Chris Porterfield comes full circle with Field Report (playing World Cafe Live on 11/9)
Standing out among this year’s breakout acts is Field Report, the new folk project from Minnesota native Chris Porterfield. Formerly a member of the Eau Claire band DeYarmond Edison (which also featured Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and members of Megafaun), Porterfield relocated to Milwaukee where he rekindled his love for music . When its eponymous debut was released in September, critics hailed Field Report as an artist to watch for its rich, poetic lyrics and quiet-yet-powerful sound. Adam Duritz of Counting Crows, who Field Report supported on tour this summer, said “There’s such a perfection in the songs that I wonder how long Chris spent.” This week we caught up with Porterfield over the phone about his experience working with a new group of musicians, his surprise at the success of album, and the band’s resolve to remain true to their Wisconsin roots.
The Key: Have you been surprised by the success of the album so far?
Chris Porterfield: I really have. When we made this thing, we didn’t really know what to expect with it and where it was going to go or who we were talking to, or who was going to be listening to it. It’s just been so positive to see people reacting to it and it’s really exciting.
TK: Did you ever think this kind of success would be a possibility after you settled down and got married?
CP: Haha, no, I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me – if you had told me a year ago at this time – that this album was created and we were travelling on tour. I never thought I would be giving this a go.
TK: What’s it like working with this group of people? How does the writing process work?
CP: We started pretty low-key just in Milwaukee and we recorded the whole album in Eau Claire. I mean, it just started really organically and it’s good to have this group that’s ready to get behind these songs and build around that, just trusting each other. Our writing process starts with the words; I play with words or phrases that I’ve been throwing around and just try to make sense of what fits together, and when I have a draft or two ready I bring it to the guys and we deconstruct and rebuild from that point. We really try to reckon with the piece and see what feels right for it; it needs to be justified before we’re done with it.
TK: Your background in DeYarmond Edison is an inevitable point of recognition for fans—is that association something you hope to eventually move away from?
CP: I totally understand the desire for a reference point, and Justin is a good friend of mine. People’s time is valuable and there’s lots of music out there, and people are interested in music he’s making so if that helps them understand who we are, I appreciate it. He’s built a career doing what he thinks is the right thing for him all the time without compromising and it’s an honor to be in company with someone like him. Eventually, though, it would be ideal if the music could stand on its own.
TK: Did you continue making music immediately after the breakup of DeYarmond Edison or was it more something that grew from missing it?
CP: It grew from absence of it. When DeYarmond Edison broke up I really thought that was the end of a future in music, I didn’t want to make music anymore. I was an English major in college, and then I decided to be a grownup and become more pragmatic so I switched to Journalism to get a job at a newspaper or some other writing gig. But it’s a taxing time for journalism, too, and I realized I really missed creative writing and making music in a band, so this just kind of started.
TK: Do you think that watching the success of Justin and Megafaun shape your desire to continue making music?
CP: Yeah, definitely. I mean, a lot of my friends have gone on to be professional musicians, so I’ve learned a lot from watching their development without having to go through it myself, and I think from that we’ve avoided a lot of the “growing pains” of a young band. I don’t take credit for everything, though- we’ve got a really great team that has opened up a lot of awesome opportunities.
TK: Would you like to take Field Report or any other project back to Eau Claire?
CP: I’d love to get back there—Eau Claire is a very special place for me. I spent six years—six very important years—there, and almost half of us have relationships and friendships there. It’s a five hour drive [from Milwaukee] so we don’t get out there as often as we’d like, but it’s really cool to make those two circles meet and make those worlds a lot smaller. There’s something going on in Wisconsin right now and it’s really exciting to be a part of it.
TK: What’s it like to see people reacting to your music beyond that local scope?
CP: There are a handful of moments where people are reacting on a large scale. It’s awesome to see all these people come together and share some kind of larger experience. It’s really cool when a fan, or maybe someone who’s just hearing our music for the first time that night, picks up on a line and brings it in a way I hadn’t thought about, and then it ends up shaping my relationship with the song differently. It’s really gratifying to know that the work we put in is growing and moving—it’s really humbling, too. After producing this music for others and establishing our own relationships with it, we owe it to the people who grow attached to it to be responsible to the music.
TK: Which musicians would you be interested in collaborating with in the future?
CP: We’re still so young as a band and understanding how this works, and there’s always so much to learn from so many people. We had such a great time on the Aimee Mann tour, Aimee and I actually performed on a duet in some of the shows. I’d love to do something with her. Mark Eitzel [of American Music Club] would be awesome to work with, I feel like a large part of our music is a reaction to his art being grafted into my bones. Nick [Berg], Travis [Whitty] and I actually just worked with a Milwaukee singer, Calvin Hofer, on his new Old Earth album, which came out this week. I always feel like you should collaborate when given the chance unless there’s a reason not to—there’s usually always something to learn from others.
Field Report is Chris Porterfield, Jeff Mitchell, Travis Whitty, Nick Berg, Damian Strigens and Ben Lester. You can stream their self-titled debut album here; tickets for their all-ages show at World Cafe Live tomorrow night are available here.