Whole Again: Front Porch Step Discusses Life, Music, And Missing Home

Hello, everyone! Thank you for finding some time amidst your surely busy schedule to spend a few minutes on our site. We have been promising a resurgence of artist interviews for the last several weeks, and today we are thrilled to begin a new series of musician and label-focused pieces that we will continue to share throughout the month of December. The artist featured in today’s post also has a new EP out this week, so if you enjoy what you read please consider supporting his work when time and money allows.

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Making it in music today is hard for just about anyone who isn’t connected to an already established celebrity through blood or sexual encounters. We could argue all day about who faces the most challenges when it comes to breaking through from the underground to the mainstream, but I’ve always thought the singer/songwriter genre was one of the more difficult areas of music to conquer. Not only is the market incredibly diverse in terms of age and interests, but the number of people with guitars and lackluster original songs far outnumber the competition in every other realm of the music industry. In order to stand out you have to possess something special that I’m honestly not sure I can describe at great length. It’s not a physical trait in any way, but rather a feeling or series of feelings that you are able to convey through your music. It’s not about just making a connection, but rather tapping into something deeper than hooks and melodies will ever reach. You have to find a way to put yourself out there, as honestly as possible, and hope others relate to what you have to say. Then, and only then, will you begin to find success.

Jake Mcelfresh might not agree with everything I said above, but he’s certainly a great example of someone who creates music for all of the right reasons and expects nothing from the world in return. Known to many as Front Porch Step, Jake writes and sings songs he wants to hear, and in doing so has found a sense of confidence in his work rarely seen in the modern alternative music industry. He believes in his work and therefore cannot be dismayed by those who feel differently. Not every song is going to be liked by every person and that’s just fine. As long as Jake loves his work he is happy, and fortunately for him there are tens of thousands of people around the globe who love it as well.

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Jake about his career, his new EP, and the struggles of being a singer/songwriter in 2014. You can read about all of this and a whole lot more, below. If you like what you read, please make it a point to follow FPS on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of the page.

H: Thanks for joining us today, Jake. I live in Boston now, but I too am an Ohio native.

J: That’s cool, man. Always good to talk to someone from here.

H: Definitely. It’s kind of surprising how many people from Ohio are working in the industry today, and it seems everyone has a unique story about how they got here. I’m sure the same applies to you. There were a number of years when you performed live before changing you name to Front Porch Step. Did you have another stage name?

J: Just Jake. Well, Jake Mcelfresh. My name. There was a time when I was in a pop punk band around 17 or 18, but I’ve been playing under Jake Mcelfresh since I was 14 or 15. Since 2012 I’ve been Front Porch Step.

H: What inspired the change?

J: Honestly, it was all about marketing. When you play the kind of shows I was playing, like open mics and other events where people might not necessarily be paying the closest attention, but still like what they hear, you have to be able to tell them where they can find your stuff online. Saying things like “Go check out Jake Mcelfresh online” caused trouble because no one can spell my last name. If you see it then you can spell it, but if you just hear it you’re going to have a really hard time figuring it out.

Before you even ask, I’ll tell you. I had realized I needed a name and was trying to figure out what to call myself when I came across a photo of me sitting on a front porch step. A friend of mine jokingly said I should call myself Front Porch Step, and I thought it was a good idea. So yea, Front Porch Step. (Laughs)

H: That’s a pretty simple back story, but I have to be honest and say I didn’t expect anything too epic.

J: But it was so much more than that when he told it to me. Front Porch Step sounds like a music genre to me. You have two-step, hip-hop, bluegrass, front porch step, etc. I feel like the front porch step, especially being from Ohio, encapsulates this place where you can view the world outside, the falling leaves and everything. I feel like that really fits my music, and when he said it out loud something clicked.

H: I do want to talk about the new EP. It’s available now, and I really think it’s a strong release. Christmas covers never do much for me, but you make “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” pretty great. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for that record?

J: I choose to believe in God. I don’t know if you do and I really don’t give a shit. I’m not here to preach to you, and if you come to a Front Porch Step show I’m not going to try and convert you. I want people to find their own way. Atheists and other kids will come up and ask me about my faith sometimes, and I’ll tell them I believe in God, but I try not to discuss it at length. I simply choose to believe in a higher power. The reason I say all this is because the Christmas song I chose to cover has nothing to do with God or religion. People say because it’s Christmas it’s also Christian, but that is not the case. Christmas is a time when people put shit aside and try to be kind to one another. Kindness matters, and that’s part of what makes Christmas so important to me. I don’t know about other people’s families, but I’m blessed to have a family that gathers during the holiday and I cherish that. I’ve toured a lot more this year than ever before, and as a result I’ve been feeling pretty home sick. I’m a momma’s boy, man, and being away is hard. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” breaks me now. It fucking breaks me. I miss my family so much, and it has given the song a new meaning to me. I’m very involved, with my nieces especially, and now I’m not able to be as involved as before. That wrecks me.

I’m sorry if I go off on tangents by the way. People always tell me I’m pretty long-winded.

H: No, that’s completely okay. We like long-winded on our site. Anything is better than responding with a single sentence. That kind of thing drives me nuts.

J: [Laughs] You won’t have that problem with me. I’m kind of a conceded asshole.

