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Third time's a charm

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."

Riggle joined the band on vocals and guitar in February. "A week before we recorded," Riggle laughs. Riggle's old band, Ed Banky's Car, had played several shows with Mess, so he was one of the first people Silvers and the band thought of after they shit-canned their previous singer. He fit in immediately, even helping Silvers finish writing one of the songs--"Stay Tuned"--that appears on Wasting My Time.

The EP is like listening to the Cars' first album on the wrong speed, a four-song record that looks to the past to create pop for the future. Calling it punk would be too limiting, even though it contains many of the elements of the genre: guitars played loud and fast, propulsive drumming, and short, addictive hooks. The difference is the songwriting. "The Same" hits like a tidal wave and ends like a gentle rain, while the title track explodes when it reaches the chorus, dovetailing perfectly with its "I can't slow down and I'm moving too fast" lyrics, the kind of thing that makes a good song great. The intro to "Stay Tuned" features a snippet of 1940s swing music, courtesy of the Eddy Howard Band, which counted Silvers' grandfather and uncle as members.

The band recorded Wasting My Time in three days at Matt Pence's house in Denton, based on the recommendation of Peter Schmidt. "We called Matt, and Peter was there," Silvers says. "He's a friend of mine from the past, and he told us to wait. We had wanted to record right away, so at first we were like, 'A month?' But it worked out, because we needed to get tighter. It was the best recording that any of us had ever done. The only problem with the record is that the songs were so old. We're all writing some great new songs now; that's why I want to put out a seven-inch or something in the summer, to get some of these songs recorded."

The band plans to go on its first tour this summer, and hopefully release an album in the fall. "We would at least like to do an EP album, but not four songs. Maybe eight or so," Silvers says. "We just need some money. Maybe some indie label will help us out. At least pay for something."

The Fitz has made great progress in only a few months--the songs are better, the crowds are slightly bigger, the bills a little better. The band attributes its growing fan base to the carryover effect from having been in other bands or getting to share the stages with better-known local acts, but that doesn't wash all the time: After their show at the Orbit Room, only a handful of people hung around to see the headlining band, Darlington. Sometimes, it's better not to look back.

Virtually ignored
In a recent missive sent from the Black Market Party Headquarters (OK, Hop Manski's house), we were informed that the enhanced portion of Bobgoblin's 1997 album, The Twelve-Point Master Plan, won third prize in the 32nd Annual International Film and Video Festival. The multimedia portion of the album--which details Bobgoblin's plans to take over the world, or something like that--was selected out of more than 1,600 entries from 28 countries. In his e-mail, Manski refers to the CD as "the one that was ignored by MCA and 99.9 percent of the public." Oh, that one. Sorry--we tried to mention Bobgoblin without saying something bad about MCA, but apparently it's not possible.

The Rhythmic Method
Rhythmic Records, the label co-owned by Jackopierce's Cary Pierce and Trees' Brady Wood, doesn't have a single band on its roster. Jackopierce went to A&M, sold dozens of records, then split up (and who says there's no Santa Claus?), the Grand Street Cryers have gone to RainMaker (see Out Here, page 93), Vertical Horizon has been signed to RCA, Sister 7 is on Arista, and Jack Ingram is...well, Jack's actually looking for a new label, since his MCA-distributed home, Rising Tide, just shuttered its doors. But Rhythmic is still in operation and then some: As of last Wednesday, the local label is now partners with one of the most famous and powerful men in the history of the music business.

 

Last week, Rhythmic entered into an exclusive label agreement with the New York City-based N2K Encoded Music, the indie label run by former Billy Joel/Frank Sinatra/Paul McCartney producer Phil Ramone. Under the terms of the three-year deal (which comes with options for extensions), N2K will give Rhythmic money to sign, develop, record, promote, and distribute artists. The label already has a small roster of its own, though nothing too spectacular--Kyle Davis, Swamp Boogie Queen, The Tories, Candy Dulfer, and Loston Harris all released albums on N2K in 1997, but you already knew that. (Its jazz signees are a little more impressive, including Dave Grusin, one of the founders of N2K Encoded Music's parent company, Gerry Mulligan, and T.S. Monk. Last year, Billboard named N2K the indie jazz label of the year--clearly, the trade mag has never heard of Dallas' Leaning House.)

