By Johanna Sommer
Known locally as Pepsi John (though he actually prefers Coke), John Porcelli III has become a prolific drummer across Purchase’s campus. I first talked to him in the fall of 2021, weeks into his freshman year, for a story about what it was like to play on campus after months of isolation. It was also my first interview on campus in two years, and I basically felt like a freshman, too. After watching Porcelli play in the headlining Pavement Cover Show set this past April, I was struck by how many times I had seen him perform since the previous September, and how distant the first interview had seemed, far before the “Pepsi” moniker found its way to his enigmatic title. He is currently an official member of two bands: Birdweek and Salutations (which he accidentally, but gratefully, joined within five minutes of each other). There is something fundamentally unmistakable about Porcelli, from his frenzied playing, to his absurd nickname or the way you can spot his mountain of blonde curls from a hundred feet away. Drumming since the age of three, he is now a 19-year-old classical percussion major, citing Keith Moon as his “pinnacle of [his] pantheon of drummers,” alongside John Bonham, Jaki Liebezeit of CAN, Dave Grohl and Bill Ward of Black Sabbath. (This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity)
Q: Before anything else I have to ask: what is the origin of Pepsi John?
A: Basically, when I was filling in for Winkie’s Podcast’s drummer, which is a band composed of Connor Gibson, Ed Donahue and Moses Torres, I had showed up to one of our first rehearsals with a few bottles of Pepsi. The reason, which I didn't disclose at the time, was because there was this really silly thing that Pepsi was doing, basically if you had scanned like a code on their cap, they'd give you cash for it. It was just something I did to see how long I could before it closed down and see if I would be able to buy a nice dinner with it. I wasn't telling anyone this because I didn't want anyone else to know at the time, and I don’t know why I was so paranoid looking back on it because I don’t think really anybody would have cared. I didn’t tell them that and so Connor and Ed were like, ‘Why do you have four bottles of Pepsi,’ and I was just like, ‘Oh, you, know, I just like to have it before rehearsal,’ so they said, ‘Damn, Pepsi John,’ and it stuck.
Q: Were you able to get a nice dinner?
A: Yes I was. I got like 40 bucks out of it, and then considering that I was getting four bottles of PepsiCo soda from the hub everyday with meals, I wound up building a large thing of recycling as well. That also added onto it, so I made around 50 bucks with that.
Q: Do strangers call you this?
A: Yeah! People say ‘Pepsi’ and I look and it’s directed to me. It makes no sense. It went from John on drums, because that’s how people would introduce me when I was playing, to Pepsi John, and Pepsi John just took over. So now, I’m colloquially known as Pepsi John on this campus. Like, even my friends from high school who have known me for years have started calling me “Pepsi” and I’m just like, this is ridiculous.
Q: What a beautiful story. When I interviewed you nearly four semesters ago, you stressed how nice it felt to play with people after being in isolation for so long. I’m curious how your relationship with drumming has developed in relation to that time.
A: Honestly, well I’ve played with more people since then, I’m going to say it’s probably the same, if not more, of that [nice] feeling. Obviously getting to play with many different people with many different styles of playing is really interesting and forces me to get a bit more creative about how I approach [drumming] and how I approach their music or whatever style that we are trying to play. Wow, I gave you a real corporate response to that answer.
Q: It’s ok you have the Pepsi story to balance out. Who are some of those people that have strongly influenced your playing or inspired you generally?
A: 110% it would definitely be Justin [Hatch, of Birdweek] and Connor, no questions asked. They are the two most influential people one me, in terms of the way I play and that is just a formality of playing with them on a regular basis. I would say next to them would be Ed, for sure. That’s really because, in a different sort of light, Ed is, and I hope no one gets offended when I say this, but Ed is the most talented person I know. I would say those three people have the most profound influence on me.
Q: When did you start drumming and what initially drew you to it? A little origin story, if you will.
A: I received my first drum kit for Christmas in 2006, and it was a gift from my aunt and uncle. Their kids were musicians, and my dad was telling him about how he had recognized me being able to count out the beats for James Brown and Led Zeppelin songs. My dad used to get under his brother’s skin, just because of the type of musicians we are, obviously you’ve got to play loud, and so basically as a goof, but totally the kick-start for whatever career I’m trying to make, was my uncle being a wiseass and giving me a drum kit. Once I started to really learn how to play it, by the time I was about six, my parents had decided to upgrade my drum kit to a real drum set.
Q: So you just immediately loved it and have not wavered in that feeling since?
A: Yeah, no I really never stopped. I was just motivated, because for like the first three years I was playing drums, I was making a total racket.
Q: Well, you were five.
A: Yeah, but by the time I was six, I was actually figuring it out and that I could try this. So I would learn songs by Alice Cooper and by AC/DC, just songs I really liked when I was younger and that was basically how I did it. I would listen to the song and try to get it almost note for note, and that was how I figured out how to play the drums.
Q: Did you have little baby earplugs?
A: Oh no I had airplane grade headphones. My parents were very adamant about me having those, and I’m happy they were because my hearing has not gone totally down the toilet, so I appreciate that a lot. That’s a very good life lesson, when you’re starting out on any instrument, just wear headphones. Super important.
Q: That’s your last PSA.
A: For sure. Headphones. Ear protection. Anything you can do to save your hearing.