Recently, life has been a blur for Milwaukee-based folk band Field Report.
“Everything seems to be happening pretty quickly,” said Field Report’s front man Christopher Porterfield. Porterfield formerly played with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver until branching out with Field Report, the name of which is an anagram of his last name. “It’s exciting. It’s validating to know that after all the work that has gone into this thing that it is being heard.”
That is saying something, since “being heard” is becoming more frequent for Field Report. The band, having recently released its self-titled debut album, has garnered press from Rolling Stone, National Public Radio and even Time Magazine, all in addition to sharing the stage with the likes of Counting Crows, Emmylou Harris and Aimee Mann. This time around, however, Field Report is out on its own headlining tour and will be making a stop at Madison’s High Noon Saloon Saturday.
The Badger Herald caught up with Porterfield before he set off on tour. Porterfield, who was previously known to the Milwaukee music scene as Conrad Plymouth, said he did not anticipate he would one day be the front man of a rising music group. After moving to Milwaukee from Eau Claire, he found himself playing on his own for the first time — but did not consider himself a lyricist.
“I sort of naively thought I was done with it and just moved on, but then moving to a new town and you don’t know anybody, you’re sort of just sitting at home, that’s when the songs started to happen,” he said. “I had been writing before, but not songs. I started journalism school; I was going to be a newspaper man, but … I never got into that industry, so I think maybe the songwriting started happening out of … the desire to continue to write in some way.”
For Porterfield, writing means talking about the world he inhabits, especially the Midwest.
“I don’t know that we need another song about California,” he said. “That’s fine because a lot of people live there and have experiences there, but … we’re just trying to speak to the places that we know and places that we’ve been.”
However, Porterfield admitted life in the Heartland is not always pleasant.
“The record is a little bit bleak sometimes. It doesn’t really paint a super rosy picture of what happens in the Midwest,” he said.
This is evident on the album’s opening track, “Fergus Falls,” but Porterfield said he has found that people are OK with a bit of melancholy.
“I get emails from people all the time from Fergus (Fergus Falls, Minn.) and they have families that live there or they remember driving through there with the kids,” Porterfield said. “They’re just so excited … because nobody has referenced that place in this kind of way before, even if it isn’t in the most favorable light.”
When taking the music and these stories on the road, Porterfield emphasized the effort it takes by all six members of Field Report to bring it to life.
“We’re not really a rock band,” he said. “We’re sort of an atmospheric folk band and a lot of times we play really, really quiet and it takes all six of us to be that quiet and there’s a lot of trust that goes on back and forth between everybody onstage.”
Madison audiences should be prepared to partake in the band’s distinctive, muted onstage atmosphere.
“They can expect a lot of space and sort of just letting this thing wash over and allowing the lyrics to just carry a lot of the weight,” Porterfield said, adding he is looking forward to sharing that experience with the city’s music fans. “It’s going to be really, really fun to get back to Madison. It’s going to be the last show on this headlining tour and … everybody will be really happy be back in Wisconsin. We love playing the High Noon.”
He said he hopes the audience likes what it hears.
“It sounds cheesy, but we really do want to belong to Wisconsin. We are proud of it. We’re proud of the state, we’re proud of the people, we’re proud of the scene and we’re proud of the music being made. We really just want to belong … and hopefully people want to take ownership of us, too, honestly.”
Field Report will be at the High Noon Saloon Saturday. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.