In the fall of last year, Claudio Sanchez was on the verge of revealing something big to his expansive fanbase. His progressive rock band, Coheed and Cambria, was teasing the existence of their new album, Vaxis: Act II — A Window of the Waking Mind — and how it illuminated the then-shrouded character Vaxis.
“Vaxis, who, to them, seems to be in this catatonic state. But the reality is that he’s quite the opposite,” Sanchez told GRAMMY.com. “They’re unaware of who he really is, that he’s present in everything. He can access wavelengths that they can’t even comprehend.”
Read More: Coheed And Cambria Teased A Key Character In Their Last Album, Vaxis: Act I. But Who Is Vaxis, Really?
Now, we’re on the other side of the long build-up to — and release of — Vaxis: Act II, and Coheed is currently on the road promoting it. How does Sanchez feel about his cult fanbase’s response — not only to the music, but some major reveals in the narrative?
“I don’t think we could have asked for anything more 20 years into our career,” Sanchez tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom from his hotel room. “It’s actually incredible how quickly this record has been… embraced by our audience.”
Even better, he feels it marks a period of renewed energy around the veteran band — even as this segment of their ongoing Amory Wars narrative — told through books, graphic novels and albums — is drawing to something of a close.
“Twenty years ago, The Second Stage Turbine Blade was the second story in the Amory Wars — the Coheed and Cambria portion of it. And now, 20 years into our career, Vaxis II is the second part of the Vaxis arc,” Sanchez remarks. “It’s kind of funny when I think of it like that: Wow, this is ground zero again.“
In this follow-up interview with GRAMMY.com, Sanchez marvels at the response to Vaxis II and lays breadcrumbs for what might happen down the road — all while wondering what his 16-year-old self would think of the intricate creative machine he’s assembled.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
I’m sure you’ve done scores of interviews about Vaxis — Act II in all its musical and world-building dimensions. How has the reaction from your fanbase been thus far?
It’s far beyond what we anticipated. A lot of the material and approach is very different. It’s something we’d done in the past in terms of stretching our limitations, but not as much on a record. Before releasing it, I had said something to the fanbase that this might be the most divisive record, I guess, in terms of whether they’ll receive it or not.
But it feels like the reception has been unanimously positive from my position — both from our audience and whatever media outlets have picked it up. I don’t think we could have asked for anything more 20 years into our career. It’s actually incredible how quickly this record has been received and embraced by our audience.
To you, is it the strongest Coheed and Cambria release to date?
I think it is! Even on the last one, The Unheavenly Creatures, we were so excited to fall into the production role of that record that everything we made for that record was part of the output.
And then, with this one — there was more material than what made it on the record. I wanted this experience to be digested in a way that our fans would want more — or it feels like a complete piece. I don’t want to find myself fatigued by the music. I don’t want to find myself 50 percent of the way through the record, wondering [mimes checking watch] “Oh, wow, I still have 50 percent more to go!”
I wanted it to feel complete, and it really does feel that way, to my surprise. For example, a song like “Love Murder One” — I’d been sitting on that song for a while. And in the scope of the record, I thought, “Is that the moment we sort of dip? How will our fans receive this song?”
I thought it would be the one that maybe people like the least, but it’s actually become a favorite! How many people tell me they love “Love Murder One”? I don’t know; I’m really jazzed about how the record was received.
The music aside, how do you feel about the response to this segment of the storyline — the audience getting to know the Vaxis character?
They seem to love the big reveals within the story. For those who have participated in the conceptual portion of it, there’s a big reveal at the end that I’m seeing a lot of excitement for. I think overall, the whole package — the story, the music, even the relic that came with the deluxe vinyl — I feel like everybody is totally satisfied and excited.
And it makes the band excited! Again, we’ve been around for a while. And to have this feeling, this thing that’s surrounding that record — you start to realize this hasn’t been around every record we’ve released.
We inhabit a media landscape of endlessly expanding universes — Star Wars chief among them. To you, is the story of the Amory Wars finite, or could it conceivably continue in untold directions?
I think I could potentially keep this story going forever. But honestly, when I look at Vaxis and I see the end of this series, I kind of feel like this could complete it all. I think it would be perfect. If we were to choose to tell other stories, they would probably be parallel stories.
But as far as the arc — when I look at Year of the Black Rainbow to the Vaxis story, the complete Amory Wars — I feel like that is it. That is the saga, if you will.
Read More: Coheed And Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez Talks Comics, Kurt Vonnegut & What’s Next For The Amory Wars
Can you share any tidbits about where you might go next with the story?
Um… no! [Laughs] But I’m so excited, because the reveal at the end of Vaxis II wasn’t the only one. There are a few others that come up. Vaxis II was full of reveals. One I can share is the character of Naianasha and who she really is in the greater scheme of it all.
That was just to put runners on base — not to get all sports-corny! But the finale of Vaxis II is really the thing that drives in the runs. Man, I’m really driving that home — the sports thing! But as far as future stories, there isn’t much I can tell at the moment because I’m afraid I’ll spoil something.
You don’t have to reveal anything. But are thoughts of your next artistic moves percolating while you’re on tour at the moment? Is that conversation happening?
A little bit. My wife and I have been talking. This record has been done — recorded, mixed and mastered — for about a year. And a lot of what takes up the time between then and the release is the creation of the story, the illustrating of the story, the manufacturing of the relic — all those things take the most time.
So, we were just communicating this morning on the bus about finishing up the graphic novel we’re working on — the 12-issue maxiseries for No World for Tomorrow, but also starting to get a handle on Vaxis III. The music kind of happens quickly in relation to the story, so we’re trying to get ahead of it. We’ve been talking gently about it.
What are your favorite moments on Vaxis II?
I think my son singing on “The Embers of Fire” is definitely a big one, because we get to sing together on a song. I think that’s beautiful, just because Vaxis is this omnipresent character that lives in all dimensions of reality, from young to old. There was a nice little connection there — father to son, and also just characters that they’re supposed to embody.
But outside of that, I’d probably say “Window of the Waking Mind” is another one. Just because, for years, I’ve been sitting on this musical that I worked on in 2016. It was a musical rendition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the opening number was this 13-minute epic that basically tells the origin of where Dorian came from, his parents — things like that.
I wanted to do something with Vaxis — to try and tell his story, but not utilizing what I had already done. I wanted to try a new approach. This is a different story, so I didn’t want to take from this other thing I had sitting on the shelf and change some words.
I really wanted to test myself and see if I could do it again, because I’m very proud of this piece — “The Son of Love and Death, 1-7.” It was the first time I had attempted anything like that. I wanted to see if I could do it again, and I feel like I did it with “Window of the Waking Mind.” Like, this is something I feel I could do in the future.
I’m proud of the entire record, but [I love] that song in particular because it has the DNA of that other piece in the closet.
How’s everything around your art and music and business? How’s your family? How’s life?
Everything’s great! Yesterday was only the second day of the tour, and [my family] met up with me in Tampa. They’re on the bus. They’re in it for the long haul. My son loves tour life, so he and my wife will be out for hopefully the entire run.
My life’s great. I’m very fortunate. I wish I could tell 16-year-old me that this is what it was all going to turn into, because I didn’t have the confidence then that I might now because of the history of all that we’ve accomplished as a band. I feel great, and I’m so happy that I get to share that with my son and my wife.
Like I said, this morning, I woke up and my wife and I were talking about stories. We’re working, but I’m also kind of lucky, because I feel like when they’re with me, I’m home. I don’t feel like I’m on tour. I’m really lucky in that respect.
What were you up to as a 16-year-old?
Probably the same thing, just in my parents’ house. And they’re telling me to stop because I’m screaming at the top of my lungs while they’re trying to watch some sort of program upstairs after a hard day of work.
I used to share this area with my grandfather, who lived across the hall. I’ve been writing music since I was four years old, with cassette four-tracks — just trying to figure out how to do it, you know? I would sing, and my singing was a little less controlled than it is now, but it was in the same register — kind of high. My grandfather would say, “Is this kid going to do anything with this stuff?”
My mom always tells this story: a “Get a job!” sort of situation. And you get older, and you start to feel defeated, but persevere. We got picked up, and — I don’t know! I wasn’t doing much, but I was doing this.
Are there more mind-blowers on the horizon, narratively speaking? Even if this particular story is drawing to a close? It must feel like you’re just getting started.
Yeah! You know, that’s what’s so crazy. It does. It feels like there’s this renewed energy. It feels like starting again.
When I think of 20 years ago, The Second Stage Turbine Blade was the second story in the Amory Wars — the Coheed and Cambria portion of it. And now, 20 years into our career, Vaxis II is the second part of the Vaxis arc. It’s kind of funny when I think of it like that: Wow, this is ground zero again.
Before we jump off, what are you listening to lately?
At the moment, I’m not listening to a whole lot. I’m listening to Vaxis II! [Laughs.]
I know it sounds nuts, but I am, because there’s a lot of new material and new ways I sang the record that I never really approached live. So, I’m just trying to be mindful of that and listening to those approaches and figuring out how I can translate them live so I don’t blow my voice and cancel shows.
It’s funny: I think of who I was 20 years ago, and that was never a concern. It was just like: Go out there, reckless abandon, beat it up, and hope for the best. But now, there’s so much behind the machine that care needs to be taken with these things. So, that’s where I’m at — listening to that.
But the last record that I really got down with was that Phoebe Bridgers record. I don’t remember the name of it, but there’s a ghost drawn on it, in a field…
Stranger in the Alps.
Yes! Somebody hipped me to that, or had been speaking about it, pre-pandemic.
When the lockdown happened, we had just closed on a house in Brooklyn. And we moved in, and a couple of weeks later, everything went silent. That was the record I was listening to in the mornings while testing the coffee we ended up putting out. Just doing these profiles for that stuff.
It was just a record that resonated with me. It’s one of those records that, when I hear it, is going to teleport me like a time machine — moving into that house and the feeling of the thing we all experienced. I love that about music — finding something that’s always going to take you back somewhere.
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