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Fair To Midland
A secret no more

By Mark Beneventi

The city of Dallas has harbored a great secret for the past few years. Big D has held beloved local band Fair To Midland close to the vest – a source of pride and validation for our music scene. Dallasites have attended all the standing-room-only shows, bought the CDs, read the glowing reviews (even from critics not deep in the Ellum scene), and we cheered. FTM was ours, and they were something special.

So why use the past tense when referring to a band still alive and well? Simple: they are not just ours anymore. D/FW’s talented fledglings have left the nest and are now poised for some national attention.

Founders Darroh Sudderth (vocals) and Cliff Campbell (guitar), later joined by Jon Dicken (bass), Matt Langley (keys/electronica) and Brett Stower (drums), are releasing an EP. No, that’s not what’s impressive; nor is the fact that the four-track EP (titled Drawn and Quartered) is comprised of songs drawn from previous releases The Carbon Copy Silver Lining EP and inter.funda.stifle. What gives these local heroes more than a glimmer of hope is the fact that it is Serjical Strike Records that will be releasing this disc.

For those who don’t know, Serjical Strike belongs to System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian, a man who knows a bit about talent and ability.

And just how did FTM connect with this burgeoning label? “We were playing a show in L.A.,” Sudderth begins, “and this dude keeps telling us ‘My uncle needs to see you guys!’ and we were like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ I guess he had seen us a couple of times and really dug us. Turns out his uncle is Serj!” Sudderth laughs a bit, most likely at the incredible situation and how he nearly walked right past it.

Does this mean the Get-Out-of-Dallas bandwagon has a new passenger now? Sudderth balks, explaining, “It’s a Ying-Yang sort of thing. We have amazing fans in Dallas, but you still want to play for people who haven’t seen you.” He adds, “And in L.A. the band’s expectations can be higher.”

Some of that pressure can come from outside the band as well. “[Being signed] has its own set of expectations,” Sudderth reminds, of FTM’s new situation and wanting to earn Tankian’s faith. “Serj is very smart about the bands he has taken on. He has completely different styles.” (Serjical Strike Records also works with Bad Acid Trip, Serart and Kittens For Christian).

The new EP, which will be backed by a tour, has some unusual qualities. But since FTM’s sound has been compared to an insanely eclectic mix of bands — including Pink Floyd, Mars Volta, Dream Theater, Pantera and Jane’s Addiction — unusual has become synonymous with the group. “It’s a happy medium.” Sudderth says about the song selection, which includes two live tracks. “We were hesitant to use the live tracks, but they are representative.”

Indeed they are, replete with FTM’s manic, cult-like audience participation. Hearing the crowd chant the final line of “A Seafarer’s Knot” is at once beautiful, emotional and eerie.
The band is currently recording in Toronto with producer David Bottrill (Tool) and should follow the EP (Nov. 7) with a full-length CD early next year. “We still deal with all the small stuff though.” Sudderth informs, dispelling Eden-esque myths of being ‘signed.’ “We wanna be ‘hands on’ like we’ve always been.” That policy, which helped them conquer D/FW, should only aid in their future conquests.