Station manager Anthony Saia and DJ Ryan Parish were given the opportunity to interview Mic Todd from Coheed & Cambria on their way through Spokane in the fall of 2010. Enjoy.
Mic Todd: I’m going to go back to sleep after this interview I think [laughs].
Anthony Saia: I would do the same thing man. So, aside from being asleep, what do you guys typically listen to on the road?
MT: A wide variety of things. I’m into this new Midlake record. Just more mellowy vibe-type stuff. It sounds like a cross between like Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac or something like that. It’s really cool.
AS: What helps you choose different types of album art and things like that?
MT: I might not be the best one to answer this but our first couple records that we did with Equal Vision, Bill Scofield is like the in-house graphic designer and we did a lot – and this was before the story really knew exactly where it was going so much, well, I mean we knew where it was going but we didn’t know conceptually how the art was going to pan out with like the comic books, we didn’t know if – y’know? So he did all of the early designing so like the first record, he kind of just made that all up and then we have some meetings and discussions and that’s when we got involved. Then, when the Keywork came into play, that’s when Claudio [Sanchez] had much more of an idea about what was happening in the story, what the universe was made up of. That was like the centerpiece of that record, like, right when you open it up its like ‘boom’, it’s right there – and we knew that we stumbled upon something when we first saw that but that was something that we were like, well, Claudio was like, alright, look, this is what the Keywork is. Can you design a constellation, which is essentially what it is and that’s what came out and we were like, ‘Oh, man, that’s awesome!’ So from there we got more and more hands on and I think that side of the medium was starting to become much more of a focal point to the band, whereas before it was definitely kind of there but way off to the side. It kind of started to own the same amount of attention. The Good Apollo: I record was something different. That’s where kind of veered off course. The arts a lot more specific and character oriented. The story, environment and influence had changed and that was the first time that we actually contracted an artist to really dig into that vision. I mean, prior, we just went to this guy that makes rock record covers and this is the vibe we want. Of course there were specifics like the Keywork and things like that, like the dragonfly. This time is was definitely more specifically where we went head first into that direction of like; we’re going to make the concept art of the album very present and very important. I think the next one we tried to do the same thing, something, a little different too. That was a strange time in the band though. That was when Chris Pennie had just joined the band and when I had just re-joined the band after being out for a little while. I think, I remember Claudio saying he wanted something physically that he could hold in his hand so that’s when, y’know everyone is a fan of KISS, y’know, I love KISS, they’re rock n’ roll gods, so that’s where Kevin Kelly came from. The album art is all photographs of canvas paintings that he did. Every piece of art from No World [For Tomorrow] exists on canvas and it’s a photographed scan of the oil painting.
AS: Oh, yeah! I have that on vinyl with the etched record.
MT: Yeah! I love what they can do with vinyl these days, especially the clear vinyl. I think it is the coolest thing. We pressed either In Keeping [Secret of Silent Earth 3] or the first Good Apollo record that was one of those five or six sided fuckin’ records and what we have with these vinyl releases was all kinds of different colors like kind of random. Like some were blue and orange or whatever and they were all just over the place and every once and while there’d be a clear one which I thought was so fuckin’ cool. That was actually first time I’d ever seen clear vinyl and I was like WOW! You know, I didn’t even know and it was so cool. I was seduced.
Ryan Parish: You mention KISS. How do you feel about them getting snubbed again for the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame?
MT: They did? So wait, what happened?
RP: This is like the tenth year in a row that the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame snubbed them. They’re not even in the final vote to get inducted.
MT: That’s really weird, it seems like they should be, I mean everyone knows who KISS is. I don’t know. That’s kind of a weird situation. I wonder what’s going on behind the scenes you know what I mean? [laughs] Sorry, I get off topic and just go on tangents, especially when I’m half awake and all spacey. I’m going to end up talking some shit!
