By GWEN OREL
Chances are, if you live in Montclair, you’ve seen The Porchistas, or heard of them. The Montclair band is a regular at Tierney’s Tavern, Montclair Center Stage, Montclair Make Music Days, house concerts, block parties and more. This year, frontman Alan Smith has organized the outdoor music at Montclair Bread Company, 16 Label St., taking place on Friday nights this summer.
The band’s name is a nod to its origins when it began more than 10 years ago on a porch on Forest Street, with a group of friends singing and writing songs together. Since then, the band has shifted and changed. Alan Smith and Adam Falzer are the two remaining original Porchistas. The lineup today is Smith on vocals and guitar; Falzer on vocals and lead guitar; Gerry Griffin on bass; Jon Riordan on drums; Ed Fritz on keyboards and accordion, and then there are guest musicians. On “Porch Drive,” those are Linda Everswick on saxophone; Kelly Henneberry, lead vocal on “Bitter Fruit;” Jenn Mustachio, lead vocal on “Hope for the Flowers;” Nicole Scorsone, vocals and violin. The album was recorded and mixed at The Temple of Tuneage in Verona by Griffin, who also produced it.
The band’s most recent album and its seventh, “Porch Drive,” had an album launch at Tierney’s Tavern on June 8.
We caught up to Montclairite Alan Smith this weekend, fresh off hosting four bands at his home studio for Montclair Make Music Days. In addition to writing and singing with The Porchistas, Smith is a writing consultant for Montclair State Center for Writing Excellence, and is a retired firefighter. He also works as an artisan with stained glass and carpentry.
How has the band changed over the years?
It’s gotten better. Experience has made us better musicians. When I first started playing with them, I was a songwriter, but not much of a musician. Adam was in a band; I had moved in next to him. I had left my guitar, which I had gotten for my birthday, and didn’t know how to play, on the porch. I had bought a lefty guitar and I didn’t even know how to make a chord. Those guys [next door] were always playing music. One guy taught me how to play a chord, then a bunch of chords. Then they said “you have to start writing music.” They started hanging out on my porch. They were all songwriters. So it turned out there was kind of a songwriting circle on my porch. Then we realized between all of us we had a whole bunch of original music and thought we should start a different band.
How would you describe your sound?
Stylistically, as a band, sometimes we’re surf, sometimes we’re punk… I think we’re
always folk, because we’re always telling stories, but we can’t really pin it down.
Is there a theme to this CD?
We do some songs that are serious, and some that are silly. That’s just how our minds work. We ended it with a dark, sort of experimental song, with a violin. We actually went into our basement and smashed an Epson printer with an axe while she was playing violin. We made a video of it.
Explain to me “Abe Vigoda.”
It was written for a radio station, something I had started and had a few words for. I had started writing a ridiculous song, a road trip song, where a couple run into Abe Vigoda drinking chocolate vodka. I just made it all up. At the time when I was writing, I was thinking of a reggae song, but then we needed a polka, but it’s more just silly.
Why did you do a wristband flash drive?
All of our previous albums were on CD. We sold this CD on flashdrive wrist band, otherwise
it’s downloadable. The album artwork can be printed out and put in a CD sleeve, if you want to burn it.People don’t really buy CDs anymore. Mostly people stream on Spotify. We wanted to take a shot and see if people would buy would buy Porchistas music a different way. People are loving the wristbands. You can actually pop the flash drive into the USB port in your car. People are buying this more than they’ve bought our previous music because they like wearing them, actually.
What keeps you invested doing all this music in town, making sure that music keeps happening in town?
For The Porchistas it’s both practical and ideological. I want to be part of a community of musicians. We all work, my bandmates have families, we don’t get to tour as often as we would like to so we’ve set up circumstances at our house where we bring in performers from all over the country. We joke around and say it’s like going on tour without having to leave your house. I think that you couldn’t ask for a better community of people to be supportive, they are the fans and people that come to see you play those shows. But it would be nice if there were support from the higher echelon of Montclair or professional industry people was more a part of our community. The way that it is in Asbury Park.