Friends for nearly a decade, Accidental Seabirds’ Jesse Lee Herman and Al Letizia, Jackson Pines’ Joe Makoviecki and The Porchistas’ Alan “Sucia” Smith chat about their friendship and collaborations, the local music scene, current events and the Nov. 18 Makin Waves Roots Fest, an attempt to help Food for Thought feed the homeless and hungry while shining a light on some of the state’s best music.
On Nov. 18 for the first-time ever, Langosta Lounge and the adjacent Asbury Park Yacht Club will collaborate on the same show: Makin Waves Roots Fest, featuring six of New Jersey’s best bands. Lowlight, Coach N’ Commando and Jeff Linden and the Black Spot Society will take the APYC stage, while Accidental Seabirds, Jackson Pines and The Porchistas will perform at Langosta Lounge.
There is no admission charge, but a tricky tray of great sponsor prizes, a 50/50 raffle and other funds raised will help offset the cost of Food for Thought’s annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the homeless and hungry at Langosta Lounge.
Friends for nearly a decade, Jesse Lee Herdman and Al Letizia of Accidental Seabirds, Joe Makoviecki of Jackson Pines (and formerly of Thomas Wesley Stern) and Alan “Sucia” Smith of The Porchistas gathered for this joint interview.
Qu: How did you become friends and what part did Asbury Park play in that?
Jesse: Yeah, it definitely feels like a family relationship here, and we all make the most out of our time spent together, music or no music, but usually there’s music. I would not be opposed to living on a compound with these people. We’ve cooked meals together, slept on floors, not slept at all, built fires, all that good stuff.
I was aware of Joe years before we ever met. We’re both from Ocean County and my younger brother showed me some of Joe’s music when they were teenagers. I think he was going as Makoveskus at the time, maybe Spiral Stairs. When I moved back from New York and started to play in Asbury Park regularly again, we got billed at the Watermark with Joe’s band at the time, Thomas Wesley Stern. Turned out we had a bunch of mutual friends from back home, and we’ve been in each other’s orbits ever since.
I think Joe introduced me to Alan one night in Asbury, but it was in Montclair that we really got to know one another. Joe got us invited to play a house show with Thomas Wesley Stern and The Porchistas at Alan’s house. There were so many honestly good-hearted people there, it was unbelievable. We made friends with their friends and truly felt at home.
Asbury Park is where all of our paths eventually crossed. Without the music community in that town, my life and my circle of good friends would be something different for sure.
Joe: Asbury Park is like a conduit where artists can find a place to play. There are so many options, whereas most places have only one venue or two to choose from if you’re extremely lucky. In Asbury, there are dozens of spaces that have music. If it’s not a venue, odds are it doubles as one during Asbury Underground or another one of the town-wide events they run each year.
I met Jesse in Lakewood at a mutual friend’s house, but it’s crazy because my sister and he graduated from our middle school the same year, and I never met him until six years ago. I met Alan for the first time in Asbury Park at the NJ Clearwater festival in 2010. Our bands played the same day, and we talked a little, but really became friends after we started playing at Tierney’s in Montclair with The Porchistas and the Seabirds. It was a biannual gig for years up there, and it helped us develop a following in North Jersey, where fans are hard to win, but when you hook ’em, they’re yours.
As far as Asbury, our best shows together were at Asbury Lanes, which doesn’t exist anymore. We don’t know what’s going to happen with it, but we really hope whoever owns it listens to the old owners and includes them in their plans to reopen it, if that’s even on the table. A big piece of Asbury died when that place closed, but nothing lasts forever.
Alan: I was walking around Asbury Park by myself on a hot summer day about six or seven years ago, and I knew Bands on a Budget was hosting a live music event. I stopped in to get out of the heat, and that was when I met Thomas Wesley Stern. We hit it off pretty epically after that show, and I got introduced to Jesse and Accidental Seabirds from them. Through that initial meeting, we have made many of our closest friends and musical comrades. It’s been an amazing ride. We have been welcomed into this community and the Pine Barrens music community as if we have all been family for several lifetimes. It’s a magical relationship.
Q: The Porchistas, Jackson Pines and Accidental Seabirds and their members have played together a lot, but have you ever toured and recorded and released stuff together and/or do you plan to?
Jesse: We’ve done a few runs together. New England with The Porchistas was fun. Hopefully, we can do that again sometime. We’ve played with the Jackson Pines guys in Philly, NYC and up in the Hudson Valley of New York. Never gets old.
