It’s hard to say exactly when The Tisburys formally began as a band. You could point to 2012 when Tyler Asay convinced his lifelong friend John Domenico to start playing open mics around their hometown of Scranton together, or you could point it to 2015 when the band shortened their name to its current form as The Tisburys and released their first music. You could also point to 2005, when John and Tyler joined the same second-grade piano class and accidentally started a tradition of playing music together. From those early music classes onward John and Tyler had a mutual love for all things music: playing music, talking about music, and eventually writing music themselves, all in hopes of becoming meaningful members of a music scene they cared about. The two had a joint reverence for the titans of rock, hoping to someday contribute a piece of music that’d be worthy of being in the lineage of their heroes. While the band humbly refers to their new record as “the latest stop on their long, strange trip,” Exile on Main Street is without a doubt the best record in the band’s discography, and serves as a love letter to both the guitar heroes they grew up worshiping and the friends in the Pennsylvania music community who helped shape them into the band they are today.
Explaining the triple, maybe quadruple, entendre that is the album moniker shows how the name is a tribute to both the band’s music idols and to their local Keystone State music community. The record obviously steal’s its name from The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, which The Tisburys’ meant to be more of a tribute to The Replacements naming their third album Let It Be than a tribute to The Stones. Tyler and the Tisburys always loved the Replacements’ irreverence as much as their tight songcraft, and hoped to instill this third album of theirs with both. Tyler did admit that Liz Phair’s Exile on Guyville, which famously ripped its name and album structure from the same Stones album, was as much a sonic inspiration as The ‘Mats were, adding yet another layer to the album title’s lore. It is also a tribute to Main Street Music, the record store where Asay has worked for several years and which has served as a hub for the band’s local music scene as a result, even hosting a Tisburys gig or two. True Philly locals in fact will know the exact cross streets where you can find the cover image, not far from Main Street Music on the Schuylkill River. The album is packed full of those little touches that’ll mean a great deal to any Philly local and which probably mean the absolute world to any of the Tisbuys’ friends who actually inspired these tracks.
The songs are similarly chocked full of references to both bands that inspired The Tisburys, like The Replacements and Wilco, and the band’s many friends in the music scene. I had first heard of the Tisburys through several members’ work in fellow kickass Philly indie band Riverby, and something touched my heart hearing August from Riverby lend a helping hand in the chorus of the album’s opening track, “The Tisburys (on Main Street)”. The track itself already is an homage to Wilco having a self-titled track on their self-titled album, and August’s contribution felt like a representative from the music community The Tisburys have not only become members of but have helped to cultivate themselves. “On the Run in Harmony, NJ” meanwhile was inspired by a fateful pig roast in the titular town along the Delaware River that the band was invited to, where they made new friends and ruminated on exactly how harmonious New Jersey was. My favorite track on the album “La Mancha” was described by Tyler as a gender reverse Don Quixote about social media, and most importantly features some rocking trumpet play from none other than Tyler’s future father-in-law. Exile on Main Street was not just a labor of love for The Tisburys but a family effort in every sense of the phrase.
As I mentioned earlier, I was taken aback by the band’s description of this record as “the latest stop on their long, strange trip” because Exile on Main Street is not just a bump in the road, it is a phenomenal record with some of my absolute favorite songs of the year. But the longer I talked with Tyler the more I understood what they meant. Tyler and John and now Dan and Doug and Jason and whatever other assemblage of friends want to help them out have always been making music in some capacity and will likely continue for as long into the future as they all can imagine. Writing songs with and about the people that mean the most to them is what makes life worth living for The Tisbuys, as good as this album may be it is still but the latest in what has clearly become a life’s passion for the boys in the band. I do hope they get the chance to smell the roses with this one though because it feels like they have something special on their hands.
I chatted with Tyler from The Tisburys about Scranton, Philly, New Jersey, and everywhere in between. The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
GSC: What is your name? How do you identify? What do you do in the band The Tisburys?
Tisburys: My name is Tyler Asay spelled A-S-A-Y. He/him pronouns, I sing and write most of the songs for the Philadelphia indie rock band The Tisburys.
GSC: What are your earliest music memories? Who was playing music around the house and what were they playing?
Tisburys: I think it started with my Dad, he played guitar for as long as I’ve lived. He would do coffee shop and bar gigs where he would do cover sets, he did Jimmy Buffett night at the local bar that my mom was a waitress at. Then in second grade I started taking piano lessons which is how I first met John who plays lead guitar for Tisburys. We always joke that the first Tisbury show was when we had a duet at the second-grade piano recital, where we did “Stars and Stripes Forever”. I played the rhythm part, and he played the lead part, and we’re still doing it till this day. I took piano lessons till maybe sixth or seventh grade, I kind of lost interest in piano and got interested in guitar. That’s when I was like, Dad, can you teach me how to play guitar? I pretty much learned from him the basic chords and how to play along to the Beatles songs. Those are the earliest memories, Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan with my Dad.
