By Eric Harabadian
If the very nature of being progressive is to be innovative and always moving forward, then Detroit area rockers Tiles certainly adhere to and embrace that philosophy.
The Midwestern quartet has been on the move since the early ’90s carving out a comfortable niche that combines the classic artistry of acts like Kansas or Jethro Tull with the melodic metal of Queensryche or Dream Theater.
“We kind of find ourselves straddling that line between the classic definitions of prog — where we’re a little too heavy for the Genesis-minded fan and probably not heavy enough for the Dream Theater prog-metal-type fan. But that’s been basically our predicament throughout our whole career,” said guitarist Christopher Herin.
Herin, along with lead vocalist Paul Rarick, bassist Jeff Whittle and drummer Mark Evans have always been aware of this creative conundrum. But what’s a self-respecting progressive rock band supposed to do but acknowledge that fact and move on. Their diversity certainly has not been a hindrance.
Tiles has released five full-length albums since 1993, including the group’s eponymous debut, Fence the Clear, Presents of Mind, Window Dressing and the band’s latest, Fly Paper, which will be released on Inside Out Music/SPV in North America on Jan. 29.
Tiles has amassed worldwide acclaim from fans and critics alike. Leading lights, such as Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson and KISS’ Gene Simmons have lauded them with kudos. Tiles has opened for several artists, such as Kansas, Spock’s Beard, Steve Morse Band and Judas Priest, and partnered with Dream Theater for a two week tour of Europe in 1999.
The band always has been aware of commerce but remains unafraid to follow its creative muse, as well. Like a carefully strategized chess match, the band’s artistic decisions and subsequent recordings have been made over time and with great care.
“Our first CD resonates more with the mainstream rock fans, whereas our songs have taken some additional twists and turns and have grown in length as we’ve captured more of the progressive music audience,” Herin explained of Tiles’ career path and evolution of their sound. “With our third disc, Presents of Mind, we captured a little of both — the person that wasn’t into musical gymnastics but liked good, powerful music with melodic hooks in it. Our sound has grown toward blending pop/rock music with more the experimentalism you tend to associate with progressive rock.”
The current release, Fly Paper, finds the band back to square one in the sense that it has taken the best elements of its early, heavier proclivities and galvanized those features with tighter, more focused songwriting. Perhaps this is due to a back-to-basics approach the band took to the recording process with producer Terry Brown in fall of 2005.
Many may recognize Brown from his work with acts such as Fates Warning, Cutting Crew, Kim Mitchell, IQ, Alannah Myles and Rush, with whom he served as producer from 1974 to 1982.
“We previously recorded every other CD in Detroit, even though we ended up mixing with Terry in Toronto,” explains Herin. “Due to economics, we found it more efficient and a little cheaper to work for three or four days straight once a month and doing everything at his studio, working up three or four basic tracks at a time.”
“In the past there was a lot of pre-production before the actual recording would begin,” continues Herin. “With the new one, we went into Terry’s studio not really hearing anything and doing recording and pre-production at the same time. With Window Dressing, there was such a load of crap to remember, and in order to keep it stuck in the memory banks, you’d have to keep rehearsing it to keep it active. By the time we got to recording it, many of the songs were eight months old and lost a lot of their newness and energy. On Fly Paper, we left room to be more spontaneous and experimental.”
That freshness is evident from the surrealistic imagery of album designer Hugh Syme and impressive list of guest contributors to the well crafted execution of the songs themselves.
There are eight songs in all, primarily penned by Herin, that, while not conceptual in nature, all loosely center around the theme of human interaction, vulnerability and how people continually ward off threats to our emotional well-being. While that may sound somewhat morose and psychobabble-esque, the overall result is one of sincerity and an unparalleled poetic vision rarely seen in today’s myopic pop world.
“This is a continuation of the direction we had with Presents of Mind,” Herin said of the new album. “We made a conscious attempt to keep our epic tendencies in check—since we had exorcised those demons on Window Dressing. We wanted Fly Paper to have a song-oriented, almost melodic rock focus. From a production standpoint we wanted the songs to sound full and rich. There are more three or four part harmonies here than in previous recordings — similar to the vocal arrangements along the lines of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Many of the rhythm section parts were improvised and there was more co-writing as a band too.”
Through producer Brown’s assistance Tiles was also able to acquire some musical heavy hitters for the sessions. Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson went above and beyond the call of duty with his inclusion of multiple textures and electric/acoustic filigree to the incendiary track “Sacred and Mundane”.
Alannah Myles, who had a Grammy-award winning hit in 1989 with “Black Velvet,” added angelic harmonies to the song “Back and Forth,” and Kim Mitchell, who fronted the band Max Webster and had a solo hit with the tune “Go for Soda,” contributes six-string histrionics to the track “Dragons, Dreams and Daring Deeds”.
Also in attendance for the sessions were Syme, Sonya Mastick on percussion, multi-instrumentalist Matthew Parmenter and, from Toronto, Run with the Kittens vocalist Nate Mills.
Plans to tour in support of “Fly Paper” are in the works. For more information, check out Tiles’ Web site at www.tiles-music.com.