'Tis the season for choral groups and Christmas carols, but what about rocking your face off with a heavy metal choir?
Boston's Bang Camaro (pronounced like the car) has two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer. Nothing unusual there. But it also boasts anywhere between 10 and 20 lead male singers. That's a lot of testosterone.
The massive rock band's live shows are a sight to behold, with shredding guitarists backed by a posse of vocalists. But Bang Camaro hasn't performed as a group in months. This weekend they're having a reunion show, of sorts.
As it turns out, the band's size has been both a blessing and a curse.
To get ready for the upcoming concert, a bunch of the guys gathered this week at the band's Allston practice space. Most of them hadn't been there in ages. Guitarist and band co-founder Bryn Bennett said organizing a rehearsal of Bang Camaro is more an art than a science.
"This band has been a lesson in group dynamics," he admitted.
Eight vocalists showed up on this night. Bennett was hoping for more. For Bang Camaro to work, size is critical. There is no one lead singer. It's a hard-rock chorus. That concept is what drove Bennett to form the band with guitarist Alex Necochea in the first place.
"Alex and I grew up listening to hard rock," Bennett explained, "and we never could really figure out how Def Leppard sounded like there were 100,000 people in the room." He said watching a Def Leppard video was even more perplexing.
"There were just three really good-looking guys," he went on. "And so Alex and I — two not-so-good looking guys — were trying to figure out, OK, yeah, how can we get that sound? So we pulled in 50 other of our not-so-good looking friends — but they sounded really good around a microphone."
Fifty is an exaggeration, but with 10 to 20 singers, these guys were able to achieve live what many rock bands, from Motley Crue to Iron Maiden, needed a studio to accomplish: multi-tracking vocals, over and over, to create power vocals.
And then there are power chords. Bang Camaro has those too, supplied by Bennett and Necochea.
Bang Camaro eventually recorded "Push Push (Lady Lightning)." The single put the rock chorus on the map. Countless music fans first heard it on the "Guitar Hero II" video game, and it became a hit.
Before Boston Phoenix Web editor Carly Carioli actually listened to the song, he said he was skeptical. He knew of Bang Camaro and suspected the heavy metal choir thing was a gimmick, or a spoof. But "Push Push," he admits, blew him and his peers at the Phoenix away.
"It certainly sounded unlike anything else we'd ever heard before," Carioli said, "and it was such an exciting idea for a band that we bestowed upon it our highest honor, I think, we've ever given a song right out of the box: 'MP3 of the Decade.'"
Now Carioli sees Bang Camaro as a legit hard rock band, but he said the heavy metal chorus turns one very important rock 'n' roll convention on its head.
"If you think about most heavy metal bands, there is this sort of cult of the front man — you know, everyone from Robert Plant on," he said. "Diffusing that, you know, there's not just the technical issues of how you get all these people on stage and how do you get them all in front of a microphone, but how do you deal with that many egos?"
Bryn Bennett had this answer: "If you tell 20 people who have rebellious attitudes to do anything, you're just going to look like a jerk."
To illustrate, Bennett returned to the idea that Bang Camaro rehearsals are a logistical nightmare. He said he and Alex Necochea try to keep things organized, but even the band's electronic message board runs amok. They find themselves scolding the chorus members for posting crude pictures and silly notes.
Listen: Push Push (Lady Lightning)
"And then someone will post a picture of Alex being angry," Bennett said, "and the rest of the band calls me and Alex, Mom and Dad. I think I'm Mom."
But choir member Nate Wells showed up for this week's rehearsal. He's been part of the band since the beginning and says Bang Camaro distributes their egos.
"Or at least that was the idea," he said. "It turns out that all it does it put 12 egos in the place of one big lead singer I guess, so it's always interesting."
Touring is another challenge for Bang Camaro, since it's impossible to fit the whole chorus in just one van.
And while the band has had some success, thanks to song placement in video games and television shows, ultimately the heavy metal choir isn't sustainable.
"You know we're not you're typical three, four, five-piece band," co-founder Necochea explained. "We are a band that has made it's name on its numbers. With a band like Bang Camaro, we have a lot of mouths to feed."
But Necochea said he and Bennett have had the time of their lives trying to keep the band afloat, and they have even resorted to flying their heavy metal army around the country for club dates.
And it's worth it, Bennett added, saying, "I guess that's just part of running a large organization — and trying to keep it rock 'n' roll."
This program aired on December 10, 2009.