Fair game

Ninety sticky degrees, little shade and a crazy blazing sun aren’t enough to get Shadows Fall shouter Brian Fair down. In fact he stands in it for most of our conversation.

“Good times,” Fair says, laughing.

But is his laughter mocking? If anything, it’s self-mocking. See, Shadows Fall (Fair, guitarists’ Jonathan Donias and Matt Bachand, bassist Paul Romanko and drummer Jason Bittner) is on the coveted Ozzfest tour, sharing sweaty stage with fist-jacking metal heroes Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. What’s more, Fair is both humbled and grateful at the tour opportunity, and his place in life. It’s obvious this seasoned shouter is nothing if not happy.

“We hang out with Maiden almost every day; it’s total heavy metal dream come true,” Fair says.

What you should know is Fair shouts his lungs out in one of the hardest-working bands in metal, one whose sound regularly rips young minds apart and glues ’em back together with cerebral wordplay, tempo-shifting riffs, machine-gun drumming and spine-shivering melodies.

Fair and Shadows Fall have been doing what they love for as long as there has been a forceful American metal movement. But Fair has seen some hard road getting there. Before he joined Shadows Fall in 1998, the dreadlocked singer did time in the metal band Overcast. Now the days of broken-down-van tours, battle of the bands shows and playing soup kitchens are over, which surprises the singer to no end. Yet Fair says he doesn’t give a shit about major commercial acceptance.

“A lot of bands may start getting into music for the wrong reasons. Which is unfortunate, ’cause when bands like us, Lamb of God, and Killswitch all started, there wasn’t an idea that this could be something that we could make a living off of, and be out there touring the world. It was just something that we loved to do.”

Growing up in Boston, Fair had the time to make music his priority. “I was playing in bands since I was like 12 years old,” he says. “Really bad bands, back then. It’s been something that I dedicated myself to.”

The singer’s influences? “The first band that made me want to be in a band was Kiss, and the real early Ozzy stuff,” he says. Then he adds that Kiss and Ozzy weren’t all that struck a chord with him.

“The first big arena rock show I saw was Lionel Ritchie, though.”

No shit. Lionel Ritchie? Is he kidding?

Nope. “Watching that dude actually dancing on the ceiling of a giant arena was pretty amazing,” Fair says.

Shadows Fall fell together on Boston’s tiny, intensely local circuit of metalheads and hardcore kids. “The scene was so small, that any band that was doing metal or hardcore ... you knew ’em.”

All friends as kids, each Shadows Fall member had his own band. “My old band, Overcast, played with Matt’s band, Exhumed, and then we ended up playing with Jon’s band, Aftershock, and Paul’s band, Pushbutton Warfare. That’s kinda how it all started.”

The band released their first album, Somber Eyes to the Sky, with original vocalist Phil Labonte. Soon Labonte was gone, and Fair joined in time for the band’s next full-length, Of One Blood.

Long, road-intensive work insured the band a national fanbase, and some commercial notice. After releasing its sixth and latest album, 2004’s stellar War Within on Century Media, Shadows Fall was picked up for the main stage on metal’s summer blockbuster, Ozzfest 2005.

“It been crazy, man,” Fair says. “The second stage is more about the crowd energy. It’s just a wide-open stage, kids crowd-surfing, huge circle pits. Whereas inside [on the main stage], there’s more seats and you have to bring the focus back to the stage.”

A fair amount of Shadows Fall’s success can be linked to Fair. The dude has one hell of a vocal box, and he’s been winning the ears of tens of thousands with his heavy-lunged, tree-shredder voice, words and melodies.

How long has he been screaming like that?

“Oh, for too long now, man,” he says, laughing. It’s been a while, and I think I have my comfort zone, so I don’t really do any damage to my throat. But now, with the touring we’re doing, I definitely have to warm up, and take a little more care of it.”

Though Shadows Fall plays what is arguably the most blood-ready aggressive music in the world, the singer subscribes to a gentler side of life. He screams like a madman, but he ain’t a mean person, which is reflected in his personal choices. Like his reasons for a being a vegetarian. “I’ve been a vegetarian since I was in eighth grade or so,” he says. “Learning about the cruelty to animals on the farms and in the farm houses really upset me to the point where I felt, since there were other alternatives, I didn’t need to go that [carnivore] route.”

Fair’s personal convictions fly with the spirit of his music. In conversation it’s obvious that he’s a spiritual dude, and his lyrics often reflect philosophical notions and life’s inherent lessons. While majoring in literature at Boston University, Fair studied various religions and philosophies, and came up with a particularized mash-up of his own.

“I’m trying to have an ever-revolving personal philosophy on it all,” he says. “Because I think at the root of most of them, they are saying the same things. I would rather just take some life lessons from all of them and apply that to my own life.”

Throughout its near-decade together, the band pretty much has all they want. World tours, meeting new people, and, to the surprise of Shadows Fall itself, they earn a living doing what they love. That’s a definition of success. “It’s all you can really ask for out of life,” Fair says.

Plus, Shadows Fall is fortunate enough to have played with bands and people they look up to.

Fair pauses to think of any heroes he’s not yet played with or met. Then he says, “If Led Zeppelin gets back together, they’ll be the only ones.”


Appears at DTE Energy Music Theatre (7774 Sashabaw, Clarkston; 248-377-0100) on Ozzfest 2005, with Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Mudvayne, Rob Zombie and many others.

Kent Alexander is a Metro Times intern. He just turned 16. Send comments to [email protected]
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