GSC: You led me right into my next question, when did you know you wanted to make music yourself? It sounds like you might have known pretty early on.
Tisburys: I can’t remember when I started writing my own songs, but I remember even like playing piano when I was really young I’d come up with little melodies and stuff. It wasn’t really until high school when I started getting into modern bands and indie rock that made me want to do this myself and write my own songs. And that’s also around when I convinced John to come out and play open mics with me, where we started playing around the greater Scranton/Clarks-Summit area wherever we could.
GSC: This again interestingly leads into my next question, when did The Tisburys officially become a band then? In one interview you said 2012, I think another said 2015, but clearly it could have been as early as like 2005. Was there a date where things became official or was it more fluid?
Tisburys: It was definitely fluid. John and I have been playing together for a long time, but I don’t think it was till we were seniors in high school that we started using a version of the Tisbury name. Tisbury Obama was the original name of the band, it was a pun on one of John’s ex-girlfriend’s names. At some point, we dropped the Obama because I got sick of explaining the name. Plus Tisburys sounded like Traveling Wilburys, so there’s a classic rock feel to the name, and I love the bands like The Strokes, The Beatles, The Band, you name it. So that’s how we settled on the name. 2012 was when we graduated high school, but we all went our separate ways in college. John’s brother was playing bass at the time. Around 2015 was when we put out our first EP slash demo-tape. Sacks of Phones came out 2015 so that I always say was when we started taking it a little more seriously.
GSC: The Sacks of Phones EP was recorded in four days, how did that come about?
Tisburys: It was a winter break from college. I think we had a show booked over the holidays. We were going to play this bar in Scranton, so we wanted to have something to give out to people at the show. We holed up in each of our houses for periods of time. It was my living room, John’s bedroom, and then Matt Montella, who was drumming at the time, his attic. Everyday we’d sneak to wherever we could record and would get a little more done. It came together pretty quick, we cobbled it together and passed out CDRs that we burned. I still like those songs, too. We always joke that we’re going to do it a 10th anniversary remix because they’re kind of joke songs, a lot of inside jokes with our friends on that record. That could be our Twin Fantasy.
GSC: From 2016-2019. You guys put out a number of LPs and one EP. At some point Doug Keller came on full time as a bassist. What was this time in the band? Were you guys playing in a bunch of bands? What were your motives.
Tisburys: During that time, John had moved to Colorado and I had just graduated college and moved to Manayunk, I’ve been here since 2016. I went to school for music journalism and economics. I was doing that for a while, I interned at Magnet Magazine and I was writing for them for a little bit. Around the time I started writing more songs again, more earnest stuff, like what Tisbury is now. We recorded Crooked Roads with Justin Nazario, who’s done basically everything we’ve done since. That was also around the time that Doug joined as did Andrew Houston, who was our longtime drummer and still is a good friend of ours. Wax Nostalgic came out two years after, but I put those together because the songs were all written around the same time. We were working with our buddy Jon Covert, who played bass in a band called the Levee Drivers in Philly. Jon produced Wax Nostalgic for us and played bass for a couple shows. We were looking for a permanent bass player and we met Doug because he came to a Tisbury show. He asked me to be on his radio show out in Westchester and I was like we need bass player for this show, do you want to do it? And he’s been rocking with us ever since, he’s the best. I love Doug. And now I work with him. We work together up in Morrisville at a, you know, like normal job.
GSC: Listening back through your discography I felt that you hit your stride somewhere between parts 1 and 2 of Wax Nostalgic, did you feel that at the time?
Tisburys: That was the first time that we took some musically ambitious chances. The bands I love the most are the ones with complicated arrangements and thematic cohesion. Wax Nostalgic took so long because I was working on this three-part song with a symphony arrangement and all that. That became Wax Nostalgic II which I had to release on Spotify as the “Deluxe” edition of the album for logistical reasons. We decided at the time to release it in two halves. The first one we put out CDs for record store day, I had just started working at Main Street Music too, so playing record store day there we wanted something to give out too. And then we put out 2 when it was done.
GSC: Reading interviews of you talking about Sun Goes Down, you said it was a debut album that felt like a second album, and in a way you guys came into your own with Wax Nostalgic without even realizing it.
