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Interview w/ Fair To Midland

By Steve Dickson

Darroh Sudderth is nervous.

Sitting on a couch in the dark of a Studio City recording studio, Darroh compulsively wipes his hands on his pants, stopping only to wring them in his lap. His posture changes five times in three minutes.

Darroh Sudderth is very nervous.

It doesn't help that he is having to sit through a very uncomfortable encounter with this journalist while his manager feverish flits about the room adjusting the volume on two tracks from his band's upcoming CD.

The slight man from the Dallas, Texas area scoffs when asked if putting words to a page is, as so often described, "like opening a vein."

"I think I find it more painful," says the young man who later reveals that he can't remember the last time he was excited about anything.

Darroh Sudderth, lead singer of Fair to Midland, is extremely nervous - and this is only the beginning.

Hailing from the wide expanses of Texas, this quintet of young men are nearing the end of a six-year journey that saw them touring the back roads of America experiencing the highs (two in the band have discovered Los Angeles as their favorite place to play, two have their hearts in Texas) and the lows (Ft. Hood, Arkansas) that are part of the lives of all serious touring bands.

It's not that the boys don't enjoy touring (they do) - but as much as the goal of a touring band is to keep it going for just one more gig, so it is the goal of an unsigned touring band to reach that logical end of pen to contract. Getting signed. The end of the untamed life of the unsigned band on the road.

The end came when System of a Down's Serj Tankian came to see the band several times, including a pivotal show at The Roxy in Hollywood.

Soon after that show, the band was signed to deals with Tankian's Serjical Strike Records and parent company Universal.

With that came the press and the photo sessions and the meetings with stylists and producers and a long, grueling and redefining recording process that took the band from the security of their familiar sound and creative control to something that Sudderth finds a bit uncomfortable.

"I'm still getting used to [the sound]," Sudderth confides as we sit and listen to the new tracks. It's clearly unsettling to him to hear the sonic bombardment that Fair to Midland now delivers. It is undeniably a marked change from the piano/vocal-centric sound of their previous release - a collection of demos and live tracks that evoke everything from Staind to Echo and the Bunnymen. The new stuff is, well...the new stuff definitely has a "Serj" of new-found creativity.

Once we finished our one-to-one chat, we moved into an interview space adjacent to where Fair to Midland's first photo shoot as a signed band was being lit and dressed. We pass the rest of the band and entourage enjoying a bit of Baja Fresh. They look enthusiastic and happy as they wolf down fajitas and frijoles. Sudderth and I come to rest in an alcove and he immediately goes back to his nervous habits.

As the manager corrals the rest of the band to us, I expect to see Sudderth relax as his band mates surround him. He doesn't.

I ask him about his anxieties and he says that they are always with him. He can't relax, it's always been like this, he says, and offers the comment about how painful it is to present his words to the public.

As the rest of the band settles in, we talk some more about what being a newly-signed band means. Sudderth taps into a reality about the new business of music.

"There's no such thing as developing an artist anymore. It's make or break, which makes it really hard. The best bands of all times took four or five times to develop," he says wearily. "If you sign kids, it takes time for the kids to develop."

It certainly is a harsh reality the band is entering.

But as the band sits down to join us, they are all smiles. Keyboardist Matt Langley takes a sit next to Sudderth, to his right is guitarist Cliff Campbell, bassist Jon Dicken and drummer Brett Stowers takes the seat to my left.

While not fresh out of their teens, the band is youthful and full of the types of hopes and fears one would expect from a group of guys from the heart of Texas, now thrust into the harsh gaze of the Los Angeles music scene.

Now that they're here, they are eager to begin. The anticipation may be most of what makes Darroh Sudderth so nervous. Maybe it's the pressure of having to make "that one hit" that will guarantee a second and third album. Maybe it's being far away from home amongst people who poke and prod and ask questions.

As the band embarks on its new journey, who knows what's in store for them? They chatter about how exciting the prospect of playing to more people and the ultimate challenge of replicating the new, more produced sound from the CD to the live show.

When I ask that question to the band, it's Darroh who winces, revealing yet one more solar flare of anxiety on the boiling surface of this young lead singer.

"You can't disappoint, you have to do it right. People want to sing along, you have to give them what they're used to."

Darroh Sudderth is nervous, to be sure. But he and the rest of the band have a keen insight both into what they would like to accomplish and what needs to be accomplished. They know each other well and accept each others' shortcomings, fears and questions about the future.

Fair to Midland's current release The Drawn and Quartered is now available. Their upcoming CD will be available in Spring 2007.