CALL IT METAL. CALL IT ANTHEM ROCK. CALL IT THE RIFF-BASED, soccer-cheer tremors of joy that used to explode from car radios back when bands such as Slade, Def Leppard, and Kiss were screaming directly at the loins of hormone-crazed teens. But, whatever you call it, it’s huge. So colossal, in fact, that the Bang Camaro sound blared out of the tremendously popular Rock Band and Guitar Hero video games before the band itself was anywhere near a household name. Founded by guitarists Alex Necochea and Bryn Bennett in Boston, Bang Camaro mates the duo’s rhythmic riffery with the sonic force of as many as 20 vocalists—even when the band performs live (check ‘em out on YouTube to experience the madness). The group’s latest celebration of revved-up, mammoth sound is Bang Camaro II [8th Impression Music].
Where did you come up with this wacky idea to have something like 7,000 singers onstage with you?
Necochea: It started off by accident. Bryn and I didn’t set out to create this wacky band of 15 to 20 lead singers. We knew we wanted this great big sound—huge vocals, big drums, really big power chords, and thumping bass. We wanted to emulate some of the records we loved when we were kids, like Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, and Skid Row. The songs had these great shouted choruses that the bands couldn’t recreate live, because they layered all these voices in the studio. So, it may have been out of ignorance as to how to go about making that sound that we invited a bunch of our friends to the studio when we recorded our first release [Bang Camaro, 2007]. We crowded them around a single microphone, gave them some lyrics to sing, and they all sang together—which created this huge, monstrous sound that Bryn and I were looking for. The challenge came when we had to gig, but we figured, “Hey, if it worked in the studio, why don’t we try it onstage?” We invited a lot of the same guys who were on the record to perform with us, and it sounded amazing. We also discovered that when you put that many people onstage, the show turns into a kind of rock and roll spectacle. So when we saw everything working together, we felt we had something special, and we continued to move forward with it.
Given the state of the record business these days, I doubt the label handed you a check for a million bucks to cart 20 people onstage throughout a whole tour.How do you manage the logistics?
Bennett: [Laughs.] Oh, we’re really poor. We have to do everything ourselves. We run our own record label, and we sell our tracks on iTunes—although we just signed with Fontana/Universal for distribution. How we manage the singers is that we have a core group of six singers who go everywhere we go. We pack about 12 people into our van, and we drive around the country. Sometimes, we can supplement the core singers with other singers. If we play in Boston or New York, you’ll probably see about 20 of us onstage, because we can call in some friends.
When you play clubs, though, I doubt you’re getting a Madonna-quality-level of stage monitoring. How do you ensure such a big mob can hear everything comfortably?
Necochea: We tell our sound guy to completely ignore any of our requests for monitor mixes, and just give it all to the vocalists. There are so many shows where Bryn and I can’t hear sh*t, but if the vocalists can’t hear themselves, then it’s a bad show for everybody. Luckily, we rehearse enough where if we can at least hear the drummer’s kick and snare, we’re okay. You just go for it.
From the standpoint of your guitar arrangements in the studio, do you find yourselves crafting parts and tones that can cut through such thick vocal textures, or do you just crank the vocals in the mix and hope for the best?
Necochea: It’s more the latter, actually. We’ve gone through a litany of different amplifiers and guitars to get the sounds that we want, and, essentially, it’s always that tried-and-true big rock sound—a Les Paul streaming through a Marshall, or an SG streaming through a Mesa/Boogie. There’s not that much diversity in the tones we use on our records, and that pretty much spills over to our live show. Fortunately, Bryn and I have distinctive tones that blend well onstage. I tend to work the high end, and Bryn has more bottom end in his sound.
When going for a huge overall sound such as Bang Camaro’s, typically something has to give. It’s hard to turn up everything and not create a mess.
Necochea: For the most part, the first thing that goes right out the window is our sound engineer Mike Quinn’s patience and sense of humor. We’ll want to hear more of something, and he’ll tell us, “You’re ruining your record!” Luckily, we’ve been able to work with very talented engineers who have been able to translate our vision into what you hear on our albums.
Do you tend to layer the crap out of the guitars to get those mammoth textures?
Bennett: It depends on the song. We both reference bands like Ratt, where the two guitar players were always playing off each other, and seldom doing the same thing. On the other hand, we love records where you hear the same parts panned hard right and hard left. It kind of goes like this—if we want a straight-up, dirty rock sound, we’ll double each other. Otherwise, we’ll try to play off each other’s parts. We’re also very conscious of dynamics. We want huge sounds, but we know we can’t play at 10 all the time, because that gets boring. We’re from the school of the Pixies, where if you really want to rock someone, you need to get really quiet, and then hit them over the head. I think the first band that really hammered that concept home, though, was the Smashing Pumpkins. Billy Corgan was so good at pulling everything out, where you’d hear one completely dry guitar, and then, all of a sudden, he’d hit you with 32 guitar tracks. He made me realize that to catch someone’s attention, it’s all about the space.