With Fly Paper the American progsters Tiles returned and show that they are still alive and kicking. Why it took several years to release the follow-up of Window Dressing and many more guitarist Chris Herin tells by answering my questions by email.
Why did it take 4 years for you to follow-up to Window Dressing?
As a self-managed band I guess it takes us longer to get things done – plus Tiles is not our primary career. We had actually completed Fly Paper in June of 2007; but then it took awhile to finish the artwork and get things organized with the record company. By then it was October and it made sense to just wait and release the CD at the beginning of 2008. I had started writing songs in early-2004, even before Window Dressing was released, and had about 90-minutes of new material by mid-2005. In the meantime we played live throughout the Detroit area and played the Rites of Spring Festival and CalProg. Drummer Pat Deleon left the band in mid-2005 – so it took us a few months to get our bearings again. Our original drummer Mark Evans (who played on tiles, Fence The Clear and Presents Of Mind) rejoined in the fall of 2005 and we started working on new songs right away.
How much did Mark Evans rejoining the band effect Fly Paper? Did it change the way you work?
Mark had a big influence on how the songs were developed and arranged. He's very patient and willing to experiment – he's a very spontaneous player too. The only problem is we have to record everything since he doesn't remember what he does (at first)! Mark rejoining the band allowed us to exercise our improvisational tendencies again in the studio. The long ride out jam on Hide & Seek is the entire second take (we needed the first take to warm up!) – and many portions of the instrumental sections are improvised rhythm sections. But the songs generally developed in the usual way for us. I wrote most of them on acoustic guitar (and even mandolin)... and recorded some very rough demos to present to the band. Then we went through a strenuous arrangement process: meaning that we'd learn the song as I had written it – but scrutinize & experiment with everything... tempos, grooves, arrangements, etc. In some cases Jeff or Mark would suggest musical ideas that we would use – or Paul would develop the melodies in a different direction. But even though the composition and arrangement process did take time – we were careful not to 'overwork' the songs. We worked up two songs at a time then went to the studio to record the basic tracks to keep things fresh. And once we got to the studio Terry did his pre-production where the songs underwent another round of refinement – to make sure that the arrangements were logical and the melodies were interesting. Our goal is not to be complicated to impress anyone, but to create the kind of music we like to listen to.
Fly Paper seems more song-oriented... with fewer keyboards and maybe more acoustic guitar. Did you change something in the song writing process?
Well, coming off of Window Dressing – which is a pretty dark, demanding, and impressionistic piece of music that requires the listener's total concentration – made us think of taking a song-oriented approach. For Fly Paper we wanted to lighten the atmosphere and have a consistent energy level – there aren’t as many peaks and valleys. I still listen to Window Dressing quite a bit and really like it – it's an interesting song cycle concept and an eclectic collection of songs – but I have to be in the right mood for it. Our goal had been to create a complex and epic progressive rock CD – wrapped in some of the raw garage rock vibe of the Detroit scene – so we wrote longer songs with multiple parts and introduced a lot of stylistic variety.
For Fly Paper, we trimmed back the song lengths a bit and really concentrated on supporting the melodies – making sure the songs were constructed well and would hold the listener's ear. But we didn't pull back on our progressive tendencies and still stretched out musically in a lot of places. From a production standpoint we were striving for a refined sound with fairly dense arrangements. We wanted the songs to sound full and rich. There are a lot more backing vocals than on our previous recordings. I worked out three and four part harmonies in places where we might have normally had keyboards – vocal arrangements along the lines of Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. We also asked Terry to make sure we stayed away from too many keyboards and to help us keep things guitar oriented.
As far as I know you changed the way you recorded Fly Paper – but you worked again with Terry Brown... Was it the combination of recording differently, but still working with someone who knows you from previous recordings that makes the album sound more fresh?
I think the biggest factor was simply arranging and recording 2 songs at a time. Our enthusiasm and interest in the songs were at a natural peak. For our other CDs we learned everything we planned to record and then went into the studio... which meant that sometimes a song was a year old by the time we recorded it. Plus we had to spend a lot of time keeping all the songs rehearsed. But I don’t remember ever having trouble mustering up enough energy in the studio – it's just that the two-songs-at-a-time approach seems to capture a greater degree of spontaneity and freshness.
