When I first came across Fair To Midland in early 2005, I was sure it would become a Tulsa music scene staple. Granted, the group was based in the Dallas area; but its intelligent, engaging take on modern hard rock and mesmerizing live performances were quickly grabbing the hearts and imaginations of anyone who stumbled into a show when the group came through town.
Fast forward to 2009: that hasn't been the case. In fact, it's been roughly two years since Fair To Midland last visited Tulsa. Considering the circumstances, I won't hold it against them. The absence hasn't been from lack of effort, but a lack of time and opportunity.
The band is a hard act to pinpoint: while melodic and emotionally charged, its music is definitely not pop material. And although the band packs enough punch with its lyrics, guitar riffs and song arrangements to potentially align itself with the modern or alternative rock marketplace, it doesn't quite fit there either.
Progressive, but not particularly pretentious, the act appeals to prog-rock and art-rock audiences as well as cooler-than-thou indie snobs, but those markets are still too limiting for the band's potential.
Against all odds for a band this complex, the group was "discovered" by Serg Tankanian (System of a Down) and got its shot at the big time. Signed to Tankanian's Sergical Strike label, Fair To Midland recorded its major label debut and saw it presented as a joint release between Sergical Strike and Universal Republic, giving the band major label distribution and enough clout to move from regional to national (and international) touring status.
Now, after roughly two years on the road in support of Fables from a Mayfly, the band is slowing down a bit and regrouping in preparation for its next album. As the writing process continues, the band has booked a handful of concerts in order to keep fresh and work out a few of the new songs before heading into the recording studio.
With a long overdue stop in Tulsa scheduled for Tuesday night, the band was on my mind. So, I caught up with lead vocalist Jarroh Sudderth as he reflected on the past couple of years.
It's obvious that signing to a major label has its advantages, not the least of which is distribution and enough leverage to put the band in front of larger audiences. During the past three years, Fair To Midland has toured Europe five times, played major hard rock festivals such as Rock am Ring and Rock am Park in Europe and premier alternative events like Coachella and Download Festival. The group has criss-crossed the U.S. multiple times and toured with a number of big name acts including Chris Cornell and Serg Tankanian.
Still, with a band as artistically focused and spirited as Fair To Midland, I had to wonder if signing to a major label had significantly changed the band's dynamics.
"It doesn't affect our writing style at all," he said. "We won't ever go with anyone (label wise) who doesn't allow us to retain complete creative control.
"I realize we are an acquired taste," he continued. "Not to pat ourselves on the back or anything, but we're really different--it's just who we are. There's no way for us to compromise what we do."
Without going into details, Sudderth also shared that while still signed with Sergical Strike, the group has parted ways with Universal.
"I think with our band, in the long run, everything will pay back and you have to understand that," he said. "As far as short term profits are concerned, though, you're not going to get a quick return on your investment.
"We're a tough band to market, and I know that," he said. "Maybe 'Dance of the Manatee' wasn't the best single to lead with right off the bat, but we can't take it back."
In hindsight, the band's success or failure, at least on radio, relied largely upon how the album and songs were marketed. Sudderth believes there were three or four potential singles on the disc, and while "Dance of the Manatee" was more suited for active rock radio, the others would have better fit the alt-rock format. While a "what if" might linger, Sudderth has no regrets. "We made a record we are proud of."
It's not like the game is over, though. Still signed to Serg Tankanian's imprint label, the band has been working at its own pace on new material for its next release. With roughly 10 songs near completion, the band will likely play four or five of them on its current run of shows to work out the kinks. While it will surely be worth the wait, you can get a preview of the new material and experience a live workout of Fables when Fair To Midland plays Flytrap Music hall Thursday night, April 16. My Solstice opens at 8pm and tickets are $12 at the door.
Yeah, that notorious April holiday is creeping up on us again and we can't get away without a couple of good shows. Although Sam and the Stylees don't have a new CD to release on the magic date again this year, you can be sure they'll be playing. This year, it's a free show on Phat Philly's back patio stage with Jirhaff.
Of course, Phat Philly's will be open late with a full menu rolling, so don't miss it. They might even have their special rolled cheesesteak creation, the "Steak Doobie" on hand.
Of course, that's not the only reggae game in town this week. The really big show is The Wailers at Flytrap with Local Hero back in action and opening the show. Tickets are $14 in advance or $22 at the door.
Another week has passed us and we've still got your back. It's the third Thursday of the month, which means Urban Tulsa wants to spend happy hour with you at the Tulsa Press Club. This week, we've got Red Wood Rising bringing the tunes to go with the Press Club's drink specials.
Afterwards, if you're not in the mood to rock out with Fair To Midland, you can roll over to Arnie's for Cairde na Gael or stop by at McNellie's for Dustin and Jessie's Higher Education.
Friday night, April 17 is relatively quiet; but you can fully enjoy yourself if you join the party with Guardant at The Monolith with Tip Top Secrets and Cap'n Sunset. Cover is $5 at the door. Meanwhile, if you're looking for cheaper shows and indie-rock, you can check out Arlis Moon and Darcy Bright at Joe Momma's downtown, Lollipop Factory at Soundpony, or Astellaway with Automatic I Am and Floodcar at the Pinkeye.
Saturday night, April 18, is packed with shows. Our pick of the night would have to be the I Said Stop! CD release party at The Marquee with Callupsie and PDA, but you can't go wrong at Soundpony either, where Unwed Sailor, Volcano and Fiawna Forte pack the house.
Higher profile shows on Saturday night include Bill Maher at The Brady, Big Smith with CharlieHorse and Jesse Aycock at Flytrap, and The Movement with Hiphopotamus and Society Society at Cain's Ballroom.
Sunday night sees indie-rock/world beat/eclectic monster That 1 Guy at Bob's for those looking for something very different. And finally, Cain's wraps up the week with M. Ward headlining the Ballroom with Watson Twins opening the show. Rumors have it that he may have a special guest make a few appearances on this tour, which begs the question: "Would Zooey actually stop by Tulsa?" You'll only know if you go...
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