Local Noise: Jonathan Tiersten & Ten Tiers

Fans of the horror movie genre are no doubt familiar with Jonathan Tiersten from his role as Ricky Thomas in the cult classic Sleepaway Camp, as well as the 2008 sequel, Return To Sleepaway Camp. In between, he studied acting at the prestigious NYU theater school, did an Emmy-winning ABC After- School Special and had a part in the soap opera Another World.

The New York born, New Jersey bred performer also has another side to him—a musical side that has recently blossomed with the release of his new album, We’ll See. It’s a tour de force of singer/songwriter bluster, with a roots rock base and a melodic overtone that meshes to form a classic sound. Indeed, the lead single, “Vertigo,” which features special guest John Mangie of The Subdudes, was selected to be the “Download of the Week” by Goldmine Magazine, and a “Cool New Music” pick by the influential radio trade publication All Access.

“I was born in Queens, New York, and I grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey,” Jonathan recalls. “I was in my first band when I was in eighth grade. I don’t think we ever left the safe confines of my friend’s basement. That was my first experience with musicians and motivation. I have never been comfortable in the band setting. It is a tremendous burden to try and balance so many personalities. But I do like to work with other musicians in the creative process.”

Jonathan’s band, Ten Tiers, which is obviously a play on his last name, has gained a reputation for kicking it out in concert, with “really big, but really quiet” shows offering a wall of sound in an acoustic band setting. Their live show has been compared dynamically with artists such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam and Arcade Fire, for the effect the band has on audiences.

The band was formed almost by accident, with his aforementioned penchant for working solo playing a part in its formation. “Basically, anyone who didn’t leave me for a higher paying gig was who I was using at the time,” Jonathan laughs. “I have played with over 25 musicians in the Ten Tiers lineup in the last six years. The only constant has been Brion Neill, my keyboard player and backup singer.”

Many actors who partake of musical endeavors are looked at as pretenders in the music scene. Others are welcomed with open arms and actually embraced, with the notoriety helping garner attention for their work. As for whether it has helped or hindered his cause, Jonathan is somewhat ambivalent. “That is a tough one to figure,” he muses. “It has probably done both at different times. Some of it was probably my own mental hang-ups about being known primarily for Sleepaway Camp, which I did as a teenager. I’m very, very passionate about my acting. But I don’t want to be perceived as an actor who became a musician. Music is an enormous passion for me. Music is not what I do. It’s who I am.”

Indeed, Jonathan is not a Johnny-come-lately to songwriting and performing. He actually honed his craft on the Greenwich Village folk scene in the early ‘90s, as part of a folk duo called the Magic Box. But even though they achieved some local success, he decided to pull up his roots and head to Fort Collins, CO, where he opened a combination beer bar and live music venue. He succeeded in bringing in some major musical talents, including Dishwalla, David Gray and Victor Wooten, but he soon gave it up to return to his love of writing and performing.

At times Jonathan is able to combine his two loves, by working on films where he can contribute musically as well. We’ll See includes a driving track called “In The Air” that doubles as the theme song for one of the films he has in the works, titled The Perfect House, in which he plays a serial killer. And another project includes the score for a movie, Commitment, a short film about racial profiling.

Meanwhile, he has been touring across the U.S., including various stops in the Tri-State area. “I have played from Colorado, at The Bluebird and Fox Theatres, all to way to Los Angeles at The Mint and The Roxy, to New York City at The Bitter End,“ says Jonathan. “And in Philadelphia at The Tin Angel, and New Jersey at Maxwell’s, all the way out to South Dakota, Buffalo, Wyoming and many places in between.”

The songs on We’ll See, as well on another album Jonathan released in 2006, definitely owe a debt to the singer/songwriter genre, but contain elements of his eclectic influences, which include Pink Floyd, The Blue Nile, Beethoven, Led Zeppelin, The Cure, The Clash and Miles Davis. “Roots rock with an edge, but no rules,” is how he describes it. “There is no specific formula. I will say that I am always writing whether I am in the bathroom or playing basketball with my son. My writing and my life don’t have a lot of separation. I think “Vertigo,” the first single from the new CD, is a fan favorite right now. My favorite is still “Sancta Caecelia,” and folks seem to be reacting very well to “The Underbelly,” which was inspired by Ayn Rand’s The Fountain Head.”

With a full plate of touring, acting, songwriting and film scoring, Jonathan seems to be on quite a hectic journey. “As a musician I have to remember to enjoy the process, because that is more important than the results,” he relates. ”Professionally, I want to tour about three months a year, act in two or three films a year, produce a film a year and write one score a year. So not much.”

You can find We’ll See on iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp and Reverb Nation. You can also find it, and get information on upcoming tour dates, at tentiers.com and jonathantiersten.com.