411 Mania Music Interview: Chris Pennie of Coheed & Cambria
Talking over the phone with Chris Pennie, current drummer of Coheed and Cambria, and co-founder of math metal Dillinger Escape Plan, I got the impression that Pennie really loved what he did. Whether it was talking about his long days practicing on the drums, guitar, and writing, or talking about the craziest thing he has ever seen at a live show, Pennie is a man who has been around music for 2/3 of his life and still is passionate about what he does. I want to thank Columbia Records for setting the interview up and especially Chris Pennie for doing the interview with me.
Dan: So first, I’m going to ask, how did you get together with the band? I know you joined the band in late June as a full time member…
Chris: My old band, Dillinger Escape Plan, opened up for Coheed and Cambria last summer. There were some things that transpired during the tour…one of the guitarists from the band quit and all sort of weird things transpired. Some internal problems with the band happened during the tour. I got a call from Coheed about two weeks later after the tour. I started rehearsing with them, just to see what was going on. Coheed didn’t know what was going on with their rhythm section. It was a matter of both of us checking it out. For me, practicing with the band felt amazing. Playing wise, I think the connection was really there. So basically, I played a show with the band in December and started helping writing (putting drums) to the album. When it came time to record, I was still under contract with Relapse Records (Dillinger’s record label) and I was not allowed to play on the record.
Dan: They got Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters drummer) to play on the record, correct?
Chris: Yea, they got Taylor. Ultimately now, after leaving Dillinger, everything is cool now. Everything’s 100%.
Dan: Cool. If you don’t mind talking about it, I would like to know if you are still in communications with any of the members of Dillinger Escape Plan.
Chris: I’m still in touch with Greg (Puciato, Singer of Dillinger), but it was a communication breakdown. I don’t want to single anybody out, but there were definitely problems. There wasn’t one particular problem. It was weird, as it became less about the music. It seems different for the band now, but at the time, it seemed to be less about playing. Other than Greg, I’m really not on talking terms with other members of the band. On the contrary, I noticed that in Coheed, it was low key. Watching Claudio (Sanchez, Vocals and Guitar) and Travis (Stever, Lead Guitar) work and handle matters was much more democratic. It was something I had been looking forward to for a couple of years, so it was nice.
Dan: Can you tell me a little bit about the new album (Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow)? What are fans going to expect? Is it going to be in the style of the last album, leaning towards a more progressive side?
Chris: The songs are a bit different on the new album. Songs like “Welcome Home” and “The Final Cut,” off the last record, were homage’s to bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. This record, for Claudio, it wasn’t about digging through his records. It was like “let me write these tunes.” It is the last part of the saga and last part of the story. Overall, it is a progression and very different. This album chronicles, for everyone in the band, certain victories, but also documents a certain dark period for the band.
Dan: So the album is much more personal, since the band was going a lot of internal problems with band members leaving? Did that influence the writing?
Chris: Yeah, man, I definitely think so. I think that every record of his (Claudio) is very personal. His thoughts affect what he writes. As a collective band, though, I think it is definitely more personal.
Dan: Cool. So what do you think you bring to the table for Coheed and Cambria musically?
Chris: For me, I think the thing is that, my playing style is different than Josh’s (Eppard, former drummer). Claudio would send me files of the songs, with a lot of the guitar parts and vocals finalized. Claudio would send me the files over e-mail, and I would pop those files into the computer in my home studio. I would put drums to it. The thing that was good with it was that the band was able to move quickly. Claudio had songs written before I came in, and once I got in, the album moved quickly. I’m still kind of getting into, jelling, as a band as we play more and more together. I write a lot on my own, I play guitar too, and I already showed Claudio a few of my ideas. Claudio is open to them, which is awesome. For the next record, being contractually free, I’m interested to see what is going to happen.