AS: [laughs] It’s all good man. Let’s move on a little. What can you tell me about Year of the Black Rainbow? I know that it was supposed to be a prequel album as far as the story goes but I guess what my real question is that you guys did the “Neverender” shows, four nights in a row but do you think you guys might be doing all five albums in the same sort of deal in the future?
MT: I would love that. I mean, we’ve certainly talked about doing another “Neverender” in some way or another but I don’t know if we’re going to do it now or whatever. I mean, we’re going to keep on making records, y’know. We don’t really know how or what the focal point is going to be like if it’s going to be a parallel story, no story or side story. I mean, those are all possibilities. I just don’t know if this time if it’s going to be soon. I mean, because we all have some immediate plans and some personal plans too. I mean Coheed’s happening and a bunch of us are working on other projects too that we’re kind like, ‘Alright, it’s time to spend a little bit of time on this’ kind of thing.
AS: So does that mean that Travis [Stever] going to focus more on Davenport Cabinet while Claudio does some more work with Prize Fighter Inferno?
MT: Yep, well, I mean, we kind of do anyways but we’re just going to have a little bit more time off than usual to do it. I mean, you know, before we’d have like a month off, which is not often, to work on it, this year we’re going to take three or four months off. Y’know, recharge our batteries and work on a different side of things artistically.
AS: So, what projects are you involved in currently?
MT: Well, I write music. I don’t know. I mean, I sit in with bands whenever I can. Like in L.A. I have a lot of friends that play music and I love jamming on bass. I like playing whatever like funk and jazz. However, artistically, I’m writing with this girl named Sarah Green who’s out of L.A. and we kind of lived together for a little while and were like vibing it out. She was really good friends with my girlfriend and her girlfriend, so it was like three girls and me living in this house but Sarah and I found out that we have really really good chemistry and Laurita, who’s my girlfriend, would try to write but we’d just butt heads and it wasn’t cool, y’know, just human difference. Y’know, everything would be taken the wrong way like I’d say something like “Try to do this” and she’d be like “What!?” and get all offended but anyways, me and this girl Sarah ended up holding up for a good week and literally just wrote ten songs and tons of blanks y’know. Sometimes just guitar parts, sometimes a whole song with four part harmonies all over the place and then sometimes it would just be a small idea, but we just kept going and recording things on Garage Band. Scratch tracks, hell yeah baby! But anyways, we’re hoping to do something with that, her and I. I love the female singer – songwriter genre, like I was definitely raised to a certain extent on Ani DiFranco, listening and what not, y’know, pretty much taught myself to play guitar listening to her, you know what I mean – and then into bass guitar from there.
AS: I was going to ask, are you taking more of a lead guitar role on this project with Sarah?
MT: Yeah. Well, yeah. This project is actually going to be more acoustic. Kind of like Ani DiFranco. Very rhythmic, very much like the band 3 – if you haven’t listened to them, you gotta get into them. The story with that band goes that our old drummer Josh, that was his band originally and the lead singer and guitar player is his brother Joe. Joe Eppard.
AS: I saw that Josh is in a new project?
MT: Yeah, I hooked them up with Fred [Mascherino] from Taking Back Sunday and Breaking Pangaea. We were making this last record and Fred called me up and asked me what was going on with Josh. At the time, I didn’t really know what was going on but I said, “That dude needs to get playing.” Then, he was like, “I started this project –“ and I kind of just signed him up without him knowing about it. I was like “He’ll do it!” and then I called Josh and said, “Dude, you need to work” and it really isn’t about working because he’s doing his own thing and creating hip-hop songs but y’know, here’s a possible gig for him, y’know what I mean? Sure enough they got together, wrote a couple of songs and got signed to Universal the next week. So now they’ve been on the road and they’ve been getting out there. You know, he’s such an amazing drummer, y’know, a cool, different drummer. I don’t know. It’s mellower than Coheed for sure but its still good rock music.
AS: So, let’s talk tour. You guys just did a tour with Circa Survive as well as a ton of various acts. Just a broad spectrum in general.
