By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
When Dylan Silvers reaches out to shake your hand, the first thing you notice is the row of tattoos on his right arm. One stands out from the others, a red and black rendering of the Transformers logo that is located a couple of inches above his wrist. It's something he'll likely regret one day, when the metal-and-plastic toys that occupy a shelf in his room are gathering dust in the attic and he has to explain to his grandchildren why he has a tattoo of a toy on his arm; it isn't exactly something he picked up during a stint in the Army. In 10 years, Silvers may have even forgotten why he got it in the first place.
For now, though, it's fitting that he would choose to adorn his body with the symbol of a group of toys that can change into other things, because in the past year he has undergone a transformation himself.
The metamorphosis was both physical and musical. A year ago, he was a member of Mess, the chubby kid bobbing up and down on the side of the stage, guitar in hand and a look of complete surprise on his face. It was a part he had played before with the Strafers, who were to the Clash what Mess (since rechristened as Darlington) was to the Ramones. Back then, he was known as Dylan Baerwaldt, an 18-year-old kid fresh out of high school in Springfield, Illinois. He still plays his guitar the same way as he did with both of those bands--a mixture of gee-whiz astonishment and twitchy enthusiasm--but everything else has changed. The excess weight is mostly gone now, and so are his old bands. In their place is the Fitz, and for the first time, Silvers isn't the little brother of the band; he's the leader.
At 20, Silvers is an unlikely veteran, several years deep into a career at an age when most people are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Besides having played with the Strafers and Mess after he moved to Dallas in October 1995, he was a member of various hardcore punk bands while growing up in Illinois. The Fitz is the first band that he can call his own. It's his vision out there, his songs. He's the leader of the band in the same way that Dee Dee was the leader of the Ramones, writing most of the songs and making the band go with his unflagging energy. You can tell by the look on his face when he's playing that this band is his life.
At a recent afternoon show at the Orbit Room, Silvers was all over the stage, pausing in front of a microphone occasionally to provide backup vocals. The rest of the band followed suit, joyously bouncing around in time with the beat. Drummer Mike Sanger, in fact, was almost too spirited, pounding his kit so furiously that one of his cymbal stands had to be propped up for several songs (by none other than the former Chris Mess).
That energy doesn't transfer off-stage, however--as if you'd expect it to. A few days after the Orbit Room show, Silvers and the band--Sanger and singer-guitarist Matt Riggle, both 19, and bassist Sarah Lemoine, 20--are sitting quietly in their rehearsal space, a cluttered room above the garage of Silvers' house. Questions are answered with nervous laughs and looks around the room. Invariably, Silvers ends up fielding most of the questions, but even he doesn't look comfortable doing so.
Unlike most bands--in Dallas or anywhere--they aren't self-promoters; the quartet are more than willing to give credit where it is due. When asked what they want to talk about, they don't mention new T-shirt designs or what label they want to sign with. They talk about their favorite local bands (The Paperchase, among others), the people who have been supportive of them (Peter Schmidt, Mikey Hawkins--who recently released the band's Wasting My Time EP on his label What Do You Call It Records--and all the fans who come out to shows), anything but themselves. It's refreshing to see a band that doesn't feel the need to recount its entire existence in excruciating detail, that realizes its present is far more interesting than its past.
The Fitz began like many bands do, as a side project. It sprang out of something else Silvers was working on to pass the time. "It was like a rock opera," he says without a trace of irony. Sanger and Lemoine joined soon after, the rock opera was scrapped, and the current incarnation of the band began to take shape. Last fall, when Mess ran into legal difficulties concerning its name (proving the theory that even bad band names have a waiting list) and had to change its moniker to Darlington, Silvers used the opportunity to upgrade the Fitz from side project to full-time status.
Things began to click for the band a few months ago, when they ditched their original singer, a member of the band since its inception. "He was a good singer, but musically we were going in different directions," Silvers says. "He wanted something different out of the band than we did, so we had to kick him out. Unfortunately. He basically wanted to be more, I don't want to say punk rock, but a little bit more along those lines. There was other stuff too, but you know how that goes. It didn't work out."