Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Piercing Music: Q&A with Chicago musician Derek Porter

Piercing Music isn't a band. It's a collective of musical projects fueled by Chicago-based singer-songwriter Derek Porter and a host of talented friends with a fixation on songs themselves rather than functioning as a single, set group of musicians. This creative force has resulted in material that spans sounds, from gentle, acoustic fare to spirited girl-group indie pop. "If this could be a typical band, it would," reads the project's online bio. "But it's broken its own rules, amok with newfound freedom."

It's an intriguing concept that's produced some truly inspired music, and the very talented Porter took some time out to tell us more about it:

WCR: Piercing Music is a pretty unique approach to indie music. Tell us about how it started and how instead of forming a single band or performing just as a solo artist, you came to create a project comprised of subgroups.

DP: As for bands and the solo route, I’ve definitely been down those roads before. I’ve been performing in bands since high school and as a solo artist for three years. I love working within those definitions, but they can feel constraining. Piercing Music allows me to organize all my concepts without getting lost in the rhetoric of, “Where should this go?” or “How can I make this song work for this group?” With the ability to subscribe my songs to different groups, I give the songs precedence and allow them to find the right voice. So it was really just a matter of establishing a broader concept so that my main thing, songwriting, could thrive.

Earlier this year one of the groups, Little Sisters, released a record called Can't Get No Understanding. How would you describe the material on the record, and Little Sisters in general?

Little Sisters features my sister Erika and my friend Chloe on vocals. The songs on Can’t Get No Understanding were, from the outset, written for their voices. Doing a girl-group project allowed me an opportunity to explore themes I normally veer away from and to really get outside of my own head for a minute. I think the songs reflect that bit of freedom. They’re a ton of fun and have moments of sheer ridiculousness. So writing specifically for Erika and Chloe was a real drive for the project. I’d had them as background singers for my solo material, but I knew they could hold their own, too. The other drive behind the project was my interest in feminism. I’ve tried my best to understand relations between the genders and the hardships women undergo. These songs are an artistic stab at the questions I have and the hope that I see. The song “Bound by Your Bars” was the first I wrote for the project. It talks about how, on the surface, it seems like women aren’t oppressed. It seems like nothing is out of place. But when all things are factored in, there are countless impediments they face which prevent them from being fully considered as people. It’s tragic, but male is considered more normal. Writing songs like those on Can’t Get No Understanding are my reflection on those kinds of problems.

You're set to put out a 6-track collection of songs called Strangers, Vol. 1 on March 15 as simply Derek Porter. Tell us more about it in terms of inspiration and stylistic focus. What can we expect to hear?

Stylistically, the record is lush, acoustic based. The vocals are breathy, almost whispered. I think those aesthetic choices reflect the lyrical themes. It’s got a darkly delicate feel, which matches the concepts of memory and distance. It’s one of those intensely personal records that are still relatable.

What about some of the songs in particular? Are there any on the release you are most proud of or excited about?

The pair “I Remember” and “I Forgot” typifies the record for me. They’re two sides of a coin. The whole album wrestles with memory. Sometimes we’d like to remember; sometimes we’d like to forget.

Download mp3: Derek Porter - "I Remember" (from Strangers, Vol. 1, out March 15)

Who or what would you cite as some of the biggest influences to your music and why?

Strange as it sounds, David Bowie has had a huge influence on me, even though it’s not always up front in my music. He’s adventurous and that’s inspiring. Literature also works its way into my songs. I love poetry and couldn’t help but be affected by the great romantics like William Wordsworth or Lord Byron. They’re in there. They inspire me to really dig into my songs and find the same stuff they write about.

How do live performances work for Piercing Music, since the project is made of up varying participants with varying material? Does a performance span members and material from all of the subgroups?

Piercing Music groups do performances on their own, but from time to time, we get together and have a big to-do. Lately, when performing as a collective, we’ve been featuring Little Sisters heavily. That material is well-suited to live performance. But we also have a quieter section of the set dedicated to the folksier side of Piercing Music. Various songs by a group I put out a couple of records with, A Toothless Life, are featured, as well as songs from Strangers and other releases that I’ve done solo. The coolest part about Piercing Music live is singing with my sister, Erika. We’ve really learned how to complement each other. It’s always encouraging to hear how well our voices blend.

After the release of Strangers, Vol. 1, what's next for you and Piercing Music?

Volume 2 is coming up quickly! I’m planning on releasing it sometime in 2010. I’ve got four other solid concepts in the works for records by Derek Porter, so the future is incredibly bright. I’ve also got a project with my good friend Bob Besser ready to record. He’s a gifted songwriter and I’ll be featuring him as the first Piercing Music artist whose songs aren’t entirely written by me. Piercing Music is coming together as a collective again on April 23rd in Normal, IL for a benefit show. A friend of ours is trying to give medical aid in Africa and is raising funds to make the trip possible. It’s a feel good thing.

Where can people go to find out more about Piercing Music and its various projects?

Strangers will be available on Bandcamp on March 15 at piercingmusic.bandcamp.com.

Can't Get No Understanding is on iTunes.

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