According to Rhythmic's general manager, Paul Bassman, the deal with N2K will turn Rhythmic into a "full-fledged record label. We can competitively sign and record artists. It's a pretty amazing deal." Indeed, it's the first of its kind (but certainly not the last) for N2K Encoded Music, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of N2K Inc., among the largest of the Internet's music-content providers. N2K operates the online record store Music Boulevard and has arrangements with America Online, AT&T, and TNN, among many others around the world. N2K also operates a handful of other Web sites, including JazzCentralStation.com, Rocktropolis.com, and sites dedicated to Miles Davis, Leonard Bernstein, and Wynton Marsalis--it's one-stop shopping in the N2K world.

N2K became interested in Rhythmic because of the label's rather astonishing success with Jackopierce and Sister 7, who both left Rhythmic for majors. "They've lost people because they didn't have the wherewithal to hold on to them," says Harry Anger, N2K's executive vice president/general manager. "Now, they will have the ability to sign more artists. These are guys who could attract the right kind of artist, and we thought this was something we could put together quickly and would give us a leg up. They may not have things on the roster, but they have things they want to do, and we wanted to help them get to the next place."

Rhythmic will still get to sign and record artists, though N2K will have a say in the makeup of the new roster. Anger says that Rhythmic will present to N2K a list of bands they want to sign, and that N2K is obligated to OK a certain number of them. From that point, Rhythmic will record a band, using N2K's money, and N2K will use its own publicity staff to promote the album. In addition, N2K will distribute Rhythmic releases through the Sony Music-owned Red Distribution.

"We're looking for bands," Bassman says. "We can make better-sounding records than we did in the past...Now that we have substantial amounts of money, we can do what we imagined. It gives us more flexibility. I mean, we're not going to spend a million bucks on a record, but it gives us and the bands more freedom to be creative. It's a good thing."

Anger says he's not concerned about the fact that Rhythmic doesn't even have a roster right now. Indeed, Anger says, he and Ramone and N2K director of A&R Kevin Law, who instigated this deal at the beginning of the year, were impressed enough by the label's past track record of turning Jackopierce, Vertical Horizon, and Sister 7 (then Little Sister) into college-circuit faves without major-label distribution. Which only makes sense: Any label that can make money off those bands is certainly worth doing business with.

"We like their musical tastes," Anger says. "We like their thinking, we like their way of marketing outside the mainstream and then taking it into the mainstream. This is a way to market and develop artists in nontraditional ways, because they haven't been able to go to radio out of the box. If they can develop things to a certain level and we've established a sales base and a following, we can take it to the next level. We don't expect them to go platinum the first time out. This is about developing artists, taking the time to do things right."

--Robert Wilonsky

Deep Blue Everything!
The reason Deep Blue Something is releasing its second Interscope album, Byzantium, in Europe months before the album will be available in the States is simple: "Because we had far more success there than we did here," offers Paul Nugent, the band's manager and co-owner of RainMaker Records. Byzantium will debut overseas in June, but it will not be available over here until September, though a single from the album has already made it onto local radio. Nugent explains Deep Blue's Home was Interscope's first number-one album in England and that the record, which spawned the inescapable single "Breakfast at Tiffany's," also went top-five in German and the Netherlands.

 

Nugent says that of the 1.8 million copies of Home that were sold, more than a million landed in the hands of Europeans, bless their little hearts; and he credits that to the simple fact that European radio isn't fragmented into myriad disparate formats--a hit on one station is a hit on every station. "This is what we wanted," Nugent says of the unique roll-out, which fits with the band's plan to take over the globe one square inch at a time. "It's hard to cover the world at once." But they'll try.

--R.W.

Scene, heard
Two weeks ago, in our Music Awards supplement, I wrote a few things about the forthcoming Toadies album, the band's follow-up to 1994's Rubberneck. I was under the impression it was a nearly finished version of the record, which was recorded in Austin over the spring with Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary. But it turns out the way-advance cassette is in the roughest stages right now: Some of the songs on the tape may not even make it to the record, and those that will be on the final release are still in crude, unmixed form. So disregard the sneak preview: Reviewing an unfinished album is like writing about a movie's script. We regret the miscommunication.

--R.W.

Send Street Beat email tips, gripes, and pipe bombs to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com


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