Half of the Philadelphia-based tattooed-punk roots unit Mass Folk Commons are from Central Jersey, as is their manager, Tiffany Harned, an accomplished artist and photographer. Both will participate in the fourth and final Makin Waves Rock Circus on Oct. 21 at Roxy & Dukes in Dunellen with The Silverhounds, Coach N’ Commando, Anthony Carrera, Vivi Noir, Vertical Fixation and Dean Formica.
Philadelphia-based Mass Folk Commons is a family of a band.
The guitarist Garrett Pilbeam and bassist Cara Pilbeam are married. His brother, Andy, the band’s lead vocalist and banjo player, is dating their manager, Tiffany Harned, an award-winning artistic photographer who considers Cara to be like a sister.
Both of them are from Middlesex County: Cara, from Piscataway, and Tiffany, from Woodbridge. And Mass Folk Commons’ multi-instrumentalist, Andrew German, is from Trenton, where the band’s tattooed-punk mix of Celtic, Appalachian and other roots music often can be heard at the cherished Irish pub Tir Na Nog.
On Oct. 21, Mass Folk Commons will get their spook on at Roxy & Dukes, the Dunellen oasis for the strange and wonderful, where Harned used to be a bartender. And she will celebrate her birthday not only with the band’s edgy take on traditional Irish and American music, but with an exhibit of her fiery photographic artwork. The fourth and final Makin Waves Rock Circus also will feature the psycho-billy trio The Silverhounds, the roots duo Coach N’ Commando, world music instrumentalist Anthony Carrera, Jersey burlesque queen Vivi Noir, the exotic aerial acrobatics troupe Vertical Fixation, and sword swallower Dean Formica. The spooks ‘n’ roots evening also will include a Halloween costume contest for cash prizes and a free drawing to win concert tickets.
When not readying their full-length studio debut, following a 2015 live LP and a 2016 EP, Mass Folk Commons also will play The Great Harvest Cider and Beer Festival on Nov. 4 and the Palmer Cemetery Fundraiser on Nov. 12, both in Philly.
Q: Tiffany and Cara, you both grew up in Middlesex County. Had you known each other before your mutual association with Mass Folk Commons? If so, was that connection related to Roxy & Dukes?
Cara: I wish I knew Tiffany before our mutual association with Mass Folk Commons! We have become very close friends through that. Tiffany had attended one of our shows here in Philadelphia and photographed us, which began our relationship, both with friendship and professionally. We really loved her energy and the way she photographs people. She is very experienced, and we bonded with her quickly. Since then, she has been kind enough to assist us with booking shows at Roxy and Dukes. We absolutely love playing there!
Tiffany: As odd as it is, Cara and I come from the same area in New Jersey but had never met before Mass Folk Commons. Though I wish we did. I had been bartending at Roxy & Dukes and made a few friends that had known Cara. Once my friends and I went down to see Cara and Mass Folk Commons performing at a bar called Bourbon and Branch. I had photographed them, and a friendship was born.
Q: How did each of you get involved with Mass Folk Commons?
Cara: Garrett, the guitar player, and I met about eight years ago and began dating. I’ve been a bass player since I was 13, and he’s also been playing for a long time, since he was about 22 years old. When we met, we played a lot of music together, and I inevitably began collaborating with both him and his brother, Andy, our lead singer, writer and banjo player. They were in a band together previously called Dancin’ Knuckles. I learned a lot from them both during this experience.
Back in about 2012, we met and incorporated one of our best friends —and now family member — Andrew German. He is our “everything guy.” He plays whistles, bodhran, washboard, concertina, spoons, and sings. Like I said, EVERYTHING GUY. He added a lot to our sound and is imperative to most of our songs. Garrett and I are now married, and enjoy the fact that the band is a huge part of our lives together.
Andrew: The way I ended up as a member of MFC was a blind musical play date with the Pilbeam boys set up by a mutual friend of ours. We played a few songs together, drank an entire bottle of Jameson and the rest, as they say, is history.
