Focus: Joel Porter

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When I first listened to “St Anthony” by Joel Porter, a singer songwriter and a North Dakota native, I was by myself in the office brainstorming some creative ideas for my client. I had to stop. The song was, though quietly charged, so captivating and filled with emotions – both hopeful and sad, I knew I needed to commit myself fully to this song. After a dozen of listens, I couldn’t help but wonder, who is this guy? So when I heard a news that he would release an EP in a week, I messaged him right away for an interview.

Porter explains that Mountain Twin EP is about growth. Over the course of four folk-based, painstakingly carefully crafted songs, which include a song he co-wrote with his musician parents, he illustrates the nature, feelings, memories and what it means to seek for the truth. You can easily feel yourself being in the desolate plains, where the snow is falling, the river is flowing and the mountains howling. In order to get to know the world he paints further, we asked him how he came to discover his own style, how the nature influences his art, and what he believes in life. Make sure to check out the streaming link at the end of the interview.

Interview: Joel Porter
By Satoru Teshima, March 12 2017

How would you describe your music in three words?

Ambient, Honest, Beauty-seeking

Where are you right now?

In my bedroom in Nashville, Tennessee

Growing up, were you a musical kid? What made you want to express yourself through music?

I was. My mother is an incredible vocalist, and my father is a talented and intelligent musician and composer. We actually wrote “Winter Coat” together. That is so cool to say…”I wrote this song with my father.” Makes that song really special.

I started playing violin at the age of four, french horn in the 5th grade, guitar/bass guitar in the 6th grade. It wasn’t until high school that I fell in love with writing music. I’ve always associated songs to certain time periods and linked them to the little truths we find as we grow. I’ve found that I can explain these memories and little truths to someone through music better than I can through conversation.

How did you develop your way of singing that you do now?

I’ve been singing since I was six or seven in my dad’s children’s choir.. but this is the first time I fell like I’ve found where my voice fits. This project plays to the strengths of my voice rather than me trying to force it to be something it’s not. This music is where my voice needs to live. Soft, honest, aching at times, uplifting in others. Intimate the whole way. Eric (my good friend, producer, and 1/2 of the band Foreign Fields) took this idea and capitalized on it.

Are there any singers you look up to?

Not so much vocalists, but artists/groups. I love atmospheric sounding artists like Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, Asgier, Foreign Fields, Connor Youngblood, Death Cab, Coldplay etc. I’m also very inspired by orchestral and choral music.

I recently watched a TedTalk presentation by David Byrne, in which he talks about how the environment can affect the way you write. Seeing from your pictures, it seems like you are surrounding yourself with nature. How is that affecting the way you make your music? Is nature playing a big part?

Absolutely. I grew up in Bismarck, North Dakota. Its a city of 70k people, by a river in the heart of the midwest. Its full of rolling golden hills during the summer and desolate snowy plains during the winter. You feel like you can see forever. That open space fuels my writing, and I try to get back home as much as possible to let my mind roam.

I also spend a lot of time in the mountains. I love mountain landscape as well as mountain culture. The communities and people I’ve spent time with in those areas are content being isolated, but are constantly pushing themselves to be the best version of themselves for the sake of growth rather than status. That constant search for beauty is a beautiful way of life, and it definitely influences the thoughts and opinions in my music.

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Your emotional songwriting and meticulous attention to details what made me a fan. How do you approach songwriting? What’s the process?

It’s different with every song, but for the most part it usually starts with a melody. Then I’ll find one idea to write around and try to describe it in as many personal ways as possible. If its honest and beautiful, its usually right. The rest of the process is molding, adding, and taking away the unnecessary until there is a complete, beautiful idea. Then I take it to Eric and we finish it up in the studio. The two of us covered everything on this record (except live drums). E turned my idea for this project into something. His production and guidance are just as much a part of the identities of these songs as my writing and melodies are. He takes what I’m trying to do, and elevates it. He is incredible to work with.