MT: Especially in the last couple of years. One of the things about this band – and especially when structuring tours is that no one really knows where to put us that would be a comfortable spot – which is kind of a double edged sword in that enables us to play some really fuckin’ crazy packages, y’know what I mean, like Slipknot. It’s totally fucking weird. I mean lets call a spade a spade. It was like, totally weird and we heard about it and they were like, “Lets do it” and I was like, “What? Really? Okay, I’m down.” In fact, those guys are super sweethearts and really nice guys and they were super nice to us and for the most part, their fans were cool to us. I mean, there’s assholes but we have asshole fans too. They don’t want to hear nothin’ but us. Not quite like Slipknot fans though. Slipknot fans are mean, man. You know, it just comes with not knowing where to put us. I mean, I’m so fuckin’ psyched that we got the Deftones. I think musically, that’s a good marriage.
AS: How did that tour come about?
MT: We got offered it. I don’t know how or why. The politics are just too icky. I mean, I don’t know how tours get set up and I don’t like to speculate. I mean, nothing funny happened but it was like, y’know, management talking to management and booking agents talking to booking agents. It could come down to a relationship between a venue and a guy in a band. Like somehow there is always a catalyst that kind of sets the ball rolling into some sort of crazy Slipknot / Coheed tour, y’know. But in this case, our tour manager Joe had been out with Deftones on tour years ago and knows those guys well, so that’s another thing – and we were just in Europe at the beginning of the season – beginning of summer doing a ton of festivals and we met them and kind of hung out and I’m totally a fan. I kind of dorked out a little bit.
After an interlude about passing gas on the bus we got back into the interview.
RP: What is the process that you guys take when writing a concept album. I mean, you already have the stories so how do you develop that into the writing of the music?
MT: When we’re writing the music, conceptually, like the story, I mean, it doesn’t really enter into the songwriting process. Really, the only thing that makes it – well its hard to say – you know, vibe wise I think it can be present but for the most part its all in the lyrics, which is Claudio’s thing. I mean, we write as a rock band, that’s how we’ve always written. Like I was writing songs with Claudio like six years before Coheed [in Shabutie] and Travis was writing songs with Claudio even before that exisited. It was weird because Travis played with Claudio, then I played with Claudio, then Travis joined that and here we fuckin’ are, like grown men all of sudden. So, y’know, I could speculate but what it seems to me is that Claudio has the really important focal points of really important thematic songs on the record, especially for like cinematics maybe? Like a song that really serves and represents the album for what it is and where’s its going to be, like a “Welcome Home” or something like that. Like an identifier song or something like that. I don’t really know how to describe it except for a “Welcome Home” or No World – like the first track on that record. That record was all kind of weird because Chris wasn’t allowed to play drums on it.
AS: Yeah, Taylor [Hawkins of Foo Fighters] covered for that, right?
MT: Yeah, Taylor’s my boy. Some songs like those, Claudio brings to the table or fuck dude, he’ll give me a CD and say, “Here’s a song, check it out” and it will be written front to back with just acoustic guitars and four or five voices. He does like these crazy harmonies all the time – and they’re intricate! But yeah, I think those are like the keystone songs that are really thematic, really concept oriented and kind of spell out how the album is going to feel, or one portion of the album is going to sound like. I mean, because, we don’t really sit down and be like, “Alright, so this is going on the story so maybe I play this?” I mean, where I am trying to go with this long, drawn out explanation is that sometimes when there is a vibe or a theme that carries over from song to song or throughout a record or certain portion of the record – that is as much concept that goes into writing as possible – which is not very much. I’m talking about a vibe here, y’know? So it’s really like, writing happens as a rock band. Essentially either the songs exist and have been written or we sit in a room and make them happen.
AS: Oh yeah, like, for example the title track, “Year of the Black Rainbow” was done that way, right? I remember Atticus [Ross, producer] mentioning something on the deluxe edition DVD.