You have some guests on Fly Paper. I think you mentioned somewhere that you wanted to work with David Gilmour... But are there any other artists you would like to work with in future?
Terry's brother Phill - who lives in England - has produced or engineered projects with David Gilmour, Robert Plant, Talk Talk, Dido, and countless others... so one afternoon I was casually reading a MOJO article on Pink Floyd and mentioned to Terry that we could use a 'big name' or two to draw some attention to Fly Paper. ...and going straight to the top I suggested maybe his brother would put a call into David Gilmour on our behalf. Of course, this was just a bit of spontaneous fantasizing and Terry quickly brought me down to earth with a polite 'no'. However, this started the guest artist discussion rolling and led to Terry calling on Alex Lifeson, Alannah Myles, and Kim Mitchell – who all were very generous with their time and talents. You can hear that their contributions are significant and not just cameos to take advantage of their celebrity status.
I think Ian Anderson is probably at the top of my list – along with Elton John and Trent Reznor; if we were to stumble on to more good luck with guest artists.
You did a video clip for Sacred & Mundane. Why this song? And it seems there have been some difficulties with the video shoot... Tell us what happened.
We did an edit for Sacred & Mundane to release as an advance single – and wanted to release a modest video at the same time for additional promotion on YouTube. It certainly wasn't meant to compete with serious conceptual videos. We had recorded some performances back in October – but the final video was supposed to mostly be rapid collages of 'sacred' and 'mundane' images interspersed with us playing; there was going to be 4 small screens going at the same time. Unfortunately, the people we originally hired kept missing deadlines, breaking promises, and never followed through on their commitment. So we ended up hiring another company in late-January to piece something together using our performance shots. We were still able to get the video published about a week after the CD was released – and it’s actually done fairly well. A couple cable TV video shows have picked it up and it's being featured on the RockNation music video show along with Megadeth, Nickelback and Queensrÿche.
Does making a video clip make more sense now, with outlets like YouTube, than it did about 5 years ago? Especially as the music TV channels are more and more focused on the Top100...
Yes, it makes a lot more sense. In fact, we've been digging through our archives and plan to start putting a variety of stuff up on YouTube. We have video from the very first Tiles show, rehearsals, recording studio stuff, and more from our European tour with Dream Theater that might be interesting. Plus we've also talked about doing a larger budget video for Landscrape.
Are you satisfied with how the video turned out? Or do you now feel, after the fact, that there are things that could have been better?
Well, there are a few things we would have developed further if we had the time or the budget. All things considered it turned out ok. We would have preferred staying with our original idea because we didn't shoot enough performance video with enough variety for that to be the primary focus of the video. But circumstances worked against us a little bit; and we thought doing something was better than doing nothing.
I know Fly Paper wasn’t supposed to be a concept album, even though the songs ended up revolving around themes of fear and the vulnerability. Do the lyrics partly reflect your own fears?
In some cases, yes... certainly most songs I write start with something I've experienced – or witnessed. But then the concept mutates into something (hopefully) more universal. For example, I'm the kind of guy who is very detailed oriented – I think little things add up to create the big picture; which is the concept behind Sacred & Mundane. But certainly the song isn't 'about' me – even though my experiences play a role in what the song says. But I went through a very dark period in my life about 8 years ago and I can see how some of this shows up in my lyrics, even to this day. Especially the concept behind Hide In My Shadow – which is about retreat and isolation; or Back & Forth which is about indecision. But I approach songs that might have a significant element of autobiography to them from a global perspective so they touch on a subject universally or at least tell an interesting story.
9/11 left a scar on the world and the cover for Fly Paper makes a strong reference to this... How much did 9/11 change your life? Can you still feel the change it brought to the US? To the world?
