Bang Camaro uses gaming as a springboard to successShawn Drotar

Posted on September 8th, 2009 in Gaming, Xbox, Playstation 3, Opinion, Wii, Music by Shawn Drotar

Perhaps the quintessential videogame band, Bang Camaro’s omnipresence in some of gaming’s biggest titles over the last year has been hard to ignore. The multi-headed Hydra with the crunchy guitar and soaring vocals has appeared in Rock Band and Rock Band 2, The Sims 3 and Madden NFL 10, titles that rack up unbelievable sales numbers, even in this economy.

The band’s parlayed that exposure into more mainstream opportunities, including an appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”, having their music featured on the HBO hit “Entourage”, and releasing their second album earlier this year.

I had the opportunity to discuss Bang Camaro with guitarist and co-founder Bryn Bennett (pictured at front left), who also works at Rock Band developer Harmonix, to discuss both the band and how videogames are helping to drive the music industry.

SD: First off, congratulations on the latest album and all the videogame and television appearances! You’ve kind of been… everywhere!

BB: Thanks!  And, yeah, we have been everywhere! We have toured the country five times now and hit everywhere from NYC to LA to Fargo, MN. Let me just say that Fargo is the only place where someone tried to get us to shoot a semi-automatic weapon in a parking lot! Being part of all these high profile games has been amazing.  Definitely a childhood dream come true.  I would also like to add that our singer Nick is slightly taller than Conan O’Brien. We made them stand back to back, and have photo evidence.

SD: Bang Camaro’s a rather large band. How many members are there today, and what sort of group dynamics are challenging - and rewarding - with so many chefs in the kitchen?

BB: We kind of use fuzzy math when it comes to the number of members in Bang Camaro. It mostly depends on who is available for different shows.  The instrumentalists (me, Alex (Necochea), ‘Doz’ (Dave Riley), and Pete (McCarthy)) play every show, but some singers switch in and out. The challenging part of the numbers is trying to get everyone to be able to make the same practices.  The rewarding part of it is hearing a gang full of amazing singers belting out the words to our songs night after night. It’s a very powerful experience.

SD: That makes Bang Camaro one of the few rock acts in recent memory that essentially utilizes a choir, with many vocalists in unison creating a “wall of sound”-styled production. What was the genesis behind that decision, and how does it affect your live performances?

BB: You’d normally think that a “wall of sound” type production would be influenced by Phil Spector. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. We wanted to get that epic sound that arena rock bands had back in the heyday of hard rock in the ’70’s and ’80’s.  I mean, what is more incredible than a gang of voices singing huge harmonies? We knew that Queen multi-tracked themselves a bunch of times, as did other bands like Def Leppard and Skid Row. We were too ADD for that, so we invited a bunch of our friends in and huddled them around a single microphone in the studio. The results were amazing, so we kept it going.

SD: The band’s music, which I believe guitarist Alex Necochea has referred to as “anthem rock”, seems to derive its lineage from early 80s hard rock, replete with soaring choruses and catchy riffs. However, what I’ve heard also seems to eschew more traditional verse structure, which represents a significant departure from that genre. Is this by design? If so, what drove this departure?

BB:  It’s totally by design! You’re talking about a band that was started by two guitar players. Do you think we’re going to play some boring rhythm guitar and let the singers get all the girls?! Hell, no! We’ll put the singers behind us, and we’ll get the girls! That was the plan, anyway.

SD: Have you found that a push towards creating songs filled with choruses and riffs makes the music more marketable, perhaps due to the nature of commercials or television shows like “Entourage”, which feature only snippets of a particular song?

BB: No, not really. Bang Camaro is about as unmarketable as you can get, not including death metal. When we started this, the idea was about as un-cool as could be.  All of our friends thought we were being idiots. Let’s be honest, the ’80’s hard rock genre hasn’t been viewed in the best light over the past 20 years. It just seemed like a very punk rock thing to do at the time. It was like, “All right, you indie rock geeks. Go play your introverted angular guitar parts and stare at your feet, we’re going to shred in your faces.” We honestly couldn’t believe that anyone liked what we were doing… especially the hipsters we played in front of for our first shows. Having said that, one of our songs was in “Entourage.” Who would have thought?

SD: You work at Harmonix, the developer of the Rock Band series. What is your role there, what sort of overlaps between the “day job” and the band tend to occur, and how are they beneficial to the band?

BB: I’ve worked on Rock Band, Rock Band 2, Phase, and now The Beatles. I’m a part-time engineer… So yeah, I’m basically a geek. Luckily, Harmonix is full of musicians, so they understand that I need to take off and tour. So, as long as I give enough notice, I can take off on national tours and they don’t throw my stuff in the streets when I’m gone. The obvious benefit to the band is that our songs are sometimes in the games. That has been amazing for us. The downside is when I go on tour for two months and I totally destroy myself, and then have to come back right in the middle of crunch (time). Rock Band 2 nearly killed me.

SD: Would you mind talking me through how Bang Camaro’s music ended up in three of Electronic Arts’ most widely published titles? What benefits have you seen from that arrangement beyond increased marketplace awareness, and have there been any new challenges as a result?

BB: It’s because Alex is John Madden’s nephew. OK, not really. It’s because he is actually a Sim in real life.

SD: Would you recommend using videogames as a promotional platform to other musical acts?

BB: Definitely. Games have allowed us to drive our van around the country and have fans everywhere we go. At this time, it’s still not going to turn your band into the Rolling Stones, but it is definitely a great vehicle to promoting your band. It seems to have helped Jonathan Coulton a lot too.  Maybe we could play a show with him sometime. And the Mini Bosses…

SD: What’s next for Bang Camaro?

BB: We’re going to play a show with Jonathan Coulton and the Mini Bosses, and then be as big as the Rolling Stones. At least that’s the plan. Head over to www.bangcamaro.com and buy our music and T-shirts!  We’re poor!

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Bang Camaro’s first two albums are in stores and online.

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