Donkey Jaw: The video for “I Am Not Waiting Anymore” is stunning. One of the most beautiful things about it is the mystery that surrounds the story that plays out. Talk to me about how it came together.
Chris Porterfield: Pat Buckley and Manny Marquez, the producer and director, reached out last fall about making a video treatment. Manny had been listening to the record while he biked, and started inhabiting the lyrics. The video was their idea, and they sold us on it instantly. They did most of the filming while we were on the road. There was a huge cadre of Milwaukee folks and places involved in making it. I teared up the first time I saw it. They nailed it.
The man in the video is clearly moving past some kind of pain point in his life and decides to turn things around. Have you ever been in that kind of situation personally?
I think we all have ghosts from our past that haunt us. The beauty of the video is the ambiguity, and it gets to the point of the song: that we all have agency in our lives. There can be a point were we take our lives–full of pain, failure and disappointment– back. The sun rises every day.
Your songs poignantly detail the ordinary and often feel as if one if shuffling through a box of old photos and letters. There’s a lot less telling and more showing. What are your thoughts on keeping a little bit of the unknown alive in songs?
It gives space for listeners to occupy themselves. If there’s room, you can bring in your own experiences and ideas to the thing. The result is a song that gets lived in, and listeners can get more out of it. It becomes a thing that’s shared, and that’s more powerful than a sermon.
What were some of the greatest lessons learned from playing in DeYarmond Edison many moons ago?
Everyone in that band were and are incredible musicians. I learned how to really listen from that brotherhood. It also instilled, or at least amplified, a restlessness in making music– a song is never done. You’ve got a responsibility to keep poking it and finding new life, or it’s dead and not worth playing.
Do you still keep up with anyone in the band?
I still keep up with everyone. We did a tour with Megafaun last year, and I keep in touch with those guys. I keep up with Vern fairly regularly too. I was just with him at his studio again for a week, hanging out while making a record with another old friend. He brought his parents out to a show of ours recently.
My understanding is that you embarked on solo work when the band dissolved. How has your creative process evolved over the years, both lyrically and musically?
Field Report didn’t exist until last year. When I left DeYarmond Edison, I thought I was walking away from music. I sold all of my gear. I moved to Milwaukee, got a job, got married, bought a house. I had never been a songwriter. Songs started happening though, growing out of the void of making music. The early ones were really bad. The ones that followed were less bad, but still bad. It took me a few years to grow into songwriting. I played out locally a bit, and was able to find bandmates to get behind the ideas, and help me make them better. Typically a song starts with lyrics, then some chords, then bring it to the fellows, then we break and build, break and build, break and build for as long as a song continues to speak.
You guys toured with Aimee Mann last year and you got to do some performing with her. What did you take away from that whole experience?
That tour was literally a dream come true. I’ve loved her work for decades. She’s such an incredible writer and performer. I got to sing with her most nights. She and her team were so welcoming and kind to us. We became friends, and we still keep in touch.
What are you currently working on? New songs, albums, side projects or otherwise?
New songs are coming. We’ve got a couple in our set that we’re still feeling out. We’re going back into the studio this fall. A few of us have been working with a buddy of ours on a record he made as Old Earth. Helped produce and engineer that, and served as his backing band for a few shows. I was just a part of a project that re-imagined Stephen Foster, the proto American songwriter. I dug into his catalog, and wrote some new stuff. Lots of collaboration happening, and lots of new ideas bouncing around.
If you could put together the perfect show for Field Report (any location, venue, etc.), what would it look, feel, smell, and taste like?
My favorite place in the US to see shows is the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. We’d bring in a super legit stage production crew, and we’d light and wardrobe it to look like it’s in black and white, down to eating powder that turns the inside of your mouth black. It would smell like cedar and taste like gin. Emmylou Harris would play solo, then sing with everyone. Randy Newman would play. We’d be Aimee Mann’s backing band. Barack Obama would sit in with Radiohead. Bill Frisell would sit in with The Bad Plus. Talk Talk would reunite. Mark Eitzel would come out and sing Happy Birthday to himself acapella really slow, then the whole audience would join in, and we’d all sing it together really slow a dozen times. The power of all the voices together when no one was expecting to do it would be overwhelming and tears would flow like rain on the dry, dusty plains. The lights come up and everyone files out in silence and changes the world the next day.
What are the biggest challenges the band collectively faces?
Real life. Everybody’s got loved ones and bills at home, and being away can be hard. But we are so fortunate to be in a position to go out and connect with people with the noise we make that it makes it a no-brainer.
Field Report plays B & D Burgers (Upstairs) (209 W. Congress St. Savannah GA 31401) on Saturday March 9, 2013 10:00pm – 11:00pm.