NEW YORK, NY—Anyone who takes a close look at New Jersey producer, vocalist and guitarist Garen Gueyikian will notice one recurring theme in his presentation. He controls it all, from the initial stages of composition right down to the guys who play in the studio and on the stage. And the reason he does this is logical. His sound is precise and bold, floating somewhere amongst the influential, fire-hot choruses of Fuel and pop-chopped sensibilities of Kings Of Leon.
Gueyikian’s first focused band, called Granian, was founded in 1995 in Holmdel Township, NJ. The group released four albums and one EP (2004’s My Voice), and toured with Matchbox 20, Guster, Dispatch, Howie Day, Pat McGee Band and O.A.R, among others.
Gueyikian’s songs were featured on the television shows Dawson’s Creek as well as Strong Medicine. His third studio album, On My Own Two Feet, was produced by Mike Shimshack, and features Nir Z (John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Genesis) on drums. It received generally positive reviews. The album reached number one on both CDBaby.com and Awarestore.com and the group’s five independently released albums have sold over 28,000 copies to date.
Like most explosive groups that draw fast attention, the changes in personnel were fast and furious, ending up with Gueyikian finally just performing by himself as Granian for the 2002 release Live Sessions and through 2005. He used the name interchangeably for solo shows and for those with a backing band of available musicians that he would pick for his performances. The group went on to reach many important and personal high points, such as playing a benefit concert for Armenian victims of genocide in 2004. In 2006 Gueyikian began a new project that would end up as his own Kill The Alarm.
While researching this band and the man behind its conception, the same question kept coming up. Why was a writer of this caliber still looking for the Holy Grail after 15 plus years of performing, writing and apparently having a successful career on his own?
Tonight’s live show at the Mercury Lounge showed me a band in the trenches, heads down and in the moment, a band that pulls no punches, falling into the music and performing like tomorrow would never come. The music industry is fickle at best, and I really couldn’t say why this band isn’t on Capitol or Atlantic. Perhaps, like everything else, it’s just too far behind the current trend. But I have a feeling that Gueyikian will never take no for an answer, and that’s what all of his fans are banking on. That’s what Against The Grain said to me.
Against The Grain is Kill The Alarm’s latest offering. Short in actual song numbers, the EP ranges from fast-paced rock/punk elation to black, mid-tempo, lost-love ballads and it’s a winner. The band stopped off at The Mercury Lounge for their CD release party, and at the behest of their biggest supporter (thank you, Katie), I came up to hear what this band was all about.
“Don’t Run Away” came out strong. Winding up the KTA crowd like a jack-in-the-box on crack, the band fed off the strong KTA army. Everyone in the audience jumped around, sang along, raised fists and generally shouted accolades and encouragement at their idols of the night. Great big anthem style choruses are this band’s strong point. They can take you down with one or two well-placed songs, and that isn’t easy in a city famous for people too cool to move an inch.
“Not The Same” is an expansive ballad off of Against The Grain. Featuring a quirky, synthesized drum beat intro, the song slides into acoustic guitar strums that get tucked tight underneath Gueyikian’s smooth, mid-range vocal and the band’s dynamic rhythms. Garen knows what it means to build in patient layers, and he keeps it reined in well here with addictive, pre-chorus bridge harmonies before exploding into a majestic chorus that screams big dollar crossover.
I especially love how Garen comes out of the bridge with everything in his soul, pouring out all of his vocal ability and pushing himself over the edge to expel his last gritty rasp before diving into the final chorus. I was going say that I could easily see Clint Black or Taylor Swift covering this outstanding hit on their next CD, but I’d have to see them try to get close to that vocal performance first. Just goes to show, when a song is well crafted, it can shine in any genre, and “Not The Same” is a thoroughbred that seeks out the fast, hard choice of multiple tracks.
KTA mixed it up well, playing selections from most of the latest CDs, including “No More Excuses” from the 2007 release titled Fire Away. Angst-ridden and self- sacrificing, Gueyikian and crew blazed brightly, capturing the essence from the CD and showing the reason why I am confused that this band is still busting their collective asses in clubs. KTA has everything that the business could want and more. Other show highlights were “Never Come Around,” also from Fire Away. This tune was just chock full of chainsaw guitars and well-placed synth shots. Gueyikian goes from glass-crushing growls to sky-high soprano lines throughout.
The powerful show-closing encore, “The Only One,” was the absolute crowd favorite, and I have to admit, after pouring over songs from at least three different CDs, I agreed with them. You can sense the culmination of two decades of writing on this song and it was pretty awe-inspiring to watch KTA squeeze every drop of passion into performing this rare compositional treat. “The Only One” isn’t the usual pre-fab puzzle of pop writing. KTA goes off into deep orchestral maneuvers, taking this song straight into the listener’s imagination and affecting their toughest sensibilities with tragically emotional choruses, lush, Beatles-esque cello passages and the melancholy vocals of the road-weary Gueyikian himself.
His sense of melody is perfect for the genre, and his dynamic layering makes this sad and beautiful gem the star of the stage and studio. The arabesque cello/vocal melody line in the end is so sad and eerie that becomes a hook of its own, making this song the standout of the night, and the CD. This song is the sure-fired hit off of Against The Grain and I can only hope that it will finally be the one to turn some label heads.
Garen Gueyikian will never be considered to be an upbeat writer, and I happen to really enjoy his style of creative darkness. The material is largely about romantic tragedy and the effect of love’s storm gone wrong, and Gueyikian does it better than many big bands who are getting paid well for what they are turning out. Combine that fact with his knowledge of compositional skill and that’s all I really care about when listening to Kill The Alarm.
If you dig Linkin Park, Paramore, early Goo Goo Dolls or Panic! At the Disco, go buy Against The Grain and explore an interesting pop-rock contender that still has the right formula and “refusal to die” moxy to take them into this next decade and beyond. After all, this is what rock is all about, and rock and roll will never, ever die.
For more information on Garen Gueyikian, Kill The Alarm and the latest CD, Against The Grain, head over to killthealarm.com.