Mike Stern, Parade of Guests Add Punch to Tiles’ Concept Album


Detroit band Tiles is drummer Mark Evans (left), guitarist Chris Herin, lead vocalist Paul Rarick and bassist Jeff Whittle.

(Photo: Anthony D’Angelo)

The term progressive rock conjures a plethora of musical concepts and visual images: complex song structures, extended guitar solos, mythic storylines and surreal album artwork. A similarly loaded term is concept album, which can evoke thoughts of epic grandeur or self-indulgent nonsense.

As is the case with almost any musical genre, the success of a prog-rock project ultimately depends on its originality and how gracefully the artist applies restraint in conveying his or her vision.

Detroit-based quartet Tiles, which has been crafting an artful blend of rock, jazz and classical music for more than 20 years, offers a double-CD concept album with its latest release, Pretending 2 Run (Laser’s Edge).

Tiles consists of guitarist and primary songwriter Chris Herin, lead vocalist Paul Rarick, bassist Jeff Whittle and drummer/percussionist Mark Evans.

Joining the quartet on the new album is an impressive array of guests, including jazz guitarist Mike Stern (who plays on two tracks), Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy (also on two tracks) and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, who plays flute on the song “Midwinter.”

Produced by Terry Brown (Rush, Fates Warning), the album is the band’s most ambitious project to date. It features orchestral and choral sections, a running time of nearly 100 minutes and top-shelf packaging with artwork by Hugh Syme, who’s famous for designing Rush’s “starman” logo. (Many hardcore Rush fans are aware of Tiles because guitarist Alex Lifeson was a guest on the quartet’s 2008 album, Fly Paper.)

Herin explained the inspiration behind Pretending 2 Run. “It’s a like a song cycle, which is another way of calling it a concept album, I guess,” Herin said. “I struck upon the idea of someone going through a traumatic event, [which is] left up to the audience’s imagination. We follow the central character’s journey during the aftermath of this trauma as he copes with adversity to regain his life and positive state of mind.”

As the band members began work on the project, they realized that the nature of the storyline and the emerging wealth of songs required embellishment from additional musicians.

Stern adds muscular, fluid guitar work to the fusion-flavored tracks “Taken By Surprise” and “The Disappearing Floor.” Herin explained how he recruited the jazz superstar for the project after seeing him perform with saxophonist Bill Evans at The Iridium in Manhattan. “I talked to Mike on a break and he seemed really enthusiastic about making a guest appearance on our album,” Herlin said. “It was a nice set of coincidences because [later] he was playing at the 2014 Detroit Jazz Festival. We took him into United Sound Studios in downtown Detroit for a late-night session before he played the festival the next day. I had some basic charts prepared for him, and he came in and did five or six passes on a couple tracks. He had a great attitude and really did a great job for us.”

Other guests on the album include Steven Wilson Band keyboardist Adam Holzman, rhythm and sound designer Colin Edwin (of the band Porcupine Tree), violinist Joe Deninzon, bassist Kevin Chown, guitarist Kim Mitchell, saxophonist Keith Kaminski, oboe player Tim Michling and young drummer Max Portnoy (who plays drum duet parts with his father, Mike, on the tune “Fait Accompli”). Matthew Parmenter and Mark Mikel contribute vocals, string arrangements and vocal arrangements.

Tiles—a band that might be as well-known in Europe as it is in the States—continues to win over fans who enjoy the music of prog-rock royalty such as Yes and King Crimson.

Tiles’ upcoming tour includes shows in Chicago (May 13), Detroit (May 15), New York (May 19) and Akron, Ohio (May 20).

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December 2021
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