TIOGA | photo by Meghan Laverty | courtesy of the artist
The pandemic brought Philly’s Tioga closer together, but don’t tell them they wrote a “quarantine album”
Philly modern rock foursome Tioga has seen a lot of change since they were last able to write songs together. Along with the experience of navigating a global pandemic, as well as having various personal achievements — a wedding, a career change, a degree — Austin Paragas, Greg Adams, Henri Brooks, and Derrick Dieso also learned to appreciate their band as a working part of Philly’s music community, discovering more intrinsically where they feel they fit in.
As they get ready to celebrate their return to our local stage with a headlining show at PhilaMOCA with Dominy and The Dawn Drapes later this week, they also reflect on how this new wave of shows, work, and life in a late-pandemic world is seen through their next collection of songs. Having released their first “pandemic track” earlier this year, “Undercurrents,” Tioga took the time and literal space to craft something more production-heavy that laid out the groundwork for a new era of sonic maturation. We talked about all of those things in an interview this week.
The Key: What has the last year looked like for you as you now start to throw yourselves back into playing live, working on new music, and figuring out this sense of pseudo-normalcy? What do you feel like you’ve learned while you were all apart?
Henri Brooks: I feel like as a band, we really turned inward and we’ve had to figure out how to become more self-sufficient than we have in the past. For so long, we’ve always reached out to other people in an effort to grow by recording with new producers and putting ourselves in new and uncomfortable experiences in order to expand on the sound. Without any ability to do that through this last year, we had to invest in our own resources to figure out how we could make music on our own terms and take our time with it and push ourselves to do more behind the scenes if we can’t be out playing shows. Ultimately, I feel like that was really beneficial to us. Quarantine was really good to us, for lack of a better term. We learned a lot, we gained a lot of resources, and we came out a little bit stronger.
Greg Adams: I’ve spent the last year and a half writing music, contemplating society, thinking about where we fit in sonically as a band and where we fit in this scene and beyond.
Derrick Dieso: I think I’ve definitely taken the time to pivot away from being just a guitarist in a band to being more of a producer. Being able to do so much more than one instrument and seeing how that layers with the rest of the crew is really valuable. And, in my opinion, we’re not just a bassist, a singer, a drummer, and a guitarist. Tioga is really four producers. I think it’s felt that way for a little while now and I really appreciate that.
Austin Paragas: To everyone’s point, a lot of this year has been introspective. It forced us to evaluate the lanes and the channels that we’d previously seen success and failures in and reevaluate what we could do better, how much more we can learn, and realizing how heavily we did rely on live shows to prop up our band as a product, for lack of a better word. The pandemic was relatively kind to us because it’s forced us to think about how we have been remote from each other for the last three years — we all live in different places and we continue to do so, and that’s super important for leaning into the kinds of technology that we’ve had to.
TK: I’ve asked the “so quarantine?” question a million times at this point, but to all of your answers — it’s valid and fair to say that you’ve had a good year despite all of the unforeseen change and struggle that a lot of artists went through. There was a lot of room for us all to learn and adapt and seeing you take advantage of that in the ways that you have is encouraging for the next steps that music as a whole will likely start to take. How do you feel all of this learning experience has impacted your upcoming releases?
DD: No one is allowed to say this is “our most vulnerable record” yet — we didn’t write a quarantine album.
TK: I’ll redact all uses of the word “vulnerable,” don’t worry.
DD: On the real about it, though — I think we did incidentally write a very quarantine-esque song, but then some of the other music we wrote has been the most energetic and dynamic stuff we’ve ever done. That’s probably honestly because we’re in a producer’s seat rather than all being in a room together as a band. By interfacing and sharing files back and forth, we’ve produced something that’s more akin to an artist working with a producer rather than four musicians laying it all out together. I think the results, which we’ll see in the next couple months ideally, are pretty valuable.
GA: Most of the songs that we write start with me, and I’d say the last sixteen months since we have been more separate from each other have influenced the way the ideas initially come about. And like Derrick alluded to, all of these new songs that we’ve written, which will hopefully be released next year, weren’t necessarily written for a live band. We’re using all of the instrumentation that we have at our disposal in the beginning of the songwriting process and stepping back like this opens a lot of doors in that regard.
HB: I feel grateful for the space that all artists have kind of been given — or has been forced upon them — this year because it encouraged us to take some chances. Similar to what Derrick said, some of the most energetic stuff that we’ve ever done has come out of this. And as we heard on “Undercurrents,” our newest song, it’s some of the slowest and most introspective stuff we’ve ever done. Oh — I’m not allowed to say that?
DD: That is the “quarantine” thing to do.
HB: I mean, we did do it.
