Coheed And Cambria drummer Josh Eppard has hit the wall. Not literally. It’s just that doing six things at once all day after no sleep is finally catching up with him. “I’m dragging ass, man,” says the 32-year-old sitting in the back of a van en route to dinner with the rest of the band.
Coheed just wrapped a seven-hour rehearsal in a gorgeous historic theater that the band rented in Eppard’s hometown of Kingston, New York (and the local media has been making quite the fuss). It’s been two weeks since they got back from the UK’s Reading Festival, so before hitting the road again, the drummer wanted to work the kinks out of new release The Afterman: Ascension.
A prequel to The Amory Wars, lead singer (and graphic novelist) Claudio Sanchez’ sprawling sci-fi epic chronicled over the band’s six-album discography, The Ascension is part one of a two-album opus (The Descension hits in February 2013). With nine tracks clocking in at a little over 30 minutes, The Ascension is a prog adventure for pop attention spans. Each of the new songs is so different from the other it could be three different bands.
That sort of dynamism hasn’t always been present in Coheed And Cambria, which started out as a post-punk band that drew comparisons to At The Drive-In. However accurate that may or may not be, the generic sound suddenly evolved into wide-screen prog-pop à la Rush with 2005’s Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness. That’s about the time Eppard started developing a serious drug problem. Serious enough that he was kicked out before the end of the tour and his tech had to take over the remaining dates.
During the six-year hiatus that followed, the drummer eventually got himself cleaned up. Along with other music refugees, he joined Terrible Things. Despite a Universal Music recording contract, Terrible Things struggled to make an impact. “It was one of the guys from Taking Back Sunday and one of the guys from Hot Rod Circuit. It was very much that kind of stuff – really straight kind of pop-rock thing. It just made me miss playing with Coheed. No disrespect to those guys, but it’s the truth.”
If he didn’t know it before going down the rabbit hole of substance abuse, it slowly dawned on Eppard that Coheed And Cambria had been the perfect band for him – and that he had blown it. “I have their gold records hanging on my wall and for years it was tough to look at them and be like, ’Yeah, now I play at the local tavern on the weekends.’”
With Eppard gone, Coheed lured Chris Pennie away from Dillinger Escape Plan as a replacement. Due to a legal dispute, Pennie was prevented from doing the actual tracking, so Coheed borrowed Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters to cut 2007’s Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow. Pennie’s recorded parts can be heard on the 2010 follow-up, Year Of The Black Rainbow.
Jam-packed with musical drumming, Ascension picks up where From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness left off. “Key Entity Extraction 1: Domino The Destitute” is a crash-riding bruiser that showcases a powerful right foot. “Vic The Butcher” boasts bass drum notes just fast enough to be taken for a double pedal, an erroneous assumption that pleases Eppard. “In the interest of full disclosure, it is a single pedal,” he says in a mock anchorman’s voice. “I’ve never used double, but that’s cool you thought it was one.”
Parts that are deceptively simple (and sometimes simply deceptive) are another of the drummer’s specialties. Take the march in the first half of “The Afterman,” which increases in volume and notes before climaxing into a brief rocking-out and then reverting to snare, bass, and hats (he dislikes the idea of a standard march beat): “It’s actually pretty syncopated there.”
Nothing on Ascension beats “Evagria The Faithful” for drummistic furor. “I basically just did my best Jerry Marotta impression,” he says, referring to Peter Gabriel’s longtime drummer who, incidentally, lives in the area. “It’s not necessarily about how slick you can be, but a melody that percussively carries you through.”
For that particular track, however, Eppard is currently experiencing studio regret. “Coheed And Cambria’s music is very dense, and sometimes I do wish on that song that it maybe just breathed a little more. There’s these ghost notes that carry through on that first groove that are basically nonexistent on the record. But that happens – I’m still thrilled with the way the song sounds.”
If Ascension is Eppard breaking new rhythmic ground, “Evagria The Faithful” is the album’s bellwether. “That’s something that Coheed hasn’t done before; that kind of almost tribal drumming but it’s also Police-y in a way.” As for the time signatures? “I’m not sure, man,” he says with a chuckle. “I didn’t really count it. I just felt it.”