Saturday, April 02, 2005

Wednesday Nights at Sons of Hermann Hall

Wednesday nights at Sons of Hermann Hall, swing dancers pair off in the upstairs ballroom, but downstairs at the long bar a secret society quietly meets. Or not so quietly, as the night goes on. “I love this place,” grins Spammie Lamm, drummer for indie band [DARYL], “there’s always some sort of drama.” Tonight the drama is a partnerless blonde girl from upstairs who’s invaded the bar and has taken to slobbering on and with Aaron Silvers, Spammie’ s good friend, and brother of Dylan Silvers. Dylan is the reason we happen to be hanging out here on an otherwise drama-free weeknight.

Sons of Hermann Hall is the farthest outpost of the Elm Street scene, so far removed from the flash and trash of Deep Ellum it should be properly called Exposition area instead. It has its own charm. Sons is a lodge house, not a former lodge house, but an actual ‘we’re the brethren and this is our place’ working fraternal order. Since the 1930’s, the good German brothers thought it would be cool to open their house to bands. Once a dancehall and bowling alley, the floor of which can still be seen in the downstairs venue, Sons is now host to music and ghosts. It’s a creaky old place and the volunteers who have been alone in the hall tell spine-tingling stories about voices in empty rooms and noisy doors. But the ballroom upstairs has great sound, the booking agent has an uncanny ear for quality musicianship, and the beer is cheap. It’s a secret hideout for the real Dallas indie music scene; serious musicians who are also serious drinkers. At the carved wooden bar that stretches half the length of the peachy red Budweiser-emblazoned front room, members of the metroplex’s best indie bands come and go and the members of [DARYL] just stay. Next to the dusty 1970’s bowling trophies and under the American Idol logo, songwriter Dylan Silvers carries on his misspent youth into misspent adulthood, tending bar with his brother and keeping his friends happily sloshed. That his buddies are also his band is a happy accident, as the song goes. After years of searching for the proper combination of personalities and musicianship, [DARYL] the band has finally settled down into a bunch of guys that think the best way to spend a Wednesday night is drinking together.

Silvers has found a perfect six in the current members of his band of merry men. The rebirth of pop rock band [DARYL] with a new concept album, Ohio, and a new sound, stripped of discordant synthesizers and deepened with mellotrons and reverb, has brought an end to the changes in membership. Michael ‘Spammie’ Lamm is the only original member of [DARYL] to have survived every iteration. Guitarist Dave Christiansen was in the original incarnation of four musicians and returned after a hiatus, as did Jeff Parker, on bass, who confirms, “If we weren’t playing music together, we’d all be sitting up here at the bar drinking together and having fun. That’s where the positivity comes from.” Life is better with friends. Hanging at Sons out on a Wednesday night is much like getting together in your best pal’s place, if it had a fully-stocked bar, instead of a six-pack in the fridge. Discussion ranges from who’s playing where this weekend, to the relative musical value of Zooropa. The bar is passionately split between those who appreciate new U2 and the purists who prefer their Irish pre-Achtung Baby.

“We decided to combine everything together; drinking beer, having fun, and playing music. With each other,” says Lamm.

Christensen goes on, “It’s rare that six guys work this well together.”

“Or drink as much,” finishes Lamm.

The revolving door of [DARYL] membership seems to have ended. Even Beau Wagener and Justen Andrews, both on keyboards, aren’t new to the band, only new to the liner notes. Wagener was a friend who had had cameo spots on the stage with the band before. “[DARYL] was a saving grace (for me because I was) in a bad spot, musically, the entire time that I was in my old band and everything just kinda sucked, but these guys were there for me. Then Dave (Christianson)’s band broke up and he joined [DARYL], and a little bit later, my band broke up. When they asked me to join, it was like, ‘fuckin’ hell yeah, whatever you want me to do,’ and now I want to do that better than whatever.”

Andrews remembers the down period, but confirms the band has moved beyond it. “As a fan, I was just sitting around waiting for [DARYL] to break up. A lot of people thought the band was over. Dave, Beau, and I used to be frontmen of our own bands. It sounds weird that we all took a step down, but yet I feel more a part of this band playing keyboards on the sides, singing backup vocals than being front and center stage.”

In terms of [DARYL] history, this line-up is rock solid. The band began touring in March, with a trip to Los Angeles, and relish the fun of playing live now that the seclusion of recording Ohio, their latest release, is behind them. [DARYL] has survived creatively intact, the old material ready for a new audience, and a band that is positive and ready to tour. “That whole thing about the adversity is that this is a good time for the band, we just got the CD out, we’re touring, and this is the time when we can relax,” says Andrews, “This is the getting out and doing what we love to do. We have the work done, we have the finished product, and now we get to have fun with it.”