Tisburys: To me Wax Nostalgic was the first album, but I’m just terrible at album rollouts. I take forever to record shit. And then because of that, I’d never want to sit on it and do a full PR rollout thing where you have to record an album and sit on it for six months, the idea of it drives me absolutely insane. I know that’s how “the biz” works and that’s how you pitch to labels yada yada, yada, but I’m always like, “Oh, it’s mix it’s mastered let’s put it out in two weeks.” That was always how I did things. I think I’ve gotten better with that recently, at least with this album that we’re putting out now. On Sun Goes Down we were definitely trying to improve on the groundwork we laid with Wax Nostalgic, I’d say we are still trying to get a little better with every record in that way.
GSC: What was it like recording and putting out Sun Goes Down in 2020?
Tisburys: I think it technically started as a five song EP that was going to be called Fading Light. We started pre-pandemic around the time that we started playing with Dan Nazario who’s plays drums with us now, he’s Justin’s brother. Justin runs Sound Splitter Studios, which is where we’ve made most of our music, Justin’s the best and Dan is too. We started tracking the five songs, I think we had one or two sessions where we had done like drums and some bass and guitars, and then everything shut down. We, like everyone else, were like “Well shit what do we do now?” When everything shut down I was working less, the restaurant and record store didn’t need me as much. So, I was writing a lot. I probably wrote like 20 songs in a really short period of time. I then started rethinking the original five songs we had started recording and I started coming up with this whole Sun Goes Down concept. I realized we could tie in what we had with some of what I’d been writing for a pretty cohesive record. We tracked a lot of the rest of it remotely with a few in person sessions when the restrictions got easier, so it wasn’t easy but in a weird way I did appreciate the extra time for that one.
GSC: It’s a great record, I was jamming to “Back to California” earlier, do any tracks really stick with you?
Tisburys: I was just gonna say that’s the one I connect with the most. It’s just a great pop song. When I’m writing stuff now I think is there a memorable hook or is there something that’s going to stick with people, and “Back to California” has exactly that. For that reason it’ll never leave our setlist, even playing mostly new songs, same with “In The Moonlight”. That was one where when everything shut down I wrote that song in like a half hour and now it’s our top streamed song so far, which came out of nowhere but it’s pretty cool. We close our sets with it and people sing along, it’s a great closer.
GSC: You had some lineup changes for your most recent record Exile on Main Street bringing in Jason McGovern, and Dan officially coming in on drums, right?
Tisburys: Dan played on Sun Goes Down and I think we made it official after he played a live stream of the album. After we put Sun Goes Down out I had still had bunch more songs that had a different vibe with a little more electronic stuff going on. I hit up Jason because he has his own amazing project called The Describers that is Americana with some glitchy electronic stuff that I really dig. I hit him up and said “Hey Jason, I’m I got these songs, I’m not sure if they’re Tisburys songs or what they are, but would you mind helping me out and adding some stuff and seeing what we come up with?” That was the start of our last EP Pictures of Fireworks that we put out last year. We also did the “Shattered” featuring August from Riverby, which is a favorite song of mine. Then we did this tribute to Wilco’s second album Being There. We were gonna do it as the four piece and then I was like, well, we need banjo and we need keys… We need Jason to play all that shit. He joined us for that and now we don’t want play without him, he’s great. He’s such a good musician. So he’s been with us since then and had some absolutely amazing moments on this new record.
GSC: I think you’ll agree when I say that Exile on Main Street is without a doubt the most professional and high-fidelity sounding record that you guys have put together. What went into that recording? Did you have a sound you’re really aiming for?
Tisburys: I had a bunch of songs and the Main Street concept in my head going in. We started recording with Justin again, doing 80% of the tracking at his home studio out in the Philly suburbs. So in building the sound of the record, really wanting to give it depth and emotional stakes, we wanted to bring in all these other elements that came in piece by piece, like the saxophone and whatnot. I think working at the record store has given me a new appreciation of 90s radio rock. The Gin Blossoms were definitely a mixing note. It’s funny people say we sound like a 90s band and I’ll be like oh, like Superchunk? Yo La Tengo? There were quite a few bands in the 90s. Even funnier right before everything shut down the last show we did the Gin Blossoms technically opened for us. We played the Gin Blossoms’ after party at Montage Mountain in Scranton. So we definitely steered into it with the Gin Blossoms, “Garden” specifically we were like, how can we make this sound more like “Hey Jealousy”. There were definitely other touchstones. Wilco is my favorite band and I tried to make “Language of Luxury” sound like Wilco with saxophones. There are definitely Springsteen touches and The Replacements too of course.
