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Field Report’s Chris Porterfield digs into new album

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Chris Porterfield

It has been since 2014’s Marigolden that Field Report had a new release and since then, frontman Chris Porterfield has entered fatherhood and continued sobriety. With a new band and an expanded sonic landscape, he’ll present those new songs to Milwaukee for the first time for the live audience at 88Nine’s Block Party.

Radio Milwaukee recently spoke with Porterfield about the process of writing and recording the upcoming album and what we can expect to hear.

Read below for a conversation with Chris Porterfield about the upcoming Field Report album:

88Nine Radio Milwaukee
88Nine Block Party headliner talks new album in the works

Who is in Field Report these days?

Barry Clark plays bass and some programming stuff. Tom Wincek does keyboards and programming. On record it’s Shane Leonard from Eau Claire drumming, but live it’s going to be Milwaukee’s Devin Drobka. I’m pretty lucky to play with some top-shelf dudes.

You recently recorded your new album here in Milwaukee with Daniel Holter at Wire & Vice, how did you connect?

I’ve been aware of Daniel Holter, his work, and his studio for awhile and we had some mutual friends say we aught to get together sometime, including Tarik. Tarik Moody, the Great Facilitator. He really is good at putting people together, in fact I owe a bunch of people in my band to Tarik.

Daniel came to see Field Report when we played at the Pabst in the fall of 2015. At that show we did a song we had written for my neighbor friend Tia who has sickle-cell anemia and we wanted to have some fun for her so we wrote a song for her, brought her out on stage and everyone got to cheer for her and make her feel cool. That was a really neat thing we got to be a part of. Daniel reached out after that and said, “Hey if you ever want to record that song you should come into my studio and we’ll do that some afternoon.” Sure enough we did that and it was a lot of fun.

We started to work together on the new Field Report record. We worked most days from this time last year to last fall. It was really great, a ton of fun and a new way of working in that we didn’t go to some far-flung location. The last record we did up in Canada in the middle of nowhere for a couple of weeks.

This one was really nice because we got to work and go back to it the next day and respond to the work. It was almost like painting, where you can have a conversation with yourself and the work you did the previous day with the luxury of sleeping in your own bed at night.

We made this record that way and it was really cool. I’m really pleased with where we landed with it. It’s sonically new territory for us and the writing is a little bit leaner. There’s kind of something in it for everybody. I’m really pleased with it.

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How different was this process from your other records?

For me, the process has always been; write a song, then record a quasi-definitive version of the song that most people that hear it will have a relationship with, then figure out how to interpret that in a live setting, too. Sounds have three different lives. It was interesting to kind of combine the first two parts of that; the writing was happening totally parallel to the recording of the definitive thing. The changes sonically we would make the next day on today’s work would inform how the song itself was coming about.

It was a different way of working. Definitely less “guy with a notebook and a guitar, fleshing it out with his buddies.” It was kind of happening all simultaneously.

We already knew the space, we already knew working with Daniel and we could just focus on doing work rather than getting comfortable.

Did this lineup come together for the recording or did you get a chance to play out live?

No, we haven’t played anything live ever yet. It’s been a fun challenge because we used the studio as an instrument, as a part of the work. It’s been fun having rehearsals leading up to beginning to play some of it live. To try to figure out, “Who did that? What was that?” or how can we approximate that sonically and emotionally in a way that doesn’t require a semi full of gear and a bus full of people?

Your songs feel very personal and your timeline as a human has changed a lot since your first recordings. Now you have sobriety and fatherhood. Are those different perspectives you are bringing in?

For sure, yeah. My wife and I had a daughter last July. I was hoping to have everything all written and mostly recorded before she showed up. And that mostly came to pass. So, there aren’t any songs that are overtly “post-fatherhood songs” which I’m pleased about. There are a couple “pre-fatherhood anxiety songs” because that’s kind of where my head was at. It’s been wild. She’s really great; she’s turned into a studio rat. She’s pretty good in the studio, she can hang out. We know when a mix is getting to a good place when she starts bouncing.

Sonically, what can fans expect that are familiar with the arc of Field Report?

The first record was written in bedrooms, in quiet, at night, alone. So it’s kind of quieter and some of the arrangements were tacked on after the fact. The second one was still seeded, but forward-leaning listening. I feel like this one can operate forward leaning and also back-leaning. The rhythm section we had on this record is unlike any I’ve ever had before. Barry Clark is just a monster bassist. The drumming is outstanding, so rhythmically there is a lot more happening on this one. We finally had a chance to get Tom Wincek on record – he wasn’t on Marigolden, he helped us re-imagine stuff live. This crew on the record had the time to really flex their own strengths and bring those to the thing. So on a stage it’s probably a more up-tempo Field Report record if that even makes sense saying that?

It’s a richer sounding thing due to the fact we were in a great space, for an extended period of time. We got really comfortable with the environment and that became a part of the body of work, too. I can’t wait to share it with you all.

Do you think being in Milwaukee, having that sense of place, meant something too?

Absolutely. There’s a comfort in the record that could only come from sleeping in your own bed at night. I wanted it to have a home energy on this one. I wanted this to be sort of confident, sort of self-assured. Less worried and more “here’s a bunch of songs by some people who know what they do.” I think making it here, really lent that energy to the record as opposed to going somewhere completely foreign and spending a weekend getting acclimated to the space, the environment and the people. We already knew the space, we already knew working with Daniel and we could just focus on doing work rather than getting comfortable.

Will we hear the new songs and lineup at the 88Nine Block Party?

I am super pumped about the Block Party. It’s amazing that you guys have been around now for 10 years. The station’s time in Milwaukee and growth and work and dedication sort of runs parallel to mine. I showed up here in the summer of 2006 and I started figuring out what I wanted to do and kind of aiming at those things.

We’ve had parallel lives. I feel like I’ve grown up as an adult and as an artist in parallel to the station’s growth. It’s really cool that you guys are doing your things and challenging yourselves and challenging your community and striving for excellence. It’s super cool to be a part of the big anniversary bash and this is going to be the premier in Milwaukee for any of this new stuff. We’ll play mostly the new record, which won’t be out for awhile. This will be the first chance to hear any of that stuff. We’ll bring the show home and then we’ll disappear for awhile.

Then you’ll return with your fatherhood record?

I was talking to my friend Joe Pugg who also became a dad recently, and we promised each other we wouldn’t write sappy dad tunes. We swore that we would not write “Butterfly Kisses” or anything like that so we had kind of a dad folk-er pact.

I’m glad you get to celebrate with us! Thank you for sharing.

You can see Field Report in Milwaukee at the 88Nine Block Party on June 24th.
More info: radiomilwaukee.org/88nine-block-party/