Field Report on Justin Vernon, Fergus Falls, and folk music

Field Report on Justin Vernon, Fergus Falls, and folk music

Chris Porterfield might be considered something of a late bloomer. Never regarding himself as anything more than a "background player" in DeYarmond Edison (the early '00's band he shared with Justin Vernon and Brad Cook, Phil Cook, and Paul Westerlund of Megafaun), Porterfield did what a lot of artists do: he got a real job and acted like an adult, moving from Eau Claire to Milwaukee and getting married. Grown-up stuff.

As it turns out, Portferfield couldn't quite quick the music habit. He led his adult life, writing songs on the side, convinced it was little more than a phase. It went on like that for a while, until Porterfield gave in an assembled a band--they called themselves Field Report--and eventually recorded some tracks. "Fergus Falls" and "I Am Not Waiting Anymore" are some gorgeous slices of gentle, honest lyricism that have gotten Porterfield some attention that, though slightly later than his lauded comrades, is no less well deserved.

"Fergus Falls" is piercing, with somber guitar plucking and a wisened rearview-mirror perspective; it's the sort of song that digs into your gut. It's the kind of song that warrants a full-length album--which, thankfully, isn't too far away: Field Report was recently signed to Partisan Records, and the debut album is due out on September 11.

Porterfield caught up with Gimme Noise to talk about life since DeYarmond Edison and the evolution of Field Report.

Tell me about your experience with Justin Vernon. You were all in a band together in college, and then you all went your separate ways. Give me a little history.

I went to college with Justin... We were in the band DeYarmond Edison, in Eau Claire. It was the guys from Megafaun and Justin Vernon, and the band had decided that they wanted a change of geography and they went to North Carolina, and I stayed in Wisconsin. I was just about to graduate, and it just wasn't the right time. In 2006, I was in Milwaukee, and I married the woman I was in a relationship with and we just settled down and started being adults... I got a job, bought a house. And then these songs started happening. Before, I was always just a supporting player, so this was a new thing. Then songwriting just started to become really important in figuring out who I was.

By the time I was 27, I was like, "This has to be done." I was creating these arbitrary deadlines for songwriting, like I was just going to get over it. But I was sort of stagnant in my career, and [music] was becoming this important thing.

How did Field Report come together?

Last fall found a solid group of guys to kind of play with, so when Justin was in town we got together. He had heard through some other people that I had got this band together, and I had been sending him and a few other people from the old days songs as they were being written. He invited us to come use his space to make a record in December, and we did that.

There was never an intention. It was just kind of a labor of love and a slow process, and we were able to build things and break things. And somehow some label people found me. I had put a couple things online on Bandcamp, just as a free download, and somehow it came into the ears of some people who were in a position to help us get things heard a little wider.

Awesome. So, I hear a lot of different things in your music--not surprising, given the roads your ex-band mates have traveled down. There are a couple songs where I almost hear a little Taylor Goldsmith in your voice and in the lyrics, some very earnest, reaching vocals, like on "I Am Not Waiting Anymore" and "Taking Alcatraz," which I love. But how do you set yourself apart from the rest of the folk acts today?

Well, we really try to emphasize mood and space a lot. We do rely on traditional folk stuff, but there aren't any rules to what we do and the songs change a lot, they breathe a lot. The way to keep things interesting for us is to challenge ourselves and challenge our audiences a bit. A good example of this is that everyone in this band is playing an instrument that is not their first. Their muscle instinct is pulled, so that means all the choices are considered actions. A few of the knee jerk things that happen in the Americana realm are negated.

Okay. So how does it feel to be back on stage, performing again, after being out of it for so long?

It feels really good. Playing live is my favorite part. My patience for hearing my stuff back is pretty low, but I love performing live.

So, you said that you had a pretty settled life. How are you negotiating the pace of things, from your routine to what Field Report has become?

I always kind of kept this part of me quiet. I sometimes had to take a day or two off here or there--I actually work at Marquette University in Student Affairs--and then I had to take a leave of absence for this last Megafaun tour when I was opening for them. Now that people are starting to catch on, everyone's kind of excited about the whole thing. It's nice not to have to lead two lives.

And now that the ball is rolling, what does the future hold for Field Report?

Milwaukee will be home for the foreseeable future. There's family here, my brother's here. We go to a lot of Brewers games. This is definitely a lesson in taking things step by step... We do a few dates with Emmylou Harris, then Counting Crows, and then I don't know. I'm just really excited to go to work like this everyday.

Field Report will be opening for Emmylou Harris Thursday, June 28, at the Minnesota Zoo Ampitheater. 7 p.m. doors, 7:30 p.m. show. $58 reserved seating. All Ages. 

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