Interview: Fair to MidlandPosted 03/09/2012 09:01AM by Decoy Staff as Interview
When it comes to one of the brightest hopes of modern rock in the past years, there’s hardly any need for an introduction to Decoy readers. Cliff Campbell, guitarist of Fair To Midland, talked to Attila Timar and Decoy Music about song-writing in Fair To Midland, working with Bottrill and Barresi, touring with Dredg and revealed why he has not listened to any music since he was 13...
It's almost one year since Arrows and Anchors was released, how do you feel about this record now?
Just as I did, while making it. It is a darker, more cynical record than Fables and takes longer to swallow. I do wish to get this record out more internationally by the end of 2012.
What do you mean by more internationally? You have a big label behind you in the US now.
I believe it our best record to date, and we haven't got to tour outside of the US and Canada in a few years. You are right about the label, but some people have to see us live in many cases to truly understand a lot of these songs.
You say it's your best record, was the response in line with this?
In saying it was our best record, I just mean I really want it to reach as far as it can in this album cycle. Business is business, and I believe this album has a lot of life.
Which of your records do you find the most important regarding the evolution of the band?
Well.... Both Inter.Funda.Stifle and Fables... sparked new life in the band. It was like a rollercoaster at both periods during our career as a band. It’s funny, man, the best things have always come out of us in times of despair. IFS was when we started to mold our own sound, and Fables was when we really captured it the best way sonically.
You're saying the best things have always come out of times of despair. Is it always like as band Therapy? put it once: "Happy people have no stories"? I mean, is unhappiness/despair/difficulties need to be like a staple for an artist to flourish?
(Laughing) That is one way of saying it. We actually almost broke up during the recording of Inter.Funda.Stifle. Darroh was going to school studying Literature, I was going to be a Computer Science major, and nothing seemed to be happening every time we would play LA. We were funding everything on our own and it seemed to be to no avail. We were talking of breaking up on the way back from Los Angeles on a long ride home when we got the call from Serj Tankian.
It must have been like a godsend, then.
I believe so. It is different for everyone. To each their own, but I personally have to be jolted into creation for some reason.
Do you still have that relationship with Serj like you must have had when you were on his label?
It is roughly the same. It sucks, man. Business sometimes gets in the way. Serj just began to get really busy in his own career with the orchestra recordings and SOAD reforming. That was the only reason we started looking for another label. We were extremely happy being on a label backed by Serj, but without his personal consideration brought to the table on business decisions we felt like we needed to find a new home. As for our relationship, we are still good friends.
Yeah, like they say: it can really suck if you try to turn friendship into business. It must have been hard on you.
Yeah, it becomes awkward at moments.
And since then Serjical Strike stopped putting out records and now you are on a big label in the US. Was it a right decision then?
I believe it was the right decision. E1 has done a lot for all of their bands and truly loved the record we were going to make. We had to do what was best for us. You only stop to think years down the road. What just happened? You have to make the right decisions and roll with the punches.
And what about your European label? I was quite surprised to see you join one mostly known for death, black and atmospheric bands...
They seemed very inspired to release the record. I am always worried more about work ethic as opposed to aesthetic of the label. E1 was similar in some ways for a long time pertaining to heavy bands on the label.
With your two last records you had the chance to work with two highly acclaimed producers: David Bottrill and Joe Barresi. How different were they in their working method and which one suited you personally more?
I guess I would say Barresi, although I love them both the same for different reasons. Barresi is a tone genius. He captured every song the way it was meant to be on A&A and opened me up to a lot of new things in the guitar world. Bottrill helped us get our songs to the epic nature they were headed for.
Have you started to think about a new record yet? Any new songs in the development?
Yeah. Quite a few, actually. Darroh has been hard at work as well. Album cycles seem to get shorter and shorter every year. I would like to get at least an EP out by the beginning of 2013.
An EP? But that's just 4 songs, man. Don't tell me you'd need another full year to get 4 new songs out (smiling).
(Laughing) You do know you are talking to Fair To Midland, right? It took us 4 years to release our second full-length album.
Fair To What? Isn't it Dave Grohl speaking?
And are the new songs going to be more in the epic vein like the Fables ones?
To an extent, yes. It always depends on who is writing, I guess. We are always very critical in writing all of our songs. Tends to make it take a while to release a record.
And do you write mostly separately then, or jointly as well?
Mostly separately, but there have been a few created in a joint effort.
Who are the main songwriters? You, Darroh and Matt?
Yes. And we are all very picky. Hence us creating full songs and bringing them to the table to alleviate the fighting.
So the line-up change in itself does not really affect the way your new songs going to shape up?
