POSTED ON MARCH 16, 2011:
Morgan Ganem finds new inspiration with Sownds
Anyone who remembers Morgan Ganem already knows of bandleader and lead vocalist's penchant for big hooks and arena rock.
Although Ganem never quite caught on in Tulsa, the band was one of the most focused in town at creating original music in the commercial rock vein of bands like Nickleback, Three Days Grace and Hinder.
Catchy guitar riffs and commercial hard rock were the name of the game for that band and whether it fit your taste or not, the band had the game down. The group effectively incorporated touches of classic guitar rock and '80s hair metal to the modern rock formula to position itself directly at an arena or "cock rock" audience.
Unfortunately, two things stood in the way of the band finding greater success. First, Tulsa audiences generally just don't support original bands in that genre. A touring headliner or a local cover band that plays the current hits may grab their attention, but not local boys putting their own spin on the niche. Second -- To be perfectly honest, at times, the band reeked of the very thing mentioned previously: formula.
Eventually, the band ran its course and went its separate ways with the common "creative differences" and diverging visions. Morgan Ganem was far from done with music, however. Having been raised around music (his father, I.J. Ganem has been in the music business for over 40 years, now), it's in his blood and comes as naturally as speaking. And although he wasn't in a rush to jump into another project, he already had a vision for his next venture.
That venture is the new band, Sownds. Ganem is still at the helm and his love of a big sound and commercial hooks haven't disappeared, but you'd be mistaken to write this band off as merely Ganem 2.0. This time around, the songs are more thought out, sonically textured and less formulaic. As a result, although the groups still plays largely to a similar demographic, the music itself comes off as much more sincere and honest.
Although the band has already debuted the single, "The Greatest Goodbye," on the Homegroan CD, the band itself is finally rolling out the new CD this weekend with a CD release party at The Marquee on Saturday evening for Welcome To The Show. More than just a series of singles, the CD plays out as a concept album, although the final product diverged from what Ganem had originally conceived.
"I guess, first, I ought to address how the band's name is spelled, because I get asked about that a lot," he said. "I spelled Sownds with a 'w' and in some ways it's good and other ways it's bad, but at least it makes it more memorable. The concept originally was that the songs were each going to be different sounds -- like in a graphic novel. That's why there are the songs 'Kaboom' and 'Shhh'. Spelling it 'Sownds' played into that, like a sound in a Batman comic book or something, but it also give it a sense of action."
Somewhere along the line, however, the concept changed. Yes, those songs are still included, but when Ganem didn't rush himself to create something new or fit a preconceived notion or formula, the songs started coming out naturally and a story line evolved. As a result, Ganem's roots and influences in commercial and radio rock emerge in manners that he wasn't even conscious of at the time he was writing.
Opening with the title track, "Welcome to the Show," the album immediately takes on an epic scope and theatrical quality. Sonically, Ganem merges electronic rock and huge guitars and when combined with the narrative reading that opens a broader story, it quickly draws comparisons to Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Karn Evil 9: First Impression."
From there, it's obvious the album is going in a different direction as it moves swiftly into "We Need a Hero" and cycles through "The Turning," "The Greatest Goodbye," and "Change the World" by the completion of the disc. Beyond just an album of sounds, the disc develops a storyline that revolves around actions and consequences.
Sonically, Ganem admitted that not pressuring himself to follow a formula or set any deadlines to be creative, opened new doors for him. After painting himself into a box with Ganem, a fresh start opened him up to new possibilities for this band.
"This really came out of a necessity to transform," he said. "With Ganem, it got to the point where I felt like I was in a box, which was restrictive. Now I've got a different focus on everything."
"I want it to be commercial, but not sound like everything else," he continued. "Previously, I was writing what I thought people wanted to hear. Now, I'm writing what comes out naturally and hopefully people will hear the truth in it."
Part of that freedom came from came from the fresh start, while part of it came from Ganem allowing himself to immerse himself in the studio and utilize whatever tools he had at his disposal. Instead of writing the songs around the band, he followed his father's advice to just create and not worry about how to reproduce it live -- that part could be figured out.
That's not to say that this isn't a band project. Although it is primarily Ganem's vision, all of the current band members are longtime friends who are all on the same page. Guitarist Kipp Clodfelter carried over from the previous band and was instrumental in the recordings.
"Kipp really developed his own style in the process of doing this," Ganem said. "He would sit with me coming up with ideas that we built on. 'The Greatest Goodbye' was his title and a lot of times it was his idea or a title that he came up with that would spark something."
That creative and open spirit is what opened up Ganem to a more expansive and layered sound. Inspired by The Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper's" album and bands like Vendetta Red and Revis, Ganem drew from a diverse pool of influences to develop his own take on modern rock which incorporates each without sounding directly like any of them."
The response has immediately been positive, with "The Greatest Goodbye" drawing attention from The Edge and a pot on the Homegroan sampler. "We Need a Hero" also grabbed attention with national placement on Fox Sports.
When asked how that came about, I.J. Ganem explained that the band had made a contact at DFest several years ago and had kept contact with him. After sharing a few songs from the new disc, he had sent a couple of them off to his contacts at Fox Sports. Then, in early March, he received and email marked "urgent" stating that Fox Sports wanted to use "We Need a Hero" during the broadcast of the Penn State/Ohio State basketball game.
After a quick agreement was made and legal paperwork was exchanged, the network used the song during a highlight montage when returning from halftime break. The exposure was invaluable, as it listed the song title and band in the bottom corner of the screen. Now, the song is being considered for use again for the broadcast from the national playoff games this weekend at BOK Center.
Apparently a fresh start is exactly what Morgan Ganem needed to find his direction. With Sownds, he's still writing in a commercial rock vein, but the more natural direction of his writing makes it much more memorable and has already been drawing positive reaction. It also promises to connect better with Tulsa audiences that are usually hesitant to embrace a more commercially minded rock band.
This Saturday night, March 19, Sownds hold the CD release party for Welcome to the Show at The Marquee. Travis McConnell will open the show, followed by Consumed By Fire (Sownds rhythm guitarist, Josh Ward's other band), with Sownds headlining the night. Tickets are $8 with advance tickets available online at ticketstorm.com and doors open at 7pm for the 7:30pm show.
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