Certainly 9/11 changed the world forever; and has changed everyone's life to some degree. A black cloud still seems to hang over everything. There are frustrations with the war in Iraq, heightened tensions with Middle Eastern cultures (and practically every other country), and the spin-off damage to our economy. I don't think anyone can forget the 9/11 images or those who lost their life in the attack & the trauma experienced by the responders; or soldiers & innocent civilians who have died or been wounded in the war; and the families of everyone affected. Overall I think there's a lingering subconscious psychological effect – which is draining. The war is taking its toll on the US financially and spiritually. Adding to all this is that the rest of the world seems glad. I would never say that the US is blameless – but I think there’s plenty of evidence to show the good of our country outweighs the bad (even in these troubled times).
The paper plane symbolizes - in my opinion - the way the media can change the world; and that this change is not always is good. Do you think people are too easily influenced by media?
Yes. Critical thinking seems irrelevant to a lot of people. They're happy to be told what to think and what to do. It's a bit of an oversimplification, but I'm afraid a vast majority of Americans are too occupied with being entertained, all the time. And it seems like all media outlets have their own agenda to promote – with sensationalism being the media’s priority. Obvious media manipulation is the rule and not the exception these days. There are countless stories the media could choose to report – and they focus on the negative.
But setting aside all the politics, the primary concept of the cover is that the paper airplane gliding across the sky simply represents an obvious sense of threat (in a post-911 world as you mentioned), but the image maintains the whimsical notion that the plane is only paper – so what harm can it do? Also, as you noted, the airplane is made of newspaper to depict that the printed word has its own historic sense of political and literary menace. Illustrating two different kinds of vulnerability… It didn't occur to us until later that the paper airplane is fragile and also represents the concept of “'rising above”' – or “'succeeding' in the face of adversity… which is everybody's challenge in life. So the artwork also reflects a positive 'response' or coping mechanism to vulnerability.
The album has been out for a couple of months now – how has it been received?
Fortunately, the vast majority of people seem to like Fly Paper a lot. We've gotten plenty of emails and numerous reviews that rank it as our best CD yet. Of course, there have been a few harsh critics here and there – mostly from people who can only hear the vague Rush influence and don't bother to really listen to the music. But we don't take either extreme opinion to heart. We've gotten used to existing in this 'gray' area where our music is considered too metal for progressive fans and too progressive for metal fans. Our fan base tends to be people who are willing to give music that's different a chance – people who are willing to step outside the flavor of the day.
Do you have any plans to tour? Or to play festivals like ProgPower?
We're planning to do mini-tours throughout the Midwest and Northeast parts of the US. Whether we can get back to Europe and tour will depend on how well Fly Paper sells. It really boils down to economics, unfortunately. If the record company sees strong sales and interest then getting us over to Europe as an opening act makes sense to help build on the momentum and get us in front of more people. We're certainly willing to make the trip – and are keeping our fingers crossed.
You did a live album in 1999, but don't have a DVD yet... Do you have any plans to do a DVD?
We released a limited pressing of Presence In Europe in 2000 on our own label. It's not a proper live album, but a live bootleg from our November 1999 European tour with Dream Theater. It's a direct from the stage to 2-track recording – so it's the live mix. We weren't able to go into the studio and re-mix the songs. Presence In Europe is also included as a bonus disc in the Special Edition version of Window Dressing. Yes, we are considering recording a show this fall for a live DVD. We've also got hours and hours of in-the-studio footage, live bootleg video, and other historical stuff. Hopefully, we can make this a reality.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I'd like to thank our fans for their support over the years. We sincerely appreciate it! And for those who haven't heard Fly Paper yet - or maybe haven't heard of Tiles – I suppose this is a good chance for a marketing plug! Our new CD blends the intricacies of progressive rock, heavy rhythmic grooves and dense arrangements with an aggressive hard rock edge. Tiles is maybe a combination of Queensrÿche, Led Zeppelin, Rush and Iron Maiden – but music is hard to describe, so who knows? Check out the songs at www.tiles-music.com or www.myspace.com/tilesmusic and hear for yourself – we hope you like it.
Thanks Claudia for the interview – and interesting questions... and for your patience!
Well, actually I have to thank Chris Herin for spending time answering my questions! And I really hope that Tiles will come to Europe again soon! And that they get the chance the play more live in general, so that more prog fans will experience them live. Hopefully it won't take too long til the next album - only excuse is a lot live shows. ;) All the best to Tiles and hope to see you soon on the road!