"Sound Ministry Gurus"
When I was a skinny, gangly kid at Nicolas Junior High in Fullerton, CA, I remember one day hearing a tiny 7th grader playing a Les Paul. And, holy hell, could that kid play. His name was Frank Agnew. Fast forward two years: I’m now a skinny, gangly kid at Fullerton High School, and I meet a drummer, Derek O’Brien. And, holy hell, could that kid play. The three of us eventually joined a band together, playing covers of Aerosmith and Zeppelin to crowds of 7 or 8 stunned kids in various backyard parties. By the end of high school, we went our very separate ways: Derek became the original drummer for Social Distortion, and Frank the founding guitarist for the Adolescents. I went off to college and majored in music.In 2011, Derek and I reunited. We got caught up on what had happened in the interim: the bands, the music, the divorces, the jobs and gigs. I had recently become connected with a community of singer-songwriters in CA, and convinced one of them, Rick Schiller, to come in and record his 7 song EP with Derek and me. Right after that, I brought my band du jour, Moonshine, in to record our only record. Both records sounded great, and Derek and I realized that we could partner up on projects in a way that enabled us both to bring strengths to the project that the other couldn’t: Derek had the recording, engineering and drumming chops; I had the scoring, arranging and guitar chops.
The synthesis took off, and Sound Ministry Gurus (SMG) was born. In the beginning, we viewed SMG as a production team. We recorded records for Onward, Etc., Jellykka and Corrina Carter, as well all other local artists. Songs like “The Steps of Anna Rose” by Onward, Etc. shimmered with my horn arrangements and background vocals, and thundered with Derek’s drumming and engineering. Rick Schiller’s “Skyline” just ripped out of the speakers with our additions. It was clear we had a great thing going. We brought in some of the area’s best players to augment projects: Fishbone’s Norwood Fisher, Delta Nove’s Nic Chaffee, trombonist Kerry Loeschen, multi-instrumentalist Kevin Welsh, violinist Jennifer Argenti, Eddie Tatar (bassist for The Dickies and D.I.), and the Children's Choir of Grace First Presbyterian Church were just a few of the musicians who added to SMG projects.
Along the way, I had written a couple of darker songs, “Welcome to the American Dream” and “Get Away.” We recorded them in 2014 and began talking about putting them in a larger framework. Out of that discussion we realized that we had tentpoles of a story – two key moments that could be the structure for a larger project, a rock opera. Three years later, we released “Silver Bullet”, and epic tale that follows the journey of Brett, a soldier who returns home from Iraq scarred and suffering from PTSD and mental illness. It is the telling of the unraveling of the American dream through the eyes of someone who once fought to save it. We are now in discussions and work for a staged version, hopefully to be out sometime in 2018.
So how does a team like SMG emerge and evolve? Simple: take two gangly skinny high school kids, give them the musical tools to thrive, send them off into the musical wilderness for thirty years, then put them in a room together and watch what they create.
- Stan DeWitt