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Fair To Midland Interview
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Rock On Request correspondent April O'Neil takes a moment to talk with guitarist Cliff Campbell of Fair To Midland about the course of their career.

photo by Brittany Davis
ftm1.jpg

I'd seen them at a Chevelle concert at Dos Amigos in Odessa, Texas. I was working as a stage hand and the day had gone by easily; production (light and sound) was set up when we got there, the bands didn't have too much gear....it was a lax afternoon with a lot of downtime. Everyone had been anticipating this show; just like any other you could feel the energy building all afternoon as we and various techs busied ourselves with the pre-concert business of running cables, stacking this, mic'ing that, an endless number of tasks your average show-going patron is oblivious to.

On the other side of the fence, a line had begun to form. It was no later than five o'clock, yet we could hear people shuffle behind the brick wall and see little eyes peeping through the metal gate. They had come for the big rock show. As the hours counted down and the droves of fans flooded in, we relocated backstage until the show began; as a stagehand you have to be ready to go at all times, you damn well better be there when they need you.

The first band took the stage promptly on schedule (impressive feat as the sound company I formally worked for would be running a last-minute line check at this time, due to multiple setbacks during the day), and they were less than remarkable. I wasn't quite dazzled to say the least. Soon it was time to haul their gear off stage and set up Fair To Midland's, at the completion of which we returned to the merch booths at the back to b.s. till the next set change.

Sometime amidst our chatter, we stopped to actually listen to the band on stage. With vocals of the sort you can't describe, you just have to listen to them....and a stage presence to compete with, well almost anyone, FTM rocked the house in their own free style. These guys didn't sound like anyone swimming in today's mainstream. They didn't fit into the alternative, prog, emo, or [insert subgenre here] rock categories held by other bands on tour right now. And they weren't assholes. They were themselves and they were effin' good.

As their set came to a close, they played their best-known hit, 'Dance of the Manatee,' and I was shocked with the familiarity. I had heard them before. On the radio as a matter of fact. Running backstage to clear their gear before Chevelle went on, I decided I wanted to interview these guys.

Contacted via telephone, guitarist Cliff Campbell talks a little about the year's progress and what to anticipate in 2008.

APRIL O'NEIL: Well I thought we'd start with just a little bit of background information, so could you just tell me a little bit about the band history?

CLIFF CAMPBELL: The band started in about 1999. Me and Darroh, the singer, started the band; the rest of the guys came around about six years ago. We all lived in the vicinity of each other, in a dairy town, like 20 miles from each other.

AO: Cool, you guys are form the Dallas area right?

CC: Yeah we just live right out by the Dallas area.

AO: Awesome. So how did you get the name for your band?

CC: Well, our singer's grandpa used to say it. It used to be a way to greet, common a long time ago, "fair to midland" was just in the middle. It became a saying, when someone would ask you how you were doing, you'd say "fair to midland." It just means that you're all right, you're in the middle. His grandpa used to say it a lot, so that's kind of where we spawned the name from.

AO: That's interesting, I hadn't heard that one before.

CC: Yeah (laughs.)

AO: You guys have a bunch of interesting titles on your album, in your songs....who writes the lyrics? Does the lead singer do that?

CC: Yeah. All the music is written first, and then Darroh writes the lyrics.

AO: Who does your album art?

CC: The artwork?

AO: Yeah.

CC: The guy that does our artwork is named James Riches, he lives in Australia. He's like 20, just a kid you know? Pretty cool.

AO: How'd you meet him?

CC: We were looking online. There's a children's book called 'Where the Wild Things Are,' and we really liked the artwork in that book, so we looked online to find artists that were similar to that. We kept looking and looking and looking and finally we came across a site that had all of this artwork on it, and it looked just like it. We called him to see if he had the time to do it and everything. Worked out perfect.

AO: Did he do the animation for your video too? The Dance of the Manatee?

CC: Well he had a friend who was good at animation, and he did all the actual drawing, and worked with him to make that video.

