The author, with Commonwealth Choir | photo by Kate Bracaglia for WXPN
Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds: Commonwealth Choir
Summertime Sips and Summertime Sounds is our occasional, seasonal foray into summer vibes with our fave local “summertime” bands, in which we meet up, share a drink, and revel in the sunny weather (check out past editions here). Today, as summer gives way to fall, we catch up with Fishtown band Commonwealth Choir.
I wasn’t very cool in high school, and for the most part I used to hate waking up for class in the mornings. But I remember feeling oddly liberated come summertime, when there were no cliques stalking the hallways and I could lounge around the backyard or go on drives with my friends—usually to the diner (it was Jersey) or down the highway to see Saves the Day or Ben Folds at the Starland Ballroom.
Commonwealth Choir (mostly) hail from Doylestown, PA, where members Davis Jameson Howley, Nick Cislak, and Wil Chamuris went to high school together (Maurizio Mazza hails from Brick Township, NJ and Andrew Torre—who’s not present for our interview—is from Philly). They too spent summers driving around the suburbs, looking for trouble—or at least a spot to grab pizza, and maybe bowl a few games. Years later, it’s clear they still value these same experiences—spontaneous, joyful nights with friends.
Commonwealth Choir came together 3 years ago, although their roots extend back to their high school days. Since forming, they quickly made a name for themselves with high-energy, sweat-drenched shows, and catchy tunes that seem made for summer dance parties and night outs. In their short career, they’ve already played close to 50 shows, including gigs at the 2014 XPoNential Music Festival, the inaugural Key Fest at MilkBoy and the 2015 Radio 104.5 block party, with no signs of slowing down.
With summer quickly winding to a close, I can think of no better band to invigorate those feelings of summer joy and endless possibilities. We chose as our locale their house in Fishtown: on a side street, with an enormous yard for shot-gunning beer and hanging out. Read on for tales of laser bowling, naked push-ups, and what happens when you throw a pizza directly into a ceiling fan.
The Key: So most of you guys grew up in Doylestown. What was your favorite place to grab a burger or ice cream?
Wil Chamuris: There’s this placed called Dilly’s…
Davis Howley: It’s kind of an institution—people have been going there for generations.
Nick Cislak: It’s like a milkshake/ softserve ice cream/ burger place: curly fries, the “Dilly dog.” It’s really good. So if we’re playing a show out there, we’ll stop by, go out on the river…
TK: Do you guys go tubing down the river?
Maurizio Mazza: The band loves tubing. Last time we went, we launched off at 4:30 in the afternoon, and didn’t get back to Philly until 1 in the morning.
TK: That sounds crazy! What happened?
DH: Well, the current was extremely slow and then around 8:00 we hit this part of the river that was completely dead. The sun was rapidly going down, and this random guy in a kayak ended up rescuing us. He literally came out of nowhere.
MM: It started off as a voice in the distance, like a sea monster. Then we hear splashes getting closer and closer, but it was dark out so we couldn’t see anything. And then we hear this deep voice being like, “What are you doing?”
DH: We were all in our bathing suits, and we had to climb through the woods to get back on land. We ended up at this place called the Black Bass Hotel, which is this super ritzy hotel…
MM: We were dirty, and covered in mosquito bites, and starving, asking people to call us a cab. We didn’t have cell phones, so it really took us back to being like, 9 years old in the summer.
TK: I’m glad you all survived! What were some of your favorite ways to kill time in the summer when you were younger?
NC: I remember hanging with my punk/skater friends and we would go to Happy Times, which was an entertainment center, with battling cages and a go-cart track. And we would get two rounds of go-carts—the first round we would go around normal and try to beat each other…and then the second round we would deliberately crash into each other until they kicked us out. It was fun. We didn’t drink or anything back then—we just drove around and did dumb stuff and played music.
DH: We would also take road trips…you know, being a teenager in the summer you have nothing to do, so we would sit around for like 2 hours doing nothing and then someone would say, “Let’s go to Philly!” So we would get down there around midnight, and go to the Checker’s on Board and Girard.
Wil had a great van, so we would pile a bunch of people in there and party. This one time we rolled down—it must have been a Saturday, at like 2 AM, and there were so many people at Checker’s. There was this naked dude doing push-ups in the parking lot. It was so weird. But that’s what summer was all about—just being young, going on adventures, and having no consequences.
NC: I think we all miss those lazy summer weekends, when there was nothing going on. Now we have tons of shows and a ton of plans. And everything we did this summer was absolutely worth it—but there’s something about those weekends with no plans. I look forward to it. [Everyone agrees]
NC: We would also do midnight laser bowling at the Thunderbird Lanes, out in Bucks County. And beforehand we would go to the 7/11 and get black and mild cigars. We thought they were the coolest thing. There was this guy Frank who worked at the 7/11…
DH: He was just this unbelievable character where you’re just like: who is the guy? Why does he exist? He was obviously completely bombed all the time. He would always be yelling about something and he would make up random prices.
