By: Lauren Halligan, Saratogian
SARATOGA SPRINGS >> In preparation for their upcoming album folk rock duo Willy Porter and Carmen Nickerson are hitting the road on a tour that will stop through the Spa City this weekend.
Porter is a Milwaukee-based guitarist and singer known for his high-energy finger-picking style and thoughtful songwriting, and his female accomplice Nickerson produces soulful vocal that produce a smooth, accurate harmonic blend with him both on stage and in the studio.
The two will perform locally with their unique chemistry at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April, 23 at Caffe Lena, located at 47 Phila St. in downtown Saratoga Springs.
They are touring in support of an album of co-writes produced by Grammy award winning producer Ben Wisch slated to release this fall.
The Weekender caught up with Porter on the day of the tour’s first show to talk about the upcoming show, a local ghost, and the duo’s plans for the future.
Q What are you looking forward to about this tour starting tonight?
A I’m looking forward to the music and I’m looking forward to having the chance to play a bunch of new songs.
Q And that’s music off your new record coming out later this year. Tell me about that album and what inspired it?
A It’s a collaboration and a collection of co-writes between myself and Carmen Nickerson, my music partner on this journey. It’s been songs we’ve sort of culled over the last couple years. It’s a different-sounding record. I worked with a great producer named Ben Wisch and he’s brought a lot of interesting textures to this record that I think are really fun. So, I’m really excited about it.
Q Had you collaborated with Carmen before this record?
A I have. We’ve done a couple of records prior to this together, performing together. However, we’d only recorded a couple of songs that we’d written together prior to this.
Q How did that work out? What was the chemistry like when you guys were writing together?
A It’s based on some mutual advocacy. It’s also extremely based in respect. If somebody brings an idea to the table, if it’s good enough for them to share it, we try to bring it to fruition and not question it too much. I think with that comes a push as well. We’re both kind of pushing each other to reach musically and that’s been really healthy. We both have other projects and things we’re involved with, but this – for me – has been a great journey thus far.
Q Of this new batch of songs what’s your favorite to play live? Which ones are you most looking forward to playing on this tour?
A There are some really fun songs. There’s a song called “Plant A Garden,” which has kind of an environmental advocacy type theme, but it’s really fun. There’s a tune called “Old Red Barn,” which just is basically a nice rock and roll high energy song. And there’s some great ballads on this record, too, and some great slower sort of dialogue pieces about people and relationships and the various ebbs and flows and peaks and valleys. I think this record deals with a lot of interesting terrain.
Q You’ve been on the scene for a while now, have you ever played at Caffe Lena before?
A Yeah, actually I played there back in 1999 – that was the first time I was there. I was touring on a record called Falling Forward. And I’m pretty sure I saw a ghost there.
Q Do tell.
A I was walking down the mainstreet with three other people from my band: a sound engineer and two of my bandmates. As we were walking up Broadway – I can remember it like it was yesterday – we were walking to find a sandwich and there was an individual who was sort of in between two buildings, standing to the side. And as we walked by this person, everyone remarked that the person was absolutely gray. We’ve never seen anything like that. It was a man, very small slight of frame, dressed in very strange clothes. There were four of us that saw that. Literally that was within maybe five or 10 feet of passing and when we turned around they were gone.
And everybody saw the same thing. If I’d been on my own, I would have chalked it up to something else, but because there were four people, that was kind of odd. It was just a really bizarre incident. It left all of us kind of shaken, actually.
A Then I went right into Lena’s then that night and the first song I played was called “The Ghost of Saratoga.” I just improvised this whole song about it. It’s something I’ll never forget. I don’t have the song because it just went into the ether, but it was a really powerful, grounding experience.
Q What do you like about playing at Caffe Lena?
A I think what’s’ great about Lena’s is that it was created with the idea of celebrating and supporting artists and free expression – and obviously it served a big role in the folk heyday, for the artists to come through and play there. I think it’s wonderful that it’s continuing that tradition. I think the stewardship of rooms like that is really important going forward, that artists have a place to express as we’re becoming sort of inundated with messages and sound bytes and so forth. It’s harder to really connect in a human way and I think in those sort of rooms those connections can be forged and maintained. I think it’s really important on a community level to have rooms like that.
Q Have you been back to Caffe Lena since the ghost incident?
A came back a little over a year ago with Carm and we played there the first time as a duo.
Q So you have this tour coming up, and an album coming out in the fall? Any other plans for 2016? More touring?
A Yeah, I’ll come back out in the summer and play a few dates in the New York and New Jersey area. There’s lots of other project s in play, too. I think there’s another band record coming. I know Carmen’s writing for a solo record, which is cool. And she and I have enough material to do a couple more records already, so we’re looking down the road a bit, and hopefully it’s going to be a good year.
For more information on this event visit www.caffelena.org. For more information on Willy Porter and his music visit willyporter.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Willy Porter
When: April 23
Where: Caffe Lena
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