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Finding Inspiration in Music, Part 1: Coheed & Cambria

I’ve been listening to music almost constantly since my early teens.  Like most people, my favorite genre varied depending on my age, what was going on around me at the time, the opinions of my friends, and a myriad of other factors that I probably can’t even fathom.  As I’ve grown older and tried to maintain and develop an open mind, I shifted from a favorite genre to favorite bands, some of which I’d have a hard time putting into a specific genre or that are colloquially placed into some obscure sub-genre I don’t have the patience to learn about.  I like to think that my music tastes are vast and varied, ranging at one time from bands like Anti-Flag and the ever-familiar Blink-182, to trance and techno and EDM and industrial, the random “pop” (whatever that is) that plays on the radio on my way to work, to indie and metal and progressive.  About the only requirement I have in truly enjoying music is that it must speak to me in some way.  I’ve come to realize that the music I like best is music that tells a story.

I love stories.  I love books with stories that completely envelop my life and make it physically difficult for me to put the book down.  Movies with intricate plots and characters are relate to will get watched dozens of times.  Video games with engrossing tales that make me almost forget I’m not actually the main character will keep me awake far longer than is healthy.  But music can also tell a story.

For years I’ve listened to Coheed & Cambria.  At first, I found the voice of Claudio Sanchez, the band’s lead singer and frontman, to be off-putting.  A Favor House Atlantic was, if I remember correctly, the first Coheed song I heard, and if you give it a listen, you’ll probably understand why I found Claudio’s singing to be strange.  But thanks to the influence of friends, I listened to more of the band’s music and allowed it to grow on me.  I then learned that Coheed’s songs were centered on an entire science fiction world and began investing myself in the story.  Despite the sometimes cryptic lyrics and initially-confusing chronology, I came to realize that the universe of Heaven’s Fence, the setting of the Amory Wars, was as rich and detailed as the world in any book or movie.  Before this moment, I never knew music could contain such a vast, deep, and emotional story that spanned across albums and the better part of a decade.

There was a short while in which my musical tastes took me away from Coheed & Cambria, shifting instead to EDM and then “indie”, coupled with my now-changed opinion that Coheed’s Year of the Black Rainbow album was a disappointment.  I eventually returned to listening to Coheed & Cambria again and rediscovered my love for the band and its music.  I watched hundreds of live performances on Youtube and soon began listening to Coheed as background music whilst writing.

Some writers claim that music with lyrics, or music at all, distracts them from their writing.  For me, silence is my worst enemy and permits me to let my mind wander from what it is I’m trying to do.  Having some sort of sound provides for me something akin to a lens.  I can easily choose to ignore the specifics of a particular song, but having the sound at the very least allows me to keep my focus.  I’ve discovered that for me, personally, music with some sort of story works best when I’m writing.

CoheedAndCambria-keywork

When writing In Crows’ Claws, I listened to Coheed & Cambria almost exclusively.  For those who follow my twitter, I tweeted certain songs depending on the chapter I was writing at the time.  The Velourium Camper III: Al the Killer was my theme song for the character of Nextiarc, a brutal and vicious warrior who pledged his life to a cruel god of conflict and violence.  Listening to Al the Killer helped me maintain a mindset that allowed me to channel anger and savagery into Nextiarc.  Give the song a listen if you’ve never heard it before: hear the rawness of the song, Al’s threats of violence, the implication that he is in many ways deranged and disturbed.  The backing vocals lend the song a haunting tone.  Then consider lyrics such as these:

Killing’s no fun when the heroes are none

Nextiarc thrives on killing, but only in reverence of the god of conflict that he is sworn to.  He needs to have some sort of opposition, a hero, or else he finds no fun or sanctity in committing an act of violence.  Al the Killer has different motivations and reasons for his penchant for murder, but the song inspired and helped me to write a character whom I can barely relate to.  In writing Nextiarc’s character, I frequently had to take breaks because of the degree of insanity I was trying to channel through Nextiarc.  Likewise, I always tend to feel slightly uneasy when listening to Al the Killer, as I’m taken through the journey of Al’s vengeance upon women who remind him of the one who spurned him.

Music is an incredibly powerful media and as Coheed & Cambria are evidence of, can tell as great a story as any book or movie or game.  When I’m lacking inspiration to write or simply need a driving force to assist me with my focus, I can count on Coheed & Cambria to help me with building the framework of inspiration I need in order to get something on the page.  The complexity of Coheed’s lyrics atop instrumentation that speaks to me and elicits strong emotions in me helps me with getting into the world I’m building and, hopefully, writing something as rich and detailed as stories in the universe of Heaven’s Fence.

If you’re a writer, I heartily recommend trying to find a band that speaks to you, that helps you find that inspiration you need to write.  Maybe writing and listening at the same time doesn’t work for you, but at the very least, listening to some good music at some point throughout the day may help you get more in tune with the world and story you’re crafting.

(The pun in that last sentence was totally unintended.  Unfortunately, I’m not witty enough to come up with puns so off-the-cuff like that.)

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