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.
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