Saturday, September 29, 2012

Behind the Scenes with TILES: "Off the Floor"-- Released September 4th, 2012 Worldwide

Part One

‘Off the Floor’ is a studio term for recording music with all performers playing simultaneously – as opposed to the modern method of typically overdubbing instruments one at a time. Early recordings were captured off the floor because that was the method required by the fledgling technology. But as recording equipment advanced a piecemeal process for building (especially) rock and pop arrangements became (mostly) standard operating procedure.

Of course, this is not really new information. We only mention it to give people not familiar with recording lingo some insight into why we titled our new live CD ‘Off the Floor’ (OtF) since it captures “how” we recorded plus offers an amusing “tiles” play on words. It seemed especially important to convey the true origin of these recordings as live-in-the studio performances; but also emphasize these aren't studio creations either.

 ‘Fly Paper’ was released in 2008. Since then we have written and rehearsed the bulk of what we hope will become our sixth studio album. However, as multiple personal and professional challenges continued to work against our musical activities a lot of time eventually passed. After our Midwest mini-tour to support ‘Fly Paper,’ we stayed rehearsed and kept playing occasional shows around the Detroit area trying out new songs and keeping active; but this was getting a bit tedious. One day Jeff suggested we do something to breathe a bit of excitement into Tiles and offered up the live recording idea. We all liked this suggestion and jumped on board for a few different reasons. We could consider it a celebration of our impending 20th anniversary, it could serve as a pseudo “best of,” and every band should release a live recording anyway. So although our ‘Presence in Europe ’ CD (recorded on tour with Dream Theater in 1999) sounds very good, it’s still just a soundboard (or semi-bootleg) recording. Stretching out on a proper multi-track live CD sounded like fun.

 Some people consider efficiency as creative laziness. If so, then we’re guilty as charged! For us to set up in a club and deal with all the variables of promotion, live sound, recording equipment, potential bad weather, business, and everything else seemed unnecessary considering our goal of simply recording the music (yes, we know…, today’s marketplace wants live DVD’s; but our resources clearly told us “live CD” – sorry!). We really just needed to go to a soundstage and eliminate distractions.

The right side
Bob, behind his control desk
Jeff happened to have a friend with exactly the kind of studio we needed. It’s a recording /rehearsal studio with a full PA with recording equipment. After explaining to Bob (Phillips) what we wanted to do he seemed a bit nervous because he had never done anything like this before; but was definitely up for a new adventure.

The Left side
Since releasing "Flypaper" we had developed two set lists we could alternate. We would interchange these as we played around town so fans would (hopefully) come out to hear us more often. We dusted off “Set A” and headed to Sound Escape. Bob did double duty as he set us up for live sound through the PA, plus dialed in the actual recording levels. We ran through our standard test tune "Remember to Forget" (from Window Dressing), made another bunch of adjustments and we were off. It really did feel like we were more at a club and less in a studio.
Paul, Banished to the "Utility Room."
 Concerns about generating enough excitement or energy were immediately gone. The sound coming from the PA was powerful and concert-like; but it also meant we had to banish Paul around the corner in a utility room 10 feet away to prevent feedback from his microphone. Still, after the first tune he popped his head out and gave everything a big thumbs-up. We kept us all together by running the PA mix into Paul's headphones (the rest of us didn’t use headphones) and he’d poke his head out for critical cues.

 We spent the day playing and recording – enjoying the sound and feeding off the energy in the room. The scrutiny from our small but critical audience kept us on our toes and also kept us from lapsing into a too-casual environment! We fixed a few gimpy spots – mostly Chris not switching between amp settings and effects in time – and made sure we knew which versions were keepers (since we did multiple takes of a couple surprise troublesome tunes). We didn’t have any train wrecks though…

 We had approached the “live in the studio” concept cautiously but ended the session feeling like the recordings would offer something genuinely new and interesting for Tiles fans.

 **End of Part One, next up: some dirt on why Chris couldn’t start Dress Rehearsal (more than once); why we couldn’t figure out how to start Checkerboards; and why we made Jeff write interludes…

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My begininngs in the band TILES

  For me it was a surreal experience. I was like 20 or 21 and being taught by an amazing teacher and bass player, Kevin Chown. I had been a student of his for a year and half and learned so much from when I first walked through his lesson room door at Huber and Breese music. He played me a tune one day and asked me what I thought of the bass line. I was shocked that he would ask my opinion. Well, I said it was great and that I really liked the band. I asked who they were? He replied, Their called "Hanover Fist." I said what? He repeated it again and I was like, okay. He explained to me then that he was hired to play bass on the record and was kind of helping produce a bit too. He really liked the guys and the music but, was already committed to his own project called "Edwin Dare." Anyway, a few weeks later he said he had thrown my name at the guys as a possible bass player. I was speechless. He had thought enough of me and my talent to suggest me for this band. I was very happy. A week or so later I got a call from Chris (Guitar) and we chatted for sometime. He sent me through the mail (this was before mp3's and computing sped this process up a little bit). I received a package with a cassette tape and a business plan. Well, I did not care really about the business plan I just threw the cassette in and listened.

  After I listened to it a few times I started to figure some things out on my bass. It was great stuff and I really dug it. I knew the singer I was listening to was not the singer they had in the band now but, this guy had a great voice. I hoped they found someone who equally had a great voice. I called Chris up the next day and we talked and setup an audition in two weeks. He gave me the songs to work on. A couple of them were the newer songs that Kevin was doing bass for. I was incredibly intimidated and freaking out! I worked very hard to learn the songs given to me.

 I will say having Kevin to help me out with trouble spots was comforting. One of the songs I had on the list was "Dancing Dogs", the middle section break in that for a bass player was ridiculously hard, anyway, I worked and worked on the songs.

  My audition day came and I drove 50 minutes to where Chris lived with his wife. He said "Hi" and we went to the basement/rehearsal space. I walked down the stairs and there before me was the biggest drum set I had ever seen in my life, it was audacious to say the least. I was now even more intimidated. The drums on the recordings were great but, to see that kit before me was crazy.
I set up and was sweating profusely. I believe I wore a tie dyed t-shirt to hide my sweat.
This was taken from one of our live shows. Minus the pagoda off the back of the kit, this is what I saw when I walked down the stairs.
  Paul, their new singer could not make it so we had to do this without any vocals. The vocals are like guides so you know when to switch parts. I was now freaking completely. Mark, started joking around and saying well, "I know I will be lost in these tunes." Chris, said not to worry about anything and this was pretty relaxed. I mellowed out seeing that Mark and Chris were nice enough guys but, musically could I really hang with them??

  I think our first tune was "Taking Control" which was a great song. I played very well on this I remember. I was happy at the end of that and I started to get a little confidence going. Our next tune was "Token Pledge" if memory serves me right. And this is a tricky little tune on the bass. I was confident but nervous. Chris and Mark played the crap out of it. I was amazed at how Mark navigated his kit. Chris's tone and playing was flawless. I hung on by the skin of my teeth but, made it through. Now the back breaker, "Dancing Dogs." That middle section loomed very big and dark for me. I did not botch it bad. We played right on through and made it to the end of it but, I did not play it flawless like I had imagined in my brain. We jammed on some things after that and we might have played another song or two but I cannot remember exactly which ones those were.

  I went home that night felling okay about my audition. I didn't know if it was good enough but, I was happy with what I had done and the fact that I had done it. I was still in a band at the time and I had told them about my audition before I went. They of course they were not happy but, I explained to them that this was an opportunity I was not going to pass up. They were pissed. Rightly so I suppose but, I was going to do this. I am still friends with them to this day and I think they understand now why I did it.

 I talked a few times to Chris after my auditions. I new they were auditioning other bass players and I was but 1 of many. Chris did say my age was a little bit of a factor. I was younger than them and I am sure they were wondering if I was not just some flakey kid. Well, I few weeks later I got a call from Chris saying they were going to go with me as there new bass player. He also told me that they were not sure yet on the name but, we had to change the name of the band. (That is a whole different story/blog.)

  I then started going to they studio and hanging with them and Kevin and Paul the singer. Paul's singing was amazing. (A nice guy to boot) Any doubt I had about replacing the guy I heard on the tape was gone 8 seconds after I heard the playback on one of the songs that would eventually be on our first CD.

  Although my picture is on the first CD I did not play any bass on the record. I had no problems with that at all. I was on board fully and spent my time learning their back catalog and getting to know them. It was a great time and a ton of work. It was such an eye opening experience for me. This was a "Real" band. We had planned things out and worked to make them happen. No one that I knew at the time in my neighborhood was running things they way we were. I new this was something different. We worked as hard on the music as we did on the business. (Thanks to Chris and Gene Simmons's advice) We all worked and did our best to get things off the ground the best way we could. Before the internet this could only be done by footing it around town and making contacts and doing the work "Out there." It was a great time.
  We released "Tiles" in 1994 on our own. Again, before the internet doing it on your own meant you had to go out there and "Do it." miles and miles were spent driving and meeting record shop people and getting them to sell our CD and or cassette. I was known for a while there when I walked into record shops as the "Tiles guy."

  That was an amazing time back then. We worked very hard and we loved (still do) what we were doing. The musical climate was not in our favor and that still did not dissuade us from doing what it was we wanted to do. It was a team effort of sorts and maybe that is why we were able to navigate that difficulty. We were in it together. We new that. A lot of things were against us and they were things that were out of our control but, we stayed the course. For good or for bad. I know I had friends that told me to get of there and join other things. Funny though, most if not all of those things are gone or faded and we are still here.
For good or for bad.

  I hope you enjoyed my first and the bands first blog. I have to go now and practice that damn "Dancing Dogs" middle section.