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Commonwealth Choir: In Harmony in Pennsylvania.

September 5, 2013

Commonwealth ChoirText by Jared Whalen.

The five-minute warning is given just as lead vocalist and guitarist Davis Howley and keyboardist William Chamuris wrap up an unplugged runthrough of “Let’s Make It Right.”

Hastily scribbling a set list together against the vanity in the basement of the North Star Bar, the members of Commonwealth Choir get ready to “go to work,” as Howley would say. Having just changed into their “work clothes,” which consists mainly of cut-off shorts and button-down shirts (with more unbuttoned than not), the five 20-somethings who comprise the band approach the stage the same way they have dozens of times since coming together in the spring of 2012 – with hearts full of loyalty for their hometown audience.

But Commonwealth Choir has two hometowns to give their loyalty. With the exclusion of bassist Maurizio Mazza, who moved to Philly in 2009, all of the members of Commonwealth Choir grew up together in Doylestown, and two of the five still live there. The rest of the band’s migration to Philly began in 2012 with Howley moving in with Mazza, and Nicholas Cislak, lead guitarist, moving to Northern Liberties shortly after. When it came time for the three of them to move again in December, the solution was obvious – move in together. And so they did, moving into a Fishtown house with plenty of space to become the Philly headquarters while drummer Jim Keifer and Chamuris held ground in Doylestown.

“It all worked out perfectly,” says Cislak. “Now, three-fifths of the band live together and we have a place to practice and record and hangout all together. We’re at the peak of being productive right now.”

The roar of the crowd as Howley greets the audience at the North Star, as well as the band’s growing prominence in the Philly scene, are signs of this peak for the Choir boys.

The band’s first single, “Rest,” was released in May and has carried the band across WXPN’s airwaves, onto Spotify playlists and into iTunes libraries. Emphasizing bright-sounding tones and well-arranged harmonies by Chamuris and Cislak, Commonwealth’s long list of original tracks are both unique and creative while remaining catchy.

The band is influenced by their background in both folk and hardcore music.

“There’s a ton of crossover between the two,” explains Howley. “It may not come across to you as a listener but for us, it’s like we are gonna play this song like it’s a super hardcore song and we’re in a basement and no one cares.”

While that hardcore influence may not be evident through a pair of headphones, it comes across strong in their live show. Watching Howely leap with his guitar makes you half expect a dance pit to form around you. This only escalates when Chamuris, sporting a ginger beard large enough to give Thor envy, takes one hand off the keyboard to start pummeling a floor tom, further accentuating the driving drums.

“I like telling stories,” says Howley, the primary lyrics writer. “It gives people an opportunity to love music but also follow a story if they really want to.”

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