By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published May 02, 2010 at 9:05 AM

I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I can remember a time in Milwaukee when there were as many great bands working as are active right now. One of those at the top echelon is Conrad Plymouth, an Americana collective fronted by Chris Porterfield, who arrived in Brew City a few years ago.

After recording some "living room" EPs, Conrad Plymouth played a great gig at South By Southwest in March and now digitally releases its first "official" recordings, an EP. The four-song, self-titled recording -- which will be released on vinyl in the near future, too -- is an accomplished set of lovely, understated, heavily acoustic music that stands up to comparison with anything out there in the world these days.

Porterfield these days is working with drummer Damian Strigens, bassist Travis Whitty and keyboard player Nick Berg.

We talked to him about the band, the record and more ... You've had a few more casual EPs out before, but this is the first "official" one. Did you feel pressure to really pick the best tunes for it?

Chris Porterfield: We had some new songs, and had just recently added Damian on drums, and we were excited about how things were sounding. We wanted to make a document that captured the band in that moment in time. We just picked our newer songs. In fact, we did "Captain Video" on the fly in the studio -- the guys had never heard that one before we recorded it.

This band is a constant exercise of reevaluating where we've been -- we kill songs pretty recklessly, and so far, we've been able to write new ones to replace them in a set.

OMC: Did you save a couple of aces in the hole for a future full-length?

CP: Nope -- we went all in. I've got some new ones getting polished in my brain's tumbler now. We'll do a full length when it's time. I feel like people don't listen to "albums" in the traditional sense as much any more, so we aren't in a rush to make an piece that, by the way it's organized, will be an obstacle to people listening to it.

OMC: The new EP, which is available for download is coming on CD, too, right? What's the timeline for that?

CP: We actually aren't going to press CDs. When I buy a CD, the first thing I do is load it into my iTunes and throw it on my iPod. The actual artifact isn't the important part of the equation. So we're allowing people to skip that step, and then we aren't stuck with a box full of plastic that we spent a grand on. For those people that really do want to have the tactile and visual relationship with it, we are planning on doing a limited run 10" vinyl edition.

OMC: Are you worried that allowing folks to pay what they want for the download will hurt physical sales?

CP: I think that the digital version will allow us to build relationships with people who wouldn't normally have been to a show and bought our music. We aren't ever going to make money on albums, and this way the necessary capital required for people to hear our music was minimized. The vinyl folks will buy vinyl regardless, just because they are collectors. And the pay what you want model does allow for the occasional patron of the arts -- there have been some folks who have been more generous than I would be for an EP.

OMC: As someone who arrived here from elsewhere, what's your take on the current state of the Milwaukee music scene?

CP: I've been in Milwaukee for four years now. You guys recently did a writeup on 200 important musicians in this city, and I certainly didn't know all of them. So I don't want to be a 4-year-old talking like I know anything about people who have been playing music here their whole lives. I do pick Damian's brain sometimes, and I love learning the history of a place.

I will say that Milwaukee is full of talented, engaged, inspiring people, and I meet more of them every week. The state of the scene certainly seems healthy to me -- we just need to keep being Milwaukee missionaries and preach the good news past our comfort zones. We are as good as Madison, Chicago, or Minneapolis. I think that rather than hop on his Harley to promote "tourism," Scott Walker should send some Milwaukee bands across the state on tour.

OMC: Do you have a favorite band here?

CP: I could list dozens: Group of Altos, Heidi Spencer, Lisa Gatewood, Time Since Western. Everybody in the Sector Five United family: Old Earth, Golden Coins, Jay Flash, Bikini Beach Combers, Juniper Tar, Surgeons in Heat, Flojo. Too many to list.

OMC: How was your SXSW experience?

CP: It was a blast. It was a rock and roll family vacation -- my wife Joanna came, and Betty, Damian's wife, came too. Betty (Blexrud-Strigens) sang with us at the show and on the record, and her voice blows me away. She finds these harmonies, and her voice is sure pure and effortless ... chills every time. Her band, Testa Rosa, should also be included on my favorite bands list.

It was great seeing this Milwaukee enclave in Austin. Everybody drinking beer and slapping asses like it was Linneman's or Club G., but it was sunny and 70 and we were surrounded by a million people and a thousand bands from across the world. Really, really fun.

OMC: What's next for you?

CP: We need to find a home for the vinyl, then keep playing, writing, getting better. This whole project is a continuing revelation: we will never get to a point where we say, "Aha! Here we are! This is where we are supposed to be!" And that is by design. There is no definitive version of anything; nothing is sacred. Some people find that obnoxious, some people find it honest.

This collective is still pretty fresh -- we are still figuring out how to read each other, how to incorporate each other's strengths into the fabric. With a solid recording done, now we can focus on all of that, musically and otherwise. Travis is a great video artist -- he's working on some videos for us. Damian designed our album art -- I'd like to get prints of that available. Nick is our de facto engineer and documentarian -- he's definitely curating the Conrad Plymouth archives.

And I'll keep writing songs and killing them and writing new ones.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.