By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Dallas may have its first band to ever officially count a photographer/cinematographer as a member. These Machines Are Winning, a new music and art hybrid performance project conceived and fronted by former [DARYL] frontman Dylan Silvers, started as an enthralling, ambitious idea that's now become a living, breathing entity of the Dallas music landscape. Along with Silvers, there is former Black Tie Dynasty member Blake McWhorter (who performs under the name Hightower in this project) and Ryan Hartsell, the aforementioned lens-man. And now the project has a full-length album, Defender I, and plenty of plans for an enigmatic future.
From a purely sonic perspective, anyone who enjoyed Silvers' work in [DARYL] or The Crash That Took Me will likely find themselves enjoying Defender I, as the sparkling electro-rock palette is one that Silvers has masterfully crafted for more than a decade. On its own, the record is engaging and fresh. But music is merely one ingredient of the concoction that forms These Machines Are Winning.
"I'm a huge fan of concept or themed records," Silvers says. "Ever since I was a kid, I've loved records that tie in art and visuals with the music and lyrics. Back then, I spent all of my money on comics, but I cut back when I started playing music. Of course, it was easier to talk with girls when playing music, instead of when I was dressed up like an Ewok."
The art and visuals Silvers speaks of, in the form of brilliantly illustrated album art and video shorts, assist the listener in feeling as though they are doing more than simply hearing some songs. The cinematic scope and quality of the project could've easily served to distract from the musical offering, but in this case, the individual components complement each other nicely.
With pseudonyms, dramatic comic art featuring menacingly masked characters — which will be a signature look for TMAW — tripped-out videos and a band name that suggests the human race will suffer some sort of terrifying defeat, it would be understandable to assume that Silvers and crew meticulously slaved over one thrown-away idea after another before being satisfied. It was much more spontaneous than that.
"My goal was to capture what I was doing and feeling on a day-to-day basis," he says. "I would try to flesh it out in the studio as fast as possible and not linger or overthink the idea emotionally or lyrically. By the time I could tell that certain ideas were beginning to mold themselves, the ideas of the masked vignettes began to slowly poke their heads out."
Defender I is likely to seem like a concept album to many observers, but Silvers doesn't see it that way.
"I wouldn't call Defender I a concept album," Silvers says. "That might be too bold. I see it more as a collection of short, cohesive thoughts that, after Ryan [Hartsell], Hightower and I brainstormed, we turned them into one big ball of music, photography and art."
The art is absolutely a key factor in the success of this enterprise as a whole. Fortunately, Silvers found an artist of extremely high caliber: British concept artist Jock, aka Mark Simpson. He's a highly-decorated and lauded name in the world of comic and movie art. His colorful résumé includes work with The Losers comic and its film adaptation as well as on the film Batman Begins.
"Jock gave us stills from the short," Silvers explains. "Then he did his magic and made the art for the record, which, for me, hands-down, was one of the most exciting things about finishing the LP."
For local music fans, though, Jock isn't the only impressive collaborator to chip in and make the album something unique. Notable North Texas-area music vets Becky Howard, Kevin Howard and Casey Diiorio lend various vocal and musical skills. Still, Silvers singles out yet another collaborator as a probable MVP.
"All of the guest appearances happened very organically," he says. "But Taylor Rea [of Zhora] was probably the star out of all of the contributors to Defender I. She sang on almost every song, and she's one of the most truly talented people I've worked with to date. I loved having friends over to record. I was just letting them all do their own thing. It was all live, because no one got copies of the songs beforehand. That way, it was spontaneous and there wasn't any overthinking, just drinking."
The fun had during recording and the conceptual art that's been created for the project will show itself during most TMAW concerts, even if the stage won't be as crowded as the studio was.
"The live show will consist of just me and Hightower," Silvers says. "Well, 'the machine,' which is a wall of sound, will be there along with visuals provided by Ryan. We'll also be in character."
While the story of These Machines Are Winning is still in its introductory chapter, Silvers already has a grasp on what the future holds for the band, assuring fans that this will be a lasting project that one can follow just as they did with his previous bands.
"We have indeed started taking the story and the music into the next phase," he says. "We'll be keeping the masked men characters, which we worked on over the past summer, all the way up until the New Year. With the three of us filming and recording Defender II for the past few months, it's exciting to say that it's 70 percent done before the release of Defender I."
When a band (nicely) asks as much of the listener as These Machines Are Winning do, it's nice to hear Silvers break it down to basic parts when describing his process and his understanding of his own talents.
"When we started writing these songs, we truly never set a path to do the kind of music we're doing now. But I have accepted that this is what I do best — simple two- or three-minute keyboard- and guitar-driven pop songs."