Backed by a rolling bass and dreamy piano, Field Report's warbling vocals tell stories of loves won and lost, summertime in the countryside, and the passage of time. "You're just providing some type of context for somebody else to come into and discover the stories or whatever truth you're trying to convey," frontman Chris Porterfield says of the process of making their newest record, Summertime Songs.
The Wisconsin-based quartet played four songs for us off their recently released album, Summertime Songs, one chilly afternoon in our Brooklyn studio. Filled with heartbreaking lyrics and swelling reverb, each song reveals a little corner of Porterfield's heart while remaining open enough to let the listener climb in and see a little of themselves within the tune.
Porterfield originally played in the band DeYarmond Edison with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Megafaun's Brad and Phil Cook. When the band moved to North Carolina, Porterfield decided to stay in Wisconsin and Field Report (an anagram of Porterfield's name) was born. "I think as I begin to work in this form more and more I become more aware and more intentional of what I'm doing," Porterfield muses. The depth of his conversation with us reflect the depth of his songwriting. Combined with a unique blend of folk ambience and that old-fashioned steel guitar, this session is one you won't want to miss.
in but there's a difference between making a record of songs and performing songs. I mean, we believe in the records that we make and we want to present them in interesting ways that are reflective of the way that people have understood the music at first. But we also like to stretch it out and take it wherever it needs to go in that particular evening. Hey, my name is Chris Porterfield. I play in the band, Field Report. When we lit up and left How the smoke it must have plumed And billowed to the clouds and back White, grey, and black for the morning bloom How we tell it now Depends on who we're lying to We ate the fruit, learned the truth And spit the pits in the corner of the room If I knew what I know So far yet to go And if I knew what I know So far yet to go You were bouncing off the guardrail Shouting at the wind We were off our meds, drinking again We played them like a stolen violin I knew my outlines and my ends And I waited for something to kick in They could not understand They were embarrassed by sincerity back then If I knew what I know So far yet to go And if I knew what I know So far yet to go In a flash, I was wearing Every one of your brand new tattoos And I took off my shirt like East Moline And read upside down what you've been up to Then a car crashed through the wall There you were in the room And the blood-red blood Bled to your outlines and it colored you in We were close enough to cough on Your breath smelled like creme de menthe Headstones, dial tones, you said "Hey, fucker, where you been?" If I knew what I know So far yet to go And if I knew what I know So far yet to go If I knew what I know So far yet to go If I knew what I know So far yet to go If I knew what I know So far yet to go And if I knew what I know So far yet to go - Field Report, as a project, begin at South by Southwest in 2012. I had been writing some solo songs, and we put in band the buddies together. Thomas Wincek on keys. Today, he had played some piano. Barry Clark on bass, and Devin Drobka on drums. Tom and I played together for a few years. We've known each other for a very long time. We both have some history in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Everybody in the Eau Claire scene, at that point, in the early 2000s or so, everything sort of sounded like Bad Bruce. It was like Hootie and the Blowfish or something. And Tom came in and, kind of, blew our minds like, "Oh, have you heard..." I don't know, Tom, who do you turn us onto? From the other side of the room, Yeah, and so, we kind of stayed in touch, and then on the last record, I sorted "Tom, would you like to join my folk band?" And he said, "Yes, I will do that. " If one of us is the ocean And one of us is the moon We haven't found the pattern yet Figure who's been pulling who Turn the telescope back around With these troubles out of view Forgiveness does not excuse It just prevents all of the others from destroying you Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Before the matter was settled Before there was a name for this You were out dancing in traffic Near miss And you thought you had pulled it off But everybody knew all along If they ain't picking up on what you're throwing down Hey, at least, they got something to talk about Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Cut my hair with your pocketknife I trust you with my eyes closed I just need you to try I don't need you to know 'Cause I've earned what I've been growing And I'm all about the day When we cut it all off and we throw it all away Forgiveness does not excuse It just prevents all of the others from destroying you Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back Never turn around Never turn around Never turn around Never turn around Never turn around or look back Never turn around or look back - The songs for this project, kind of, function as the framework but we're prone to indulge whatever energy we encounter in the process. And so, if somebody's got a new idea or even just a different voicing of a chord or a different rhythm, like, we all are pretty well tuned into that. And we can kind of take it in a different direction. - Yeah, and we've got a lot of trust built up between all of us. And everybody's got big ears and big reference points to draw from. And so, it's really, really exciting. And I think that's what, kind of, separates Field Report from some of the other, sort of, songwritery bands is we have this bend for experimentation, which is really fun. I woke up blacked out in a snowstorm With an airbag burn on my cheek Check the wreckage, walk away okay I'm going to change Swearing to and plowing through the trees 'Cause you were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot This heart is a cold cave My mind is a parking lot Your voice came like a frostquake on the plains This old body is a closet filled with hoarded nothings My soul is a cathedral in an air raid You were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot You were in my blind... You see the trouble with flying is the glueing on the feathers And there's a body just laying at your feet Still faithfully yours unchanged, unhinged We did not ask to be 'Cause you were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot You were in my blind... You were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot You were in my blind spot You were in my blind... - Summertime Songs, this is our third record coming out March 23rd, 2018 on Verve Forecast. Never turn around or look back And in this record, if I'm being honest, it was sometimes better to tell some of these stories through the eyes of somebody else. I think any novelist would tell you that even if you're writing about someone else, you still have to have some firsthand understanding of how those things feel or how those things happened. But there's a lot of other people in this record. Sometimes you have to treat