Tiffany: I had gone down to see Mass Folk Commons perform … and photographed their performance. Cara and I connected on Facebook, and she and Mass Folk Commons liked my images I had taken of them. I then went out to see them again at a little Irish pub in Trenton called Tir Na Nog that they perform at often. I photographed them again and was asked by the band’s lead singer, Andy, if I would like to be their photographer for their posed band images. I accepted. I traveled to do the photo shoot at their warehouse in the Kensington area of Philadelphia. The photos came out amazing.
I continued to travel the USA for six months after that shoot. Upon returning to New Jersey from a cross-country trip, I made a pit stop in Philadelphia to see Mass Folk Commons performing at yet another Irish pub, this time in Philadelphia, called Fergie’s. This time it was like being reunited with long-lost family. After they finished playing, discussions of taking the band to the next level began. I started managing and booking the band in November of 2016.
Q: Tiffany, what do you enjoy most about managing the band?
Tiffany: I personally enjoy helping the band members out so they can focus more on writing the music and perfecting their songs, while I book the shows and help keep their social media, graphic design, photography, videos and online presence up to date. And Cara is like a sister to me.
Q: How did the band come upon their eclectic roots sound, what makes that sound different from other roots-rock bands, and how does it relate to the name Mass Folk Commons?
Garrett: We pull from many genres but mainly play what comes from our individual stylings, tastes and inspirations. Some prefer technical, some prefer traditional, but we all prefer something that is pure, fresh and original.
Andrew: All of our musical backgrounds are eclectic and we all grew up with some roots music in our childhoods. The music you grow up with almost never leaves your system and motivates you to listen to things in adulthood.
Growing up in these environments that then led some of us down a harder punk rock and metal path later in life is probably a big sound difference from other roots rock bands. We all played in other bands with a harder sound at one point or another, which we never lost.
We also don’t generally play traditional songs a lot of people have heard of, such as “Whiskey in the Jar” or “Tell Me Ma.” We lean toward more obscure tunes that speak more to us as individuals then what everyone else ends up learning. That being said, our name is about the “everyday person.” We are “the commoners,” the “regular folks” or “the masses”’ Each one of these turns of phrase evokes a different imagery, but they’re all synonymous with one another, the same way our songs may not be what everyone knows, but everyone can get behind. All the stories we tell are ones that everyone can relate to.
Q: When will the next Mass Folk Commons record be released and how does it compare to the Celtic-oriented 2015 live album, Live From Fergie’s Pub, and 2016 Appalachian-flavored EP, Gonna Folk You Up?
Andrew: The next album is going to be a coming together of the two with a little more folk-punk sound mixed in as well. Our next venture is to record a full-length album of original music, which we’re already exploring options as far as recording studios go. Everyone will just have to stay tuned to get more development on that. We may even give you some snippets here and there, if you’re all good boys and girls!
Q: Tiffany, describe your style of photography and art and what some of your greatest accomplishments with them have been?
Tiffany: Photography is the magic of freezing moments accented in light. Most people wake up early to capture their images. I am more in love with the night sky and the colors most cannot see in the darkness. I prefer to shoot photos between sunset and sunrise. I often think that the night is more alive and richly colored than the day.
My art is a lot of lowlight, as well as naturally lit images, some with a touch a fire added in. I prefer to create in my camera instead of post processing afterward in Photoshop. I use little to no Photoshop in my images and only do a minimum of color and light adjustment in Lightroom.
My subject matter ranges from live music acts, which I have been photographing professionally since 2001 … (to) beautiful and urban landscapes, urban decay along roads less traveled, historic buildings that have been forgotten, trying to give them a last voice and make them live forever through my art. Live event and real estate photography. The fire I use to light write in my images is either created by fire dancing or spinning steel wool.
My greatest accomplishment would be my self-published photography book called “Away to Awaken,” which are creative images captured on a three-month journey across the USA taking roads less traveled, a journey of color and light. I traveled for three months with my kitten, Winter, and my Canon camera in my 2006 Toyota Matrix that had over 250,000 miles on it. This journey helped me awaken creatively. I learned the biggest risk is the one you do not take.
Q: What works will you be presenting at the Makin Waves Rock Circus?
