By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Oct 10, 2014 at 1:36 PM

Few bands have come out of the gates as strongly as Milwaukee’s own Field Report. The indie folk band, fronted by Chris Porterfield, exploded onto the local music scene – and quickly the national one with the help of Counting Crows, Aimee Mann, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and many more declaring their impressed awe and support – back in 2012 with its self-titled debut, a mix of beautifully constructed, soulful and honest songs that struck the ears and heart equally.

It’s safe to say the bar was set high for Field Report’s eventual sophomore attempt, one nicely cleared by "Marigolden," released Tuesday, Oct. 7. The record finds the band finding and growing in new directions and spaces both emotionally – with Porterfield writing even more openly about his anxieties about life on the road, sobriety, the troubles of the past intertwined with the hope of the future – and musically, like the electronic hum that lifts like a sunrise on "Wings," one of the songs released earlier this year.

With the record’s release just in the rearview mirror and a stop at The Pabst Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 22 on the horizon, got to chat with Porterfield about the new album, life on the road and a brand of music that he’s not so much a fan of anymore. Your first album, "Field Report," was such an impressive hit. It was critically acclaimed, and fans loved it. Was there any pressure going into this sophomore album?

Chris Porterfield: I didn’t really feel it outside of ourselves. When we made the first one, we hadn’t really played those songs – a lot of them – live ever. We just kind of had this pile of songs, and we recorded them, not really sure what we were doing it for or who it was for or what our intentions were. But we ended up playing several hundred shows supporting that record, and over the course of playing all that touring and playing out, we got to be better players and listeners and arrangers and writers.

I wasn’t trying to do anything for anybody externally other than ourselves and say that we’ve learned a lot. I feel like this record is a level up from the first one in writing and playing and arranging and everything.

OMC: It sounds like you branched out on "Marigolden" with "Wings," for example, and that ethereal electronic hum in there. How did you want to evolve the sound going into this album?

CP: It wasn’t really a goal or like a conscious thing, where we were saying, "Oh, I’d really like to incorporate X," or whatever. It was just sort of a natural progression of the tools we’d been playing with and how we wanted to treat the songs as songs.

There aren’t any rules for this band, really. We don’t have to live in one world, whether it’s folky or country or electronic or anything. Everybody that plays on the record and playing the show live, we all have a broad range of interests. Just now, we were talking about everything from Kronos Quartet to metal to electronic stuff. We use everything – all these influences and stuff that resonates with us and excites us – and use some of those colors in painting these songs on the record. So basically, we’re just chasing sounds that we personally find exciting.

Frankly, that’s where my ears are at a lot of times, more often than a guy with an acoustic guitar lately. It’s tougher to impress me with that. I find some of these other colors a little bit more exciting.

OMC: That subgenre of acoustic singer-songwriters really exploded recently. Do you think there’s some weariness in the pop cultural world toward that now?

CP: Sometimes it gets hard on my ears. It’s a lot harder to impress me in that world. You’ve gotta be doing something that’s different or better than or saying something in a way that’s more sophisticated or interesting. I’m just not into dorm room dudes, and there’s a lot of that out there. And I don’t ever want to contribute to that heaping pile of sh*t. There’s no need for it; that should stay in the dorm room. So I don’t want to hear records of that stuff.

OMC: Was it hard for you to dig so deep down personally on "Marigolden"? Your first album was personal as well, but this one really seems to be digging into your anxieties and feelings about being away from home, sobriety and being on the road.

CP: Well, no. Not all of the narrators on this record are me directly, but as far as being honest and open about it, no, that was something I went into it being conscious of and aware that I wanted to be open.

The first record to me, while there is some openness and some honesty – it’s a pretty naked truth – I feel like this one is even a little bit less ambiguous. That wasn’t a conscious decision to say, "I’m going to do it that way." I think I just got to become a better writer. There’s more windows in this one, and less back hallways and hidden rooms. This is a more open floor plan that we built.

As for the honesty and whatever about potentially difficult subjects, that’s just where my head was at when we were writing this batch of songs. I didn’t feel the need or have the interest in obfuscating that at all because the honesty was a part of what was making it ring for me. And if it makes me ring at my core, it’s more likely that other people will experience that too.

It just makes it so that there’s enough room for me to continue to live in these songs. And that’s important because some of the earlier songs, it got to the point that I couldn’t live in them anymore, and it just became a less compelling thing to play live, and we’d just shelve it. I tried to leave enough room for myself to live in these for a while.

OMC: There’s a sense of anxiety throughout a lot of the songs on the album. What’s the most anxious part of being on the road for you: the sobriety, being away from home or something else?

CP: Oh man, it’s a grab bag. It can be anything at a different time. Right now I’m fine because I’m caffeinated, I’m not hung over, I talked to my wife, we had a good brunch, we’ve got a short drive and we’re not playing super late. So with all of those things, I’m in a great zone right now.

But if I haven’t talked to my wife in a couple of days or if we haven’t gotten much sleep or if we’re running late – I hate being late to venues; that drives me nuts – it’s all of it. Right now, we’re about two weeks deep into this trip. We’ve got another week left, and that’s about the right length for these things before I start going nuts. But I’ve got a really great crew that we’re travelling with right now, and they’re super on point. It’s been a very supportive, affirming, grown up tour, and it’s been really, really nice. This has been the easiest touring has ever been, I think. 

OMC: This was the first record you worked with Robbie Lackritz (most famous for his work with Feist). What was it like working with him, and what did you hope he would bring to your sound and vice versa?

CP: Working with Robbie was incredible. It was perfect. He was an absolutely perfect foil and teammate for what we wanted to do.

We had sort of thrown out into the world that we were interested in talking to producers who might be interested in working with us. Robbie came highly recommended from some friends, so we got in touch with him. I spoke with him over the phone, and I instantly had a great connection with him. He understood where my head was at and the kind of broader visions and goals for this record. I instantly felt a kindred vibe with him, and he understood the language that I use in talking about some of these things, because sometimes it doesn’t immediately make sense.

But he got it, and we worked with him. We tracked for a couple of weeks in Canada on this ranch in this studio a few hours north of Toronto. He was just incredible. He’s such a good listener, and he had ideas. A lot of times, a producer will either try to run the show or let the band do whatever they want. He was neither. He had really constructive, great ideas, and anytime that he had something that he was excited about sharing with us, we would definitely listen to that. More often than not, he was absolutely right.

One of the main instruments that he brings to the record is space and hold. That instrument of Robbie’s holds and spaces, while uncredited in the liner notes, is something that you hear throughout the record. You feel it, and it just amplifies everything that is there. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.