We caught up with Field Report just after this May’s Boston Calling to chat with Chris Porterfield about their latest album ‘Summertime Songs’, what makes their hometown of Milwaukee so special, and their artist recommendation for readers. Take a read and catch the band on tour this Summer/Fall.
You played Boston Calling this past Memorial Day weekend—a festival that I love (being from Boston myself), and feel like has really helped establish the Boston music scene. I’ve read you say before that your hometown of Milwaukee has a great music community. What are some other things you’re proud of in relation to your hometown?
Generations, cities and scenes are always changing. In Milwaukee, a lot of the change has been happening just beneath the surface. It’s becoming more visible now. There’s great energy here, and a boldness and excitement for new work and ideas that I haven’t seen here before. I’m glad to live here and am excited about the future.
Your latest release, ‘Summertime Songs’ has been described as “poetry set to music” (I love that!) but encompassing more pop sensibility than previous releases. I love that you have evolved and that you’re trying new things in a way that makes sense for you as a band. What went into that decision?
We were just following what was inspiring us. There aren’t really any rules for this project, we just try to stay inspired. If someone has an idea, we’ll try it out. And if it vibrates in an interesting way, that alone makes it valid and worth considering. Because if we are interested and engaged and excited, chances are that our audience will feel that way too.
Having just wrapped up your Spring tour with Sontalk and Campdogzz, what’s one thing you’ve learned from another band while on the road?
You can’t help but learn from everyone you’ve ever played with. I recently saw a quote from Rick Neilsen that was very good. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically it was this: “If you are headlining, treat the support act like you would like to be treated. If you are supporting, stay quiet, stay out of the way and stay on schedule.”
We’ve been really fortunate to support some incredibly kind and generous people. A little kindness goes a long way on tour.
You’ve talked quite a bit about the importance of storytelling within your music. What is it that you think makes for a good story within a song?
Song is a unique form for a writer to work in— there are limits on time, words in a line, lines to a verse. I think songs work best as storytelling tools when they focus on short scenes that make the listener wonder. You can trust the listener more than you think. If you provide them with something to wonder about, they can fill in the details from their own experiences. Songs can be cheapened when they preach or prattle too much.
Structurally, as a musician, how do you translate that?
Sometimes I work backward in time— start with a moment and reveal parts of how we got there. I often like to drop in a few specific details that jump out and help define the space we are in together. Sometimes I’ll use dialogue, and often the narrator is not me.
In relation to the business side of this industry, what do you personally wish you had known when you were just starting out?
I wish I knew how single-minded this job requires you to be, and that not everyone will understand that. I wonder how necessary it actually is to be prepared to sacrifice relationships to show fealty to rock and roll. Sometimes I feel like Abraham tying up a kid and walking it to the altar.
I’ve saw that you read a lot. Can you give us a book recommendation?
I recently re-read a collection of short stories by Lucia Berlin called “A Manual for Cleaning Women.” I think Justin Kinkel-Schuster from Water Liars turned me on to her. She’s remarkable. I resonate deeply with her work. Pick up that book.
Taking a note from Michael Ian Black’s ‘How To Be Amazing’ podcast I want to end this by asking for your recommendation in any category. Any food, person, show or thing from your life that you recommend.
I’m loving the show “Legion” on FX. I feel like nobody else in my cohort is watching it, and I can’t understand why! I love the nonlinear story, and visually, its a stunner.
What’s coming up for Field Report?
We have a bunch of shows together this summer. This fall I’m going out solo to open up for Jade Bird. She’s an amazing singer and songwriter from England. I’m excited to get to know her and her audience.
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