It's an idea so obvious, we're kind of amazed it hasn't happened already: Mastodon and Coheed and Cambria, two brilliant bands with pronounced prog-metal tendencies — who have spent the better part of the past two decades making the world safe again for the concept album — will finally go out on tour together for the first time this spring.
Dubbed the Unheavenly Skye Tour, the U.S. tour — which is currently slated to begin May 28th in Louisville, Kentucky, and end July 3rd in Irving, Texas — will feature the two groups as co-headliners, with Every Time I Die opening all of the shows. As per the tour's name, Mastodon will be playing their 2009 masterpiece Crack the Skye in its entirety, while Coheed and Cambria's set will feature a significant chunk of their latest installment of the Amory Wars saga, Vaxis — Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures.
We spoke with Mastodon's Brann Dailor and Coheed and Cambria's Claudio Sanchez about the two bands' long-overdue tour partnership, their prog influences, and whether or not the realities of touring have lived up to their youthful rock & roll fantasies.
IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT YOU GUYS HAVEN'T TOURED TOGETHER BEFORE.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ I know! We've crossed paths at some festival dates here and there, but this will be the first time we've actually been on tour together. And I've gotta tell you, I'm really excited — I'm a fan! We went to see Mastodon in Boston last year; I'd crossed paths with Troy [Sanders] before at NAMM shows and things like that, but as he was running up the stairs to the dressing room, he called down to me and said, "Do you think it would make sense for our bands to tour together?" And I said, "Fuck, yeah!" [Laughs] I think it's going to be such a cool summer.
BRANN DAILOR I echo the same sentiment; we're all super-stoked. We've never toured together before, and I think it's about time. It makes a lot of sense. We're two bands that have been around for a while, mingling in the same circles. I think it's going to be awesome.
MINGLING IN THE SAME CIRCLES — AND DRINKING FROM THE SAME MUSICAL WATERS?
DAILOR Yeah, I think we have a lot of crossover fans, as well, and we both kind of worship at the altar of mid-Seventies prog, that little sweet spot with the Yes, the Genesis, the King Crimson and the Rush. I'm guessing that we all kind of comingle around that same place, musically, so it makes a lot of sense for us to be together… at last! [Laughs]
WHAT'S YOUR ULTIMATE SEVENTIES PROG RECORD?
SANCHEZ For me, I think it would probably be The Wall. In '94, I went and saw Pink Floyd at Giants Stadium on the Division Bell tour. At the time, I wasn't a Floyd fan; but I had a friend whose older sister was going, and I was like, "Okay, it sounds like a good time." I must have just been getting into high school, and I thought, "Oh, I guess the thing you do is, you do acid at a Pink Floyd show!"
His sister was talking about getting some acid, and I was like, "Yeah, I'll take two!" I had never done acid before — thank god she didn't end up getting any. [Laughs] But I did experience the show, and I realized how much I loved the way they incorporated the visuals to the music. And of course, this was Gilmour-era Floyd, so that really brought me down the rabbit hole, and I discovered The Wall, and then the movie. And I think that was a big seed for what Coheed does, with the science fiction concept component; it's definitely in the DNA of the band.
DAILOR I'd say The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis is one of my all-time favorite records. Like Claudio, I was told early on that it would be a good idea to take some acid [Laughs], find the doors of perception, figure out where they are, bookmark it …
Pretty early on in my life, my mom was in a band, and they were doing covers of Rush and Genesis, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, stuff like that. So I was into heavier stuff and proggy stuff from early on, because my parents always jamming those records — especially the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, and then the Peter Gabriel solo stuff. But then, when I was around 14 or so, I had my first acid trip, me and my best friend — and then we took a lot of acid after that. It was always a quest for some of the stranger, more proggy music, because that was going to be our evening, you know? We would take some acid and listen to music, so it helped if it was a double album like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway; because, a lot of times, with the white blotter that was going around in those days, you'd be tripping for like sixteen hours straight, which was pretty insane.
So my parents kind of opened the door to the prog stuff, but then I really had those "Eureka!" moments when I was under the influence. And now, those records are just so deeply embedded in my DNA. So when I finally had my own band, I really wanted to push in that direction, as far as like storytelling, and the art of the concept album. I just thought it would be so cool if we could pull something like that off.
CLAUDIO HAD HIS MIND BLOWN BY PINK FLOYD IN 1994. WAS THERE AN EARLY SHOW THAT HAD A SIMILAR EFFECT ON YOU?
DAILOR I'd say the Iron Maiden Somewhere in Time tour. It was the first time I ever saw Iron Maiden, and it was pretty mind-blowing; I wasn't tripping, or anything, but it was definitely the big rock show that I hadn't yet experienced. I didn't get to go to a lot of big rock shows when I was a kid, you know? They were few and far between, so it was more the dirty rock clubs for me; I'm sure Claudio had the same experience. So seeing something like that was really unbelievable. But most of the musical experiences that blew my mind happened in small clubs.
NOW THAT YOU'RE PLAYING LARGER VENUES, IS THIS AT ALL WHAT YOU IMAGINED PLAYING ON BIG STAGES WOULD BE LIKE?