Dan: You recently did a video for the single “Running Free.” I noticed that it seemed like you were playing it really slow and that you had the same expression on your face the whole song…
Chris:(Laughs) I think it was more concentration and it’s weird because they played the tune at double speed during the video. It was more like, “Shit, I got to concentrate. Got to get this shit right on” because it was double speed. The director was like “You got to lay into it more,” and I did, but I don’t think he picked the shots of me laying it in. It was funny, when they played the music through the P.A, it was coming out of small speakers. When I hit the drums, I couldn’t hear anything, so I tried to hit lighter and I told them to turn it up. They couldn’t though, because the video was being filmed in a hospital. There were people above us and the director couldn’t turn the song up.
Dan: Ok, so tell me a little about the concert on October 19th (New York City show that is a benefit for Alzheimer’s). How did the band get involved in that?
Chris: Claudio’s aunt suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away. She had been a good mediator for the band when they were younger. She had been there through the band’s tough time, sat them all down, and had them talk things out when they were younger. This show on the 19th is a benefit for Alzheimer’s. It’s at this place called Highland Ballroom…
Dan: I heard the show was sold out already, which is really impressive…
Chris: I heard it sold out in an hour, so that a pretty big deal…
Dan: So how much of the proceeds are going towards Alzheimer’s?
Chris: All of the proceeds are going towards Alzheimer’s research…I’m very interested in the show, as Claudio is suppose to start out with an acoustic set, which should be great.
Dan: Cool. Well, let’s switch gears and talk about this band that you involved with Idiot Pilot (electronica/rock duo from Washington state). Can you tell me how you signed on to play drums for the band’sd new album Wolves?
Chris: I came off the tour with Dillinger after supporting Coheed and Cambria. I was feeling down and didn’t know what was going on with the band. The band wasn’t practicing as much as they should. The thing is, music is my thing. I’m there at my own practice space for 6-8 hours a day. I live and breathe playing the drums and writing music. Dillinger was the main thing I had ever done and I was wondering if my drive for music was disappearing. I get this call from Ross Robinson (producer of Idiot Pilot’s Wolves) and he was looking for somebody to come in and learn the songs quick and record drums tracks. So I asked him when the recording started and he said, “Tomorrow.”
Chris: So, I fly out and learn the majority of the tunes and laid them down. It was an awesome experience, but also an eye opening one. There were two guys who were living and breathing music and hungry to make the album awesome. Ross too was so influential in how he gets the performance out of me. He put me in a certain mind frame, and then he would roll the tape. I really enjoyed doing that and thought it was amazing. It was fun and looking forward to hearing the record.
Dan: I know you were in Dillinger, and I remember seeing you guys at Gigantour 2005. I remember when Greg went on top of one of the speakers and threw a cymbal onto the crowd. So I was wondering, what was the craziest thing you’ve ever seen live?
Chris: There have been multiple things, both good and bad. I got a kick out of it, as it is unpredictable, but for the most part, it has been controlled. I think the one that takes the cake was at the Reading Festival over in the UK. It was in 2002, I think. We got to the show kind of late, and we are the first band up on the main stage. Greg says to me, before we go on, “Dude, I really got to take a shit.” I was like “Alright, use the bathroom.” However, we had to go on, so he didn’t have enough time to go to the bathroom. So, in the middle of the set, there is this instrumental breakdown in one of the songs. Greg squats down, takes a towel on the stage, turns his back to the crowd, and lays soft serve on the towel.
Chris: So he takes the towel, wraps it in a bag, and throws it into the crowd. He starts throwing it back and forth with the crowd. The crowd was real excited about catching the shit, as people were basically saying, “Dude, I caught the bag of shit.” I was like, “Man, your all idiots.” At the end of the set, Greg took the shit out and rubbed it on his shirt.
Chris: (Laughs). The funny thing was that we got a video crew for our set. We had two large screens on the side of the stage. What I didn’t know is that I thought that only the first couple of thousand would see the shit going on stage. Well, there were two massive screens, and the cameraman zoomed in on Greg’s quivering asshole. He zoomed in for a close up.
Chris: You saw all that, but the funniest thing is when he wiped the shit on his shirt, he took a deep breath to scream out the last word. He caught a wind of a bunch of shit air and gagged and almost threw up. His face said it all. His face was like, “Oh my god dude. What the fuck did I just do?” That wasn’t the craziest moment, but the sequence of events was hilarious. I didn’t even realize what was going on because I was playing, but watching the tape afterwards, I was like “Dude.”