We’ve talked for years about doing a split EP, but it just hasn’t happened. We’ve sang and played on each other’s records, but haven’t done a full-on collabo. We’ll get around to it someday.
We did a live recording at the Porchistas Home Studio one afternoon when we crashed at Alan’s place after a show. It was Matt Brown of Homeless Apians, Alan Porchista, and me and Al from Seabirds. I think it was for Lazlo’s BlowUp Radio benefit for Spondylitis research. Might be floating around the Internet somewhere.
Oh man, we also did this live show for Lazlo out on the river in Keyport with all the members of Porchistas and Seabirds onstage together at once, playing each other’s songs as the sun was setting. What a trip!
Joe: We have played countless shows together in NJ, but I have never toured with the Seabirds or the Porchistas. We always tend to go on the road at different times and for varying lengths of time. But we’ve played in each other’s bands during live sets in many different combinations. I always was drawn to groups of bands who did that, like the folks at Saddle Creek or Elephant 6 in the ’90s and ’00s. That kind of collaboration is a big part of our slice of the NJ local scene for sure. You’ll hear Jesse sing on my former band’s albums. And I play trombone on some of Alan’s hits. We love to hang out and experiment with instrumentation.
Q: I believe the last time all three of your bands played together was a benefit for Standing Rock at The Saint right around this time last year. Within that year, the country, especially the White House, has changed a lot. How and why have each of you expressed that change in song and in other ways, such as events and videos?
Jesse: We haven’t released any new material this year, but we have been trying to lift people’s spirits by bringing friends and strangers together, and pointing out the little beams of light in our everyday lives. No matter how dark the vibe seems to be at this point in history, there is still a whole lot to be thankful for.
Joe: I was just wondering what happened to the Water Protectors? Seems like it fell victim to the 24-hour news cycle culture that obsesses over the newest outrage for a day, then tosses it like garbage being shot into the sun. I don’t write songs that are direct commentary. It gets obscured by the story I’m trying to tell, which is not about a country at large or society in general, but individual people. Shades of things that are happening today creep in, like in “Knees, Eyes, Hands,” there is a line that says, “Tragedy, they’ve been shooting people in the street/Makes me wonder if we ought to leave/And wave this town goodbye.” I wrote that line in 2015. It wasn’t a direct reaction to all the shootings, because there have been so many more since I wrote that in my notebook and recorded it a year later. It’s amazing how some lyrics gain more and more meaning as time goes by … and it’s not always a pretty or a nice thing either.
Alan: We haven’t hidden the fact that we are disgusted with and appalled, ashamed and terrified of the Trump presidency. Track 3 on our last release, Axis & Allies, “Mister Chump,” is our funk-rock tune and video about the evil orange clown. Track 2 is a reggae tune called “Ebolabama” that satirically story lines the original fake news conspiracy stories about President Obama. What Trump did to try to denigrate the character of Obama in the lead-up to the election was disgraceful and should’ve been treated as criminal. Instead, it effectively cast a shadow over Obama’s identity in a way that catapulted Trump’s candidacy. It’s nauseating that it worked. Trump’s a racist criminal and con man, and we are counting the days till the piece of shit’s illegitimate reign crashes to an end.
Q: What to you is your band’s most important song and why?
Jesse: I’m gonna go with “Bad River” off of Metedeconk. I’ve been feeling that song lately. The central theme is negative human impact on the planet Earth, but it also touches on the interconnectedness of all people. We’re trying to drive home the fact that we are not so different, and that it’s time to listen to one another and get our act together before it’s too late. We’re beating the shit out of this planet, it’s clear as day. Small efforts from individuals can go a long way.
Joe: I never try to write important songs. I just try to write something that is honest and comes from a place deeper than the surface level that we skate on every day in our social lives. I usually have to write a song or two before I get down beneath the surface of what I’m trying to say. I may have to write some really bad songs before I stumble upon the one that might make a recording six months or a year later. I will say the song that has become the most important to other people is “Even When I’m Gone” from Purgatory Road. Enough people have come up to me after shows and said they know that song was made just for them, that it reminds them of someone they loved who died. Or a relationship that ended. Just these ultra-personal pieces of people’s lives. And somehow a two-minute song I wrote hits that spot inside of them. It makes me feel connected to something beyond just trying to sing my personal issues in public. It connects it to the blues, a larger blues that live in every one of us.
