Bands that play original music are at their best when they meld their various influences to come up with a sound of their own, and The Porchistas are such a group.
The Montclair quintet proves this yet again with the recently released album Porch Drive, and they will be playing songs from it, June 30 at 8 p.m. at the FM Bar & Grill in Jersey City.
“FM Bar is one of a few new venues that recently opened in Jersey City. A very good friend of ours, Tony Susco (Dancing Tony), is running the music there and he is a gem in Jersey City,” said Alan Smith, co-leader of The Porchistas. “We are playing with a great punk band, Psych-o-Positive. Karyn Kuhl drums for them, and she is one of my favorite musicians and people. We are very excited for that show.
“We’ve been playing in Jersey City for about a decade and have lots of friends there.”
The Porchistas — Smith (rhythm guitar, vocals), Adam Falzer (lead guitar, vocals), Jonathan Riordan (drums), Gerry Griffin (bass) and Ed Fritz (keyboards, accordion) — do not fit neatly into any category. God forbid: They would be dragged kicking and screaming into any pigeonhole.
They can be described loosely as Frank Zappa meets Bob Marley meets carnival music meets psychedelia meets a polka band down at the local VFW hall.
“We have a tendency to drift throughout the rock genre: Reggae, swing, surf, punk, ska and polka, and sometimes our influences in Spanish and French make their way in,” says Smith. “Also, Adam Falzer writes great arrangements and has unique chord progressions.”
All those influences come together on Porch Drive, which was released digitally last month.
“I know a local album is good when it has four strong contenders for the Song of the Week (in my weekly Makin Waves column),” longtime New Jersey-based writer Bob Makin wrote in a recent review for NJArts.net.
Makin’s winner for Song of the Week was “The Abe Vigoda Polka,” which features a “heartfelt marriage,” Makin wrote, “between entertaining absurdity and enlightening conviction. … The rest of the album is a hoot and/or statement.”
That is The Porchistas: a politically conscious band that addresses some serious topics, all while making it fun to listen to and to watch live (see their “Mister Chump” video for that). Much of band’s unique flavor and styling is represented in the 10 original songs on Porch Drive, the band’s seventh release (five full-length recordings, two EPs).
“Seven are brand-new tunes. Three are studio versions of songs that were never recorded in a studio,” says Smith, who shares songwriting duties with Falzer. “Like all of our records, the style floats through the rock genre and also gets jazzy and experimental at times.”
Although he and Falzer are at the front of this musical train, Smith is quick to credit the others.
“I am proud of my bandmates, who get things done in a matter-of-fact way, particularly with this record. I like that this album touches on different styles within the rock genre in a way that I hope feels natural to the listener, because it feels natural to us when we play the songs.”
He lauds Griffin, who produced the music at his The Temple of Tuneage studio in Verona, as “a masterful recording engineer.” Smith also salutes what the band dubbed The Revengers for their guest work on “Porch Drive” — Linda Everswick (sax), Kelly Henneberry and Jenn Mustachio (vocals) and Nicole Scorsone (violin/vocals) — as they “brought this record to life.”
Everswick, the Electrolytes leader/saxophonist, has performed live with the band and adds another color with her leads and fills on sax. Fritz brings carnival and church music to the musical gumbo, among other contributions on keys and accordion. After all, what would a polka tune be without the latter?
The Porchistas were wise to add Fritz to the mix about three years ago, as that enabled them to move beyond the standard guitar-guitar-bass-drums lineup of many bands and feature a wider range of sounds.
“Ed Fritz is a pro and a hired gun by many other acts, but he continues to remain a part of our band and that’s incredible,” Smith says of the keyboard player, whose credits include his work with the northern New Jersey-based Scarecrow Collection.
Another key component is Brian “Sparky” O’Rourke, who has produced several of the band’s music videos and helps Smith hold down the group’s headquarters in Montclair.
When The Porchistas are not playing out live, they host a happy dance mob for house parties at headquarters. The homemade staging includes a performance area inside and out. Smith applauds Riordan for his technical and sound skills and helping to build the two stages.
“Jonathan Riordan is the secret magic behind those shows; he’s the stage manager and sound tech. He installed his personal PA, and is there from early morning till clean-up of every show. He is the community pixie that brings it all to life.”
Being part of the Montclair scene is important to the band.
“Montclair has a lot of intellectual depth. That sounds corny, but it’s true and we value that,” Smith explains. “There’s a deeply rooted social and environmental presence here; people who think about the issues and do something about it.”
When Smith is not busy with live and house shows and The Cornucopia Network (a group of gardeners who use lawn and yard space to grow food), he and the band book the performers for Friday night shows at the Montclair Bread Company. The free summer series, which is held outdoors, continues this week with Renee Maskin of New Jersey-based Lowlight.
Everswick is on the schedule for Aug. 10, and the series ends with Jess Fleming on Aug. 31.
To listen to “Porch Drive, visit soundcloud.com/porchistas/sets/porch-drive/s-vgB8u.
For more on the band, visit theporchistas.com.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at email@example.com.
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