For the most part, Christopher Porterfield is very proud of his friend Justin Vernon, whose band Bon Iver now ranks among the biggest names in indie rock. But Porterfield is only human, and he admits there were moments when he’s also felt "gross jealousy" toward Vernon as he worked to establish his own music career. Porterfield – who from 2003 to 2005 played in DeYarmond Edison, the seminal Wisconsin band that not only included Vernon but also future members of the shape-shifting psych-folk group Megafaun – spent several years woodshedding his enchanting, evocative story songs in his current home of Milwaukee. In that time he played sparsely attended open-mic nights and opened for touring bands under the name Conrad Plymouth, including Bon Iver in its earliest days. Now heading up a new band, Field Report, the 31-year-old Porterfield is finally on the verge of making his own impression.
Thanks to a series of well-received appearances in March at South By Southwest in Austin, which were among the band’s first shows, Field Report has been gaining traction on hip music blogs, which have posted excellent, newly recorded versions of songs that date back to Porterfield’s Conrad Plymouth days, including the anthemic "Fergus Falls" and the beautiful "I Am Not Waiting Anymore." With their folkie acoustic strums, ethereal keyboards, and intimately conversational vocals, these songs recall the work of Porterfield’s heroes Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen, particularly 1987’s intensely autobiographical and synth-spooked Tunnel Of Love.
Field Report doesn’t have a record deal yet – Porterfield says he’s weighing his options – but the band has already attracted famous fans like Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz, who invited Field Report to play his SXSW showcase and watched the band from the front row, "with a camera phone out, singing along," Porterfield recalled. "It is undeniable when you listen to Field Report," Duritz enthused to Rolling Stone. "This is just great music."
Porterfield says he typically writes about himself or people he has observed. (He counted 100 proper nouns in the lyrics to 15 songs Field Report recorded in December 2011 at Vernon’s April Base studio in Fall Creek, Wisconsin.) As for "Fergus Falls," he once dated a girl from the Minnesota town, but the song is actually about a woman he spotted two years ago at a downtown Milwaukee music festival. "I saw a girl who was pregnant, and she was with a guy who looked like an asshole," he said. "She looked like she wanted to get out of there. The song was written from her perspective."
The sense of place and character that exists in Field Report’s music is also apparent in Porterfield, a Minnesota native and long-time Wisconsinite who calls himself "Midwestern to the core" – so much so that he occasionally felt out of place during a recent tour with Megafaun. "I don’t know if it went down as well with the San Francisco crowd," he said of his songs. "It’s just something I’ve come to terms with. This is who I am, and to be anything else is kind of false."
Duritz believes the specificity of Porterfield’s songs is among their greatest strengths. "Even if you don’t live in Fergus Falls, it doesn’t matter," he said. "Knowing it’s so personal, it means something to all of us."
As Porterfield pares down the recently recorded tracks into a finalized Field Report album, and figures out who’s going to put the album out, he says he’s been emboldened by the success of his pal Vernon, who’s become a Grammy winner and festival headliner while staying true to his Wisconsin roots. "He made me think that someone not living in a major city, who writes stuff that he believes in about stuff he went through, that people want to hear that."
Preview tracks from Field Report's upcoming release here.