Born in Oklahoma, graduating high school in Knoxville, then settling in Chapel Hill, Andy Herod was the eldest son of two adventurously roaming hippie parents. Now temporarily living in Brooklyn for several years and contemplating a Hollywood move, Herod leads radiant combo, The Comas.
Conceived in North Carolina with gifted guitarist Nicole Gehweiler in ‘98, the extended duo initially grabbed attention when ‘99s formative Wave To Make Friends garnered local praise. Signed to local boutique label, Plastique, The Comas would soon set the underground rock world afire with ‘00s magnificent step forward, A Def Needle In Tomorrow.
“Our initial recording was a little rough. We weren’t serious. There were a couple good songs,” Herod shares in my van prior to hitting Luna Lounge’s stage for a sterling hour-long set. “Then we got Brian Paulson (Jayhawks/ Wilco/ Son Volt) to produce Def Needle, and Yep Roc Records signed us.”
“It cost $1,200 to record the debut, done in two weeks on 16-track. The next was $4,000 and was a sheer labor of love. By the end, we almost killed each other, but it was worth it. It was bigger than the band. I’ve never felt the records had to necessarily represent exactly what the material make up of the band is. It’s more like what do you want the record to sound like, then try to achieve that live. It should be as lush as you want, without thought of how to replicate it live. It should be a big, fun mesh.”
Contrasting soft eroticism against loud multi-tiered guitar shards, the densely viscous shoe-gazed hailstorm, Def Needle, validated The Coma’s compellingly suspenseful expression. Powerfully moving in terms of sunken feelings yielding moody heartbreak, its sonic fuzz-toned cacophonies, starry-eyed glam-pop maneuvers, and temporal Goth-glanced orchestrations accurately supplemented Herod’s well-articulated melancholic sentiments. At times, withered harmonies thaw inside sublime cathedral organ drones.
Next came an unexpected therapeutic undertaking to “kill the pain” of lost love. Depressed by the breakup with sweet-faced Dawson’s Creek starlet Michelle Williams and reeling from then-label Warner Brothers’ blunt rejection of his material, the stunningly fervid dirges Herod composed for ‘04s uniform Conductor slipped into a dark abyss. Accompanied by a perfectly surreal semi-animated DVD utilizing automatons, army figures, mannequins, and snowflake designs to steel gird hazily shadowed Industrial scenes (including cutesy ex Williams on gloomy SWAT-teamed apocalyptic swoon “Tonight On The WB”), its dimly-lit imagery unravels with flashback-sequenced acoustic epilogue, “Falling.” Buzz-y beat-driven psychosis, “Invisible Drugs,” became the colossal implosive highlight.
Herod claims, “At that point, we were under pressure to make something more cohesive and grounded to get the songs across. We tried to get a real producer but the results were awful and slick. We learned patience the hard way and that not everyone knows what’s best for us. My friend, Alan Weatherhead, an amazing guy from band, Sparklehorse, then did the production – a lovely recording experience at Richmond’s Sound Of Music. It was more personal. Warner didn’t care for it anymore, but we made what we wanted. The movie has a different perspective. In L.A., I met a bunch of people who watch it regularly projected on walls while eating mushrooms floating in pools. But the movie never connected with me. Hopefully, it was above and beyond the sum of its parts. I get a vicarious thrill through its success.”
Newfound assuredness seeps into ‘07s glossy psych-pop masterpiece, Spells, made with vital newcomers Matt Sumrow (piano-organ), Jason Caperton (bass), and Nic Gonzales (drums). A hazy melodic glaze consumes the hook-filled opener, “Red Microphones.” Streamlined emotional purge “Come My Sunshine” and lusciously resonant “Stoneded” soothe the soul while sad-sack confessional “Thistledown” bestows backwards flutes a la “Strawberry Fields Forever.” A molasses-thick Jesus & Mary Chain-like melting-in-the-sun synthesizer-guitar sheen coats disheveled serenade, “Now I’m A Spider.” Spectacular anthemic blazer, “New Wolf,” scampers along like an insanely penetrating gothic nightmare. Spells’ overall melodramatic intrigue seems redolent of the Dandy Warhols, one convenient inspirational influence amongst many less obvious ones.
Herod admits, “I got into the Beatles through my parents. But the Pixies got to me in high school. I started The Comas afterwards. Seeing Spiritualized a few times was amazing. I realized that after Jason Pierce joined Spaceman 3, he’d put something together that was trippy and mellow, yet heavy – heartbreaking love songs. We don’t sound like them, though.”
Lyrically, Herod’s extremely coy and moderately caustic, allowing listeners to find hidden abstract meanings in each tune and possibly, every album appellation.
“I was stuck for Def Needle’s title when I mistakenly heard the phrase from friend, Laird Dixon, of band Shark Quest,” he says. “We were drunk outside the bar and I asked when I’d see him again and he said “definitely tomorrow.” Conductor, as in conduct electricity or conductor of an orchestra or running a train engine, had several interpretations. After its recording, the movie story concerns a scientist obsessed with the moon who goes off the rail. I saw him as conducting madness through the moon put back out at the world. Spells, as in ‘put a spell on,’ in conjunction with the panic attacks I was having at the time from anxiety building up, and the fact it hadn’t been used as an album title before, seemed to suffice.”
Not one to sit in limbo, Herod spent ’06 downtime playing bass in anachronous pop romantics, Bishop Allen.
“Our release date for Spells was months away. So I went out with them on tour. They’re some of my best friends. I’m in trouble drinking too much if I’m bored,” the part-time bartender asserts.
Onstage at Brooklyn’s Luna Lounge, bearded chestnut-haired Herod’s expressive facial smirks and darting eyes prove captivating as he casually shakes a tambourine or adds rhythm guitar. At one point, he breaks out a megaphone to exude the sagacious profundity of climactic whir, “Wicked Elm.” Blonde-haired Gehweiler, wearing a silken lavender skirt (with hemmed floral prints), looks delicious purveying ferociously dynamic impressionistic leads above the tidy rhythm section. Both seem extremely poised, emphatically jumping up and down when not offering verbal symmetry or digging deep for expeditious instrumental phrasing.
“I moved to Brooklyn because I wanted to make the most out of making a record. Mission accomplished,” Herod confesses. “But it’s easy to get wrapped up in New York City, so I’m leaving for L.A. There’s ten times the love for The Comas out there. It’s more of a sunny party vibe. I know the Rentals and Earlimart as friends. I could get free studio time, and our label, Vagrant, is there. The band may stay in New York, but I’m light. I could pack up and go easily.”
Will the change of venue modify The Comas sound?
“I hope so – onward and upward. I’m really optimistic about moving. It’s a beat-down here to pay rent or have a car.”