Local Bucks band Commonwealth Choir talks writing process, musical influences and coolest band experience
By Samantha Bambino
So many bands get caught up in the process of “making it big” in the music industry. But for Commonwealth Choir, it’s all about having fun. Hailing from Doylestown, the pop/rock/indie band is making a name for itself in the Philadelphia music scene with its catchy tracks and light-hearted persona.
A certain chemistry is evident among the members of Commonwealth Choir after speaking with them for just a few minutes. They have a bond that goes deeper than bandmates — they’re practically brothers. The early days of the band date to the ’90s when lead vocalist Davis Jameson Howley and drummer Wil Chamuris attended elementary school together. The two were immersed in music from an early age, with Chamuris always drawn to the drums and Howley giving the trumpet a whirl. Growing up in Doylestown also allowed them to get exposure to various genres thanks to its heavy punk and hardcore metal culture.
In high school, Howley befriended guitarist and backing vocalist Nick Cislak, and the two bonded over a mutual love of theater. The friendship grew throughout college, and though Howley tried to pursue some solo music toward the end, an even bigger project was about to come together.
Craving a change of scenery, Howley packed up and moved to Philadelphia in the Olde Kensington neighborhood. The living arrangements were anything but desirable. He didn’t know his roommates and the apartment came complete with flies, but Chamuris was back from his college days in Oklahoma and Cislak had also moved to the Philly area. A band was taking shape, but they desperately needed a bassist. As fate would have it, New Jersey native Maurizio Mazza lived right next door. He and Howley instantly bonded, started practicing a few days later, and in no time, the band was complete.
“We transplanted to Philly and adopted a New Jersey baby,” Howley said. “We’ve been moving and shaking ever since.”
At this point in the band’s history, Chamuris was on keys and a fifth member played drums. But due to different career goals, the five-piece became four, and Chamuris was able to take on the instrument that was his first love since childhood. With the lineup solidified, there was still one thing missing — a band name.
During a trip to Stone Harbor, Howley and Chamuris decided to narrow down all of their ideas to two they could all agree on and relate to. “Commonwealth” was chosen to represent their love of Pennsylvania, where the band was officially formed. As for “choir,” singing was the main thing that connected the four members, so it seemed only natural. The term also symbolizes the collective mentality of the band when writing songs and making important decisions. Usually, Howley will brainstorm a basic idea for a song, whether it be a lyric or melody, and then present it to the band.
“We bring it into a workshop environment, strip it down to the bare bones and build it up from there,” he said.
For the song to move forward in the recording process, everyone has to be on board. Sometimes they will record several takes over the span of months, but end up scratching it because it’s not working out.
“The ones (songs) that work out best were created in that communal process,” Cislak said.
As far as the sound of Commonwealth Choir, it doesn’t fit neatly into one specific genre, and they plan to keep it that way. With each EP released, the sound changes as the band members go through various life events, putting their own flair on their individual parts in the tracks.
“A lot of it is getting more in touch with what we find important musically that we can all collaborate on,” Howley said.
At the heart of everything, they want to maintain an accessible sort of “poppiness” while staying true to their Doylestown music scene roots of punk and rock. They’re children of the ’90s, but grew up learning to play the music of ’60s rock artists such as Black Sabbath and Cream. Because of their meshing of music styles, the band’s fan base varies by show. From underground punk basement shows, to younger audiences at Festival Pier, to 80 year olds at XPoNential Music Fest, they’re not setting out to target a specific demographic. Their only concern is making sure the crowd has fun.
To date, Commonwealth Choir has released the EP Shirtless and the single “Palace.” They also contributed to a compilation album through Know Hope Records to benefit the ACLU. They had been playing the song “Dark Times” live for awhile, and knew it was the perfect track. While there is a bit of a political component, the song is moreso a strong human statement.
“It’s about sticking up for what you believe in,” Howley said.
Right now, the four are in recording and production mode, putting the finishing touches on a new EP, which will be produced by Dan Pawlovich, another Bucks County native and current drummer of Panic! at the Disco. They will be performing a major show on July 22 at Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia with pop/punk band Punchline, and will be hitting the road in the fall.
Though the majority of their career has been in production rather than touring, especially since each member also works a full-time job, they’ve had some incredible experiences as a band. All can agree that the first time their music got radio play on WXPN was a major landmark.
“The lead up to it five minutes before was incredible,” Howley said. “It was like that scene in That Thing You Do.”
Commonwealth Choir has truly become a band of brothers who are buckling up for the journey ahead. The most important thing they’ve learned is to not take anything too seriously.
“We could play a 7-year-old’s birthday party in Ohio and still have fun,” Howley said. ••