Dan: Now he wasn’t drunk or anything?
Chris: No man, not at all
Dan: So he was in full control of his body?
Chris: Yeah man. He was fucking sober as shit.
Dan: So how do you feel about the current music scene in America as it pertains to rock and metal? Hip hop is huge in the mainstream, so I was wondering how you feel the mainstream treats bands like Coheed and Cambria, and to an extent, Dillinger Escape Plan?
Chris: The state of music is weird right now. That is a huge question, with many avenues. The state of a lot of rock and metal now days is weird; there are a lot of bands that sound a lot and a lot that are influencing each other. The thing that is appealing about both bands you mentioned is that, while I don’t think they are doing anything different, they both definitely have their own voice and have something to say. In the world of music today, that is saying a lot, as the diversity is not there. Too many bands that sound a lot and I’m hoping its going to move towards more diversity. I think it’s the labels jumping at bands that are going to sell. Because of album sales being so shady, it’s moving towards a different era. You get a lot of mixed reactions from across the board like, “You’re not metal enough. You’re not pure metal” because a lot of styles are incorporated into both Coheed and Dillinger. Metal purists feel as it is not all brutal metal if there is a rock song….
Dan: I know what you mean. I love when people freak out at an album that has 40 minutes of death metal, then a three minute song of clean vocals…
Chris: Yeah, man. People freak out about that. Then you have people that will buy a record from a band that just has white noise on it, and because it has the band name on it, people will buy it. I think, overall, both bands have something to say and a lot of people may not like it, but they appreciate it. I think both bands will push forward and progress as a band.
Dan: Tell me about some of the current bands/music you are into.
Chris: I love listening to music, as it is important to developing my musical taste. It hasn’t come out, but I’ve heard Serj’s new solo album (Serj Tankian, Elect The Dead) and its awesome. I was a fan of System of a Down and Toxicity was a great record. I love Serj’s voice and one of the very few guys that has a certain distinction to his voice. The songs on the new album sound similar to songs like “Chop Suey,” which is a great tune, almost a perfect written rock tune to me. I’m also listening to this band from Denmark, Mew. It’s kind of like….I can’t describe it, but it is good written rock music. I listen to a lot of jazz and fusion as well. There’s this band, Hint, that has a record called Locked In The Basement that is low-fi jazz fusion. There’s a lot of stuff out there, but I have been listening to those three a lot.
Dan: Downloading has become a big problem for the music industry. People find advantages and disadvantages to it. How do you feel about downloading? Do you think labels could disappear, as people keep saying?
Chris: Yeah, that’s what I keep hearing. You read all the reports of labels being an outsource for distribution. I don’t know what’s good or right at this point, as I am part of a band that is really decent selling. It is inevitable, man, that things are changing and technology develops too fast. It is hard for people to keep track of it and it is hard for people to keep up. No matter how hard you try to prevent it, there will be somebody that will crack the code and find some way to share music. I don’t know, I’ve heard that they have been trying to make music exclusive with certain MP3 players that only play certain music with certain players. The market is already filled up with too much shit and making it affordable will be a challenge. It’s going to be really hard to figure it out. To an extent, when it comes to smaller bands, it works to their advantage. That is because kids download their music, which is great, because bands are not going to see any money from their record sales. It’s the way labels are structured, as the band will never see that money. So for them, a lot of younger bands tour, and that’s where the money comes from (merchandise). With bigger bands, like Coheed and the Timberlake’s and Britney Spear’s, it doesn’t fare too well for them. It becomes more about the live shows.. I don’t know, its weird, I don’t know where it is going, but I am curious to find out. I think one of the main things that could be interesting is if labels will become just a source of distribution, and the people have to be savvier about what to do with their music, that could leave it open to either the music scene being bad or more diversity. Bands that are great won’t need labels and can get their music out to their masses another way, like Myspace, which is a great tool for checking out new bands. Who knows where it’s going to go? I’m excited to find out.
Coheed and Cambria’s new album, Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World for Tomorrow, comes out in stores on October 23rd. Their fall headlining tour with Clutch begins in late October and runs into early December.