Alan: That’s hard to say. “Make a Wish” explores the history of Newark around the time of the 1967 rebellion through several lenses and my family’s close proximity to it. “Frankly You Can Thank Me” was written out of the sadness, anger and frustration we felt after Trayvon Martin’s death and the never-ending line of African Americans killed by racism and guns and children killed by guns in the United States. Many of our songs satirically explore human stupidity and environmental disaster — “The Garbage Corridor,” “Nuke the World” and “It’s a No Fit,” to name a few. Most important? I’ll leave that up to you, Bob.
Q: Out of all the styles of music in the world, why do each of you choose to play the style of music that you play?
Jesse: It’s not a matter of choice. I think it’s more a matter of chance. We write whatever we catch out of the air, and dress it up however we see fit at that point in time. We have different arrangements for our songs, and play different styles and different grooves depending on what instruments we bring or what the room feels like or which band members are available on any given night. We’re not going for a specific sound or whatever. There’s so much variety in music today. I don’t think it’s expected of us to neatly fit into a specific genre. Our listeners enjoy the surprises and changes. I’ll be honest though, we’d probably get more press and sell more records if we did have more of a “sound.” But that’s not why we’re here.
Joe: When I was a kid, I loved the singer-songwriters: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, etc. When I was in college, I discovered who they were influenced by and the floodgates opened: Woody Guthrie, Peter Seeger, Odetta, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I started to learn how to fingerpick like Mississippi John Hurt, and although I’m not as good at it, those rhythms and chord structures turned me into a sort of folksinger I guess. It’s what feels the most natural to me as an individual.
Alan: We are primarily a rock band, but I think our style jumps around within rock ‘n’ roll. Surf, swing, funk, punk, country, folk. We even have a few polkas. I’m not sure why that is so. When we start writing a song or record, the styles evolve from the feel of the songs as they’re being written.
Q: You’ve all been involved in the New Jersey music scene for quite a while. In the past five years, has the scene gotten better for original rock acts or worse, and why and how?
Jesse: From where we’re standing, I’d say better. The local community gets more intertwined as the days go by. Bands make friends and play fun shows. More new bands form all the time. It builds upon itself. My favorite part about what’s happening is that NJ has become more welcoming to DIY touring acts. As more of us get out there and see the country and meet bands from Elsewhere, USA, more artists come through our little rock ‘n’ roll town on the Atlantic Ocean and share new sounds. Music fans have been very generous to our touring friends lately, which keeps them coming back and puts Asbury on the map in the greater American independent music community.
Joe: It’s gotten better in ways. Tons of venues. Myriad opportunities to play. People are coming out to eat, drink, and see LIVE MUSIC instead of going to a movie or just drink in a bar with no entertainment. That’s amazing! You can get paid to play your heart out. That will never cease to be a miracle. But, like we said, places like the Lanes are gone and some of the special gems disappear due to development and gentrification. It’s just the way the wheel rolls. I didn’t invent it, but I’m riding behind it. At least places like The Saint, the Wonder Bar, and the (Stone) Pony still exist. We’ve had some of our most wonderful local concerts there. Some legends refuse to die.
Alan: Trying to find new venues and audiences to play for has allowed The Porchistas to continually make new friends and get introduced to new music. It’s mind-blowing how much incredible music there is in New Jersey, and we’ve been lucky as hell to share stages and become family with an uncountable list of bands. Relating this back to the last question, our friends’ bands influence our music and style more than any other musical influences.
Q: How does the Asbury Park music scene compare to other parts of the country? Is there one scene in particular to which it is similar, how and why?
Jesse: It’s more expensive here. Ha ha! It’s not Asbury’s fault. It’s New Jersey in general. Cost of living here is fucking outrageous, which means most bands work full-time jobs. I feel that in other communities, more bands get out on the road and, in turn, more acts from out of town come through. Asbury is definitely on the map, but I would love to see a touring band on each and every show I attend. Keeps things fresh. Maybe a few more DIY spaces in town would make it easier to support small shows for touring acts who are just starting to make friends in town.
Other than that Asbury is great. It’s like anywhere else. People get together, make friends, make music, trade ideas. There’s a nice community here and a whole lotta different sounds. I’m happy to be here.
