After a five year disappearance from the music world, Christopher Porterfield has set music reviewers ablaze with his re-emergence as Field Report. The folk band was founded by Porterfield, with the name being anagram of the singer/songwriter’s last name. Porterfield found his feet on music stages playing alongside former bandmate Justin Vernon — otherwise known as the lead singer of Bon Iver — in the folk group DeYarmond Edison. The band called it quits in 2006 and Porterfield would spend the next five years perfecting his songwriting skills and honing his musical craft. Now, in 2013 the patience has paid off as the band’s debut offering — the self-titled album Field Report — has swept through the industry igniting rave reviews. Porterfield chatted to us about the meaning of folk music, winning over crowds, and music induced nostalgia.

Image: Field Report

You have a degree in journalism. Has journalistic writing influenced the way you write music?

I think a general awareness of the purpose of journalism — which ultimately is the reduction of uncertainty — can be a good starting point for songwriting. It makes you more aware of who/what/where/when/why, but the big difference between songwriting and journalism is objectivity. As a newsperson, you are supposed to keep yourself out of the story and only serve the readers and truth.

As a songwriter, you are living in every line and you can withhold information about a character or scene. You can make things up. You can lie in service to a greater Truth.

Both require triangulation, but in different ways. Journalists require multiple sources and points of view to direct the reader to the facts. Triangulation in songwriting is more like dropping breadcrumbs so the listener can have little bits of information to hang onto like a railing, until their eyes adjust to a dark room.

What made you decide to start writing songs? Did you have any 
experience writing lyrics while in DeYarmond Edison?

I didn’t really write songs until after DeYarmond. I would occasionally help Justin with lyrics if he asked for it, but those songs were all his. I think my songwriting came out of the void that had been filled by writing and playing music. I ended up in a career outside of journalism, and I was no longer playing music with anyone. I was in a new city, and a new chapter of my life. Songs started coming out of that.

Folk music has been around for a long time. What do you think is 
the difference lyrically and musically between being a 2013 folk
artist and a 1960s for 70s folk musician?

I don’t know that all that much has changed. The 1960s was a period when folk music in the context of popular culture became more personal and confessional. The same remains today. Also, folk music then and now tends to favor traditional instrumentation. Not a whole lot is different. ‘Folk’ as a designation can have some baggage with it. I don’t have a better word for it though. But I think some hip-hop can be closer to the intent of some of the earlier folk songs- the union songs, the protest songs, the social justice songs.

It took 5 years for Field Report to materialize, and very quickly 
it’s become critically acclaimed. What has been the most exciting
aspect of this turn around?

The most exciting part about it is when we are able to win over a new crowd. When we are in a place for the first time, and everyone is on the same page together. When you can help someone feel something through the lens of a performance of these songs.

All of your songs carry a narrative and vivid imagery. Which track 
is the most autobiographical?

They all are in some ways, but ‘Circle Drive’ is probably the closest to the truth.

Image: Field Report

The video for ‘I’m Not Waiting Anymore’ syncs perfectly with the 
track. How much input do you give in terms of the creation of music

Thanks! I was very happy with how that came out. A Milwaukee-based company called About Face Media approached us about a video. We met with them, and loved where they were coming from. We let them run with it. We had a few editing meetings, but ultimately the quality of that companion piece to the song had very little to do with us.

You’ve spoken about not dumbing down your lyrics before and how you 
want listeners to have a good understanding of a track. As a writer,
how do you want audiences to interpret your music?

I don’t ever want a song to be heavy-handed or even mean one thing over another. But I like to listen to songs that continue to reveal themselves over time. I like to catch a lyric on the 20th listen that I had missed before, and that can shift what I understood about the artist’s intent to a new place. I want to make music that allows for that possibility, but also leaves enough room for the listener to live in it with their own life experiences and make it their own.

Image: Field Report

Besides folk music do you listen to any other genres?

I can enjoy just about anything. There is a peace that comes from just submitting to sound and how it relates to another sound, and guessing the intent of the people that made it. I love Robert Wyatt. I love Katy Perry. I love Björk. I love Hiss Golden Messenger. I love Solange.

Your lyrics read more like poetry than lyrical form. Have any poets 
inspired your writing?

I’m currently on a huge John Ciardi kick. Also the poetry of Jim Harrison and the short stories of Ray Carver have had a big influence on my words and internal rhyming and rhythm.


Image: Field Report

All of your characters seem flawed and melancholic. They all seem 
to be on the brink of destruction and yearning for something they can’t quite reach. It’s almost nostalgic of the characterization of Modernist writers. What was the motivation behind the creation of
these characters?

That’s just how they came out for this record. I think a lot of Modernist themes are still resonant today. We are still trying to sort out who we are in a world that can and will destroy itself. In the folk music realm, there can be a sense of longing for simpler times. It can be a reaction against perceived present-day vapidity.

I wanted to make a record that doesn’t pine for the past, but tries to wrestle with it and struggle with it, and ultimately be in a position for redemption

There’s an undercurrent of hopefulness for me on this record. I hope that it comes across.

Image: Field Report

Image: Field Report

Image: Field Report


Images: Field Report