Dylan Silvers is the image of an archetypical artist; a troubled youth, a quiet personality, and a creative drive to perfection. His voice is rough, utterly distinctive, and reflective of the painful childhood that he left behind to move to Texas. You know it’s him from the first clipped syllable. Every word sounds painful, as if ripped from memory. The deep male background vocals are a more appropriate reflection of his raw energy, which had seemed restrained when paired awkwardly with the pixie voice of former [DARYL] vocalist, Angie Comley. Silver’s lyrics never quite say what he means, leaving off the key words that would make the meaning crystalline, as if balancing a craving for attention with the fear of public display. He croons, he yells, and it’s all as it should be.

Why didn’t they just scrap the awkward brackets and 1980’s retro band name when they had the chance? Lamm is concise about his opinion: “No, it was our name.” Silvers explained in a bit more depth, “I wanted to see where the album and the songs could take us instead of throwing away the material. I don’t necessarily say we were breaking this amazing new ground, but I felt really deep about the lyrics and for me it’s hard to write lyrics. I wanted that to come out and say, OK, what’s gonna happen next? And that’s where we are now.” The material required that they keep the name [DARYL] and all that went with it. “The record is what we are,” says Silvers, but Andrews elaborates, “We wanted to play the old songs, the songs that they, we, always played. We’ve added material, more instruments. The EP was recorded before, and it was added to, not taken away from. Dylan’s always been the key songwriter.” So the brackets stay and the old songs never sounded better.

Girls and apologies are the theme of many of Silver’s lyrics; “I don’t wanna really hate you now, I’m sorry,” from “Jenny,” “It was an accident, don’t you go,” from “Natalie.” But Silvers makes no apologies for his band. “When all the line up changes were happening, [DARYL] was a musically defeated band and we had all these songs but they weren’t coming out the way we really wanted them to come out. We didn’t even know how that was going to happen. (After setting the new line-up) everything started to blossom again. That whole period was probably the darkest period of the band, and for me, musically. I won’t say Spammie and I were holding on by threads… I couldn’t have done that now, but back then we were gung-ho to just keep the ship floating.” Silvers has a knack for bringing together musicians and he only needed to reach out to the talented friends already around him. The down time for [DARYL] didn’t last long. “I wanted to start the band and it wasn’t about people,” grouses Silvers. “It was about songs we were playing but that’s impossible to do because all the people were involved and all the emotions involved. A band’s a friendship. (When a musician leaves the band), it’s like going out with a girl and then having a relationship and them breaking up with you.” Maybe that’s why [DARYL] has gone through so many iterations; in all relationships, it takes a while to find just the right combination.

Back at Sons, Silvers leans across the bar and laughs with a few acquaintances over a private joke. Down at the other end, a patron needing a new Shiner catches his attention and he’s off with a smile, sailing from one group to another. He wouldn’t rather be anywhere else, except maybe with his guitar. Silvers is a man in demand these days, by friends and thirsty strangers needing alcohol and a musical fix. He’s happy. Settled in this spot, he’s where he wants to be, his music is made, and the real fun of touring with his buddies is happening.

Signed in 2002 to Idol Records, [DARYL] has what a label needs. “They’re in it for the right reasons. They just like playing music,” says Erv Karwelis, owner of Idol. “They have fun on the road and actually look forward to going on tour, so many bands don’t. They love to play, and everywhere they go it’s an adventure. Their egos are in check and they’re realistic and know that being in a band’s hard work and they’re willing to do that work. [DARYL] gets in the van and they’ll go play Detroit for $100 and split it six ways, after $60 goes in the tank.”

Heading out on the road isn’t a posh affair for this band. It’s slogging around packed in a van, every seat taken, pulling a U-haul with their equipment, and hoping that everyone agrees to what’s on the tape player. “I was playing Cocteau Twins coming home from Odessa,” remembers Silvers, “I had put it in there and turned it up real loud in the back and they were like ‘It’s funny’ and they popped it out and I was like, ‘No, I was listening to that. That wasn’t a joke.’” Wagener shakes his head, “I woke up out of a nap, and was like, ‘what are we listening to?’”

Jeff Parker sums up the mood. “Sure, when you’re in a van with six dudes for two weeks, there’s gonna be little nitpicky shit that you argue about, but it’s nothing major and there used to be major stuff that we would fight about and it was just ridiculous. I’m sure down the road, there probably will be something major that we will fight about, but as far as right now goes, everything is superpositive.” That something major may be the lack of input the newer members of the band have into the creative process of songwriting. Both Wagener and Andrews joked about having a say in the creative process, which Silvers was quick to good-naturedly quash. In the euphoria of the year ahead, that may not matter at all. This year is about getting Ohio heard and solidifying the foundation they have begun to build. Silvers’ quips about a million dollars and a few sessions players went largely ignored. After all, he was pouring tonight.

Karwelis is optimistic, too. “It’s a slow process, but every year that goes by, they keep building on what they have. They’ve been charted in stations in England and Germany and Spain, and so on. They’re not expecting unrealistic things; they know that they’ll keep working for it. Making it bigger.”

