In a year defined by anticipation as much as anything else, the NYC power pop duo Porter Block has returned with an album all about the urgency of waiting and ache of isolation. While ‘Clean Up The Living Room’ was written during COVID lockdowns, 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.
In their new single “Say Something Nice,” released today via Elmore Magazine, Porter Block addresses the human addiction to social media and the affirmation we receive, or don’t, from people ‘liking’ our content. “The song's title is a bit of a joke,” comments frontman Peter Block, “because the chorus hook is ‘say something nice about me,’ stating the pathetically obvious. The song also attempts to portray the constant negativity and animosity that comes as an obvious outgrowth of the experience. ‘There nothing I like about me’ becomes ‘there’s nothing I like about you’ in the second verse.”
We spoke with Block about the inspiration behind “Say Something Nice,” the band’s songwriting process for ‘Clean Up The Living Room,’ and their plans for the rest of the year. Ready on below!
GW: We’re so impressed with artists that you’ve collaborated with in the past. Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations, and how have these collaborations informed your songwriting?
PB: I've been really lucky to work with some world class musicians. It’s such a learning and enriching experience that I made an entire Album (“The Gowanus Yacht Club”) where each song was a separate songwriting collaboration. Almost 11 years ago, I got the chance to make a record with Mike Viola producing and co-writing and that was a dream come true. I “stalked" Mike as fan for a long time, and through a mutual friend we met and he agreed to help me with my record. His talent is a little scary, he is so good and precise at what he does but always encouraging and empowering. I remember after we started writing together, he learned I was in the midst of a divorce. I was in a pretty bad physical and mental state, and he literally lifted me up and helped me have the strength and courage to make that record and make it about what was going on in my life. We ripped up whatever we had done and restarted it all using the relationship split as the backdrop for the record. I loved making that record with him and Ducky Carlisle up in Medford Massachusetts.
A few years later I worked with Mike, and he brought in Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher as the rhythm section. The first record I ever bought with my own money was “Armed Forces” which Pete was the drummer on, and I was so frightened to meet them both. They were both so kind and cool about me geeking out over both of them playing on my record. Larry Goldings also played on those songs Mike Produced on “Hard To See Beautiful” (2017), and we did it in LA at “The Carriage House” studio and the whole thing seems surreal to me know. Coincidentally, at the same studio 7 years earlier on that songwriting collaboration “Gownus Yacht Club” I got to sing a duet with Angela McCluskey on a great song “Your heart is a broken thing."
GW: Tell us about “Say Something Nice.” What was the inspiration behind this particular track?
PB: “Say Something Nice” is a song inspired by the often desperation and loneliness social media seems to create in its users. The title is somewhat deceiving because the lyric is “Waiting, for you to say something nice about me.” It’s a good opening track for the record because it establishes the paranoia and schadenfreude of the singer who reappears throughout the record. In the first verse the singer moans “There’s nothing I like about me” which turns into “there’s nothing I like about you” by the second verse. The Piano riff on the verse also seems to claw and climb between major and minor never really feeling settled. Then on the chorus that tension is relived with nice lush ELO-like harmonies over happy major chords. Given the pandemic and the 2020 election, communication and its manipulation on the internet seemed a good starting place for the record.
GW: What is your songwriting process like? How do you feed your imagination?
PB: I’m a big believer in writing first thing in the morning. It’s for me the best and most creative time of day. My brain seems more full of ideas and ready to use the subconscious to create at the very least a word salad of phrases or ideas that could eventually become lyrics to a song. Sometimes you never go back to it. The idea is to have as much language and ideas for songs lying around just in case you get a moment of inspiration at the piano or guitar where it all starts to come together. At that point once the through line or concept of the song begins to gel, you can make a quick recording of it capturing that spirit or vibe that inspired the song. At that point, it's good to put it away for a day or two and then return to it more precisely fitting lyrics into dummy lines used as place holders for the melody. That’s really just one possible process but one that seems to work me.
GW: Have any of the other performers and artists you've met given you any words of advice that you've particularly taken to heart?
PB: My musical partner and producer Caleb Sherman over the course of over 15 years of working together has taught me to trust my instincts and not over analyze the creative process. Another simple but indispensable piece of advice came from the wonderful actor and voice teacher named Joe Cassidy, who always pointed out that it’s often a lack of energy or a relaxation that can create the best sound, not just raw brute strength. That’s why the greats seem so effortless.
GW: What is the significance of the album title?
PB: The album title comes from a short song I had that’s used as a segue before the final track. It seemed like a non-preachy simple ask “Clean Up The Living Room," yet given the times perhaps an existentially loaded statement regarding mankind. It could be as small or as big as you wanted. It wasn’t preachy but it has purpose.
GW: What’s next for you this year?
PB: The world has started to open up since we recorded this thing only a few months ago. I’d love to get out and play some of these songs live. It’s a shlep and not always the most efficient way to promote your music but getting a solid openers' spot would be great for us to get these songs out to a larger audience.