By Nick Brothers
Never before has the listener been able to play such an important role in the production for an album they want to buy.
Arkansas-native pop music brothers Tom and Hebron Chester are planning on making their album, “Zoyugo,” the first-ever interactive, customizable album. Essentially, when fans go to buy the album they’ll be able to decide such elements in the song as musical style, lyrics, instrumental solos, rhythms and even EDM elements.
If fans want a different guitar solo in the song, it’s no problem. If they’d rather have a modern country version of the song with a saxophone solo, and then follow it with a club-remix outro, they can do that, too. In effect, with all the customization available, Tom and Hebron fans will be able to call each unique version of the song that they build their own. The customizable version of the album will release next week once the program is ready to launch at TomAndHebron.Featuring.Me.
When listening to Tom and Hebron, the two manage to pull off a very clean and tight production of classic pop sounds. The way the two jump around the catchy rhythms and melodies has them sounding similar to artists such as Hall and Oates, Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan. Especially like Steely Dan, Hebron has the ability to tear into a guitar solo at any time in their songs, and his voice can go from a jazzy Ray Dorset to a gritty Paul McCartney. Tom, who does a lot of the piano work as well as vocals, can manage a lot of sustain and keeps it silky always.
Even just on their studio released version of “Zoyugo,” the music stylings are all over the place, and each song still retains the “Tom and Hebron” bluesy-funk pop sound — unless the listener chooses something else entirely in the customizable version.
“I really like ‘Soldier Man’ and the things you can do with it,” Tom said. “You can change it into if ‘Solider Man’ was the title track of a James Bond film, what that would sound like. On ‘Who Are You (And What Have You Become)’ there is a hip-hop and rap version and a video game version that sounds like Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo. I would never release a song like that, but with this project I can have fun with the music.”
The idea of the customizable album is all thanks to the tech innovators behind Featuring.Me. Gregory Green, CEO and founder of Featuring.Me, said it’s all about finding new ways to connect with music lovers.
“The possibilities are endless,” he said. “It’s all about genuine, authentic interactions between people who truly value each other. It creates a tighter bond between music lovers, artists, and fans.”
John Paul, tech and marketing director for Featuring.Me, said the project was about involving both technology and the technician in the musical process.
“The idea came from thinking, what is the premium digital music experience? What’s equal to that awesome vinyl with liner notes and everything?” Paul said. “This kind of thing won’t be for every artist, but for a lot of songwriters we believe this will be a natural thing for them. They won’t have to leave any potential parts out.”
The collaboration on the project came about when the Chester brothers met with Brad O’Shoney, CFO of Featuring.Me, during a tour of United Records Press in Nashville. O’Shoney thought their music would be a perfect fit for the project with how all over the place their music is, Tom said.
Initially, the plan was to do one track from the new album, but Hebron had the vision to be the first to do the first-ever full-length interactive album. All of the different track recordings led to several sleepless nights though, Paul said.
“We’ve been so lucky to work with them,” Paul said. “They work like madmen. They just steamroll with ideas. It’s a nice fit with us to have such rambunctious, young guys who make such musically interesting stuff.”
Tom and Hebron got their start in Pocahontas, Ark. After graduating high school, the two both went to the University of Arkansas where they went on to receive bachelors degrees while playing around Bentonville and Fayetteville under the moniker “The Black Birds.”
Using instruments given to them by different family members, they play every instrument heard on their albums, and after taking the plunge and moving to Nashville to pursue music full time, they use a backing band to recreate the album.
“I think a lot of our sound has to do with our influences and the music we were listening to,” Hebron said. “Because we had to record the albums, just the two of us, we could keep tracking and putting different instruments on it and give it a different flair. We tried to make each song different.”
The album “Zoyugo” continues the sound the duo developed in their first album, “Ridgerunner,” but the music talks about traveling, change and the role women play in everyone’s lives. Having the “skeleton” of the album was necessary for the two to do the interactive album project, and now “Zoyugo” has become a much broader 2.0 version of the album, Tom said.
“I think this is going to be the best thing since sliced bread,” Tom said. “I have no idea how it’s going to hit the public. For fans of Tom and Hebron I think it’s going to be a cool thing.”