MT: He drew that out of us, definitely. Atticus definitely directed the writing of that song. That was kind of cool. It was a total, man, how do I describe this? He was like the foreman. He was like (in Atticus’s accent) “Let’s try to write a song right now,” [laughs] with his fuckin’ British ass, and he’s basically like, seriously, think about this song, he’s like, play this part of this song [“Pearl of the Stars”]. Well, I guess it evolved enough, but yeah, it was the bridge of “Pearl”. Well, yeah, dude, that’s it. We jammed to that and he literally goes, “Make it different, now make it not that part. Keep playing exactly what you’re playing.” Seriously, I’ve never met a producer more difficult to understand what he wants from me. Like, he’d say, “Do exactly what you are doing but do it completely opposite.” Like, honestly, I am really good communicating with Michael Birnbaum and Nick Raskulinecz, the other producers. Like they’d be like, “Alright, I need you to just stick this one a little harder and make it a little more, y’know, I’m having bacon this morning instead of fuckin’ porridge,” you know what I mean? I mean, I know I am totally pulling that out of my ass but you know we just had that communication where we knew how to get a vibe. So that’s the difference between zoom and ZOOM. Y’know? Tasty little sprinkles. But anyways, Atticus is really – I mean, I don’t know if it is the Britishisms or there must be a language barrier thing because he’s like “Do it like that, but not like that.” You know, it’s totally like Forgetting Sarah Marshall when the guy is trying to teach him how to surf? Like, “Do that, wait, no, don’t do that. Don’t do anything. Okay, you’ve gotta do more than that.” It was exactly like that.
AS: I’d forgot that you worked with Nick on No World. I guess that explains the ties between you guys and Deftones since he just did Diamond Eyes.
MT: Dude, yeah, Diamond Eyes is the tits. I mean, Around the Fur is probably more important to me personally just because it was that time and place but I think that White Pony is just such a better record. I mean, it’s their best record in my opinion. This one is now more like something I want to listen to.
AS: We interviewed Terry Date [world-renowned producer and KUOI alum] a while back, is that someone you guys would like to work with?
MT: We’ve kind of thought about working with every body. Not anymore than anybody else but that’d be pretty wild. That’d be interesting. I mean, I kind of want to do one ourselves. The only thing is that I really like to work with a producer. Like, I think the best work I’ve ever done on an album, and I’ve played on other things than Coheed, but it was Good Apollo I. Like the shit that Josh and I did on that record, I’m so proud of that stuff. We really took a lot of time and Chris Bittner who was essentially engineering – he was actually the engineer on those records and one of the producers was Mike Birnbaum –
At this point, Travis Stever, guitarist for Coheed, walks out from the sleep cab of the bus in his boxers.
TS: Oh, sorry guys.
MT: It’s all good man, just doing an interview for the radio, say “Hi” to your parents. [laughs] Anyways, what was I saying?
AS: Talking about Chris Bittner?
MT: Right. Chris Bittner. He played bass originally for that band 3 back when they were a three piece. It was Josh, Josh’s brother Joe and Chris. It’s all like this weird little incestuous family music relationship but sitting down with Chris, when it was time to do the bass parts, I’d do them all in a row and I would just sit down with him and hit it and we’d write a lot of the parts right then and there. I have the most fun working with, I don’t want to say as little preparation as possible but I work fast and the parts I write I like to – I mean, I tend to overdo and over think things so if I put down an initial reaction to an idea it is usually the correct decision and it will serve the song better and Chris is really good at pushing me or reigning me in. So is Nick Raskulinecz – he’s really good at pushing or reigning in and as far as building on a part. I’m curious to see what it would be like to do a self-produced record but I really do – I mean, some of the work that I’ve done with producers has been valuable. I mean, Atticus and I didn’t really speak the same language at all but what we’ve got it happenin’. I think that Joe Barresi and I worked better together. He was definitely my guy.
