In 1998, Coheed and Cambria frontman Claudio Sanchez took a trip to Paris. There, he conceived of the sci-fi storyline that has come to span nine of his now-beloved progressive rock band’s ten records. At the time, the still-small tale functioned as an escape, a means by which Sanchez — uncomfortable with the idea of belting his autobiography to sweat-soaked masses — could shroud his true feelings in fiction. Flash forward a couple decades: The once-reclusive singer and guitarist is now a Twitch streamer.
Coheed and Cambria has been around since 2001, though other, differently named incarnations of the New York-based band span back even further. Sanchez’s storyline, “The Amory Wars,” has sprawled to encompass novels, comic books and even an oft-forgotten mobile game, in addition to the aforementioned albums. It’s set in a sci-fi universe called Heaven’s Fence and centers on the two titular characters — at least until they die at the end of the band’s first album. From there, the saga goes on to introduce numerous additional arcs and characters, one of whom is a talking bicycle. This willful strangeness has endeared Sanchez’s epic to fans, as have catchy hooks and emotive lyrics that are relatable even if listeners don’t know the full story, serving more as a soundtrack to characters’ feelings rather than a literal telling of the narrative. Ultimately, though, it all comes from a personal place; for example, Coheed’s latest album, Vaxis II, which came out in June, is inspired by Sanchez’s son and explores what it means to raise a child in an increasingly cruel world.
Sanchez has largely preferred to let his creations do the talking, making his metamorphosis into a livestreamer is a surprising one. Twitch, after all, is not generally known as a place to go if you don’t want to talk — and talk and talk, for hours on end. (Twitch is owned by Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) On top of that, Sanchez’s band has amassed a fan base with cultlike zeal (just ask any other band that’s ever been pitted against Coheed in any sort of online popularity poll), primed to pounce and pelt him with questions even when he’s just trying to get in a few rounds of “Fortnite.” To the 20-year-old version of Sanchez, this might sound like a nightmare straight out of one of his own music videos.
The 44-year-old version, however, has managed to find joy in speaking to hundreds of chatty fans at once.
“I feel like I’m talking with a sector of our audience that’s like myself,” Sanchez said. “We’re all kind of in that boat. I have those off days where I’m like, ‘Why do I do this? It’s very uncomfortable.’ But there are others where it’s really sort of helping me — even with my approach to banter when we play live. I’m using it as a tool to feel a bit more comfortable with myself.”
Sanchez does not fit the profile of a typical rock star. Certainly, he’s got the voluminous mane for the job, but in person he comes across as reserved bordering on anxious, casting his gaze downward as he answers questions and fidgeting with rings on his hand. A self-professed introvert, he overcomes the dissonance between his personality and his career by disappearing into another identity when he takes the stage.
“When I’m up there playing with my friends, I’m almost anonymous,” Sanchez said. “I feel like someone else. It’s only in those moments where I have to engage that I come back. And I’m like, ‘Oh no!’ ”
Streaming on Twitch, he explained, has helped take some of the oomph out of those “Oh no!” moments. You never know what you’re going to get from Twitch chat — which might ask questions one moment and turn some offhand comment you made into a meme the next — and that’s taught Sanchez how to roll with the punches no matter what awkward angles they might come from.
“[It’s helped me with] just being kind of impulsive,” he said of the way lessons from Twitch have impacted his stage banter. “There’s somewhat of a comfort I get now when the moment comes where I have to engage. I think that has to do with understanding what the audience might want from a moment like that. That’s what I’m getting from the Twitch stream — from the fans that are participating in it.”
That increased impulsiveness feeds back into the Twitch stream, with Sanchez even going so far as to follow a whim earlier this year and share unreleased music with Twitch viewers from a musical adaptation of “The Picture of Dorian Gray” he’d previously worked on, but which had been shelved.
“I’m not entirely sure what the motive was when I decided to share that music,” he said. “I’m not that type of person most days. But that stream sort of allows me to be something else.”
At the time, only a few hundred people got to hear snippets of the left-field project, and it’s largely stayed that way. Sanchez does not keep VODs (videos on demand) of his streams, and he generally prefers that fans not upload copies to services like YouTube. Even though — or perhaps because — his band has millions of fans around the world, he has no designs on becoming the next Tyler “Ninja” Blevins or Félix “xQc” Lengyel. He wants his Twitch streams to carry the intimacy of a tour meet and greet — fittingly the kind of place where fans can walk up to him and tell him they’ve been in his Twitch chat.
“It’s why I don’t keep the VODs,” Sanchez said, “because I’m not entirely sure I want [the stream] to get any bigger, you know?”
Sanchez enjoys broadcasting and commenting on licensed music by other bands from time to time, which — given Twitch’s struggles with record labels over the years — also gives him plenty of motivation to live in the moment.
“Absolutely!” he said, laughing, when asked if the prospect of getting in trouble also factored into his decision to delete Twitch VODs.
Sanchez added, however, that he’s very interested in making Coheed’s library available to Twitch streamers: “I think at some point, that’ll probably become a reality,” he said.
Gaming and streaming help Sanchez when he’s offstage, as well. Some singers get up in front of audiences and attack sets with bestial ferocity before partying all night long, but that approach has an expiration date. Video games, Sanchez explained, help him take care of himself.
“The older I get, the more I need rest, fluids, and all sorts of stuff to execute the set we’ve put together,” Sanchez said. “Sitting in that room with a console reminds me, ‘Oh, I have to drink this. These are the lozenges I need to take.’ It helps me sit in isolation, not talk, and rest my voice. Falling into a game like ‘Fortnite’ is perfect for that.”
In service of this, Sanchez is constructing a gaming rig to take with him on tour. For now, it consists of a PlayStation 5 and a screen attached to a Coheed and Cambria equipment case that’s no longer fit for duty. Eventually, the port-o-pod will include music recording gear as well.
Sanchez isn’t just interested in playing games, though. Last year he found himself wowed by the virtual concert Ariana Grande put on in “Fortnite,” and in an ideal world, he would love for Coheed to be able to do something similar. He also believes that thanks to the Coheed narrative and all its accompany art and imagery, the band is better equipped than many to make the jump onto a virtual stage.
“I don’t know if we’re at that place where ‘Fortnite’ would be like, ‘Yeah, let’s throw a Coheed and Cambria concert,’” said Sanchez. “That being said, I think we do have all the assets to create something pretty interesting with ‘The Amory Wars,’ the ‘Vaxis’ story, characters, music. There’s something there I think we have that others might not.”