The hard work is beginning to pay off and the guys are ready to jump over a few more forbidden gates. Touring to California this spring with fellow label-mates, Black Tie Dynasty, [DARYL] plans on rocking L.A. and bringing what Texas already loves to the wider market of the West Coast. They’re optimistic this could be the turning point for the band. Wagener is pumped for the trip. “In three months, we put out a record and everyone likes it for the most part and that’s cool. We got voted (The 2004 Dallas Observer’s) Reader’s Pick for best album and Ohio had been out a week, and now we’re nominated again, a year later.” The other guys shrug their shoulders and look uncomfortable with the boasting, but Beau rallies them. “Fuck it. It’s true. It’s good times. We’re getting it put out in Japan, we’re doing tours. Fuck it, that’s awesome. Are the Feds doing that!?”

He’s right, too. Idol signed a deal with Tridentstyle Records in Tokyo. So how do six guys from Dallas singing about Akron, Ohio get signed half-way around the world? They played their label’s showcase at SxSW last year and got the proverbial break; the guys from Japan liked what they heard and remembered it when Ohio made it onto their desks half a world away. “[DARYL] has always been infatuated with the whole Japanese thing, too,” cites Karwelis as the reason for the mutual attraction. “The Technology had Japanese writing all over it, songs about Japanese girls, stuff like that. Of all the other things that Tridentstyle picked up on Idol, this was the first one from Dallas.” Soon fans around the globe will also wonder what a giant furry animal at a Dairy Queen has to do with ghosts and lost girls.

[DARYL] is a huge ensemble group with seven members to fill every available inch of stage at any given moment. Bass, three guitars, two keyboards, drums, four vocalists, plus a horn player. Did you count more than seven instruments? Each band member does double duty. No slacking if you’re part of these audiophiles. Silvers is hesitant to define the heart of their music. “We are definitely a melodic rock band and we like to add a lot of stuff to recordings but, live? The problem is we don’t have a sound guy and even as a six piece it’s a pain in the ass to make everything sound good. At the Lakewood (Theater), the sound guys didn’t even know what to do with us. Two guitars, four vocals; it’s practically impossible to make us sound good unless we have a personal sound guy, which we don’t.”

Karwelis is optimistic though, that the band will grow enough to afford those luxuries. “It’s not three guys playing guitar and bass and drums. To get a good soundguy on the road, that’s not cheap. You really have to get to a pretty big level before you can pull that off. But, yeah, I could see it happening.”

“It doesn’t mean we’re not gonna play as a six piece,” says Silvers, “but it does mean that we’re not always gonna sound the way we want to sound. We always oversaturated our recordings, like now with the Ohio record.”

Lamm is pretty clear on live vs. Memorex: “You couldn’t mimic the stuff that’s on the CD with a 4-piece.”

Parker laughs. “If you really wanted to play every song on the CD you’d have to have 11 guitars” and Christiansen joins in, “… and a backing band.”

“Yeah, that didn’t work out,” Silvers shakes his head slyly, “Kind of hindered the live show.”

“We just feel like we have to deliver in other ways by putting on a good show,” says Lamm, “I think if we concentrate on trying to play every note exactly right it would become stale. I think if we ask for too much, it wouldn’t work out.”

Silvers continues, “It’s a simplistic six piece, and no one exaggerates or overplays their instruments. It’s real simple, but combined you have a wall of sound.”

“If you take six different simple ideas and put them together it sounds way better, like a complex three piece,” says Lamm.

“We’re basically a power trio,” jokes Wagener, “with three extra dudes.”

With a big van that’s hitting the road, packed to the gills.

The old jukebox at the end of Son’s bar has a hip selection that leans more toward Merle Haggard and Dixie Chicks, but there’s a Slobberbone and the requisite [DARYL] in there, too. Wednesday nights, though, it’s quiet and the CD player behind the bar plays Silvers & Co.’s latest listens. Beatles, Beach Boys, Cocteau Twins when Dylan’s manning it, and a more avant garde selection when Wagener’s DJ-ing for the troops.

“What it all comes down to is that if we weren’t in a band together, we’d still be hanging out together, and we’re best friends and that’s the honest truth,” says Silvers. Nicht mit dem Wagenfurher Sprechen says the Bud advertisement over the bar -please don’t speak to the driver- but it certainly can’t mean don’t speak to the driver of [DARYL]’s wagon. Silvers’ distinct personality encourages mit sprechen: a good conversation and a good night at the bar or up on the stage. The honeymoon’s not over yet for this [DARYL] lineup, and there are enough rocks in the road ahead, but the friction hasn’t yet built. Maybe, like in solid marriages that last beyond the bloom of first love, when the tension flows Silvers will channel it into some new lyrics about good friends in Texas.

Originally published in Venues magazine April 2005

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