SANCHEZ I mean, for me, this was certainly more than I anticipated. I anticipated something — there was a target on the board, and I was aiming for it. But we weren't the most well-received band of our scene, so there was a little bit of discouragement when we were coming up. And when I say "scene," I'm talking like community centers, small clubs, way before we signed to an indie in 2001. So for me, Plan B was starting to come into my periphery. I was like, "Okay, I'm going to go to school for engineering, and that's it!" And then we just got lucky, somebody heard a demo, and here we are. And now, I'm just really impressed at the longevity of our band, how long we've managed to keep doing it!
DAILOR For me, I can't really remember what I thought of those bands who were doing it. I don't know what I thought of Iron Maiden; I definitely think maybe I thought they were kept somewhere secret, like some kind of bunker in Colorado, and they got shot up through bank tubes to perform their show, and then went back to their bunker. [Laughs] But when I started being in bands, I think it took me a while to connect the dots that what we're doing now could ever be achieved by someone like me and my friends …
As far as a backup plan, I just didn't have one. I worked at a mini-mart, I worked at a porn store, I was up on a ladder painting houses, all these jobs that were going nowhere. I joined that band Today's the Day and moved to rural Massachusetts, just because I knew they were touring; at some point, I knew I had to move somewhere, I had to start pushing to make something happen. I always thought that I would land at club level, and still be able to support some kind of meager living by doing that. So that was where I was aiming, originally. And when Mastodon came together, it was the same thing. But you know, it's a moving target; once you achieve one milestone, you're sort of looking at the next one- or two-year window, and thinking, Well, maybe we can get to that! But yeah, like Claudio said, I'm just amazed that we've gotten this far — and that it's the same four dudes, and we're just doing it at a moderately successful level. I'm happy to be here, man! [Laughs]
BRANN, YOU GUYS ARE PLAYING CRACK THE SKYE IN ITS ENTIRETY ON THIS TOUR. WHAT'S IT LIKE TO GO BACK AND IMMERSE YOURSELVES IN THAT ALBUM AGAIN?
DAILOR Well, to be honest with you, there's only like one or two songs from the album that haven't been in the rotation at some point in the last ten years, so not all of it is very foreign to us. But we haven't done the movie that goes along with it — and the whole experience that went along with it — in a long time. A lot of people have told us that they missed it the first time, so this is an opportunity for those people to finally see it. And I guess this is also another chance for us to nail it, and to give an even better live representation of what those songs are. But yeah, I'm pretty stoked to do that again. Because for us, that record really sort of changed things, and helped us grow as musicians, as friends, as people; it was a real pillar of our career as a band.
CLAUDIO, WILL GUYS BE SWITCHING UP YOUR SETLIST, OR WILL IT BE SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU WERE PLAYING ON TOUR EARLIER THIS YEAR?
SANCHEZ We're still supporting Unheavenly Creatures, so we'll add new selections from the album that we haven't played; but for the most part, it will still be a discography-encompassing set.
DAILOR Do you guys change your set list up every night? Or do you just find something that you dig and go for that?
SANCHEZ We usually just go for that. If some things aren't working, we'll pull things out; but for the most part, we try to play something that's pretty similar from show to show. We do read online when kids get upset because we switched songs out that they were looking forward to hearing, so most of the time we take that stuff into consideration.
DAILOR Yeah, we always find one set list and stick to it. I always admire the bands that can play different stuff every night. I'm like, "What's going on? I can't do that!" [Laughs]
SANCHEZ Me too, man! Like the Black Crowes, who switch it up all the time. For singers, it can be very difficult to gain a muscle memory of where you can or cannot go; and if you switch it up with a song that takes your range into someplace unfamiliar, you're risking the chance of blowing your voice. And when you have a video component to your performance, you're also curating that video to accompany certain songs. Sure, you can switch those around, but that can kind of throw things off as well.
WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT NON-MUSICAL ITEM YOU BRING ALONG ON TOUR TO KEEP YOURSELVES SANE?
DAILOR Uh … beer? [Laughs] I think the Coheed guys are a little bit beer nerd-y, and I'm kind of beer nerd-y, so I'm looking forward to that. I mean, I remember being on your guys' bus, and you had fancy beers on there …
SANCHEZ Oh yeah. We try to get something local most of the time. But yeah, there's the fancy beers, and there's always the generic standbys. We try to run the gamut of the beverage zone!
DAILOR One of the best things about summertime tours is that it's like a summer camp. And we're all friends with Every Time I Die, so I'm expecting a lot of friendship, sharing, camaraderie. I love to barbecue, so the good thing about being sandwiched between Coheed and Every Time I Die is, after we get off stage I'll fire up the Q and get everything ready. And then when those guys finish their set, all they've gotta do is go take a shower, wash their balls, put their clothes back on, come out and enjoy a tasty burger prepared by Chef Brann.
SANCHEZ Right on!
DAILOR I just think we're gonna go out, were gonna crush it, it's gonna be a team effort. All three groups are gonna give it their all, and give the audience their money's worth. And then we're all gonna go backstage and have awesome barbecues, and have a summertime fun-time tour!