By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 24, 2012 at 9:02 AM

Even two years ago, Milwaukee was buzzing about Field Report. Back then, the rootsy band was still called Conrad Plymouth and was mostly a vehicle for frontman Christopher Porterfield, a former bandmate of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon.

A stylish clear-vinyl 10" EP was the debut release in 2010 on Ryan Matteson's Ten Atoms label and Conrad Plymouth turned some heads the same year at South By Southwest, too.

As things began to start to really pick up, Porterfield wanted to clarify that the group had become just that: a solid unit that was bigger than any one member. Hence, the name change to Field Report in the waning months of 2011.

The group – which also includes Travis Whitty, Damian Strigens, Nick Berg, Ben Lester and Jeff Mitchell – in the meantime has garnered some national interest and has inked a deal with Partisan Records, which will release Field Report's full-length debut on Sept. 11. In the meantime, Adam Duritz has become a big fan of the Milwaukee band and invited it out on the road.

As Field Report wends its way around the East Coast with Counting Crows and back toward Milwaukee for a hometown gig opening for Duritz and company on July 25 at the BMO Harris Pavilion on the Summerfest grounds, we caught up with Porterfield to see how things are going for Brew City's hottest band in 2012.

OMC: How are things going?

Christopher Porterfield: Really well. We're playing at Hyannis (Massachusetts) tonight at the (Cape Cod) Melody Tent, which is this crazy big-top looking thing. The stage actually rotates. It's pretty wild. It's gonna be a trip.

OMC: Are you worried about getting dizzy? (Laughs)

CP: I think it moves slow enough where you don't really feel it. It should be a lot of fun.

OMC: It sounds like you're having fun.

CP: Yeah, you know, we did our first (Counting) Crows show in Brooklyn two days ago, and then last night we had a club show of our own in Boston, and now we're here. We've got two more Crows shows and then we're back in Brooklyn for a club show on Saturday and then Philadelphia for Crows, and then Pittsburgh for Crows, then Wednesday we travel, and then we're in Milwaukee.

OMC: So are you expecting a triumphant homecoming?

CP: I sure hope so. I hope some folks come out. That BMO place is pretty big. I checked it out with my wife over Summerfest and it looks really cool. It's going to be amazing to play there – super cool. You can see the lake behind. It should be good, and I saw on Twitter they're doing a two-for-one on Saturday, so hopefully that'll fill up some chairs, too.

OMC: I wanted to go back a little bit and ask you what made you change the name of the band. Were you getting too many people calling you personally Conrad, "Hey Conrad, what's up?"

CP: There were, and are, still some people who call me that, even though I've tried to make everybody clear that that's not actually my name. It's just kind of a nickname that stuck. The whole Conrad thing was just sort of an umbrella for me to grow up as a songwriter, I think, and I kind of wanted to change it for a few years now. Once we got this band solidified, and some songs started really clicking, and were playing better, I really wanted to call it something that was a band name that didn't create any confusion as far as what people were really getting into. So we made that change in the fall when things started really coalescing, and yeah ... it's not really an attempt to discredit anything that happened with Conrad, but at the same time, there's some material that I'm not as proud of anymore, you know?

OMC: Did it also mark when it became sort of you and some other guys, and became more of a band?

CP: Yeah, exactly. And I wanted a band name that would reflect the collaborative nature of things. Conrad was initially just me starting to write a few songs, and ... there was a shift in execution and intent, and (this was) to make sure everybody knew the collaboration.

OMC: Is it coincidental that things picked up for you guys once you changed the name, or did you see it picking up and decide to change the name before it got too far along?

CP: It's really interesting, the timing of that. I mean, I had been struggling to name the project for a while, and then last fall, the switch kind of flipped on the band and we started playing really well and writing new stuff and we were getting ready to record, and then it just seemed like the right time – it's kind of a now or never kind of thing. Like, if we're gonna make this change that's important to me, we're going to have to do it right now.

OMC: With the Counting Crows, and other stuff, it seemed, from the outside, to just snowball quickly. Did any of that stuff take you by surprise, or could you see some of it happening already?

CP: When that first started happening, I remember I was at work at my office and I got a text message – somebody was like, "Dude, Adam Duritz is tweeting at you right now." So I logged in and that was the first real thing – that was the first thing – (that was) unexpected and blew my mind a little bit.

And then ever since that, and well, maybe a little bit before that, but definitely after that, these cool opportunities just keep popping up for us. Everything is just snowballing in a really natural way right now, and it's just really an exciting time for the band. Not to say that I'm expecting anything, and certainly not that we deserve anything. It's just kind of like how things are coming in. It's like, "Oh, that's pretty cool!" It's not like jaw-on-the-floor anymore.

OMC: Can we talk a little bit about making the record, and how it relates to what you've done before since at least a few of the songs are on the 10"? Did you see this as an opportunity to give them something a little different? I'm interested to hear your process.

CP: Yeah, when we were looking to record, I was of the mind going in that this was going to be all stuff that hasn't been recorded before, and then some of the folks that were a little savvier than I, had to remind me that by and large, people haven't really heard these songs before, and some of them deserve to be out there for a wider audience for people than have been reached under the Conrad name.

So, with a little coaxing, I began to see the light and see that perspective, and so, I think there were a few that we did record that didn't make the record that we re-recorded, and then some new stuff that didn't make the record either. We ended up recording 15 songs in six days.

We tried to reinterpret things, a couple of songs like "Fergus Falls," we changed the key to that cuz I think that the way we did it initially, it was like a brand new song and it seemed a little bit easy to me. Not that it was intentionally cheap, but it didn't fit with what I wanted to do now as well. So we changed it.

There's still dynamic and energy in there, but it's not quite as low-hanging fruit. It's a little bit quirkier, I think, and that was intentional. We wanted to get away from, and not to name a band or pick on anybody, but that song had gotten Mumford & Sons comparisons, and while those guys put on a great show and make wonderful music, and people really love them, we wanted to get away from having anything be quite that easy. We just wanted to make it a little more challenging.

It's just a choice that we wanted to make sure that that song in particular wasn't the one thing people latched on to and then were turned off by the other stuff.

OMC: When you guys were recording over the 6-days, did you kind of sequester yourselves and just say, "we're going to do this our way and just show you at the end"?

CP: We had our manager in the studio with us, and he was in there for a couple of days, but he let us do whatever we wanted to do. It wasn't like a looking over our shoulder kind of a thing at all, it was just more hanging out. So, we made the best sort of document of the songs in that time that we could, and that's what this record is.

We went to that studio in particular because they have a really large live room and we wanted to capture the sound of musicians in the same room together, playing the songs and not have too much work after the fact to try to make it perfect or piece anything together. We just wanted to have an honest document of the moment where the band that was starting to figure things out.

OMC: I thought it was interesting that you guys were doing such an extensive trip before the record's even out. Is that a conscious effort to spread some buzz around the country?

CP: Yeah, we just kind of want to let people know – give people a little heads up about what this is and what's coming out. The actually, when we initially made it, and were thinking it was going to be out in the springtime, like May or June, and as a team started building around it, people who are better at this stuff than I am, thought maybe it was a better idea to drum up a little bit more interest before it comes out.

We hadn't decided on a label yet, and so when we decided to go with Partisan, the September release worked best with their release schedule. So now instead of not saying anything about it, we're just trying to get people on board ahead of time so it works a little bit better when the album comes out.

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 OnMilwaukee.com 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.