Chris Porterfield of band Field Report during sound check at venue Bootleg Theater on 5/4/18 (Photo via Anthony Ramynke).
El Modena High School

Milwaukee-based folk band Field Report grows L.A. audience following release of record ‘Summertime Songs’

Located in the hipster haven of Echo Park, Los Angeles, folk band Field Report emerges from a small minivan to the front entrance of venue Bootleg Theater. Stopping to shake hands, in a genuine midwest mentality courtesy of their Wisconsin roots, with roadies who will accompany them for their West Coast tour through L.A., San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

Stopping lead vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Chris Porterfield before he enters the venue and we chat about the band’s food tour of Downtown Los Angeles prior to arriving at sound check; emitting a genuine, laid back nature that led him to appear like an old friend I have know for years. Rushing alongside, fellow band members, roadies and press alike enter the venue carrying the various instruments, chords and pedals soon to be ensembled onstage, in what appears to be an unsolvable puzzle with each piece being adjusted to create the right articulation of sound.

Tweaks are made to the sound, cigarettes are smoked outside and promotional photos for Instagram are taken before the collected energy of the band erupts into the poppy folk lead single “Never Look Back” off their third studio record “Summertime Songs” released in late March of this year.

As Porterfield’s vocals grow deeper with the lyrics “Well, at least they got something to talk about…” leading up to the chorus, there is an indescribable hybrid of melancholy and joy that makes you think about your first love, first loss and hopes of eliminating regret from one’s life. Though once the song ended, the band immediately returns to their calm essence and makes minor adjustments to their instruments before playing the song once again.

This ability of Porterfield to integrate intricate lyrics that tackle of vulnerability associated with the end of relationships, raising daughter Jane and America’s current political turmoil, with an upbeat and optimistic energy through poppy rhythms has defined Field Report as one of the biggest modern bands to come out of the Midwest, a major name at music festivals across the United States and to have exponential growth in popularity on the West Coast. Their newfound fame and the euphoric experience of fans signing the songs back to the band is met with utter gratefulness.

Prior to the success of Field Report, Porterfield graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and was a member of band DeYarmond Edison alongside Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. He then proceeded to work on solo project Conrad Plymouth before forming Field Report, composed of Thomas Wincek (guitar, keyboard and fellow vocalist), Barry Clark (bass) and Devin Drobka (drums).

The band released their debut, self-titled studio record in 2012 and second record “Marigolden” in 2014, with a four year gap pending the release of their third studio record “Summertime Songs.” The songwriting began in the summer of 2015 and the recording in the summer of 2016 at Wire & Vice production collective on the fringe of Milwaukee with producer Daniel Holter. The long duration of time to create the record enabled Porterfield and Holter to have a more energetic and playful relationship with the music that developed into an unintentional, but still true to their folk roots, poppy album.

When setting out to release “Summertime Songs” what did you take inspiration from? And how were these inspirations integrated into the record?

“So we made this record [‘Summertime Songs’]… we recorded it kind of on our own time in Milwaukee, Wis. in the summer of 2016. There were a lot of things in the air around the record, and kind of what I’ve learned about my process is that it may not be direct inspirations [but] something that I have in mind that I’m responding to. But it’s just sort of a general sensitivity to things in my zone, or other people’s zones, or just kind of in the air. And so in the air, I had a bunch of friends who were going through breakups and the ends of relationships, and it was a bit of sort of imagination and empathy towards their stories, and incorporating some of that into some of the work. My wife and I were expecting our first child, and so there was a lot of nervousness and uncertainty about that. And it was also right before the presidential election. There were a lot of sort of anger and fear and neighbor against neighbor energy. And so all of those things kind of found their way into the songs, and sort of turned into one big story… I guess thematically it’s like, ‘Boy, things are changing. Are we going to be able to make it through this change?’”

“The amazing thing about song [is] it just has form, the don’t have to be factual to be true. There’s a lot of room for imagination in them, so I’m finding as I get older and also just more experienced with the form, I’m able to try to tell other people’s stories beyond just my own. But then also, interpret them almost like an actor like reading a script or screenplay. As so there’s a lot of voices on this record that aren’t necessary my own personal experience point-of-view, but it’s other people’s and me sort of inhabiting those characters.”    

Known for your beautiful, intricate crafted lyrics, what is your songwriting process?