AO: Yeah that was an interesting video. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Did you guys tell him what you wanted, or did he just come up with something and put it in there? Is there significance behind the stuff?

CC: Most of the stuff Darroh would call and give him a rough idea, and then he would spawn ideas based off of what Darroh would tell him.

AO: What's the message behind the song?

CC: Which song?

AO: Dance of the Manatee.

CC: If you asked me....well everybody has a different interpretation for all of our songs, and that's kind of what they're written for, to be open to interpretation. But if you ask me personally, I didn't write it, I've just read the lyrics, but what I get from it is what society views the modern day man as. That's what I get from it.

AO: In the video, is the larger man, is he the "modern day man"?

CC: Yeah, yeah, he's the modern day man he's just being treated how people treat a man that....you know, actually, he's not a modern day man. Because what people want in a modern day man, he is not him. It's just an example of what happens nowadays to people who are polite, kind, and who bend over backwards to help people. It's really like no pride, he's just out there and they're not really looking for him, you know what I mean, and nobody's there to care anymore. That's just what I get from it.

AO: It's open to interpretation.

CC: Yeah.

AO: So this is your first album to be released with Serj Tankian, right?

CC: Yeah.

AO: How was the transition for you guys? Had you recorded stuff on your own before?

CC: Yeah we recorded an independent release called 'inter.funda.stifle' and a few of these songs that were on 'inter.funda.stifle' are on 'Fables From the Mayfly.' It was just, we didn't have the money to get a good selling album, you know? We just kind of had to do what we could do.

AO: Yeah. What was it like working with David Bottrill?

CC: Oh that was great. He really helped us. All of our writing processes have always been usually someone writing a song, basically, and then everyone coming in and orchestrating what to do around it and everything. With him, he kind of helped us write songs together as a band, 'cause we've kind of struggled with that, just being on the same page and whatnot; avoided the end of writing the song. But just like starting the song....because we wrote like four or five songs in the studio with him, like 'Tall Tales,' for instance, the re-make of 'A Wolf Descends Upon the Spanish Sahara'....he just helped us write as a band together better, you know?

AO: That's awesome. How much time did you guys spend in the studio?

CC: We had four weeks of pre-production, which is the time that we wrote those songs, and kind of polished up the others that we had. And we had about two-and-a-half months of actual recording. There was actually only a week to two weeks of vocal recording at the end of all that. It was kind of a stress-ball for Darroh to get in there and do all that. Actually, some of his hair fell out because he was tripping out so much.

AO: Yeah, I read that in the press-release they sent me. I was like "WoW."

CC: Yeah, it was crazy.

AO: So how did you guys meet Serj and get on his label?

CC: We played a show in L.A. at the Roxy, and there was only 10 people there, but one of Serj's friends happened to be there. He liked the band, so we gave him a CD. We didn't think that would happen. We've been doing this so long, we hear that crap all the time. We were just like "You know whatever dude, here, just take a CD and get away," you know?

AO: Right.

CC: Turns out he really was, and it was crazy you know. He calls us up like a week later and says, "Hey Serj wants you to come do a showcase for him the next time you're in L.A," and we're like, "Okay, cool." What's funny is, we had this other manager who was trying to manage us at the time....which we're not with and I won't expose his name or anything....and he invited like 24 label reps out there.

AO: Wow.

CC: To that show we were playing for Serj. And neither one of them knew that there was going to be different CD labels there, but they all left after like the second song, except for Serj.

AO: Damn.

CC: Yeah. Because our singer....I don't know. Our manager, when he brought all those people, they don't want him to do what he does, you know? They want him to just stand there and sing.

AO: Right. Yeah I saw you guys with Chevelle in Odessa, and I was pretty impressed. I'd heard the song before....'The Dance of the Manatee'....but I didn't know that it was you guys. I think I was standing back at your merch table or something and I was like, "Holy shit, these guys sing this song?" I was actually working on that show. I was one of the stagehands.

CC: Oh, cool.

