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Fair to Midland
By Dave Schwartz

Fair to Midland is a name you may not immediately recognize. After several band-financed releases, this Texas group signed with Serj Tankian and are about to release their debut album on Serjical Strike Records. They’ve just finished a tour with Dir En Grey and are preparing to embark on a new tour with Flyleaf. Like I said, you may not have heard of them but you will. Recently I caught up with Darroh Suddeth, lead singer of Fair to Midland and we discussed this, that and life on the road.

DaBelly: First of all, congratulations on the new record. I’m sure it’s been a real labor of love.

Suddeth: Thank you very much. You can’t imagine.

DaBelly: I see that "Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times True" is coming out on Serjical Strike Records. How did you get involved with Serj Tankian and his team?

Suddeth: We were constantly touring the West Coast and Midwest, all independently funded. Along the way we became good friends with an acquaintance of Serj’s. I guess it was our third or fourth time out he convinced Serj to come and see our show. We did two shows back to back, one at the Roxy and the other in Malibu. It was the one in Malibu that he laid it all on the table and said he wanted to work with us.

DaBelly: I know that the new record is completed. When is it due out, April?

Suddeth: Just the other night I heard June.

DaBelly: That must be a little frustrating!

Suddeth: Absolutely! I’m not sure! I’m hoping it will be soon.

DaBelly: A young band gets a lot of buzz when the names Serj Tankian and producer David Bottrill get attached. Did that add to the pressure and the chaos of recording your first non-independent release?

Suddeth: Absolutely. Just where we’re at right now is a scary place to be because this is such a make or break business. We definitely feel a lot of pressure.

DaBelly: I can understand. I mean just given that this is your first non-independent release. Anytime a band gets signed it’s a big, big deal when that first record comes out. Everyone has expectations but when you start adding names, big names then the expectations go up. I read that Serj acted as executive producer on your record. How hands-on was he?

Suddeth: He couldn’t actually be in Toronto with us so we made arrangements to send our work to him daily. He commented during pre-production every day. He was really hands-on and made suggestions. But that’s all they were, suggestions. He would tell us what he thought and if he thought we were heading the right direction.

DaBelly: That’s impressive, sending dailies in the same sense as filming a movie. What lead you to record in Toronto?

Suddeth: Well none of us have families or anything and David Bottrill had recently gotten married. We were just looking for excuses to get out and see new places. So just figured that it would be hard for him to be away from his new wife and daughter and since none of us had families it just made sense to go record where David lives. If we would’ve recorded in L.A., he would’ve wanted to leave earlier or visit home more often and if we were in Toronto we could spend more time on the record.

DaBelly: What’s it like working with David Bottrill?

Suddeth: He’s a great guy. It was like adding another member to the band. It made the decision process harder and we had some arguments but it made the product better. He’s a real sweat guy. He opened his home to us and was extremely patient with us.

DaBelly: I know that working with any producer for the first time can be a real challenge and that every band approaches it differently. Some bands make sure their producer is completely hands-off while others rely on his experience and knowledge to help guide them through the process.

Suddeth: David offered subtle suggestions, as did Serj. The majority of it, no one told us what to play. That was one of the determining factors of going with Serjical Strike was we have complete creative control.

DaBelly: When you first went into the studio I’m sure you had a group of songs written. That of course brought you to pre-production and eventually recording. Going through the recording process, has the new album developed as you had envisioned?

Suddeth: That’s a real good question. I really had no idea what to expect. Just being the first time we’ve worked with a producer, working on an album on an international scale, I think it met my expectations, but I’m not really sure what they were. I thought that a lot of the songs would be epic sounding. But I’m not sure what else I expected.

DaBelly: Is there a song on the new record or perhaps one of your earlier efforts that you find is indicative of Fair to Midland? The song that sort of encompasses what the band is about.

Suddeth: Probably… It’s tough to say because each song is really different, especially on this album. Hopefully this record will appeal to people from every musical background. But I’m not sure we’ve really found our sound yet and maybe that’s what this album is all about. If I was going to pick one I would say "Dance of the Manatee."

DaBelly: In the press releases I’ve read, much is being said about your influences. Having only heard your "Drawn and Quartered" EP, you seem to have borrowed from many directions sort of melding them into your own sound. What do you think is your most unexpected influence, in other words, the one that strays furthest from your style or sound?

Suddeth: I think that if you listen real hard you’ll find a lot of Irish folk music hidden in our stuff.

DaBelly: That’s interesting, Irish folk music from a Texas background!

Suddeth: I know, I just love the ¾ time signature and the jig type melodies. I’ve always loved Irish folk music.

DaBelly: The term "progressive" has been tied to your music as well. To me one of the hallmarks of progressive music is the soaring orchestral anthem that takes 20 minutes to develop. Your songs get in and get out a little more efficiently. Why do you think the term progressive is being tied to your music?

Suddeth: I think because our music has an eclectic sound to it. I mean we all have different tastes in music. When we try to put it all together and find that happy medium sometimes our songs are a little all over the place. If they want to call us progressive I’m happy with that as long as our songs are not long-winded or pretentious.

DaBelly: Obviously the record is already complete and I’m sure you recorded many tracks and then picked through the list to make the new record. Did you find it difficult to narrow the list or make the final cut?

Suddeth: There were really only 14 songs we got the vocals done on because I was the last one in. So we started off with the ones we knew were some of the best. We knocked those off vocally. It really wasn’t that hard because the vocals weren’t done on some of them.

DaBelly: Growing up every kid has a vision of what they want to be. A fireman, a doctor, did you always know that you wanted to be in a band?

Suddeth: Not always. I think I decided that I wanted to be a musician when I was 13 or 14. Before that I wanted to be a storm chaser! (Laughs) I think you can make the connection there.

DaBelly: Yes, it’s all chaos no matter what you want to do! I see you have been touring with Dir En Grey. That seems to be an odd pairing. How has the tour been?

Suddeth: It’s been good for the most part. The Dir En Grey crowd is a really hard crowd to play in front of because they are all about Dir En Grey and they really don’t care about the opening bands! Actually they’ve been more receptive than I would’ve expected. And the Dir En Grey guys are really sweet. I don’t think that you can get away from playing tours like this, you’ve just got to learn to market yourself.

DaBelly: Who else are you going out with?

Suddeth: We are going out with Flyleaf in March. We’re also playing some of the SXSW dates. And we’re doing Coachella.

With that I thanked Darroh Suddeth for the interview and wished him the best on his upcoming shows. If you would like more information on Fair to Midland check out the Web site at http://www.fairtomidland.com