GSC: I would love to talk about the name of the album. Not only are you shouting out Main Street Records where you worked, but it is a reference to how The Replacements named their album Let It Be, a Beatles album, while you name yours after an old Rolling Stones album. Listening to your record though it reminded me more of Exile on Guyville by Liz Phair who also ripped the name from the Stones. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the name and how it plays with The Rolling Stones, The Replacements, and Liz Phair.
Tisburys: Yeah, you nailed it. My Exile on Main Street album inspiration playlist has a Liz Phair song or two on it. To be honest, the name was always more of a Replacements reference than a Stones one. I always thought that’s absolutely hilarious that they did that for their third album and, the record doesn’t really sound like The Rolling Stones at all. If you think about The Rolling Stones though, they’re a British band, and the concept of the Main Street like is a uniquely American thing, so I thought it was hilarious to steal their album title as a way of reclaiming Main Street as a concept for the USA.
GSC: Was your other place of employment, the Dawson Street Pub, pissed that they did not get an album named after them out of your time working there? Maybe name the next record the Dawson Street Shuffle so they don’t get jealous.
Tisburys: Oh, that’s a good idea. The Wild, The Innocent, and the Dawson Street Shuffle, wow. You might see that somewhere on LP 4. Shout out the Dawson Street Pub and all the great people over there.
GSC: I love the way you open and close the record. Can you talk about kind of the repeated use of lines in those songs and how those two draw the through lines of the album?
Tisburys: Well as it often does, it all goes back to Wilco, who had “Wilco (The Song)” on their self-titled album. I had a song that I didn’t want to call “The Tisburys’ Theme Song” because that sounds ridiculous. We did consider calling the album The Tisburys however, and that song was originally called “The Tisburys” as well. The lyrics became the “exiled on Main Street again” thing with that riff going. Doug, who plays bass, it was actually his idea to bring it back at the end with a reprise. It was originally going to be like 30 seconds, but then we wrote a whole other song that use that same riff from the beginning and it’s kind of like the flip side of the first song, they’re mirror images of each other. The lead off is the happy carpe diem side, and then the end is sad and looking backwards. Major at the beginning, minor at the ending. I am so glad Doug thought of that because it ties the album together so well, it’s like our version of what Titus Andronicus did with The Monitor. The enemies are everywhere!
GSC: My favorite song of the record has to be “La Mancha” an absolute ripper. Whoever played the horns on that did a kickass job.
Tisburys: Funnily enough that is the one song I think you could say sounds a little like The Stones. That is actually my future father-in-law playing trumpet on that song, my fiancé Kathleen’s Dad, he did kill it.
GSC: Good way to get on his good side too.
Tisburys: He’s was a music teacher for 40 years and actually just retired.
GSC: Oh, congrats to the legend.
Tisburys: He really is a legend. But yeah, it was I was trying to do a gender reverse Don Quixote about social media.. I don’t know how well I pulled it off but I really like that song too, it turned out really well. There is some crazy drum stuff that Dan does in the second half of the song that blows my mind every time. We did a lot of composition work on that song, lot of moving parts.
GSC: It is definitely a big song, even just the vocals.
Tisburys: Kathleen, my fiancée, is always like Tyler, you cram too many words into these songs. I’m always like you gotta tell the story! Sometimes the fewer words the better, she is right there don’t get me wrong. But sometimes you need to ramble on and speaking Spanish a little bit.
GSC: What is the story behind “On the Run in Harmony, NJ”? I feel like it is a fun one.
Tisburys: A couple of friends of ours were like, “Oh, we got invited to this party up in Jersey, if you guys want to want to come with us.” And we were like sure, why not. The party was in Harmony, New Jersey, and I was just blown away by how poetic that name was. I love New Jersey, both my parents are from there. It’s part of my bread and butter. But the dichotomy of Harmony, NJ. Not to say New Jersey is not harmonious. But I mean you’re from there Brendan
GSC: New Jersey is certainly not depicted as harmonious.
Tisburys: Yeah, exactly. So many of my favorite artists are from New Jersey too, like Titus and Bruce.
GSC: And they’re all singing about trying to get the hell out.
Tisburys: Yes, exactly. This concept of the town of Harmony in New Jersey was just amazing to me. The lyrics aren’t really about that particular party, though I do think I took a tidbit from it or two. I wrote that song during the pandemic when I was watching The Sopranos a lot so there are references there too. But it is my love letter to New Jersey and its unique sense of Harmony.
GSC: Was that a good party? Did you enjoy your time in Harmony, New Jersey?