H: Not at all.

J: Thanks.

H: So when did you complete the EP?

J: It was all completed a couple of weeks after Warped Tour. I flew into Massachusetts, not Boston, but somewhere, and then I went to New Jersey. I did the Christmas song, “A Lovely Mess,” and “Whole Again” with Alana Day and Adam Ward. In New Jersey, Ace Enders co-wrote and produced “Heaven Sent.”

H: It’s funny that we just discussed how much time you’ve been away, but this month (December) you have a little time off. How is home?

J: It’s kind of weird, to be honest. Everything is so spread out in December that I’m still all over the place, even though we’re not touring constantly. I’m playing a few shows, but no full-fledged tour of any kind. I’m also announcing my first headline tour this month, and that is pretty exciting. Have Mercy will be direct support, with the revival of Alcoa following them. It’s full US and it’s taking place in the spring.

Like I said though, other than that I have like five shows this month that take place all over the country.

H: Then you go overseas in January?

J: Yea, we have a short run overseas at the beginning of the year. After that we will head right into the headlining tour.

H: So it seems like a lot of your 2015 is already planned out. Do you hope to get back into the studio at some point as well?

J: I want to, but I also kind of have to at this point. Not really, but it’s funny. I was in the Alternative Press most-anticipated list for 2014. My publicist told me they wanted me, and I said okay, but he did not mention the ’new album’ angle at first. I did the interview, which happened to be with the same guy who interview me for that magazine every time, and one of his first questions was about when a record could be expected. I tried my best to act like I had a plan, but truth be told I don’t really plan out that stuff. I didn’t think I was going to release anything this year, but then I wrote and recorded an EP in a week. So we’ll see about 2015, but anything is possible.

H: 2014 has really been your year. 2013 was big for you, but this year your name was everywhere. As a music writer, I know countless singer/songwriters who never get anywhere with their career, and yet Front Porch Step has gotten a ton of attention.

J: I don’t really know how, to be honest. Someone from AltPress said somewhere that I managed to write a whole album of songs with just my guitar without creating a boring coffee shop record. Not saying that is how I feel, but I think I understand what they mean. I listen to the coffee shop channel on satellite radio sometimes, and I really only like one in every ten or fifteen songs. There are some people who can do it really well, like Jack Johnson or Jason Mraz, but so many artists sound like they’re trying to write pop hits without heart or emotion. They’re gimmicky, but they don’t have the infectious nature needed to be a hit. “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson feels gimmicky at first, and to an extent it is, but when you dig deeper it’s a beautiful song about wanting to spend the day with someone you love. A lot of artists try to do that and it just doesn’t work. Not judging them, it’s just how I feel.

I feel like I’ve made my career off not caring, though I didn’t do it on purpose. I have a line about putting my head between someone’s thighs until I can’t feel my lips, for example. I never thought my mom would hear that, or especially my grandparents. I thought Pure Noise would put out the record and that I may be able to get a few more show that I would have to reach by Greyhound bus. I wrote these songs because I like them, and really I think that is a better way to go. If you do that, anyone else who enjoys it is just sugar on top. If someone hates it, who cares? You didn’t write it for them. You did it for you.

H: I think you’re on the right track. If you go in expecting to get something out of it you’re almost bound to be let down.

J: Someone recently asked me what I want to do with my career. I didn’t know how to respond. More shows, I guess? I tried to explain that I played one date of Warped Tour 2013 and thought I was in heaven. That was all I needed or wanted in life. When I got offered the full tour this year, I couldn’t even believe it.

I think you have to stop setting goals at one point. I’m doing so many amazing things at this point that asking for more would just feel greedy. I mean, I’m going to Europe for free in January. Not to work a shitty job either, but to perform music I wrote and get paid for it. I’m spoiled. Anyone who does this is spoiled. You’re playing music for a living, so you’re not working at all. You’re getting paid to play.

So I don’t set goals anymore. I’m so grateful for everything I have and I am always conscious of the fact it could be taken away in a moment’s notice, so right now I’m trying to enjoy the experience.

H: Well I’m definitely excited to see what happens next. You’ve done so much already, but based on our conversation today it seems like 2015 may be your biggest year yet.

J: You’re not kidding. I just wrote with Jon Feldman and Joel Madden for a pop band. Like, ugh…shit is getting weird. I’m trying to pay my dues in the world of writing. You can’t just write a song for Adele and send it to her. They have to want to work with you, and the only way to do that is to write material for smaller artists. I’m trying to get my foot into the door in that world so I can write for like John Legend or Taylor Swift. That’s something I really want to do. If a song blows up at radio and it has my lyrics in it, that’s really cool for me, and I don’t care what people think. We need pop music. The world needs pop music. If we all listened to Brand New every day we would kill ourselves. I need artists like 5 Seconds Of Summer to help me not feel like a piece of shit who hates life.

H: I know you have another interview today, so I’ll let you go soon. Before you go, do you have any closing thoughts or observations that you would like to share with our readers?

J: I’m all set man. Thank you for everything. Have a wonderful holiday season. I’m sure we’ll talk soon.

Front Porch Step’s latest EP, Whole Again, is available now through Pure Noise Records. You can view a poster announcing his upcoming headlining tour below.

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James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.