For too many in Salt Lake City, the holidays can be a time of struggle to stay warm and fed. Wanting to make a difference, Ransom Wydner, frontman for local bands Zodiac Empire and King Niko, has collaborated in recent years with other local musicians to bring about Operation Voltron, a collection of Christmas covers and originals. All proceeds from the album benefit The Road Home shelter. Operation Voltron can be purchased at VoltronXmas.bandcamp.com; CDs are also available in exchange for a donation at The Road Home (210 S. Rio Grande St., Salt Lake City, 801-359-4142, TheRoadHome.org).
What motivated you to start Operation Voltron?
I don't really like Christmas. It's stressful and I'm always broke afterward. I realized that the two things I do like about Christmas are singing and the overall spirit of giving that's around. Putting together a compilation CD for charity seemed like a cool way to get local musicians together and have fun for a good cause.
What's your favorite part of the project?
My favorite part is volunteering at The Road Home. That's sort of a tradition. On one day during the radiothon, some of the musicians will go and play some songs and a few of us will volunteer in different things like directing traffic for donation drop-offs or sorting donations. The year before last, I got to challenge Kurt Bestor to a sing-off on KSL, so that's probably my most favorite.
Where did the name Voltron come from?
Voltron was a cartoon in the '80s. He was a huge robot made up of other robots. The idea of Voltron Christmas isn't just that the compilation is an amalgamation of bands, but even the bands themselves are "Voltroned" together. A lot of the bands on the first compilation had someone in the group who was out of town for the holidays, etc., so on the day that we got together to track, there was some "Hey, who plays drums here?" action going on. It's by far one of the most fun aspects of the projects—collaborating with other bands and helping everyone make the songs they want to.
What impact have you seen Operation Voltron make?
We've been able to raise a few thousand dollars over the past years, and this year looks to be our best yet. In addition to money, Voltron Christmas has helped to raise awareness about the cause and the great work that The Road Home does for our community. It's more than a shelter—it helps people get back on their feet.
There's also an impact on the artists who contribute. We all come together as a team for a few weeks with a common goal. It's so impressive to see how many people will donate their time and talent to something like this. Not just the musicians, either. You've got One Stop Music Shop who printed the CDs, Music Garage where we tracked some of the songs, Kitefishing who did the mastering—everyone chipping in to do something for someone else.
How has the project evolved since its inception?
The biggest change has been people stepping up and making it work because I do not have the skill set to organize something this complex. Becca Dupaix, Whil McCutchan and Rob Roake have been really helpful with organizing. Rose Wagner Center, Music Garage, Aric Winn and Steve Auerbach have made the recording process happen for us, and a couple of great producers like Mateo Coletti, Joel Hager and my Zodiac Empire bandmate Camden Chamberlain have dedicated their time and talent to recording. The local artists who are involved are incredible. They're dedicated to the idea, work really hard to make it successful and every year there are more of them!
What are the future plans of Operation Voltron Christmas?
I would love to see Operation Voltron Christmas become a major force for good—just like the cartoon Voltron. Luckily, there are people involved this year who are much better at planning and executing projects than I am. Whil McCutchan, Becca Dupaix, Steve Auerbach and Rob Roake have been so dedicated to making this thing work and it makes me very optimistic for the future. I'd love to get some of the huge names in Utah music—Neon Trees, Fictionist, etc.—to lend some big star power to it. Royal Bliss was on the first compilation. I'd also love to see a live show at the end of the process where we all get together and play the songs from the compilation.