“I’m sick of writing songs that my father cry”, is a line that left a bittersweet sentiment in me somehow. Are your songs autographical? Or are you more of a storyteller?

That line came from a conversation I had with my father… but overall I would say it’s a combination of both. Everything that I write about comes from some form of personal experience. I build and create layers and layers of material from that experience. At its core, the end product is very autobiographical… but its covered by interesting, beautiful pieces of imagery and metaphor.

Tell us more about Mountain Twin EP. Is there a certain theme underlying to this EP?

From the beginning of the writing process, to the end of the mastering process, it took about a year. The Mountain Twin EP is about discovery.. sifting through our low points, our adventures, the quite, desolate open spaces where our minds are able to roam and rest, our memories… taking all of those moments and trying to piece them into an identity…. trying to weave them into something that matters. Its about growth, and becoming the best version of myself that I can.

Finally, what do you believe in as an artist to achieve your goal in life?

To never stop seeking the truth, and continuing to grow. I just don’t want to waste this life. As long as I’m working toward a beautiful life, I’ll have no regrets.. Love as much as you can. Thats my ultimate goal.

Stream Mountain Twin EP.

Connect with Joel Porter

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listen: Wilder Maker, “Fools”

Brooklyn’s folk-rock outfit Wilder Maker makes music that stops you. True, it is not a stadium sized good ole rock n roll, but it’s in their passionate but carefully crafted song-writing that invites you to make it your closer friend. Following last year’s excellent Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire, Vol I, which we loved so much we listed it as one of the best EPs of 2014, they are releasing its sequal, aptly titled Vol. II in April 7. They unveiled its leading single, “Fools”. Listen closer, and you realize it is gently pulling your heartstrings.

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watch: Feather Beds, “Animal Fat”

Dublin based musician who we have interviewed on our Hear Me Out section, Feather Beds has finally released his debut album, Skeletal System via Frenchkiss affiliated label, Happiness. You can now watch the video for “Animal Fat”. Building up a unique song structure with field recordings and found sounds, Feather Beds creates his own art rock that is trots somewhere between Noise, Folk and Drone.

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listen: House of Wolves, “Daughter Of The Sea”

California-based songwriter Rey Villalobos works under House Of Wolves, and he is set to release his latest album Daughters Of The Sea via Fargo Records (a humble home to Andrew York, Two Gallants, etc). You can listen to the title track from the album from the widget below. Intimate, subtle and beautiful acid folk inspired music with bird chirping as if to lure you into the fantasy world he has created.

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stream: Wilder Maker, “Everyday Crimes Against Objects of Desire, Vol I “

2014 has been a great year for American Folk-inspired music. Sun Kil Moon made an amazing come back while Sharon Van Etten and War On Drugs interpreted the heart of America with so much power and good intention. Now here is Wilder Maker, a Brooklyn-based musicians led by a singer songwriter Gabriel Birnbaum. Their new EP, Everyday Crimes Against Objects Of Desire Vol.1 is now available to purchase online, and to stream in its entirety. It is a a great collection of alternative folk tunes. It starts strong with “Hope Springs” with a great nod to Fleetwood Mac, but the true highlight for me, is “White Knuckled On The Wheel”. A powerful slow jam with emotions so strong, you actually can’t help but to listen in, immersing yourself to the surge of emotions in the lyrics.

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listen: Farao, “The Hours”

Norway’s songwriter Farao is putting out the new self-titled EP from Something Nothing Records on Feb 10. Listen to the new track “The Hours”. Recorded in Reykjavik in Iceland, the up-and-coming producer is prepping her debut full-length EP this year.

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listen: Turntable Films “Ghost Dance (Halfby Remix)”

Kyoto’s folk-rock trio Turntable Films released an amazing debut album Yellow Yesterday last year, and since then the band released the 12″ single of Neu-inspired “Animal’s Olives” with a cool remix by Handsomeboy Technique. Now the label mate Halfby laid a hand on the recently out 7″ single and the album’s highlight, “Ghost Dance”. Hear the remix below.

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