Big Apple’s Block professes admiration for Music City

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 10:17pm
Peter Block

He’s a native New Yorker with no immediate plans to depart his hometown, yet singer/songwriter Peter Block, better known as part of the creative and driving force behind the band Porter Block, has always had a strong love for Nashville and especially its songwriting community.

“While you certainly have the history in New York with Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building, today what’s mostly happening on the East Coast and in New York and communities like Brooklyn is a scene type of thing,” Block said. “That’s fine because you certainly get a lot of great bands coming out of that, but they’re all representative of certain places and that’s reflected in their music.”

“But Nashville and the whole country tradition and the emergence of the Americana movement has become the one place now where someone can really get up with an acoustic guitar and play a song and that’s something that’s respected in and of itself,” Block continued. “In New York people still respect a great song, but the whole songwriting thing isn’t celebrated as much on the whole. That’s one of the reasons why, even though I’m a not a country artist, a lot of my work is influenced by the Nashville writing style, telling stories, being disciplined and fitting that into a popular format.”

Block, who’ll be appearing in a special setting Wednesday night opening for Mike Doughty, has emphasized the art of songwriting since the band’s early days in 2003. Block and Caleb Sherman, despite growing up blocks apart on New York’s upper East Side, never knew each other until meeting in 2003. But they quickly formed a fast friendship and soon created a four-piece ensemble Porter Block that leaned heavily on a wealth of influences ranging from 1960s British Invasion bands (especially The Beatles) to ‘70s acts (Neil Young, The Eagles), intersecting elements of those groups into their original material.

Ironically, Sherman eventually moved to Nashville, where he’s produced such acts as Her and Kings County and The New Black. But he and Block have remained close, and one of two recent Porter Block offerings Pueblo A Go Go features Sherman on bass and keyboards, plus guitarist Garrett Alarcon (who’ll be accompanying Block Wednesday night in a special duo performance) and drummer Steve Holly.

A concept work whose songs are designed to illustrate the emotions and experiences of people viewing the world through the windshield of a slow moving car, it’s menu includes both bittersweet numbers (“Wipe It From Your Eyes”) and more solemn, philosophical pieces (“True Enough”).

The tunes celebrate the art of presenting varied, memorable tales within a three-minute time frame, and mostly feature sparsely produced, crisp and tight numbers.

That’s contrasted by the more recent release Gowananus Yacht Club (both on Engine Room and also available on iTunes), which matches Block with 11 different songwriters, all but one (Grammy nominee Angela McCluskey from Telepopmusik) from New York.

“That disc was done in a different manner than Pueblo, Block explained. “For one, in most cases it was a thing of just getting together with another songwriter and seeing what we could create. With Pueblo Caleb and I would work together on the demo, then go straight into it and build the song. With Gowananus, a lot of times I’d work with a particular songwriter with the model, and it would be a more produced, elaborate thing. But in both cases, we were really concerned with the song itself, and making sure that it was a good one.”

Terry Radigan, Wes Mutchinson, Nate Campany and Casey Shea are some of the others who teamed with Block on Gowananus Yacht Club.

“It’s kind of funny to make a record and name it about a yacht club when you’re talking about the Gowanus canal that has some of the dirtiest water anywhere in the country,” Block laughed. “But it was really more about a community of songwriters, and there actually is a yacht club near there.”

Despite his admiration for Nashville (Block plans to visit such sites as the Ryman while in town), he doesn’t think he’ll become the latest East Coast convert to Music City anytime soon. “I’ve got strong family ties up here and it’s been home all my life,” Block concluded. “But you never know what may happen down the line, and I really do enjoy Nashville and love that communal way of working together on songs, and the respect and value they have for songwriting as a town.”


What: Porter Block opening for Mike Doughty

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: 3rd and Lindsley, 818 3rd Ave. S.

Cost: $10

Info: 259-8181