Feature Stories

Graphic Novels and Film Inspire These Machines Are Winning's Musical Dystopia

Ambition is the most important quality in a band. In an age of DIY music promotion, a band is unlikely to break out without massive record label support or an above average imagination. The minimum will never do. These Machines Are Winning, the brainchild of Dylan Silvers that’s equal parts art collective and band, is nothing if not wildly ambitious.

Where most bands would be content to just play music, TMAW counts high-concept videos and a graphic novel as intrinsic components. Its list of members includes musical collaborators, an array of illustrators, a web designer, a comic book letterer and a cinematographer. It’s unsurprising, then, that the recent release of the haunting and extremely NSFW video for “KURU” — the foreboding title track to one of the band’s upcoming albums (yes, plural) — only begins to outline its many moving parts.

Over the next 12 months or so, TMAW will put out three new records (KURU, Architect of Decay and Slaves for Gods) with some help from local imprint Exploding Plastic, part of Idol Records. Each album will offer a unique perspective and sonic feel, though each will effectively connect with the story and thematic elements of the Slaves for Gods graphic novel release in 2016.

The first of TMAW’s records, electro-rock gem Defender 1, came in 2013 and featured an all-star cast of local musicians. “Defender 1 and the ‘Fornication’ video is the beginning of the concept,” Silvers explains. “That album helped us birth the next four to come as we’ve added many great people to the team like writer Jason Godi and artist Aaron Minier. Everything TMAW puts out is connected to Slaves for Gods, our graphic novel. The lyrical content and videos are conceptualized off that story.”
Silvers describes the overarching framework of the story as a “story of modern terrorism and the corruption of the military-industrial complex.” It’s a dark, menacing world peopled with masked anarchists. A hyper-modern tale inspired by a healthy dose of classic science fiction, the graphic novel weaves together storylines about computer hackers, an anarchist group and a dastardly villain named Gasoline Face. Based on the villain’s moniker alone, it’s clear the story will have its share of bleak nooks and crannies for the protagonists to explore.

When Defender 1 was released, TMAW had acclaimed artist Jock (Mark Simpson) in its corner. Now the group has been filled out with even more top-level graphic talent, with the addition of artists who have worked on A-list graphic novels such as The Crow and The Walking Dead.

The musical talent has been beefed up accordingly. In the beginning, it was just Silvers and Blake McWhorter, known to most as Hightower. Now guest players Dan Phillips and Nikki Cage of True Widow, and indie-idol Tim Kasher of Cursive have joined TMAW’s ranks. Other additions include Bethan’s Kevin Howard, Red Animal War’s Matt Pittman and the Beaten Sea’s Dave Christensen -— all of whom appear onstage as masked characters during the band’s performances.

“The people in this band are my best friends, and every one of them brings something great to the table that I couldn’t do,” Silvers says.
Howard, whose band duties officially consist of both “keyboards and Jameson shots,” is enjoying this action-packed new chapter with his longtime cohort. He previously performed with Silvers in the Crash That Took Me, a band that included Howard’s wife Becki, also a TMAW contributor.

“We have really good chemistry when we’re in the studio together,” Howard says. “Dylan has a really great way of communicating what he wants for the song, and I felt privileged when he asked me to be a full-time member of the band. It will definitely stretch me beyond what I’ve done musically so far, and that’s really exciting, and a bit scary.”
On Defender 1, bright beats and soaring vocals lent some levity to the otherwise ominous sheen of the record and accompanying visuals. With only a handful of excerpts from the Slaves for Gods graphic novel and the hypnotic “KURU” video to go on, it’s safe to assume TMAW will continue to delve into the despair-driven abyss. The short song is as fine a hard-rock tune as any local band has released in 2015; Silvers and company are a perfect complement to the sludgy stoner riffs of Phillips’ and Cage’s vocals. In a disturbing clip from the beautifully shot “KURU” video, a masked man aims a pistol into the face of a naked, glistening woman covered in tattoos, as she grinds away on her lover in a swanky hotel room.

The KURU and Architect of Decay albums will explore different characters from the overall Slaves for Gods story. KURU, according to Silvers, will have a “John Carpenter and Eno vibe,” darker in sound and with more of a focus on the anarchist group. To counter, Architect of Decay, which accompanies the story of key protagonist Jenny 001, will be brighter and more upbeat.

For Silvers, a guy who knows his way around a traditional band, TMAW isn’t a jumbled Rubik’s Cube but an evolving puzzle with intricately designed pieces that ultimately fit together seamlessly. It’s controlled chaos, and he finds it immensely satisfying to watch the moving parts of TMAW gradually fall into place.

“In the past, this crazy shit I come up with would never fly, so this type of project really suits me and the rest of the guys,” Silvers says. “I never get bored or too bummed if things are not going our way. I get to work on the books and the videos, too, so if the music is giving me a hard time, I’ll take a break that week and work on one of the other parts.” In fact, it would seem he’s enjoying almost every minute of it: “TMAW has been the most creatively fulfilling thing I have ever done.”