Tisburys: Yeah, it was random but it was cool. Everyone was really nice, we were singing John Prince and other goofy songs. There was a pig roast and there was a river people were swimming in, I had an amazing time in Harmony.
GSC: How does this record stand in your discography? You have talked about it as a stop in the road on the crazy trip you are on but it is a phenomenal record and I hope you’ve been able to celebrate that.
Tisburys: It felt like the third part of a trilogy. I’m constantly referencing music I love in my music and I also definitely love to reflect and be in conversation with my old music. There’s certain lyrics on this new album that I’m pulling from previous songs, tying the whole thing together. I think with the stop in the road thing, people have said the Tisburys make great driving music, so it was meant to be a reference to that too. But I also love the endless possibilities of the road, and the limitlessness of it. That being said I see what you are saying about stopping to smell the roses.
GSC: You grew up in the electric city, Scranton, Pennsylvania. And you played the Good Things Are Happening Fest with the legend James Barrett. What was that festival like?
Tisburys: That was the first Scranton show we did since that Gin Blossoms in March of 2020. It felt great to be back in the town we grew up in though unfortunately John couldn’t be there. We did it as a power trio. It was great. James did such an amazing job. I can’t understate how much work it was to not only put on your own music festival but to put one on at that scale. Like one of the biggest Scranton bands ever to reunited for this thing. All the acts were amazing like Slingshot Dakota, I was totally blown away. Like he had a beer truck, the man went the whole nine yards. I could tell too that it’ll only be getting bigger from there. While Scranton is an amazing music city, it is lacking in those kinds of larger scale community building events like that. Like it is a city with so much music talent and not enough good large stages for those bands and James did the Lord’s work putting that together.
GSC: While you grew up in Scranton I’d say you are decisively a Philly group. What do you love about Philly that others might not appreciate?
Tisburys: Yea I love Scranton and the people I met there, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without that city. But I am almost definitely going to be a Philly lifer. You can see the trees at the parks but you can also like go downtown and see a club show too. There’s so many bars with music Johnny Brenda’s, around here we have the Grape Room and the Khyber Pass. There is an infrastructure and a community. In New York there are a hundred things to do every night but in Philly there are only like eight, which honestly is kinda nice.
GSC: I first found you through your work with August from Riverby, what is it like playing in that project?
Tisburys: I met August when we were both working a crappy sales job in 2018. I was hosting the open mic at Dawson Street Pub and August would come and playing their own songs. And I was like, oh my God, these songs are amazing. Can I help you record them? Like what can we do to help release these and have people hear them. So we recorded that first Riverby EP in my living room in Manayunk, and August killed it, I still love those songs. It then came to recording the proper album and The Tisburys were like the Riverby backing band. It’s gone through many iterations over the years, but we had so much fun recording the album that just came out in Cleveland. Shoutout August and Riverby, I love everyone involved in that band.
Tisburys: Who are some of the other bands in Pennsylvania that you really enjoy either playing with or listening to that you think more people should be cued into?
I mean, I gotta shout out like our each member of the Tisbury has their own bands. Jason’s got his project The Describers. Doug has like three different projects. He just put out a record with his band Duke Maroon which is him and his buddy Gene, and then I started playing bass for them. Dan and his brother Justin just put out a hardcore EP under the name Teethcutter that is really sick. Then our network of friends like everyone in Riverby all have their own projects like Blue who plays guitar in Riverby has their own project Best Bear whose new record is amazing. G who plays drums for Riverby is in Driving Underwater who rock. The power-pop scene in Philly is so hot right now, that Second Grade album is a revelation. Bands like Hurry. And of course I love Hop Along, while not a power-pop band they’re a major favorite who had a huge influence on me. Shout out Buzz Zeemer too, a power-pop band from the 90s who the owner of the record store used to manage, they have some absolutely masterful tracks. We got to cover them for this Philly artist cover comp. We covered them, Ween, Hop Along, Strand of Oaks, and Full Bush who are friends in an amazing band.
GSC: I love how much you guys keep it in the family.
Tisburys: I don’t want to say it’s the brotherly love but I guess I will.
GSC: To close things out what is something outside of music that brings you joy that people might not know about?
Tisburys: I was a short order cook for a long time. Me and my fiancé have this recipe book, so we do our best to try something new every night. And oh, that’s a good way to do it. Yeah. And just like let’s like make this chicken dish that’s like kind of complicated and we have to track down some stuff for like, let’s make this like kimchi stir fry that we’ve made actually two nights ago. That was delicious. So I think as I as I get older, I’m finding a new love of cooking.