Not at all. I am excited for the future of Fair To Midland. There is a new energy in the band. I for one anticipate it.
It did affect your touring plans, though, right? You couldn't make it over to Europe last fall.
Yeah, It caused a lot of problems and we are just trying to patch things up. It would have been a great tour to open people up to FTM in Europe. It was very disheartening.
And can you see FTM as main act at a European tour?
I could after a few more support tours. It just has to make sense. We could only headline a few select cities now.
It is funny, because there is a European band who are often compared to FTM. Would you care to listen one song of this band now?
Sure. I'd love to. (Listening to Subscribe’s "Bitter Boundary" off of Bookmarks)
They have two guitarists, two vocalists (both sing clean and unclean vocals), plus a keyboard player.
Gotcha. Nice 1/2 time switch at the 2nd verse entrance. Where are they from?
Nice, I like it. I like the aside nature of the lyrics as well. "I'm so full of it." And I love the children’s choir at the end. It’s cool. You have heard of Billy Talent, right?
Billy Talent? I loved their first record.
Same here. Some of Subscribe’s guitar work in this song was reminiscent. Mainly the tone and choice of progression on the heavier parts.
I see. Loved Billy Talent, and their lyrics as well.
Same here, man. They were very refreshing in the time when they came out.
But from the second record they seemed to start to stick to a formula and it got less exciting to me.
Yep. Same here. Got to meet the guys a few years back. Really cool guys.
Yeah, they were really refreshing with their first record: poppy and crazy at the same time.
Exactly. We have to also ride a fine line of pop appeal. Especially vocally. We were raised around all of the different elements so some of it pops in there every now and then.
And how is the pocket orchestra version of the Subscribe song "Bitter Boundary" for you?
It’s amazing, I like it.
So if you need a touring partner in Europe, Subscribe may be ready to join you! Talking about touring partners: how was the tour with Dredg? To me, it seemed such an obvious pairing. Well, at least until I heard the last Dredg record...
(laughs) Very good. I enjoyed getting to watch them every night. They are an amazing band. We had been trying to make that tour happen since we saw them here in Dallas opening a show for like 20 people for the El Cielo tour.
How did you like their last record? You can be honest, the Dredg guys are not likely to be reading this interview anyway. (smiling)
No comment. (smiling)
(laughs) Thank you for your honesty, then. I saw two April dates up, how is the spring tour shaping up? Who are you taking with you?
We are taking Dead Letter Circus out again. Most of the dates are confirmed. They are then taking us to Australia in May.
Fuck yeah! That's a very good combination, who can the fans thank for this?
Well... We just contacted them after learning of them through Karnivool.
So was it actually you who conceived this?
Pretty much. (smiling)
We have a pretty good relationship now. We really hit it off on the last tour. I love those guys and our fans love them as well. We have friends actually, not fans. They let us know what is right.
What about Europe?
I'd love to. But it seems like you have to book 6-8 months in advance to get a spot, though. I am working on some stuff for maybe August or September. So we will see what happens.
Do you mean some festival slots in Europe in August or September?
Maybe a small support slot with someone and a festival or 2 intertwined there.
Ok, two more questions to go. What are your current favorite top 5 records? In order please.
Hmmm... Hard one. I don't listen to music. I know that sounds weird…
So it is true that you haven't listened to music since you were 13?
Pretty much, man. I 've always been that way. Of course I hear things around the guys.
You mean you yourself don't put on any music…
… but you don't close your ears when others put something on?
And you have not had an urge to get a record off which you heard a great song?
Not really, man. Like I said. I have to be jolted into anything. I don't know why. It’s crazy man. I wish I could have a rebirth sometimes of the thirst you have at that age where it almost hurts. I remember feeling that way back then.
You mean before you were 13? I am still 13 then. (smiling)
OK, top 5 records of you aged 12 and half then. Or Top 5 the other guys made you listen on tour bus.
Soundgarden - Badmotorfinger
Nirvana - Bleach
Pink Floyd - The Wall
Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine
Pearl Jam – Ten
In no particular order. These were the first 5 albums I ever owned.
Yeah, these could have been when you were 12.
I ordered them from Columbia house when I was 11 or 12. I never paid for them. (smiling)
Final question: what is the meaning of life?
To gain the personal consciousness to truly understand everyone and everything around you enough to love them or it wholly. Not to necessarily be happy because that will never happen.
"That will never happen"? You mean that do not necessarily strive for happiness? Because you will never be happy?
The more I strive to make myself happy the more things I want and need. I have always been a passive person. I just like things to be.
Can you actually make that happen when you are in a band touring pretty much all over the world?
I'll have my moments.