Porches' 'Weirdest Obsession' Is a Ping Pong Jazz Bar in NYC

Aaron Maine explains how he became a regular at Fat Cat, a West Village basement full of table games and sax riffs.
February 26, 2020, 1:24pm
Porches' 'Weirdest Obsession' Is a Ping Pong Jazz Bar in NYC

At one point, Aaron Maine considered never releasing any music as Porches again. Already four albums in under that moniker, he's developed considerable sonic and emotional distance from the rollicking indie rock of his 2013 studio debut Slow Dance in the Cosmos into the thoughtful, electronic pop of his latest, 2018's The House.

Ricky Music, which is out March 13 via Domino, is Maine's shortest body of work yet. He tells VICE, "There was a good eight months where I was hell-bent on just dropping the Porches moniker and renaming it Ricky Music. But I decided to come around to just naming my new album Ricky Music because it really feels like the next chapter in Porches." In a statement last year, he wrote, "Porches can be a country song, a dance song, a punk song, a pop song or anything in between... Porches is my love affair with music."

Though the album clocks in at well under half an hour_, Ricky Music_'s nine songs is his strongest collection yet. Across his catalog, Maine has used alter egos as a source of inspiration—including characters like Ronald Paris and Ronnie Mystery—but here, his character of Ricky Pepsi and his girlfriend Julie is front-and-center. "It just helps me to think of my music as something entirely different," Maine says. "There's no baggage and no history." He adds, "I don't get caught up in the trajectory of Porches or what people might expect next or what I think would make sense chronologically. Using [another] name gives me a little more freedom creatively."

Recorded and written across several disparate sessions from his New York City apartment, as well as on tour stops in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Europe, Ricky Music is bursting with ambitious ideas, from the frantic, ecstatic 45-second punk of "PFB" (an acronym for "Pretty Fuckin' Bad") to the house-minded rave-up "Madonna." The swooning lead single "Do U Wanna Dance"—which Maine describes as "a song about looking at yourself and realizing the disparity between how you’d like to act and how you actually act”—came about after a festival gig in Chicago, and was written on his laptop while "hold up in [an] Airbnb."

As Maine readies himself to release Ricky Music into the world, he's enjoying some time off in New York City, his home for the past half-decade. Now living in Chinatown, Maine's favorite place in the city to kill time when he's home from tour and traveling is Fat Cat, a strange jazz club and ping pong spot in the West Village—one we're stoked to share for the second installment of our new series I Know a Place, wherein musicians we dig share their favorite local haunts. Here's why Fat Cat, more than any other spot in all of New York City, is Maine's go-to haunt.

VICE: Hi. Has Fat Cat always been a part of your experience living in New York City?
Aaron Maine (Porches): When I moved here, I moved to Greenwich Village, which isn't too far. It's like a 10-minute walk to Fat Cat from the first apartment I lived in the city. I first heard about it through my friends Ethan [Silverman] and Dev [Hynes], who are really into ping pong. I grew up on-and-off being interested in ping pong. I wasn't too competitive but I played a bunch. So a few years ago they took me there and just absolutely destroyed me. Because of that, I got excited to get better, so I started going back a lot. That's the main reason or the main draw about that place for me, is the ping pong. They have a bunch of shit there, like pool and shuffleboard, Scrabble and foosball. It's like this huge place in a basement. It's kind of hectic there. They have live jazz every night, like all night. It's a $3 cover, but I go for the ping pong.

How good are you at ping pong now?
I've gotten pretty good. There was a point where I was playing like three or four times a week. I tried entering this tournament once, but I, uh, choked. I don't do well under pressure athletically. At least it's the closest thing to a sport that I've ever attempted.

What goes into getting good at ping pong? Is it just playing a lot or is there a strategy that you took on?
I guess it's a combination of both, but I think the more you play, the better you get. I would watch some tutorials on YouTube occasionally. I've imagined like most other things, once you have the basics down, like the rules and your form, you just get better and better with every match. It's nice to compete, too. It's, like, one of the few areas in my life where I feel like the tiniest hint of competition, you know. I'm not a sore loser or a sore winner, but I do like that feeling of being like, "I got a win!" It's nice and cathartic.

Have you been able to beat Ethan and Dev yet?
Yeah, I think I've risen to the occasion. Dev and I are a pretty good match. Ethan seems to kind of come out on top more often than I would like, but it's good. I feel like I've completely stepped up my game.

How would you describe the vibe to someone who's never been and why would you take them there?
Honestly, the only reason I would take anyone there is to play ping pong. It is a weird space. You go down these stairs after you pay a $3 cover, and get this nice little hand stamp. It's usually pretty crowded. Most of the times there's live music. It's huge. I don't know how many square feet it is but the music is great. They have some amazing musicians there. It's typically jazz and sometimes other types of music. I've always dreamed of doing a Porches show at Fat Cat. It's this low-key establishment. All sorts of people show up there. There are a lot of really good ping pong players that come out, and I've also seen a lot of people go on dates there. It's a little chaotic in there because you usually have to wait like an hour for a table, depending on when you go. I like going in the afternoon when it opens at 3 p.m. to get some matches in before it gets crazy. I'd recommend it to anyone.

How often do you go now?
I've since moved to Chinatown but it's still mad close. It's just two stops away on this train. I go less often than I used to, but I still have friends around there that play.

Out of all the places in the city, why here?
I thought of a few different places. There's this diner that I'm really obsessed with that I considered talking about, but I remembered that of all the places I've been, Fat Cat seems like the weirdest obsession of mine, this weird jazz and ping pong club. I've wanted to talk about Fat Cat in the past and I've never really had an opportunity to.

It's nice to stop by at this point. I've gotten to the point where I've gotten to know a few of the bartenders and they will hook it up and know the kind of paddle I like. Any establishment in the city where you feel comfortable enough to say what's up is special.

Thanks for speaking with us.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.