AS: I am definitely curious about how that worked out – the whole co-producer thing that you guys went through on this new record. It seems like it is kind of uncommon.
MT: It was such an odd thing. It’s very uncommon and it was totally comfortable. I mean, there was no butting of heads and it seemed like everybody was on the same side and everyone was just trying to serve the songs. Y’know, sort of do what is going to serve the record best but yeah, it was totally an odd dynamic but never for a moment was it uncomfortable. It was always comfortable and always productive.
AS: Filling impossible holes?
MT: [laughs] Yeah. Filling impossible holes.
AS: I remember you saying in a separate interview that Claudio would come to you with a piece that would be so intricate that you didn’t know where to put a bass line?
MT: Yeah, pretty much. Shabutie was even worse. Here’s the thing though: Now, totally, Claud, Travis and I have come to a really cool spot right now. I think we’ve got to the point where we are really good at writing with each other. You know, Claud can play one of those crazy sweeps and I can come out swinging and know where to go and know where its going to go. Now it’s classy, not ugly. We’re not fighting with that original part, y’know, we’re not like “Listen to me, listen to me, listen to me” and that goes for the three of us I think and we’ve really got good at writing more succinct and more like we’re on the same team.
AS: I can understand that, I mean you guys have been playing together for ten years.
MT: I mean, we all have vastly different styles and we’ve only gone further from each other like as far as our core styles.
AS: It helps you guys progress though, right?
AS: Right on man, well, let’s switch it up. Did you ever DJ at a college radio station?
MT: No sir, I actually never went to college. Well, that’s not true. I went to community college for a minute. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, I dropped out of high school. I mean, I was emancipated and moved out of my parents house when I was 15 and I was doing like 50 hour work weeks and trying to go to high school while living with my girlfriend all while supporting Nate [Kelley], the Shabutie drummer. I mean, not supporting him or anything but he was definitely living on my floor. Y’know I was 15 and he was like 22 or something [laughs]. So, yeah, anyways, I went to community college but not for very long. I was a chef, well, actually a cook of all sorts but I don’t know if I was really a chef but I was definitely a sous-chef at a French restaurant. French cuisine is my specialty. I don’t have any Michelin stars or anything but I have the knowledge. Like, I’m totally a cook and a chef.
AS: Seriously? I could totally use a crepe or two about now. Anyways, so, if you ever did have a radio show, what would you play?
MT: I honestly don’t know. I can sit with my iTunes and DJ for a girl that I’m hanging out with forever but yeah, I like a wide variety of stuff man, and you know what? I kind of really like a lot of that hipster, indie bands like Feist, Midlake, Beirut. I really dig Beirut.
AS: Alright, so in the indie spectrum what would you say is your favorite band or maybe even a top three?
MT: You know, Midlake is really one of them. Travis introduced me to them. I’m only saying that because my iTunes shit the bed a couple months ago and I haven’t gotten it fixed so I really haven’t had the chance to listen to music on my own. I mean, my girlfriend and all these guys have music so I just listen to everyone else’s shit. So yeah, without having my iTunes to look at but really, I’ve always love the band 3 from Kingston, [New York]. I still like the new shit that they’ve continued to do. Sunny Day Real Estate is one of my favorite indie bands ever. Nate Mendle’s songwriting is just great and his voice is just. Wow. I mean, I love his solo stuff and all of the Sunny Day stuff. As far as current bands, I’ve got to be honest man, I don’t really know anybody. I don’t really listen to new music. It’s not because I don’t like it, it’s just that I have never heard it. There is probably a ton of shit that would blow me away but I just haven’t heard it. I’m kind of lazy like that.
KUOI would like to thank Mic Todd of Coheed for being hospitable to us, allowing us on the bus to do this interview. Also, thanks to Bram from the Syndicate and Allison from Columbia for hooking it up. It was truly a joy being able to sit back and shoot the shit with one of the most innovative bassists of our time.