tile: An Invite For You to “Come On Home, Stranger”
Well we're living here in Allentown
And they're closing all the factories down
Out in Bethlehem they're killing time
Billy Joel doesn’t often come up here at Invisible Oranges (with good reason, although heavy psych rock-loving proto-metal archivists should check out the Attila album he released in 1970), but it’s not often that we wind up in the former home of Bethlehem Steel. The track, about how the blue-collar citizens refuse to abandon the rapidly disintegrating industrial town they call home, applies to tile in more ways than just geography.
As bassist/vocalist Ray Gurz said, “I feel like I can't leave the Lehigh Valley to be honest.”
He and Michael Morekin (guitar/vocals) formed tile a dozen years ago when they decided they wanted to make angry music. It turns out they still have a lot to be angry about.
“I’m not an angry person,” Morekin said, “but you’ve got to be pissed off at everything around you. If you're not, you know, something's wrong. But yeah, it's an outlet. Let out your frustrations here in the music and it turns into something cool.”
The band released a handful of singles and splits before 2013’s full-length You Had a Friend in Pennsylvania. They were oblivious to the fact that New Found Glory had a song of the same title in 1999.
“Sometimes these things sneak by,” Morekin shrugged. “One seven inch we put out [""Poseidon” b/w “Prick of Misery” in 2010], we were stealing pictures from Time Life magazine and there was a beautiful picture of buffaloes falling off a mountain. And who else used that as a cover? U2 for their single ‘One.’ We didn’t realize that until after it was put out.”
It was evident why Bono’s lawyers didn’t bother sending cease and desist letters seeing how the band was celebrating the release of their second album Come On Home, Stranger. They rented the second floor of St. Bernard's, Home of the Good Samaritan. You could smoke inside (and most people did). It had the feel of a VFW Hall.
The drab walls yellowed by decades of nicotine within an aging three-story walk-up on a southside Bethlehem corner right next door to the surprisingly packed Portuguese American Club made for the perfect place for a band this unpretentious and working class.
Joining the duo in a side kitchen, used tonight just to store beverages for the surprisingly well-stocked bar, was new drummer Michael Dumoff. He replaced Tim Wynarczuk, who previously spent time in Philly nihilists Pissed Jeans, but became physically unable to drum. Dumoff and Gurz already played in Bad American, “a punk band more like Total Abuse meets Poison Idea, early Black Flag,” according to the bassist.
“I had no hesitation,” said the drummer. “I'd been a huge fan of tile before I joined the band. I remember going to shows in like ninth grade of high school, and all my friends were like, ‘yo, we're going to see tile!’”
His bandmates laughed, a little embarrassed.
“That’s a true story,” Dumoff insisted. “That was like my first introduction to the scene, I went to go see tile and I loved it. I remember getting a phone call from Ray my freshman year of college asking me to play drums in Bad American. And then of course when you said, ‘do you want to join tile?’ Without hesitation!”
Wynarczuk was able to continue being involved with the band. He did the photography on both albums, the most recent of which might confuse people into thinking the band was made up of two attractive women and a shirtless David Cross lookalike.
“I fucking hope so,” Morekin enthused. “I hope they think it’s some indie record and when they put it on they blow their speakers!”
Gurz continued, “these guys from Boston who are hooking up our show actually asked me, 'if there's two girls in it, well you're the guy, what instruments do the girls play?' I was like, no, they're just our friends. I worked in a record store for a really long time, so I don't want a boring looking record. I want one that people pick up and go, ‘what the fuck is this about?’ So I feel like we achieved that.”
They achieved a lot more than that. The album takes down-tuned, grimy sludge and speeds it up with punk rock ferocity and more than a passing nod to taut, bludgeoning noise not unlike Cows or Chokebore. Gurz and Morekin trade off loud-and-louder vocals during nearly every song with lyrics that, according to the guitarist, “are touches of everything -- sarcasm, pure anger, just being depressed. All of the emotions; just throw them out on the table.”
In typical small-town show fashion, everyone has come out to support tile. Metal kids commingle with punks and indie rockers. That’s one great thing about insular scenes -- you can’t be picky. If someone loud plays at an art space, you go. “There's nothing else to do,” conceded Morekin. “Hey, there's a show happening. Who is it? It's just some guy rubbing a microphone on a table? All right, let's go to that, let’s hang out! That's what you got half the time.”
Gurz concurred. “Many years ago there were spots called Jeff the Pigeon and Muscle Beach. They catered to punk communities where hardcore kids would go out for a noise rock show or a stoner rock show. Sometimes there'd be a band like Wolf Eyes who would play here and everybody and their grandmother would come out to see Wolf Eyes for like $5. Are you kidding me? It was insane!”
The show at Saint Bernard’s served to celebrate the release of the album and twelve years together as a band but also to kick off only the second tour of tile’s long history.
“And the first one was like four days or something,” smiled Gurz. “This is the first real one where Mike and I decided we should really try this time. We have a couple really good songs, we're going to have an awesome drummer. So, fuck, why don't we really, really try? So this is the year we go for it. I'll rent the van – I don't care, it's a credit card – and I’ll book the dates.
“From playing in the area for 12 years, we used to host a lot of shows for the touring bands. We'd be like, here's all the money, we don't care. But if we come through town, hook us up later down the road. A lot of people have returned favors.”
Two weeks of dates, a publicist hooked up through friends in the band Secret Cutter and a forthcoming music video for “Change the World,” the lead song on the album, prove that tile really is going for it. For the first time they are reaching beyond Allentown, maybe going to your town. They don’t know how far they can take it, but they do know that they will always have Allentown to call home -- even if they cannot stand Billy Joel.
“He’s a cock,” laughed the drummer. “I'm a bartender and I get a lot of people from out of town coming in and that's their favorite goddamn thing to say. ‘Yo, you like living in Allentown? You like Billy Joel?’ No. And you make me hate Billy Joel.”
Morekin agreed. ”I recently got married last month and I specifically told the DJ in a letter, in black marker, no Billy Joel! I underlined it twice.”
Come On Home, Stranger released August 17th. Follow the band on Facebook here.