AO: Yeah, so you guys have been pretty busy this year. Looks like you started off the year with Flyleaf and As I Lay Dying, then did a headlining tour and a string of festivals, and then went out with Chevelle, and you just got back from overseas right?

CC: Yeah, we did a couple of shows over there with Serj.

AO: Had you guys toured that much in the past, or was this kind of the take-off year?

CC: We toured a lot but they didn't really amount to much. We toured a lot in 2005-2006, and basically I would just call up bands and just call promoters and play shows, 'cause we really didn't give a shit, that's all we wanted to do anyway. And we would play for like five or 15 people a night, and that was it, you know? All over the country.

AO: Right.

CC: We didn't really make any money....we would lose money every time....but it was just, get out there and get in and do it. We'd do those in like two month spurts and go home for a week. We did that all the time, then we'd come back home to Dallas and try to make a little money, and then just chill at home, then go back out and do it again. For no money (laughs.)

AO: (laughing with Cliff) Right.

CC: But we enjoyed it, you know? We played the same show for five people that we would for 500, and that's what a lot of people say about us as a band, and I like the fact that they say that.

AO: Definitely. I've seen a few bands who don't do that. And you see them play a big show, and then you see them on a small show and you're like, "God these people....they're enjoying it, but they could be getting so much more."

CC: Yeah.

AO: So how many dates did you guys do this year?

CC: This year, I'd say we played around 100, somewhere around 100 and 150.

AO: All over the states or did you just do an east coast or west coast thing? Did you play nationwide?

CC: No, we played everywhere. Nationwide. On the Flyleaf tour, Chevelle and Dir en grey tour, pretty much all of those were nationwide.

AO: So how do you guys typically spend your days off?

CC: Sleeping.

AO: Sleeping? (laughs)

CC: Sleeping and restoring our muscles and everything else. Well, not really, 'cause we don't really have muscles....

AO: (laughs) Yeah I've got a friend who's out with Papa Roach and every time he's got a day off, he's like, "We always go to the mall, every single time." I don't even have to ask him anymore. He'll be like, "I've got a day off in San Antonio tomorrow," and I'll call him and I'll be like, "So how was the mall?"

AO: (both laughing) He's like, "I really should make a catalog. 'The Malls Across America Tour'....

AO: (both laughing) So you guys are enjoying a little time off before you embark on your December tour, and that starts on the sixth right?

CC: Yeah, the sixth in L.A.

AO: Cool. Where are all you going to go on that one?

CC: We hit L.A.; San Diego; Phoenix; Albuquerque; Madison,Wisconsin; Chicago....

AO: All over.

CC: Flint, Michigan; then we come back home and do couple of shows in Dallas and Houston.

AO: Yeah I notice you guys are playing with The Feds on the 29th. I met them recently. I just interviewed Matt Slider the other day.

CC: Oh yeah?

AO: Yeah.

CC: Yeah, he's cool. I like those guys a whole lot. We really wanted them to be on the show with us.

AO: All right well I just want to wrap up with a little bit of foresight. What goodies do you guys have in store for the new year? Are you planning on more tours, are you going to be recording?

CC: Yeah, we're going to keep going on this album. We've only had about six months on it, so we're going to keep touring on this album, try to get people to know Fair To Midland, you know? Then hopefully around summertime....at least I'm hoping to, start on a new album. We'll just have to see what comes next.

AO: Cool. That sounds good. Hopefully I'll get to check you guys out again sometime soon.

CC: Yeah, I hope so.

AO: All right man, well that about wraps it up for me. Thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions.

CC: Yeah no problem. I'm sorry I'm being kind of lame. I'm just tired.

AO: Ah, I'm tired too. I was like you know, as soon as I get this done, I'm going to go to sleep.

AO: All right well good luck on your tour, man.

CC: Thanks, later.


The video for 'The Dance of the Manatee' is available at:

http://www.purevolume.com/videos/fairtomidland/danceofthemanatee

Be sure to check them out on Myspace and their official website at the links below.

FTM on Myspace

FTM Official Site