The rural Texas-based quintet Fair to Midland holds a platypus-rare distinction of sounding like pretty much no one else in rock music today. Take a track such as "Tall Tales Taste Like Sour Grapes," from the band's debut album, Fables from a Mayfly, released this past June on System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian's Serjical imprint. There's a beginning hushed moment of shuddering, medieval violin — and then the deluge of crashing, down-tuned power chords. Then comes another stutter of quiet before Darroh Sudderth's voice kicks in, modulating from a palate-busting wail to a reedy, plaintive trill in one phrase.
It's heavy, but not quite metal, and still far from anything that could be tagged "indie." It's creative and expansive, but blessedly way too song-oriented to fit the prog tag. "I would like to be the band that's too heavy for the indie kids, and not heavy enough for the metal kids, and somehow manage to appeal to both crowds," says frontman Sudderth. Over a spotty cell phone connection from the tour bus in which he has essentially lived for the past year, he speaks with a light but distinctive Texas twang. He's also utterly, heartbreakingly humble and polite.
The band's uniqueness is enviable, but also in some respects unenviable. It's meant the group has ended up on tours with everyone from cartoony Finnish death-rockers the 69 Eyes, to California postmetallers As I Lay Dying, to Chicago's post-grungy Chevelle, with whom they appear at Revolution this Sunday. Which has meant a series of different, specific crowds that have been sometimes difficult to win over.
"Well, there's not really any tours we've been on where the initial reception we've gotten has been, uh, really positive," says Sudderth. "We're kind of a hard band to market. We are playing with acts we don't necessarily belong with, and try to have a broad spectrum of listeners.... But we can't complain; we went into it knowing what we were getting into."
Asked about specific influences, Sudderth is hard-pressed to spout off a short list of artists. Pausing, he name-checks ... R.E.M.? Then Peter Gabriel. Then Corrosion of Conformity. Even Marvin Gaye. "I think I was just inspired more by music as a whole. I can take something away from any genre of music whether I love it or hate it."
So then why work in a heavier idiom?
"Heavier music is a little less charted.... It seems as though there's still a lot to be done in that whole genre. It's definitely not the easy route to take," Sudderth says. "But we don't make anything easy on ourselves."
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