Joe: Most places do NOT have an Asbury Park, and sometimes I don’t know if everyone realizes how lucky we are to have it so close. Having such a big close-knit scene can also breed bad habits like bands not trying to venture out of town or tour. But so many bands in the South or Midwest have to drive very far just to play a DIY space, so Asbury is definitely something to be valued and used respectfully.
Alan: Other than a few East Coast tours, The Porchistas have been mostly a regional band (NYC, Philly, Jersey City, North Jersey and the Shore). However, Asbury Park has been a home away from Montclair for us and has widened our fan and friend base in extraordinary ways. We love this town and the venue owners and bands we play with have us down here on a regular basis. I can’t really say how it compares to other national scenes, but Asbury Park is as real as it gets for us.
Q: What do you think of the Makin Waves Roots Fest, its two stages of music, and playing a huge part in raising funds to help the homeless and the hungry?
Al: I’m excited to be a part of the event and contribute to a worthy cause. One of my favorite parts of playing live music is having the opportunity to bring people together, especially when the proceeds can go toward something that helps others. Peoples’ stories are complex, and it can be easy to dismiss the homeless, especially when just passing by on the street. But that could be any one of us. One choice can lead to a series of events that could leave any of us without the means to provide shelter for ourselves, let alone the large amount of Americans born into a system that was not set up for them to succeed. To give back is the least we can do, and I’m very happy to do so while making music with good friends.
Jesse: Great cause, great people, great music, great venues. Langosta and APYC are the jam. If it’s cold, you can walk back and forth to both clubs without ever having to step outside. Come hang!
Joe: It’s a cool idea. I always felt the separation between the Yacht Club and Langosta should be breached. Hopefully this helps people realize there are TWO shows going on every weekend night, and they don’t just get caught up in one. Walk across the building, see something different. We’re always ready, willing, and humbled by being able to help people through singing some damn songs.
Alan: We try to play music for causes that matter to us as often as possible so we appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this. Our government is hitting major low points regarding empathy and compassion for underprivileged folks, so unfortunately, we need as many events like this as possible to try to meet the basic needs of people who are suffering. Thanks for letting us be a part of it.
Q: What’s on tap for each of your bands and possible solo stuff for the end of the year and into 2018 as far as performing, recording, touring, videos and anything else that will be going on?
Jesse: After the Makin Waves Roots Fest, we’re taking a break from touring and local shows as well. We have an album to mix, another to record, and we all have various projects we’re trying to make time for this winter. So yeah, new Seabirds record in 2018, and you can always expect new songs from Tony Appleseed, our bassist Anthony Defabritus’ band, and maybe a Little Big Toe record too from Seabirds’ long-lost guitarist who moved to Texas.
As far as videos go, our friend Ty over at Thriving Era just released a live video for that song “Bad River” that I mentioned earlier. The album version is electric, but this video captured us full-band acoustic at an art show at Insectropolis. It’s got a really cool feel to it. I love it. Digging the colors and the old school VHS kinda look they gave it, plus it’s set in a freakin’ awesome insect museum and art space (in Toms River). Very thankful to spend my days at Insectropolis — it’s my day job — and I’m lucky to have cool, creative friends like Ty Harrison to collaborate with. Speaking of collaboration, you can check out some videos Thriving Era made while Seabirds and Cranston Dean did a few dates up in Maine together.
Joe: Jackson Pines just finished a run in September and October that brought us to NY, NJ, West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia and Georgia. Dec. 9 in Newtown Square, Pa., we’re playing Burlap and Bean with Mike Herz, a great NJ singer-songwriter. This will be a special, intimate show, not to be missed. We released an LP and an EP this year, so we’re back in writing mode, and arranging the songs that will appear on our second full-length, to be recorded and released next year. The next release will be two songs from our new EP, Lost & Found, on vinyl as a single/B-side. We’ll be playing extensively in NY/NJ/Philly and will also go back on the road for a few weeks to continue supporting our debut albums.
Alan: We are currently recording an eight-song CD. We probably won’t release that until spring of next year. Other than that, we are scheduling a few house shows at our home studio in December and our holiday bash at Tierney’s in Montclair on Dec. 16 with Bern & the Brights and Bone & Marrow. We are working on a few other gigs, but nothing official yet. I’ll leave to work at Rancho Mastatal in Costa Rica for a good chunk of the winter, and we will be back and running with the new EP early spring 2018.
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.