I’d been clean for a couple of years and I knew my life was different but that was call I never expected to get Dave I tell you. I’m not really one to cry a lot but I sure cried a lot. It’s all I ever wanted, I never wanted to leave COHEED AND CAMBRIA, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was sick and it’s a horrible drug that if you don’t have it you’re sick. Forget playing drums, you can’t walk, it’s aweful. I regretted it, I regretted it from the moment I did it. I think I was young, I took it for granted. There was a summer where… I don’t know if this was true but it felt like things had just got so big so fast, I mean it didn’t happen over night but in three years time we went from playing basements to playing to 10,000 people. In a way I felt on top of the world and in a way I felt uncomfortable but in a way I felt scared you know, terrified. It was a lot to take in and you know, me and Mike the bass player were just way into drugs… it’s so stupid right? So God damn stupid, it’s so cliched ugh. It wasn’t like a conscious decision but from the moment I left COHEED it wasn’t like I’d called up and said hey guys, I’m done with this. I just can’t do it anymore. That would’ve been the right way to do it. I mean we were about to start a tour and I’m sitting there getting sick and instead of just admitting like hey I’m a junkie and I need help I made up a fight that I was mad at those guys and I just left. I left and I didn’t talk to them for fear. So to get a call to come back… you know COHEED AND CAMBRIA was my band, this was what I had dedicated my entire life to. So to not be part of it, yeah awful. I definitely had accepted that I wasn’t part of it and never ever, ever in a million years did I think that I would get a call. I never thought that those guys would talk to me ever again honestly. Let me tell you, when you get sober you start realising what you did and if I was them I don’t know if I’d ever talk to me again. But I think that over time the anger dissipates and we became friends again. I still never thought that I would be back in the band and when I got that call I knew it was special. It was literally the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me in my life and you know, I promised myself that things would be different this time. I’m a different person than I was back then. You grow up, I’m 33 years old now, I’m not some 25 year old punk kid thinking I’m the shit. The world beats you up a little bit and lets you know that in a way you’re just a spec in the universe. I think it’s kind of perfect that I’m back in COHEED. But when you ask me if it was a big deal, I have a hard time summing up how big of a deal that it is. I don’t think I have a vast enough vocabulary to sum up how big of a deal… it’s the biggest deal and the most important think in my life.
NZRock: It’s great to have you back in the fold
Josh: Yeah I mean, if you want to get real about it, I started to wonder well I guess that we didn’t have anything special. No one wants to feel replacable but I had accepted that I was. Certain people would tell you well dude, the band ain’t the same without you so for them to come and say that was huge. I didn’t know they felt that way. It’s not really public knowledge how this all went down so I don’t want to really say too much but it was just really nice. Not even gratifying, I mean it just meant the world to me. This band is something that I take very seriously and it’s like part of me. It’s not weird to be back in the fold, it’s weird to not be in COHEED AND CAMBRIA. I’d been in this band since I was 20 years old and it’s like the biggest part of my life. I’ve got gold records hanging on my walls, I’ve got the deluxe edition hanging on this wall, I’m very proud of it and it’s something that just means the world to me. So yeah, to be back in the fold is beyond a big deal and hopefully we can do this for another 10 years.