Field Report is on the tail end of a prosperous and busy year in which the band released a well-received album, toured throughout the country, garnered considerable radio play, welcomed in some new members, and furthered its reputation as one of the state’s finest musical projects. The huge year is made even more significant when taking into account the events of the year that preceded it.
After spending 2017 without a record label and no home for its completed new album, the band’s comparatively amazing 2018 isn’t lost on Field Report singer and founding member Christopher Porterfield. The band will officially say goodbye to the whirlwind year in a special way on Friday, December 14 by hosting a festive event they’re calling “Home For The Holidays.” Prior to this weekend’s show, Porterfield told Milwaukee Record about the ups and downs of the past two years, what we can expect to hear at Turner Hall on Friday night, and how he’s only now starting to feel like he really knows what he’s doing.
Milwaukee Record: You guys had a big year. You had a new record out, you toured avidly, had a lot of radio play, and saw some good opening opportunities. You’ve also incorporated some new members into the mix. What was the year like for you?
Christopher Porterfield: This year feels like three years. We put out our third Field Report record, Summertime Songs, in March. We had already been sitting on it for a year. We recorded it in 2016 at Wire & Vice and while we were making it, it turns out I didn’t tell my record label we were making it. We just kind of did it on our own. We finished it, turned it in, and it was about this time in 2016 that I turned it in. I didn’t hear anything for a long time, and then I kept talking to management. I finally heard back from them the morning we filmed the Public Domain thing with you guys.
I got the email from the label as we pulled up to Colectivo to film that thing saying, “Hey, I don’t think we can put this out.” So after all of the work and anticipation and years of trust with that label, we were like “Oh…shit. I guess that’s not going to happen.”
So then I went into a panic and started emailing other labels, calling people, and trying to figure out how this thing was going to come out. I thought it was a good record and that people would want to hear it. One thing led to another and we wound up signing on with Verve, which is really cool and exciting. They’re kind of a legendary jazz and classical imprint that recently rebooted their songwriter division. We were their first signing and their first release in a long time. They’re part of Universal, so the paperwork took a lot longer to get squared away. By the time everything was set, the release date for that turned out to be March of ’18.
The new year flipped over, the record was announced, and we did all kinds of press for that. We went to Austin for SXSW, then the record came out and we went on the road. We did a few weeks on the east coast, came home, and did a few weeks on the west coast.
MR: It seems like a wait and hurry up sort of thing. You were at other people’s whims, then they hit a switch or pressed a button and you were set into motion on a thing you were ready to do years ago.
CP: All of it has a required a degree of—I hesitate to call it mindfulness because that requires a little bit more intention—rubber-bonedness, where you just have to be limp and let go, and bounce off whatever, and annihilate expectations, but still cling to hope and try to do good work. Best-laid plans still get derailed constantly. You just have to deal with it and calibrate and aim again. That’s kind of what I’m learning this whole career is all about. It’s really satisfying to look back on this hectic year and the year before, and to realize that, despite things being challenging, we’re exactly where I wanted to be landing.
MR: And I’m sure it was hard to sit on all this new material that you were excited to play out. Plus, this is the first album with this new unit in terms of writing and the recording process.
CP: Yeah, it was the first time these guys were on [a Field Report] record, and that was a really big part of the process. It was a collaborative recording process and I really gave everybody an opportunity to put their own stamp on it. I’m glad for it, and I think it came out to be a better record for that.
MR: It seems like the “Home For The Holidays” show is festive with its name and the overlying theme, but it also seems to be an acknowledgement of what led up to this point—all the unexpected sidesteps and obstacles thrown in front of you. It’s an acknowledgement of that, but it seems like there’s an element of appreciation for where you are now.
CP: Yeah, and it’s just a celebration of the people around us that have been such a huge part of this thing. We were all sort of brainstorming how we could acknowledge the season and the hometown aspect of it. We kind of wanted to make it our own, so we wanted to give everyone in the group and opportunity to showcase holiday music that is special to them. It makes for an interesting show because everybody in the group has such a wide swath of interests and influences. Contextualizing all those interest and influences within the music that we make together, I think is going to be a really good show.
MR: I hesitate to ask, but after the way the last two years have been, why are you so hungry and eager to get back in there and do it again?
CP: I love the work. And I feel like I’m just starting to get to the point where I’m good. I feel like I’m just now learning how to sing, just now learning how to write songs, and just now learning how to really connect with an audience. I started doing Linneman’s open mic in 2006. I’m not there yet, but I feel like I’m approaching the 10,000-hour mark. I love the work, and the work justifies all the other stupid stuff you have to do. I love playing music with these guys. I love recording with Daniel [Holter]. I love being able to meet new people all over the world. It’s the most humbling thing to have a stranger discover something that you’ve made and find it interesting, useful, and worth coming out to see. That feeling is worth it all. It’s worth everything, truly.