Stoneded (from the album Spells)
"I used to think it was frightening allowing producers or people outside of the band to shape the sound of a record, but now I love it," says singer/songwriter and guitarist Andy Herod of Brooklyn-based indie-rock band The Comas. The bespectacled bandleader is speaking from his van from somewhere in Michigan during a leg of their national tour supporting the album Spells (Vagrant).
"I feel excited by it," he says. "We're going to make the next record through the mail. We've been doing this for a long time, but it's fun to realize that other people can add something and make it more fun, you know? The end product of a record is never the result of effort from just one person. It's more fun to embrace the fact that it's really a group art project. That's what it's really all about."
Herod and singer/guitarist Nicole Gehweiler have been at the core of The Comas for nine years. They formed the group in Chapel Hill in 1998 as a casual, lo-fi, power-pop/alt-country project. No big ambitions, no big pressures. After getting their song ideas down on tape and gigging around the hipster Tarheel scene, they settled into a more serious alternative rock sound akin to those of their Merge Records neighbors as they carefully honed their songwriting approach.
A 1999 debut effort Wave to Make Friends and the 2000 follow-up Def Needle in Tomorrow were hooky, melodic, harmony-driven affairs. After a few lineup changes, a loose configuration of the band assembled the critically-acclaimed album Conductor — a heavier, more experimental effort.
"We're taking it as it comes, just like we always have," says Herod. "I've moved a couple of times over the last few years, so that brings changes to the band. Usually, it's whoever's around and can put up with the bullshit of being in a band. When you get that combo right — one that can really play — it's good. That's where we are now."
Bassist Jason Caperton met Herod during the singer's brief stay in Wilmington between 2003-'04 and accompanied him to N.Y.C. They fell into a deal with Vagrant Records shortly after the release of Conductor.
"We had been talking about moving to New York, so we did that together after recording our last record," remembers the bandleader. "That was a long process. When the record came out, Jason and I started recording song ideas and the next album started taking shape. We assembled a new lineup to tour behind the album. Nicole and I got an old friend named Matt Sumrow on piano, organ, and backing vocals. Nic Gonzales came in on drums. That's when the final version of The Comas came together."
Spells is the band's fourth full-length album and their first for Vagrant. Studio wiz Bill Racine (Flaming Lips, Rogue Wave, Mates Of State) produced the recording sessions at a mansion studio in the Catskill Mountains. With Spells' massive, textured, noisy symphony sound, one can't get away with simply calling The Comas a power-pop guitar band anymore.
"A lot of it is allowing everyone in the band and studio to affect the sounds," asserts Herod. "When I write the songs and we'll get together, it becomes something different. Having a little more money and time to make a record helps [laughs]. Bill Racine really has a 'kitchen sink' recording method where we pick the songs we want to record — many of which aren't quite finished — and we all throw everything we want into the tracks ... even stuff we didn't want. Then he peels away the layers and has everything to work with. It creates a unique sound. Thankfully."