Interview with Chris Porterfield of Field Report

Field Report – Taking Alcatraz

[W]e withheld the urge to play “two degrees of separation from Bon Iver,” and chatted with Chris Porterfield about his new album and tour with Field Report.  Arriving here in Boston, next week on Wednesday at Great Scott.

Ian Doreian for Music Savage:
Thanks Chris for sharing some time. With just a week before getting back on tour, how have the preparations been?

Chris Porterfield:
It’s exciting even if they’re just little things, like fixing schedules, taking the van for a tune up, and picking up guitar strings. This is all brand-new: our first headlining tour, and even the first time headlining a show ever. We’re on the hook for everything; it’s up to us to get people in the door so that’s a little daunting.

Music Savage:
Will Field Report have the same personnel as when you were touring with Counting Crows and Aimee Mann?

Yeah, and since we’re a pretty small operation we do all the tour managing ourselves. But because of tour availability, we’ll have a different drummer, Shane Leonard, for these shows. Shane has his own project called Kalispell, and we knew him from some work with Sean Carey; he’s been a buddy of ours for a while.

One of the things I like the most about our project is we’re able to let things breathe a little bit and let the songs evolve. We were always under the gun, time wise, for opening sets and this tour gives us the freedom to stretch out.

Music Savage:
I read that in Field Report you all are playing “non-native” instruments; is that what you see as stretching out?

Porterfield:That’s true. If you randomly asked them to come and play music, everyone in this band is playing something other than what they’d naturally bring. It means that we all listen more, and trust each other more. Sometimes that works out by slowing down a song or removing a part, and alternating loud and quiet. We’ve done a good job in reading body language; there’s a nonverbal communication when we play, and it’s fun to be able to test this. As a band, there’s an interest in pursuing these kind of moments.

Music Savage:
But this band thing happened really fast, recording and then getting a few shows at SXSW last March.

Well, some of the guys and I had played shows prior to entering the studio. But, it wasn’t until Ben, our steel player, and Jeff, our baritone guitar player, joined that things coalesced. It’s weird. Our record has just been released, but we’ve played almost 100 shows since December when it was recorded.

Music Savage:
How did those early shows as Conrad Plymouth develop the songs with Field Report?   Songs are living things; songs are not static. I guess it’s a matter of making the songs justify their existence, if that makes any sense. I need to make them relevant and honest, make them interesting for us, and the audience, even if they’ve been around for a while. There’s a song on the record called “Incommunicado” that’s been feeling wrong for the last couple of months, so I put it on the shelf. But then our keyboard player, Nick, came over to my house, sat down at the piano and we came up with a new version that drives in a way that I’ve been trying to get all along. So, we’ll be pulling it out back on tour.   What is exciting about touring is showcasing what we are capable as a live band. While I am proud of the record that we made, it is what it is; we are a better band.

Music Savage:
The album seems to have a narrative structure, and shifts in perspectives and time like a Faulkner story. Did you intend a story arc for the songs?

Yes and no; some of that didn’t come out until it was time to sequence the album. We initially tracked fifteen songs, and five got axed because they didn’t fit with the narrative that was starting to reveal itself. It wasn’t really a conscious thing going into recording. For the album, these are the songs that spoke to each other.

As far as the story flow, in opening with “Fergus Falls” I realized that there are many directions we could go from there. One idea was to walk it back chronologically. There’s some numerology in the songs, mentions of 10, 9, 8, 7 years in the past. But I decided that that ordering was a wormhole, so I decided to trust the music and energy of songs instead.

Music Savage:
Reading through the lyrics, they seem to fit a free verse style, and not really concerned with pacing.

Yes, they are more of free verse, even if there is a rhythm to the line. I tend to favor longer sentences and let them flow. There is something emotionally resonating with run on sentences, and I find rhythm easier in longer lines than in short phrases.

Music Savage:
The album has lots of images that suggest communication gone wrong; the narrators even use semaphore and Morse code to send their messages. Were you aiming for such an isolating mood in the songs?

Honestly, that’s the world the songs were written in. I didn’t know if anyone would listen or if I had anything to say. The songs were typically written late at night when nothing was happening in the house, sitting in the dining room. Not to pull back the veil or anything, it was in that isolation that the songs came about.  Also, at that point a lot of my friends had gone on to play music, and there was an “man, why not me?” An ability to make a connection is what the narrators are going for, and I am trying to figure out how to shepherd these songs. Now with Field Report, I get to drag this all out and share it with people.

Be sure to catch Field Report this month as they make their way down the East Coast, and back home to Wisconsin.

6 – Boston, Mass. @ Great Scott
7 – Northampton, Mass. @ Iron Horse Music Hall
8 – New York, N.Y. @ Mercury Lounge
9 – Philadelphia, Pa. @ World Café Live Upstairs
10 – Brooklyn, N.Y. @ Union Hall
11 – Easton, Md. @ NightCat
13 – Pittsburgh, Pa. @ Club Café
14 – Columbus, Ohio @ Rumba Café
15 – Chicago, Ill. @ Schubas Tavern
16 – St. Paul, Minn. @ Turf Club
17 – Madison, Wis. @ High Noon Saloon