At this point in my life, I am starting to forget how many concerts I have been to, who I have seen, and how many times I’ve seen them. Going to concerts has become my incredibly expensive hobby and besides a few tickets stubs, pictures, or a band t-shirt I really don’t keep track of the musicians I have seen. Some concerts stick with you forever. I will never forget seeing Phoenix in Madison Square Garden, and all of a sudden Daft Punk rose from the stage and performed a few songs with the band. It was epic and I will never forget it. Other shows were also a great time, but not too memorable. I don’t think I was ever affected emotionally by any of the shows I’ve seen. Not until I saw Front Porch Step for the first time at this year’s Skate & Surf.
The one man project from Jake Mcelfresh is not for fans of happy music. This is music about pain, suffering, and loss from a man who has experienced all of it and then some. With every breath, Mcelfresh sings songs of sorrow and grief, which can leave listeners both incredibly depressed, but also blissful because they finally found someone who has gone through the same things they’ve been through. Songs like “Drown,” off his debut album Aware hit you with lyrics like:
“I know I couldn’t give you much, but I know I gave my best,
You were always my princess, and now he’s sliding up your dress
And I know I gave the world everything I’ve ever had,
Johnny Cash said love would burn, I never thought it’d hurt this bad.”
Front Porch Step is the epitome of emo music, but only because he puts so much emotion into every single lyric. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Jake at this year’s Skate & Surf Festival and we spoke in length about his love of Dashboard Confessional, dealing with haters, and the possibility of forming his own band.
Pop-Break: What first got you into music?
Jake Mcelfresh: I started out as a bluegrass and country fan just because my dad’s a very big bluegrass and country fan. There was always an acoustic around my house and I grew up knowing the words to Merle Haggard songs. As I got older I started getting into different stuff. My grandma showed me the most amazing artists of all-time. Older people always like to hear the kind of music I listen to, now I have a tattoo of Frank Sinatra’s portrait on my arm. I was in the sixth grader doing reports on Frank Sinatra or Tom Jones. I did reports on these weird artists. They’re not weird, but for our generation, especially when I was young, they were like “Eww that’s stupid, that’s old music.” Then I kind of went through a phase with ’70s music. Now I can’t stand it at all. I can still love Hendrix, and I used to be obsessed with The Doors, but my tastes changed and I can appreciate what it is. I can appreciate Jim Morrison for who he is, but I can’t listen to it anymore. My cousin got me into hip hop and I love hip hop. I rap. A lot of people don’t know that, but some people do. I love rapping. I love artists like Guru, Wu-Tang Clan, and Nas. There’s a point to all this by the way. I got into Ray Charles from my grandma and then as I got older I started finding my own bands. I found Taking Back Sunday, Saves the Day, Brand New, Dashboard Confessional, the biggest one of my top 15 favorite bands of all time. They’re one of the biggest influences on the Front Porch Step project. I just found stuff like that and I loved it. I wanted to write stuff like that, but nobody wanted to be in a band with me. I was playing random chords on the acoustic and I started writing stuff.
I learned how to play songs from Brand New and Dashboard Confessional. Taking Back Sunday was a huge lyrical influence on this project. People were taken back when I say Dashboard was a big influence. It’s not that I wanted to copy Dashboard Confessional. They are the people I was listening to all the time when I started writing music. I’m not claiming it’s a rip off of Dashboard Confessional or anything like that. I think Chris Carrabba is one of the fucking best song writers in the world when it comes to explaining how you feel and if I copy anything from him or Jesse Lacey it was being completely honest in talking about shit that other people don’t talk about. You know it’s not considered tough to talk about your feelings anymore. When I say I’m influenced by bands like that, I mean Alkaline Trio is playing at this show. Matt Skiba is a lyrical genius. I found him like three years ago. Really late in the game, way after they were playing shows. “Armageddon” is one of my favorite songs of all time.
You listen to my CD and one song will sound really pop punk and one song like “Angels and Demons” is kind of like bluesy, but still a kind of country feel to it. I know how to play six chords. I just write how I feel and I’ll have a set of lyrics on my phone and I’ll write it. It’s just kind of how it came together. It’s awesome.
PB: Sometimes people react negatively to a man spilling his heart out. What do you say to the haters?
JM: I’ll tell you the exact words that I said to the guy that asked me this question before. I’m very happy that you live in a country that you can say whatever you want, because there are some people that get shot and their hands cut off for saying the things that they want to say. If you don’t like my music, good for you for having your opinion and sharing it. I don’t really give a shit about what your opinion is, but I’m glad you’re allowed to share it.
PB: Who would your musical parents be?
JM: That’s really hard. I feel like I was born from a gang bang between Frank Sinatra, Jesse Lacey, Chris Carrabba, and Whitney Houston. I cried when Whitney Houston died. I don’t give a fuck who thinks that’s stupid. I was so excited to see her live. She has the greatest voice of all time and I was working at Walmart and I got the phone call about her death. I had to go on break and I sobbed my eyes out. I just fucking cried. I think I said Ray Charles, I’m not sure. Taylor Swift maybe as of recent. I don’t know man there’s just too many to say. You have to give me like two months to really weed it out.
PB: Your lyrics are very poetic. Do you write poetry as well?
JM: I would have to take the lyrics I write and make them rhyme. So basically every song that you’ve heard from me is a poem that I wrote and I put to a chord progression. If that makes sense.
PB: Would you ever consider working with a full band?
JM: I’ve talked about this. We’re considering it. But I’m deciding if I want to. What I would like to do honestly, is do one more Front Porch Step record and then start a completely different band and not tour Front Porch Step anymore. Maybe that band does a Front Porch Step song in a few years. Then, after that band goes on a break then go play clubs as Front Porch Step. That’s not saying that people will die to hear another Front Porch Step record, but I don’t even like playing acoustic. I forced myself to do it because no one wanted to be in a band with me. There’s not a lot of aggression. Obviously I still do it, but you can’t get out a lot of aggression on chords. Maybe power chords or electric, but I can’t say a lot of shit I want to say without sounding stupid over a nice little soft melody. I love hardcore and it may sound like the most cliché thing ever, but it definitely saved my life.
PB: How was your first experience at Skate and Surf?
JM: It was awesome. I’m kind of just taking it all in. I never played outdoor festivals before. I’ve played festivals, but never an outdoor festival. I like this because it’s giving me a small taste of what Warped Tour is going to be like. I’m not doing this every day for two months. It was cool to get a taste of what it’s like to be out in the sun all day and watch your fluids and drink a lot. As for the festival I had a fucking blast. I’m still a fan people ask me all the time, how was that show you played? Then I say things like “New Found Glory was awesome!” I just end up talking about the bands I saw. It’s still weird, this is technically a job, but I get to hang out and watch some of my favorite bands of all time.
Front Porch Step is currently on the road as a part of the Warped Tour, click here for dates.
Al Mannarino is the music editor for Pop-Break as well as the host of the News Over Brews Podcast. He graduated Rowan University with a degree in Radio/TV/Film & History and is currently a Promotions Assistant for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment. When he isn’t writing he is either trying to build his own TARDIS or taking a nap. Follow him on Twitter: @almannarino