it, while you're singing them, almost like an actor or you're just providing some type of context for somebody else to come into and discover the stories or whatever big Ts, small T, truth you're trying to convey, just building something so that they can climb in and have that discovered too. What else could we do but go look For something new away from the old place Time will pass, weeds will be growing Growing where they want to grow after the storms have raged Cut the blossom off the weed Hoard the thorns, drop the leaves One by one, love me not but love me, love me please They buried us not knowing we were seeds Time is a bird with a mean, hooked beak Who's just waiting around to work on you and work on me Share a private wince, feel the pulse On the inside of a wound begun to weap Shotgun wedding, black on blue The river swelling like a bruise We were kissing in the car like libertines Ohh, ohh And if you hold me, just ignore what I say Love me reckless in spite of the neck brace And if the welcome's worn but the room is warm Cut the bandage all the way down to the waist Wash us in the river, sparkling clean Hooked up to the wires and flashing lights of the healing machine Just wide awake and I can't fall asleep I'm wide awake and I can't get to sleep Ohh ohh Ohh ohh I think as I continue to work in this form more and more, I become more aware and more intentional about what I'm doing. Rather than just waiting for something to strike, it's kind of being aware that I'm gathering all the time and putting things together in a way that's meaningful to me. And if it's meaningful to me, chances are, somebody who's familiar with my work is going to find it meaningful too. If I knew what I know So far yet to go
There is no sweet spot upon our delicate balances, just cheap footing and heights that will make your eyes water. The wires are everywhere, strung over the infield of a racetrack, taut across our backyards, between skyscrapers and canyons, between people, or just positioned for us to get from one morning to that coming evening light, unhit, not discombobulated. It could be that a tiny word at a meal, or the faintest of looks over wine will topple us from down below, sending us reeling, arms whipping wildly through an air that's dead set on ripping us right through the safety net, to splatter for fate's janitor to clean out of the lawn or carpet.
Cold wars come in a few sizes, but the warm wars the ones that burn and give off a fair amount of long stares and result in exasperation and quivering faces are the ones that Christopher Porterfield of Field Report worries about on the Milwaukee, Wisconsin band's third album, "Summertime Songs." They're suntanned and wind-swept. They've been crying and they've been drinking. These warm wars are the result of chaffing, of friction and boredom. They're caused by everything and nothing at all, just guts deciding to act on a foggy and cowardly, oftentimes mistaken heart's behalf. Some people give up and some people are given up on.
This is an album comprised of songs that are exactly what you think they might be if you'd assumed they would consist of all the nuance and cold shouldering, all of the behind closed doors dramatics and silences and all of the clusterfuckery that two people who used to love each other so madly all too often get to producing. There are no swimming pools and there's no lemonade. There's not even any sunblock, just the rawest of burns. There are no country club couples or tee times to deal with, but rather the kinds of nobodies we ourselves are and are surrounded by and we have to figure out how the work's gonna get done, how we're going to keep our clothes on, how we're going to get someone to want to randomly take our clothes off or what can be said to put all of the pieces back together so that some form of happiness can return home.
The difference between "Summertime Songs" recorded at Wire & Vice, in the same Milwaukee neighborhood where 3/4ths of the band resides and 2014's brilliantly autumnal feeling "Marigolden" and 2012's more chilly and intense self-titled record is that we hear Porterfield at his most honed and pure. He's more direct and effective with his writing, and in doing so, the scene is even more expertly set. It's sharper and more captivating. The character sketches that he creates with these mostly toasty and soaring hooks gluing them together are robust and stark like a Hemingway line, but with that keen eye for all of the subtle details that always made up the sad couples in Raymond Carver's stories.
Every song for this album was written before the 2016 presidential election, all while Porterfield was anxious about the arrival of he and his wife's first child, but it's easy to multi-purpose some of those anxious moments for the white-knuckler that the country's been experiencing for over a year now. He plies us with songs about marital strife and letting that someone slip away (or watching them voluntarily pack up everything they have and get the hell out), but they're also vehicles for a dialogue about the fragility of America and many of the ideals that it has supposedly stood or fought for for so long.
There's a lot of that fragility to sort through these days as many of us grapple with which version of panicky cold sweat we're dealing with each day. But where these stories take us is quite personal and not at all a conversation about all that we can't control. These stories remind us of all that we do or did control that WE let slip away. It's our fault usually, and we KNOW it.
Porterfield shares with us many episodes involving his problematic former days as a heavy drinker and we see those boozing buddies here, up to those old, head-banging, creme de menthe breath-reeking, tree-plowing tricks. There are the copouts and the scapegoats and the promises for change. Elsewhere, there are lovers and best friends who have been brought to places in their relationships through recklessness and abandon, blindly and selfishly finding that other body that they thought they wanted or needed more, but both parties knew all about that bag that one had packed, waiting in the closet. There's one foot in and one foot out so often that it seems like normality. In all circumstances here, there's a body calling for that other body not to leave, just not to leave it.
Field Report will grab you by the short hairs and make you see yourself. It will get you close enough to smell your salt and you'll know immediately that it's your salt, your grime the detritus of you. You'll get up to that mirror and you'll feel your breath bouncing back, hot and present, slapping you invisibly, eerily with real texture and a physicality, like it could push you back a couple inches with the next attack. You'll recognize it and this time, you can dance and thrash through it to get out to the other end. There's a voyeur in our midst, but they're performance notes, constructive and hopeful, as if there's an eye toward the remake or the redo. We've been watched closely and the police may have even been dialed once, but there could be something salvageable in all of our jettisoned or banged up arrangements, if only we could find our way through this quiet jitters and past our rotten tendencies to give in so easily when everything gets a little hard.