AP: It speaks a lot to the process of how different songs have evolved differently to those parallel to them.
HB: And with “Undercurrents,” the quote-unquote most “introspective song” we’ve ever written — it started with me messing around on a nylon string guitar and I was trying to learn Christian Lee Hutson songs. I love the fingerpicking, Travis picking, singer-songwriter stuff, and I was just trying to figure out some new techniques and I stumbled across something that I thought had potential for the start of a song. I sent Greg a voice memo, and I ended up writing another song around that same part while Greg sat on it for a little. The nature of how I make music — I start them and I don’t finish. And Greg comes back a month later and says, “I wrote lyrics to the thing you sent me. It’s called ‘Undercurrents.’”
GA: I put it together in 30 minutes. It’s the fastest vocal part that I’ve ever written for this band.
HB: Yeah. Very few edits. It was lightning in a bottle. It felt exactly like how it needed to sound. Austin, Derrick, and I spent a day recording the music again and added some found sounds; that added a very organic element to the song.
AP: I feel like “Undercurrents” is a great example of how we’ve leaned on each other to try different things. After not being able to be in the same room together through the last year, there’s a new and different kind of trust between us now to allow us all to go down a different route with a song and then find where it fits. It’s just a testament to how we’ve had to really be open to new ideas since we don’t have each other around to bounce ideas off of in real time.
TK: You’re playing PhilaMOCA later this month, and you were one of the few local acts who was lucky enough to play a couple of in-person shows last year. (Huge shoutout to The Pharmacy for opening up their rooftop for a handful of gigs). Does playing PhilaMOCA specifically make you feel any type of way since this particular venue was also on a pretty long hiatus? This feels like a very fitting “welcome back” celebration in more than one regard.
DD: My first ever show after moving to Philly was Radiator Hospital and Modern Baseball at PhilaMOCA in the fall of 2013. It’s been a venue that’s been on my radar forever, and this upcoming show is our band debut. It’s such a unique space, from the layout to the management, and we’re all excited to see what’s changed in the last two years since they closed. I think it’s a very special venue in the city.
AP: When the band first started, live shows have always been one of the highlights of performing. Having been aware of PhilaMOCA, and when we get to go onstage and meet new people and new artists and really connect with each other, it’s one of the most powerful connections you can make through music. This is really special.
HB: We’re very lucky to be on this bill with Dominy and The Dawn Drapes.
TK: You play in New York a lot, and Austin lives there. Are you trying to expand into that scene? How does one differ from the other?
AP: I think just by virtue that I am there, and the fact that musically and culturally, Philly and New York are very different. Tioga has always been very interested in being on the ground in different places and seeing how all these different scenes operate. We try to make friends wherever we go. But one of the main differences is that New York can feel very commercial. When you play a show in Philly and then follow it with a show in New York, the Philly crowd is always engaged. New York people might be at the bar, they might be talking. And that’s all fine — but I think it’s just a matter of geography and how we have two different home bases. D.C. is also great. Boston is great, Nashville has been very kind. At the end of the day it’s making it what you make of it and trying to meet new people wherever you go.
HB: In the past, we’ve struggled with feeling like we don’t fit into a niche in a Philly scene. There’s the WXPN-centric crew, and then there’s the 104.5-centric crew, and I feel like maybe we fit in with the latter. But we’ve struggled to find contemporaries who we enjoy playing with, and our audiences overlap. I think now we’re finally finding that since we’ve continued to evolve our sound and we’re finding new ways to fit in. In New York, it can feel so broad, like there’s so much out there that we can definitely find a crowd because no one really expects a specific sound. Philly’s scene is much more distilled and clear, which is something that I love about it.
GA: At our own fault, we haven’t always done a good job of getting in with bands that we consider our peers, but being in quarantine is ironic because it took that to build out our network of friendships with other bands. We took it upon ourselves to record this series where I interviewed artists weekly and learn about their music and have a live conversation. That really catalyzed thinking about how important it is to forge relationships and consider how we fit in.
TK: What can you share about your upcoming album?
GA: We’ve been writing the follow-up to our first record since 2018. It’s been three years in the making and we’re almost done writing — musically, I feel like it’s the most important thing we’ve ever done. We continue to learn and grow as artists and musicians and producers and networkers and friends and peers to other bands. A lot of the stuff that I started writing about when I started working this record had eerily forecasted a lot of what happened in the last 16 months. I’m not ascribing any prophetic wisdom to myself, but it’s very weird and coincidental. So the work kind of characterizes itself to me in that regard and it’s taken on a different meaning now than when it started.
Tioga plays PhilaMOCA with The Dawn Drapes and Dominy on Sunday, August 22nd; tickets and more information on the all-ages show can be found here.