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A Dirty Dozen with PETER BLOCK from PORTER BLOCK – May 2021


According to a recent press release: “New York based power pop duo Porter Block’s new album Clean Up The Living Room (out 7/16) was written during the COVID lockdowns, but it’s far more than a quarantine record, tapping into timeless truths about the human condition as it reaches out for connection and understanding in the face of loneliness and detachment. The songs here balance shadow and light in a delicate tightrope walk hinting at everything from Warren Zevon and The Kinks to The Wallflowers and Fountains of Wayne as they pair bright power-pop arrangements with dark sardonic lyrics. Formed in 2005 in NYC, the band has developed quite a reputation for their unique blend of craftsmanship and wit. Their 2006 debut, Suburban Sprawl earned critical acclaim, with AllMusic hailing its “buoyant pop tunes filled with harmonies and hooks” and PopMatters lauding its “well rounded and refined” songwriting. The band has since released five more studio records, collaborated with the likes of Mike Viola and Tracy Bonham, recorded with longtime Elvis Costello rhythm section Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher, and shared bills with Mike Doughty, Tim Easton, Deep Blue Something, and The Samples.” We get Peter to discuss new music, influences, and more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

The latest LP is titled Clean Up The Living Room. The title, Clean Up The Living Room, is also actually the title to a short little tune that precedes the last song on the album. It also is a specific reference and a generally broad statement. It was meant to be as trite or as deep with meaning as the listener wants. The simple meaning is many living rooms in this world needed of a clean up after working and living at home for so long. But, in general I felt it worked as declarative statement about all the “work” ahead to dig this world out of what I see as a cataclysmic period of time. Caleb and I always include lots of “headphone candy”, listen for the birds chirping and bicycle bells on “step inside the right side”.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

I don’t think there was a declarative moment for me. it was a creeper. I always had music in the house. My mother studied chamber music Piano performance in graduate school, and I always had a guitar to play around with. I was lucky that I had parents who encouraged me the whole way.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

That’s a hard one! well if I had to pick a performer or album, it would have to be Revolver, the Beatles. They seemed to capture every aspect of the zeitgeist on that record. so many genres of music on one album. The writing music and lyrics, the performances, the vibe and eccentricity of it all are so overwhelming, I really can’t name a better album.

4. Who would be your main five musical influences?

The Beatles, The Kinks, Brian Wilson, Warren Zevon, and Harry Nielsen.

5. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

It depends if it was a performance or a writing collaboration. I’d love to make a record with someone like Lana Del Ray or Fiona Apple. Both are great writers and performers with a very special perspective on writing songs. Stevie Wonder is a personal daydream of mine. having him play drums and keys, that would be mind blowing.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I’d say Porter Block draws inspiration from singer songwriters and pop bands of the late 60’s and 70’s. We put a lot of emphasis on harmonies and the arrangements on this album, tended to construct themselves around the piano. I’d hate for someone to characterize it as a Beatles pastiche. We’re just writing pop songs and trying to use a musical not a digital palette.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

That’s funny because we are a duo, on the road it can often resemble a co-dependent relationship. Neither of us can really cook but Caleb is the cocktail King. His house is above his studio, so we tend to bring the drinks downstairs with us. He has a term for a song I might break out while we’re playing acoustic guitars; It’s called a “back pocket jam”. That’s like a B-side or a McCartney rarity from Ram or something. It’s funny because he’s always like, why don’t we just play “Proud Mary” or something everybody knows.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

I was minding my own business, pre-pandemic and I was minding my own business crossing 57th street in New York City and a very well-dressed Elvis Costello strolled by me talking on his cell phone.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

Music allows you to be creative, but a lot of it is monotonous touring and logistical organizational things. My dream Job would be to have someone take care of all of those things for me like a personal assistant. I guess my dream job is a more successful version of myself.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

Why does a man your age play around with guitars and record albums of songs? what’s the end game. Conversely, the question I hate about writing music is “what comes first, music or lyrics? The answer is both. music and “lyrics” may not come together at the same moment, but for me each piece of music has some kind of phrasing, melody, and meter.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

It took me a long time to commit to music as a way of life. If I had to do it over, I would have committed as a younger man. It took a Pandemic for most of us to see what’s really important in life and what’s done to just get by.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

No surprises here. I would have to be a fly on the wall while Brian Wilson was making the original Smile recordings from 1966/67. He finally got to finish it years later, but those recordings, I guess I’ll include “Good Vibrations”, are so vital and spooky still today. Leonard Bernstein did a program for CBS in 1966 and he showed Brian playing “surf’s up” at the piano and singing a stripped-down version of it. it’s like a Mozart demo. Really incredible stuff.



Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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