Cara: We will be presenting some original songs, and we can’t wait to share them with everyone.
Tiffany: I will be presenting one-of-a-kind framed images of inspiration that have never been offered at any of my art shows before. Some with custom handmade or repurposed frames. The frames will be collaboration works of art by myself and the lead singer of Mass Folk Commons, Andy Pilbeam.
I ask you ARE YOU AWAKE? Come have your eyes opened and your mind awakened with my colorful images.
Q: What do you think of the Makin Waves Rock Circus and what are you looking forward to most about being involved in it?
Cara: I am personally excited because it is going to be a true “meeting of the minds.” We will play music with some of the area’s best musicians and enjoy the talented ladies of the burlesque and aerial troupes coming through. Tiffany will be showing off her amazing artwork. It is so exciting to be a part of events that truly showcase what everyone involved is passionate about.
Tiffany: I am most looking forward to the collaboration of so many types of art and music coming together from amazing people in my local area. It is an honor to be part of this event. Roxy & Dukes is an amazing place of raw talent.
Oh, and this show is on my birthday! Looking forward to ringing in my birthday as The Silverhounds take the stage at the strike on midnight of the 22nd.
Andrew: Makin Waves seems bad ass! Bringing together all the different elements that are involved sounds like an awesome day! Having burlesque, aerial acrobatics, art, belly dancing and an array of genres of music … what’s not to like? If only we could time travel to play all the previous Makin Waves fests.
Q: What else is going on with your music and artwork as far as shows and other opportunities?
Cara: We are all doing a lot of work toward the future of our music. We are lucky enough to work with talented artists all the time who support our vision as a group. It’s going to be a helluva ride.
Andrew: We have a few fun fests and fundraisers coming up, one being the South Philly Cider Fest and a fundraiser for Palmer Cemetery, who have been great new friends to us. With the upcoming album, we’re hammering out some new stuff and polishing some older tunes, but we’re always creating something new.
Tiffany: I will be doing a presentation for the Raritan Photographic Society on Feb. 8 called ‘The Road to Inspiration,’ showcasing my artwork from my book and explaining how my travels with my cat, car and camera helped inspire and bring me out of a dark creative time. I will also be doing tutorials on how to light paint in your photos, use steel wool to accent your images in camera, and how to shoot from the heart.
I am currently working on a written memoir that I hope to release as an e-book in late 2018. I have a few pop-up art shows coming up … you will have to stay tuned for more information as they will be taking place all across the USA.
I have been working on a new project that goes with my question “Are You Awake” inspired by some words by the famous Lana Del Rey: “Every night I used to pray that I’d find my people, and finally I did on the open road. We had nothing to lose, nothing to gain, nothing we desired anymore, except to make our lives into a work of art. I believe in the kindness of strangers, I believe in what America used to be. Who are you? Are you awake? Are you in touch with all of your darkest fantasies? Have you created life for yourself where can experience them? I have!”
Q: Is there anything else on which you would like to comment that I didn’t ask?
Cara: I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do what I love, with the people I love. I have learned so much from them, and I look forward to many more albums and exciting shows!
Tiffany: I am a Woodbridge native. My family has a long history in Woodbridge. I graduated from Woodbridge High and remember Mrs. Bennett, my art teacher, letting me spend most of my time in art class in the school dark room developing my images. I attended Middlesex County College and studied photography under Professor Whitey Warner. I dropped out of college to leave as a touring photographer with the band CKY and moving onward and up to work for big music tours, such as Ozzfest, San Diego Street Scene and other large tours. I have photographed music acts, such as Iron Maiden, Jada Pinkett Smith, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Shadows Fall, Social Distortion, Flogging Molly, Dimebag Darrell, Rob Zombie, Snoop Dogg, Tool, High on Fire, Sleep and many, many more, while working for a variety of magazines based out of California. Then as an adult, I returned to New Jersey, staying in the Bridgewater area, where my current photography business, Tiffany Harned Photography, is based out of.
I was a bartender at Roxy & Dukes for a short amount of time and was featured in the same issue of Weird NJ as Roxy & Dukes — a true honor.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.