From The Belltower to Fountains of Wayne, guitarist Jody Porter has seen a lot in his three decades in the music business.
But until recently, he hadn’t encountered the likes of Tellus360. On a recent trip to Lancaster in March, Porter’s friend and fellow musician Kelly Buchanan took him on a tour of the city, including a stop at the downtown music venue.
“We went at like 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning,” Buchanan says. “It made him think that Lancaster is very Irish.”
All it took was one visit, and now the man will be back in town Saturday, July 31 for a free show at Tellus360 with his bandmates, the Berlin Waltz. Buchanan’s band, Dimestore Dolls, will open the show at 7:30 p.m.
Porter’s former band, Fountains of Wayne, was nominated for best new artist and best pop performance by a duo or group at the 2004 Grammy Awards for the hit “Stacy’s Mom.”
“It’ll be nice to get to Lancaster, and I really liked it,” Porter says over the phone. “Reminds me a of town called Northampton in Massachusetts that I used to live in. The way the streets are lined, the optimism, the art scene going on, the people. So, I’m happy to come back.”
The show will be one of the band’s first back in front of a live audience since the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the release of “Waterways,” the new album from Jody Porter and the Berlin Waltz. The band includes Pete Hogan on guitar, Cobb Ervin on drums and vocals and Joan Chew on bass and vocals.
“I’m up for it now,” Porter says. “All they had to do was say, ‘You can’t do this,’ and I got out of my lazy mode. So I was chomping at the bit. It’s amazing that we can all live in different parts of the country, and everyone is so good at what they do. It’ll be a little loose, but I like it a little loose to begin with. Even with Fountains, we’d do a long soundcheck the first night of tour and then be back into it. I’m lucky in that aspect.”
For longtime fans of Porter’s various projects, there is a lot to enjoy in “Waterways.” According to Porter, the songs on the album range from newly written songs constructed during a recent stint in England, to strands of songs first written as far back as 2000. Regardless of the decade, “Waterways” is in many ways a tribute to different kinds of rock guitar, from the high-energy psychedelic rock of tracks like “Sunsick Moon” and “Synching Ship” to the power pop stylings of “Neverlasting Love” and hard rock of “Crashland.”
“He’s a character,” Buchanan says of Porter, whom she met in 2006. “He’s like Keith Richards in my eyes, just truly a rock star in every sense.”
While it’s a very guitar-focused album, “Waterways” is not Porter resting on his laurels or offering rehashes of previous work. In fact, the music itself sounds different this time around because Porter co-produced the record, with the help of former Fountains of Wayne bandmate Brian Young, at Porter’s home studio in Asheville, North Carolina.
“It was a maiden voyage learning how to engineer myself and use the equipment, for sure,” Porter says. “I had had jaded qualities of having a studio with a board and engineers at my disposal, and I’d be on the other side of the glass. So, this is a new situation, and I didn’t really ever get the hang of it — it was pretty frustrating. But I took my time, and I’m pleased with how it all turned out.”
Recording for “Waterways” stretched into early 2020 and was supposed to be followed by a tour.
On April 1, Porter’s Fountains of Wayne bandmate Adam Schlesinger died of COVID-19 at age 52. In addition to his work with Fountains of Wayne, Schlesinger wrote the title track of the 1996 Tom Hanks movie “That Thing You Do!” and co-wrote more than 150 songs for the television show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
Porter recalls his last time working with Schlesinger — for the most recent Monkees album, “Christmas Party,” which Schlesinger co-produced.
“Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey (of R.E.M.) played on this song,” Porter says. “We played it once, then got two takes in, and that was the last record I made with Adam. We high-fived afterward and said, ‘Man, we’ve got to make records like this again.’ ”
Since Schlesinger’s death came so early in the pandemic, friends and family had no official way to grieve. Enter Porter, who gathered seemingly disparate friends and admirers such as Courtney Love, Micky Dolenz and Michelle Branch to take part in a livestream tribute to Schlesinger this past May, benefiting the MusiCares charity.
“Everyone I asked, I had a pretty direct communication with,” Porter says. “From friends, to a couple of people that showed up and asked to submit things. I did feel at times like John Phillips must have felt booking Monterey. But it was all worth it, and totally cathartic to me. There was no funeral, so it had to be done. I was pretty damn pleased with how it turned out.”
At the Tellus show, Buchanan will join Porter and the Berlin Waltz onstage for a few Fountains of Wayne songs in honor of their fallen friend. Porter says the Schlesinger livestream, which aired only once, will eventually see the light of day again in some form. With COVID-19 still lurking in the shadows and bandmates in different cities, Porter sees upcoming shows as “sporadic, at best,” but he’s looking forward to getting the songs from “Waterways” in front of fans.
“It’s a crossword puzzle for me, you know?” says Porter about the songwriting process. “The melody is important, but the phrasing is right behind it. So, you find the words that don’t stick out like a sore thumb, and then when you do want one to stick out, you totally go for it, you know what I mean? An intentional thing.
“There’s a lyric that I claim as the worst lyric on the new album, where I reference the belly dancer from the ’70s named Charo,” he says. “But the rest of it is sort of ethereal.”
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