“It goes back to the sensitivity thing. If something is interesting or compelling to me that I think could be an interesting or useful part of the song, I try to capture it. I usually carry a notebook or if I don’t have a notebook I’ll use phone memo or note or whatever, but just gather those things, and the once I have a lot of those things I go back to them and discover if any of them are talking about the same things. And then, I like to think of it almost like a song for me … for some people they just strike from Heaven and in fifteen minutes there’s a beautiful thing. I haven’t had many of those experiences. It’s a slow process. It’s a long process.

I compare it to a photography exhibit, and so you build this body of work through these small moments and then you carve out a space, you set up perimeters and that could be walls in an exhibit or a gallery. Or it could be a harmonic structure with chords and music, and then you start hanging these things up on the wall and seeing what they look like next to each other and, ‘Oh maybe this would tell a more interesting story over here,’ and, ‘Maybe we should get rid of this one and bring in this other one that we haven’t thought about in a while.’ And so, it’s very much like an auditioning process and seeing what speaks as a whole, rather than one flash of inspiration.”  

How did you, the band and producer Daniel Holter decide to incorporate a strong pop sound in the record?

“We were more intentional with that side of things this time. We spent more time with it. We did a lot of working in the studio. A lot of times in the past, I would be in my home strumming a guitar or something and auditioning lyrics with those things, but we really used the studio as an instrument or asset creative space. And so, we allowed ourselves more time to have that be a source of energy and inspiration.

And so, he [Daniel Holter] and I would work one day, and then Barry [Clark] and Tom [Wincek] would come in and respond to that work, and it was very collaborative on the music side. And it was just a source of energy and excitement which kept us coming back for more. And that’s what I’m learning about life in general to is if you put energy out into the world, and it’s met with more energy and you get energy from that, do that. There are too many things we put energy at and it’s met with nothing or draining energy. If the energy can be multiplied instead of subtracted, do the thing that multiples it instead of takes it away.”

Based in Milwaukee, Wis., and a pioneer of the city’s modern music scene, how have you seen the scene evolve since the success of Field Report?

“There’s a lot of younger groups that are coming up now, and I don’t know if it’s because of us, but there’s just an energy in them, a fearlessness. Los Angeles is such a large part of the universe, and so, if you’re in the Midwest you view a place like L.A. as this place that everything happens there and you have to be there in order to have any value or how could you imagine having a career not in L.A. or N.Y. And I think what we’re trying to do, by all of us liking Milwaukee and intentionally choosing to live there and do work there. Actually now, you don’t really have to be anywhere, you can kind of do whatever you do and when it’s time to trot it out away from home, just do that and the come back.

So, sometimes there’s been some fear in Milwaukee, Wis. about getting it out, like, ‘Oh, all we know is this little town and we don’t know if what we do is good enough compared to what other people are doing.’ But, everyone has the internet. You can find out what other people are doing; it’s really, really easy. And people are doing that and being inspired by it, and also being demystified about it and be like, ‘Oh. Yeah. That’s what people are doing. Far out. Let’s reach out to them. Let’s set up a tour together. Let’s collaborate. Let’s doing these things.’ So, there’s a little less fear and a little more excitement among the people who are our peers and younger. There’s this wave of energy that I feel like somebody younger than us, and maybe just a couple steps behind us are going to crets over and really take over.”

With a stronghold on the Midwest, how have you grown your following on the West Coast, and specifically Los Angeles?

“Honestly, it’s incredible to go anywhere and to see somebody respond to what we are doing. I know my greatest hope is that somebody will meet our work with as much enthusiasm as we put into making it, and when that happens, then the circuit is complete. And then the energy can be exchanged and it can do what it was built to do. And we are starting to do that. We’re starting to see people singing along to all the new songs and being really excited about the material and responding to it, and that’s amazing. It’s like the greatest feeling in the world. It makes all this travel and logistics and all of it, it makes it worth wild. And that’s what we want to do, we want to have a relationship with the people who become our audience. We want to grow that. Build that trust, and keep doing it for a long time.”  

How would you like your daughter [Jane] to remember Field Report?

“I hope it’s just dad’s job, and that she’s comfortable with what that means. And I hope she likes to travel. And she likes music a lot, and there’s instruments around the house all the time. Whenever she sees a guitar, she’s like, ‘Tar … Tar,’ and she wants to strum it and she knows how to make it make sound. And she knows how to push the keys and stuff. I hope it’s just a part of her life, and if she wants to she’ll have every opportunity to use that as a outlet to discover things about herself and the world around her.”

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