NC: One time after midnight bowling, I remember there was this party—our friend Matt and our friend Seanie were neighbors, and their parents were best friends. And pretty frequently during the weekends both of their parents would go to the beach together. So they would throw these giant, two-house, pool parties at the two vacant houses. [He pauses].
Matt had this older brother Vince, who introduced us to a lot of punk and hardcore. And I remember this one time it just got completely out-of-control—Vince and his friends were in the basement listening to American Nightmare, and they had all the lights out and were punching holes in the drop ceiling, and throwing food into the ceiling fans. It started out with like bags of popcorn, and Matt was like, pouring Gatorade on the floor, and slipping and sliding in the Gatorade. Then someone eventually throws a slice of pizza in the fan, and everyone was like “Woah, that’s awesome.” So a few more people threw slices up there. Then before you knew it, Matt threw an entire pie into the fan. It immediately splattered everywhere.
We spent the whole next day cleaning up—we had to go to Home Depot and buy new ceiling tiles, and there was pizza sauce literally everywhere—on the walls and on the carpet. We ended up getting it all clean and replaced. But we found out later our friends got busted anyway—not because of the noise, or the neighbors, or the ceiling tiles, or the carpet, but because we apparently missed one little spot where this was still pizza sauce, behind where the curtains hang. So they got caught. [He sips his beer]. So close.
MM: I had a similar experience—I was probably 18 or 19 and my parents went to Punta Cana for a week, so I threw four parties literally back to back to back. The third party I threw, I had the brilliant idea of hosting a poker tournament. There were probably 30 young gentlemen or so, gambling. The tournament started at 2 PM and went until 2 AM. By then, it was a full-fledged rager. My friend Monica was leaving and literally puked on the door handle, so no one could get out.
TK: So what did you guys listen to while you were driving around the suburbs?
NC: Definitely Saves the Day, Through Being Cool—really all their stuff through In Reverie. Plus cheesy metalcore stuff like As I Lay Dying.
WC: Brand New, At the Drive In. Then on the softer side, Jose Gonzalez, Metric, Ben Folds…
DH: There was a lot of punk and hardcore back then too: American Nightmare, Give Up the Ghost. All different kinds of things: Piebald, Rilo Kiley…
NC: I would always drive the other guys around before they had licenses, and I had like three huge binders of burned CDs in my car we would play. A lot of Blink 182…
MM: I had the CD binders too, and the second generation iPod with the cassette, and the port string [Kate’s note: I remember these!]
TK: What were some of your best or worst summer jobs?
NC: I worked at Perkins as a busser. It was really a year-round job, but it was good. I would get fat tips. The cooks were all there on work-release and they were weird dudes. One dude carried around a backpack filled with magic cards, and was really into making his own hot sauce.
WC: I had a job taking care of sports fields—I had to walk around and pick up any rocks so the lawnmower wouldn’t run over them. I got paid $12 an hour.
DH: I got below minimum wage working for this oil delivery company with my friend Matt [from the pizza-in-the-fan incident]. Matt was a wild dude. Our job that summer was to polish the oil trucks, which sounds very basic, but it was actually this involved process with like nine steps. We probably almost died four times, working with these huge buffers. We ended up getting fired—we were cleaning the top of the truck, and Matt lost his footing and fell off the front of the truck. And the cord fell into the buffer and the whole thing exploded. It was like “BOOM.” And the wire wrapped around his leg and he was literally dangling off the front of the truck. Our boss came out, took one look, and was like, “you’re fired.”
WC: Davis and I also used to work for a contracting company that my high school girlfriend’s dad owned. He would build these crazy mansion houses and we would have to trim the garden, or pull weeds, or drive cement posts into the ground. I broke two sledgehammers that summer. Our boss was “Uncle Joey.”
DH: He was the man. He was the friendliest, like quintessential North Philly Mafioso type.
MM: I was a pizza guy, and a telemarker for about 2 weeks. I count it as a half-job. It was the worst thing ever. You would call and read a script and people would hang up on you or curse you out.
TK: It sounds like you’ve come a long way. So tell me about summers now. You guys played a ton this summer—what was the best show you played?
MM: I think I can speak for all of us when I say the highlight was definitely playing the Radio 104.5 block party show opening for Matt & Kim—it was just a major milestone for us, and it was a lot of fun. All of the other bands were super cool—Saint Motel, Wolf Alice, Atlas Genius…
NC: It was an all-ages crowd and it was just out-of-control.
DH: The crowd was just so excited and energy levels were crazy. We play a lot of club shows, so we’re used to playing for a 21+ crowd. And they’re fun too—but you know, everyone is an adult. Playing for kids it was just like: it’s the weekend! It’s party time; we’re here, let’s get down! To feel that as a band… it’s crazy.
TK: So what’s coming up next for Commonwealth Choir?
MM: We have a few shows—we’re playing September 25 at the Nightmare Factory in Hatfield, and November 20 at the Cable House in York, PA.
DH: We have a long history out there. We’re psyched to play out there again. But most of what’s coming up next is a lot of behind the scenes stuff—we just finished this extensive period of writing, so we will be recording a lot of music.
TK: We’re psyched for its release!