By Kat Kuehl
When I asked Chris Porterfield to describe his band, Field Report’s, newest album using just three words, he did me one better by saying that he could describe it in just one. “Marigolden,” which is the name of the group’s sophomore album, is a made up word that Porterfield thinks says everything that needs to be said about both their sound and latest record. “A marigold is a flower, but it is kind of an ugly, stinky flower,” Porterfield explains. “It rots and dies every year and needs to be dug up and re-planted. The juxtaposition of that with something that’s golden and chosen was interesting to me.”
This poetic explanation, and even the band’s own name, which is an anagram of Porterfield’s last name, make it evident that Porterfield has a way with words and a unique understanding of the world around him. This is something he brings to each song he crafts for the band. Porterfield serves as the songwriter, guitarist and vocalist for the group, which is comprised of himself, percussionist Shane Leonard and multi-instrumentalist Tom Wincek. “For me, songwriting all starts with the words. I’m very lyrically driven,” he says. Porterfield credits artists like Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell as just a few of his musical influences, both of which had similar passions for poetic lyrics and storytelling through music.
As a songwriter, Porterfield shares that he’s sensitive to inspiration whenever it comes. He always has a notebook and pen with him, so that he’s sure to jot down ideas and bits of inspiration when they strike. “If you don’t take inspiration right away,” he shares, “It will go somewhere else.” To start his songwriting process, Porterfield flips through the notebook, looks for any common themes and goes from there. “If I find something that resonates with me and makes me hum, chances are it will make someone else hum too.”
Without a doubt, every tune on “Marigolden” has an overarching theme. “The genesis of those songs was really in the back of the van when we were touring our first record,” Porterfield reminisces. As a result of being on the road and removed from home and his loved ones, the entire record shares a sense of displacement, homesickness and feeling unbalanced. But, despite the heavier concept, “Marigolden” isn’t a somber or melancholy record. Each song maintains a warm and positive energy.
While Porterfield began playing guitar in high school, he didn’t start experimenting with songwriting until quite a bit later. After graduating with a journalism degree from UW-Eau Claire, he moved to Milwaukee and joined the working world. However, working for the Marquette University Office of Student Affairs didn’t make much use of his journalistic skills. “I really think I began writing music to fill the void of writing,” he explains. But, even Porterfield is proof that almost no one starts out as a true virtuoso. “I started by writing a few songs, and they were absolutely terrible,” he laughs, “But, over time they started to get better and then I started playing them live.”
Porterfield continued to invest himself in his music, eventually landed a record deal, and the rest is history.
Field Report is now traveling across the country touring “Marigolden.” Albeit, Porterfield is the only original band member that remains with the group today. “This project has really been a continuing revelation,” he explains.
Field Report recorded their first self-titled album as a six-piece band. However, all of the members ended up needing to leave the project. “Then, “Marigolden” was recorded as a four-piece band,” he continues, “But, two of those guys had to tend to other, real life things. So, this is our first tour as a trio.”
Needing to tend to real life issues is something that Porterfield can be empathetic with. After all, it’s no secret that being a touring musician requires a huge commitment and a significant separation from the real world. “It’s a totally different rhythm,” Porterfield shares, “It’s a lot of early mornings and late nights.” When I spoke with him, Field Report had just wrapped up the first stretch of their tour, and he was looking forward to heading home to see his wife and dog for the first time in three weeks. “My eighth wedding anniversary just passed, and it’s the third year in a row that I wasn’t home for it.” He continues, “Stuff like that can definitely raise questions about why we’re doing what we’re doing, but it’s the opportunity to really connect with other people that keeps us going.”
Field Report has played Green Bay before, and they’re looking forward to their return to the Meyer Theatre for the Near Water Concert Series on November 6 at 7 p.m. “The people that come to the Near Water Series are all people that come to discover new music and really soak it all in, and that’s exactly the kind of audience we love playing for,” he says. Porterfield definitely shows no qualms about sharing how much he loves playing Green Bay. “Being on tour, there can often be small indignities that can make things kind of seem like a drag,” he explains. “It could be anything from a long drive to a dingy club. But, in Green Bay, all of those indignities are stripped away and we just get to play in a beautiful room for beautiful people. I’m definitely looking forward to being back.”
When asked what he thinks he’d be doing if he weren’t playing music, Porterfield pauses and says that perhaps he’d be pursuing a graduate degree. “We’d probably have kids by now, and my lawn would look a lot nicer,” he jokes. But, alas, those real world things have been deferred for now to continue pursuing his musical passion. “To be honest, if I had to stop what I’m doing right now, I’d be bummed,” he says. “I know this is what I’m meant to be doing.”
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at all TicketStar outlets, including the Resch Center Box Office, by phone at 800-895-0071 or online at meyertheatre.org.