If anyone had charted Seabird’s potential career arc based on the Cincinnati band’s first five years, its current trajectory would have been somewhere above the stratosphere.
The fact that Seabird is not enjoying animal-topiary-and-guitar-shaped-swimming-pool levels of success at this point, not to mention the four-year gap since their last album, should not indicate a lack of initiative.
The fact is the Morgan brothers — Aaron on vocals and keyboards, Ryan on guitar — were being forced down a marketing path by their record label that they had no interest in pursuing and courageously chose to determine their own destiny with their self-released third album, Troubled Days.
“Ultimately, it was just a difference in vision,” Aaron says during a recent interview at Brandon Weaver’s Iron Wing Studio in Covington. “We felt like we were excluding a much larger audience by specifically marketing to Christians. We’re Christians by faith, but it feels like a very exclusive thing to put that tag on music. You never hear anybody say they’re going to hear a Buddhist Ska band or a Muslim Jazz band. It only happens in Christian music and we don’t feel it does anything for the music.”
While they’ve never made any secret of their strong Christian faith and their songs have sometimes offered a spiritual perspective, neither brother has ever identified Seabird as a Christian band. The problem came when the band’s label saw them in that light and wanted to promote them exclusively to a non-secular audience.
“We never considered ourselves a Christian band, not from day one,” Ryan says. “We’ve never had anything against fans of that music, but we have some things against the business and marketing of that music. We’ve never felt like our faith as people would define our music. It’s a word that describes a person and their beliefs, it’s not a word that should describe a thing, like a type of music or a type of piano.”
Although it took a year for Seabird to stabilize after vocalist/keyboardist Aaron assembled the band in 2004, Ryan’s addition in 2005 solidified both the lineup and the band’s Coldplay-meets-Snow Patrol sound. After a debut EP, Spread Your Broken Wings and Try, Seabird signed to EMI, then shifted to the label’s Credential imprint for its 2008 full-length debut, ‘Til We See the Shore.
The following year saw the release of Seabird’s sophomore album, Rocks Into Rivers, and a rise in the band’s profile with song placements on Grey’s Anatomy, Pushing Daisies, Numb3rs and The Ghost Whisperer, as well as a Cincinnati Entertainment Awards win for Artist of the Year.
At a time when Seabird should have been capitalizing on all this exposure, the Morgans realized they were on a different page compared to their label.
“We were able to go to the president of the label and say, ‘We really love a lot of things about this but we feel like we’re going in two entirely different ways,’ ” Aaron says.
“We were grateful to be able to have a heart-to-heart with him and part ways. A lot of bands aren’t able to do that. We were very fortunate.”
After splitting with Credential, the Morgans and their rhythm section — bassist Jason Gann and drummer Aaron Hunt (since supplanted by Steven Bye) — began tightening up existing songs and writing new ones, which included successfully venturing into the realm of co-writing (with High Valley’s Brad Rempel, Mia Fields, Joshua Silverberg, ex-The Academy Is guitarist Michael Guy Chislett and Matt Hales, better known as Aqualung).
Realizing they would need financing to shepherd Troubled Days to a release date, the Morgans launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the various stages required to complete and market the album.
“We could go on and on about how liberating it was to include our fans and friends in the writing and recording process by being engaged with them more directly through Kickstarter,” Aaron says. “We could say, ‘This record isn’t a mystery. Here are the songs, here’s the story, here’s us in the studio.’ The direct interaction with fans has been more personal than it’s ever been before and it’s all a result of Kickstarter. We love it.”
Although Troubled Days doesn’t stray far from the quietly epic Pop standard that Seabird established with earlier releases, Aaron maintains there is a definite difference between the older material and the new album.
“Personally, I think our struggle is more apparent in this record,” he says. “We always felt like it was important to tell our story, but we were younger and there was less struggle. This one, for us, is more us wearing our hearts on our sleeves. We’ve got families now, and music and families aren’t always compatible. We’ve made the choice that family is priority and music is something we choose to do if our family can be honored by that — if they’re comfortable and excited in experiencing it with us. This is very much a record about our struggle and proceeding through it to get the music made and to get that story out there.”
The obvious shift for Seabird with Troubled Days is its independent status. The challenge for the Morgans has been in taking on all of the roles that had been handled by their label. But the lack of label bureaucracy has also been particularly satisfying.
“The hardest for us — and rewarding at the same time — was not having other people that you had to get approval from or get their take on the record overall,” Ryan says. “We went into this knowing we could choose whatever songs we wanted, but it was hard to lose that mentality of, ‘What’s a hit? What has the positive message? What has the right elements?’
“We wanted to be wise in that sense. We didn’t just want to record a bunch of music that we were proud of but wouldn’t connect with people. But it was hard to let go of a lot of the stuff that the label had kind of beat into us, like choosing the songs with the most commercial value. We’ve always been a band that writes and performs music we love, and we’ve been fortunate that it’s also music that people love and connect with.”
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