Unless you broke the coffee machine at the office and have spent the last few weeks trying to fix it, you are well aware that Devin Townsend has been gathering user-submitted vocal tracks for Z2, something he (or Z?) calls the Universal Choir project. It’s a pretty cool idea, and I’m surprised it’s taken this long for something like this to happen in metal.
Unlike some other bands who might attempt something similar, nothing about this project comes across as a press stunt – Devin’s intentions, as always, really just appear to be pure. It’s not like Devin is incapable of recording a professional choir, as he has in the last few years for Epicloud as well as for Casualties of Cool. Since the concept of the record actually requires the sound of a crowd at an arena show – which is subject to as much boozy, out of tune, rhythmically-inaccurate belching as it is refined singing – crowd-sourcing vocal tracks makes perfect sense. As Devin says in the video, “not everybody is a perfect singer,”and these parts “don’t even have to be sung.” The point of these parts is actually the opposite of the choir arrangements he’s made in the past. It’s a cool move, and one that I think will at the very least yield a backing vocal section that won’t sound like every other heavy metal backing vocal section.
It’s also an interesting one.
We’ve seen how bands are finding new ways to monetize different aspects of their career through musicianship, to engage with fans beyond the albums and live shows. Scale the Summit, for instance, are really cornering the Musician-Consumer market by selling their abilities as players, through online playthroughs, lessons, and theory books. Other guys, like Dave from Revocation, give private and group lessons on the road, gig to gig.
But Devin is different, because he doesn’t really have one identifiable image or skill to sell, other than himself – but as is apparent from his output in the last few years, “himself” is whatever he wants to be at any moment in time. He’s a special breed of musician who just does what he wants to do, and what he wants to do happens to engage people. Ziltoid is maybe the closest thing to his Eddie or KISS Coffin, but my impression of the character was that part of the motivation was to make fun of how silly artwork, branding, and merchandising in metal can be (he actually sells Ziltoid coffee mugs, after all). Yet without a neatly marketable image, sound, or product, Devin has been able to appeal to new ways that people consume music, and I think the success of his crowdfunding campaign for Casualties was an eye-opener in that regard.
Meanwhile, we now live in an age where if you are a metal musician, that usually includes some level of interest in, and ability to do, home recording. And Devin knows this. What better way to engage listeners, as well as expand the scope and weight of the album, than actually having them participate in the music, in a way that is pretty universal in this subculture? This is what lots of people who listen to metal do – they try to make their own tunes in their bedrooms.
See for yourself, a sampling of what Devin Hath Wrought: