Rock Impressions

with C. Herin and P. De Leon
by Michele Maestrini

Let's start with your new album "Window Dressing." What can you tell me about its genesis?
(Pat) After we finished concentrating on promotion for "Presents Of Mind," we set out to experiment and write new material with (hopefully) a fresh sound and feel. We wanted to incorporate a lot of different textures and tones that we hadn't used on past albums. We also changed the way the rhythm section interacted, as this was the first time I was a part of the writing process from the beginning. So we started out by "jamming" through a lot of different ideas and took it from there.
(Chris) This is the first album where there weren't at least a few songs left over from a previous session - and the first album where Pat was involved from the beginning. We set out with a focus on (2) things: ensure an emotional cohesiveness in the songs - and let the songs dictate how they were written and arranged. If a song "wanted" to be short or long then that's what we were going to let happen. Our focus was on the composition and taking the listener on a "journey-with-a-purpose."

Is there some story or concept behind it?
(Chris) "Window Dressing" is a concept album about today's visual culture - society's fixation with superficial and transient values - applauding style over substance and elevating deception to an art form (and even spectator sport). All the music was written and organized to work as a complete listening experience from beginning to end - like the way you read a book. As writing progressed certain "songs-in-progress" were chosen because they completed a piece of the overall puzzle. There is a lot of stylistic variety to give the program an ebb and flow.
Window dressing is defined as " approve appearances by creating a falsely favourable impression." The lyrics describe various scenarios with the way "misrepresentation" and "appearances" occur in today's society - duplicity is another good word to define the concept.

Terry Brown produced "Window Dressing." How did you get in touch with him?
(Pat) Terry mixed our 1997 release "Fence the Clear" and "Presents of Mind" from 1999. Chris contacted him through Rush's management office in Toronto and sent him rough mixes of what we were working on (back in 1996). He liked what he heard and agreed to work on the project. We got along great with him so when it was time to work on "Window Dressing" he was our first choice to produce the entire project (rather than simply coming in after the recording was done and mixing).

Did he contribute to the song writing in any way?
(Chris) Not in the actual song writing - but he was involved from the pre-production phase to the final mastering of the album. Terry came to our rehearsal studio and we spent three days playing him the songs live. He made suggestions on tempos, song structures, and individual parts. For example, he chopped out several parts in All She Knows; a bit of Capture the Flag; and a small section in Window Dressing - and had us come up with a different intro for Spindrift - among other things. I think we used about 99% of his suggestions and found his input to be extremely valuable - especially in the early stages to help cut some excess out of the songs and improve continuity. Of course, he was just as valuable during recording to ensure we captured the best performances and created the appropriate arrangements.

How has it been to work with him?
(Pat) It was a great experience. Having a producer takes a lot off the individual members and helps mediate any differing opinions. Terry has a relaxed approach and a great sense of humour - and of course all the stories throughout his career make for great entertainment! He is "in tune" to what sounds best for any given style of music. He has a knack for putting the right sounds where they need to be.

Hugh Syme did the artwork. What can you tell me about it? What does it represent?
(Pat) The cover art was borne out of a couple of basic ideas by Chris, brought to life and augmented by Hugh. We presented him with the basic idea and let him take care of the imagery. He did a wonderful job of getting our point across. Like most of our albums the cover is a "literal" sense of the title: a mannequin "dressing" in a window and the mannequin as window dressing. If you look close enough you'll see that she's not real which illustrates the "reality versus perception" and "what you see is not always what you get" concepts. And if you spend a little time looking through the artwork you'll discover a few additional puns, secondary meanings, and other conceptual tie-ins.
(Chris) I'm a big fan of "thoughtful" artwork. For me it enhances the music by providing images that reflect the atmosphere, style, and concepts of the recording. As a listener I like to ponder how the art ties into the songs - and what clues are hidden. I've always been intrigued by puns and word play: the tree stump record player in the woods for Jethro Tull's "Songs From the Wood," Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue," Kansas' "Leftoverture," and of course much of the artwork that Hugh is known best for. I spend a lot of time working on our CD designs because I'm particular about the subtle details.

In this album there are very melodic and mellow songs ("Tear-Water Tea") but also heavier ones ("Capture the Flag"). How do you mix these two ways of making music?
(Chris) I guess we feel variety is important for pacing the CD and creating different moods and atmospheres. And many times lyrical content dictates a type of music. Now that CDs tend to be longer than albums I think variety is even more important.

How long did it take to record the new album? Did you use any particular recording tool?
(Pat) The recording process spanned about 10 months with a few large breaks here and there. We weren't able to do it all in one successive block of time although that would be nice. We recorded drums to 2" analog tape and everything else using ProTools (which is digital). Besides his Mesa stuff, Chris used a few old amps in places and all guitar and bass parts were "real" amps and speaker cabinets - no modelling amps. We specifically wanted to sound different from today's over-compressed recordings... more natural like a band playing together and not just a bunch of overdubbed parts.

What can you tell me about the song "Unicornicopia? I think it's very dramatic and intense.
(Chris) In the overall running order of the CD this song acts like an intermission I guess. I wanted a "real" piano player to perform it as a proper classical Etude. But the studio had this 80-year old upright piano that had a lot of character so I decided to play it myself. Terry liked the sound and suggested capturing a lo-fi atmosphere - like hearing the song wafting down onto the city street from a 3rd story dance studio. We actually placed microphones outside the window of the studio and about 20 feet from the piano. You can even hear the creaky chair that I was sitting in. I think there's a picture of it on our website.

What does it means the title of the song "A.02"?
(Chris) The "A" stands for my son's name "Alexander" and the "02" stands for my "second" child. The song is a little melody I used to play when he was first born.

How do you describe the music of "Window Dressing?" Do you think that the word "progressive" represents well your style or would you rather say the music you make is outside standard labels?
(Chris) I think the music on this album is "progressive" for us - more adventurous. The rhythms are more powerful and the overall "feel" seems more aggressive (with the exception of the softer middle sections for contrast) - and certainly the lyrics are a bit dark and moody. We haven't created a whole new genre but we've tried to create variations in the song structures that take the listener on some twists and turns. Kind of like "expect the unexpected."
(Pat) I don't think any artist likes to have their work thrown into a category for easy reference. Other than being a quick reference or description it ends up pigeonholing the band. Our goal is to just make good music and let the listener make up their mind as to what it is.

Can you briefly describe the differences between this new album and your previous ones?
(Chris) This time there was a longer period of development for each song. This doesn't mean the songs were overworked though. Each song's basic parts and overall structure materialized quickly - we then spent a lot of time on the details: transitions between parts, minor variations between verses and choruses, and overall attention to the ebb and flow of the song. I suppose the biggest difference in "Window Dressing" is that all the melodies were written before any lyrics. There was a closer synergy between the music and the melodies since they were created together - and each one adapted as necessary.

A lot of critics tend to underline your similarities in the sound to the band Rush. Do you take it in a positive or in a negative way?
(Chris) We bring many different influences to our music but Rush seems to be the most recognizable and the easiest way to "ballpark" our sound - although ultimately the generalization does us a disservice when taken literally. I think the influence is most apparent in my guitar playing with the chord voicings I tend to use - so it's my fault! Anyway, I've been equally influenced by Jethro Tull, Kansas, Elton John, Joe Walsh, Trevor Rabin, Steve Morse, jazz, ZZ Top, and countless other musicians. Jeff and Pat bring a lot of traditional progressive rock influence into the band through King Crimson, Frank Zappa, Yes, UK, etc. and Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Queensryche, and the heavier classic metal bands influenced Paul.

Are you going to tour to promote this latest release? How is your relation with the live dimension?
(Pat) We are going to try to play live as much as possible to promote this album. We would love to return to Europe and play for those great audiences again - they were amazing! We would also like to tour here in the USA as well - at least through the Midwest and Northeast. But ultimately real "touring" depends on how well "WD" is received and if any opportunities come our way.

In '99 you probably touched one of the peaks of your career when you opened for Dream Theater... what do you remember about that experience?
(Pat) The tour with Dream Theater was the highlight of our musical careers. We had never gone overseas and played before, so we are extremely grateful for them giving us that opportunity. The people throughout Europe were very kind to us and we always speak highly of our time with the fans there.
(Chris) The tour was a great experience, playing for a lot of people and seeing some great sights. I even wrote an essay about the trip that's posted on our website ( The moonlit ride through the Alps from Munich to Milan is etched in my memory forever! The audiences were attentive and sometimes enthusiastic - and the DT guys and crew were cool. We had a couple fun sound check jams (Rush tunes of course) and John Petrucci took me aside for a guitar lesson (you can hear the results on the "Spindrift" solo) after our tour "party" on one of the off days. The tour provided a big boost in recognition for us.

A quite personal question, if you want you can skip this one... can you all live out of the music you make or do you have other jobs outside Tiles?
(Pat) We still have to find ways to "pay the bills" outside of the group - so we all have other jobs. Every musician knows that you have to make sacrifices to keep your art alive.
(Chris) Since we all have other jobs I guess you would say Tiles is a serious "hobby" - somewhere between amateur and professional status. We generally hope to keep the band self-perpetuating financially. We'd have to sell many more CDs to make a living!

You have been in the music business for a few years now, since you began in '93 if I am not wrong, how was the musical scene when you moved your first steps?
(Chris) Detroit has a rich and varied musical history and still keeps creating international artists. So the music scene and support for local musicians is good. Of course progressive musicians work mostly underground and we've never had "favoured" status like the punk scene. Back in 1993 we were simply doing what we were interested in and have kept going.

In the last years there has been an explosion of popularity for many progressive bands such as Echolyn, Flower Kings and in particular Dream Theater. Do you think that your evolution in the style of the band was influenced by this new wave of progressive bands?
(Chris) No... not much - although it does support our own notions to write some long-form songs and generally "do what we want to." Having a label like Inside Out is truly a gift. Of course we're glad to see the genre find more and more fans no matter which bands benefit from it.

In the 70s, prog music was mainly English... nowadays it seems to be more American/Canadian, Swedish (in fact in the UK the prog scene is very poor now) can you give an explanation about this?
(Chris) I don't know what would explain this. Maybe the fan bases have simply changed and allow prog bands to sustain themselves in new territories. Everything is cyclical. After years of developing and leading the prog movement maybe the UK is tired of it!

What are in your opinion the main differences between the English prog and the American/Canadian one?
(Chris) I think English prog tends to be a bit more symphonic with North American prog a bit more guitar (or rock) oriented. I'm not qualified to offer an in-depth evaluation but that is my layman's definition.

How much did the Canadian musical scene influenced you?
(Chris) Well most things Canadian do well in Detroit since we're next door (across the Detroit River) from Ontario. Canada/Ontario seems like another state and not a different country. So we (can) get Canadian radio and TV - and plenty of Canadian bands. I was introduced to Rush, Max Webster, April Wine, Northern Pikes, Our Lady Peace, The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Matthew Good, Finger 11 and many others because I either saw them live in Detroit or heard them on Canadian radio first. So Canadian music has played a significant role in my musical development.

There are artists like Peter Gabriel, for example, that are always in evolution and they try to progress on every album... other artists (Yes for example) continue to tour with a very nostalgic set list... what do you think about this two ways of making music?
(Chris) From those two examples I would say that either way is fine. I think a high-minded mentality that "older stuff is no longer valid" is wrong. It makes the music disposable - like a paper towel. Music that stands the test of time should be celebrated (like the classical masters). But on the other hand striving to grow artistically is essential. Yes continues to create new music even though it may not always be featured prominently in their live shows. And let's face it, Peter Gabriel has to play hits from over 25 years ago in his concerts or attendance would fall.
Art and commerce must collide or else all artistic endeavours would remain with their creators. So if any band with the longevity of a Yes, Gabriel, Tull, Rush, etc. wanted to tour solely on their back catalog then why not? They are still musicians performing music to an audience.

How much importance do you give to the technical aspect of music? I think that a lot of progressive bands tend to focus more on the technical aspect and not much on the emotions... what do you think?
(Chris) Technique is simply a tool in and of itself - it can facilitate energy and emotion but can't sustain it. Tiles is not a "technique on display" band. For one thing I don't have the technical skills of a Steve Morse or John Petrucci. Much of our complexity appears in the details of our compositions and arrangements. But even then, most of our songs come from humming melodies along with a strumming guitar. If a musician's goal is to reach the listener then all you need is enough technique to deliver your message. If your goal is to impress the listener then you'll need to focus on your technique! Hopefully, a musician can find balance between technique and composition to reach the listener.

What bands do you like listening to?
(Chris) I listen to lots of different stuff. Jazz, classical, pop, rock, bluegrass, metal... Lately I've been listening to Blue Oyster Cult, Nik Kershaw, Sam Phillips, Miles Davis, Proto-Kaw, Van Halen, Matthew Parmenter... too much music actually!

And your inspirations from the past?
(Chris) There are plenty of these too... Jethro Tull, Elton John, Joe Walsh, Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, UK, Genesis, Yes w/ Rabin, Sweet, ZZ Top, Al Dimeola, The Dregs, and on and on...

Thanks very much for your attention and your patience answering my questions...
Best regards and thank you again! Miki
Thank you for taking the time to conduct the interview - we appreciate your support!!


Reviews (in italian): Tiles + Present of Mind / Dressing Windows; Fly Paper


Indietro all'elenco delle Interviste

| Home | Articoli | Recensioni | Interviste | News | Links | Rock Not Roll | Live | FTC | MySpace | Born Again |