My Interview with Gregory Porter

Hi Gregory, I’ll crack on, you’ve probably had a long day haven’t you!

Haha, its alright, I love it! It makes me feel alive.

I hear that you fall in love easy/quickly and when you are on tour you fall for the places you visit. Have do you feel about London?

You know, I love London. And you know what I like also? The energy that is happening in the center of town, that’s cool. But then you go out in some of these outer neighborhoods, like the ethnic neighborhoods and the regular neighborhoods….(trails off). And then also there are some others parts that if you took a picture of it you’d think that it doesn’t look like London – very modern buildings, glass condos, this kind of thing. It is all interesting to me.

Have you been inspired while you are here to write melodies or lyrics whilst on the go?

Well for my last record, ‘Our Love’ I wrote when I was at the Tower of London, so you know, I can’t give too much to London.(laughs). But I’m sure it will happen again. I’m always inspired when I come here. All around the UK actually. When I was touring with Jools Holland we went from vineyard to vineyard by car. I was in the back of a big Mercedes and just seeing the country that way, it was amazing, it was beautiful. I hadn’t considered how beautiful the interior of the UK was.

I interview a lot of rock bands and hear stories from tour. Can you tell me what tour is like for a Jazz Musicians…

(Laughs). Well swinging off chandeliers and destroying hotel rooms – I don’t plan on doing that kind of thing anytime soon. It is intense movement. In a weeks time I may be in 4/5 countries, and that can be intense and beautiful at the same time. From London to South Africa, from Istanbul to Holland…That can be a week for me. So maybe, unlike a rock band, I may be working more back to back, so I have to take care of my body, and so does the band. We’ve been really enjoying absorbing all the places we go to, even though we don’t have a lot of time, I make it my business to absorb something, even if its just food culture or architectural culture, just by what I can see by driving past on the way to the venue.

I guess you get a bit more each time you visit and build up the picture gradually….

Absolutely, that is definitely true of London because you can’t see the entire deal of the city in one visit. It’s driving around, stopping at this coffee shop, and getting a sandwich somewhere else….

We have artists like Jools Holland, Lianne La Havas and Jamie Cullum promoting Jazz in the UK. Are we generally good at exposing our youth to Jazz music?
I think so, I’m impressed with numerous shows that have Jazz and Soul in the titles. There is an effort to keep the life of the music going and to incorporate the young artists into the fabric of the music they are hearing. A similar thing is happening in Germany I think, and definitely in Holland. So I’m impressed with the UK and Europe as a whole.

You have been a sportsman, and spent time working as a chef. They both can require or bring out a competitive nature. Are you competitive with your music?

This is the thing. I see the opposite. You say competitive, I always thought of it…..Well when talking about being a chef or working with food, that’s very much like making music. In a way you are working independently, but ultimately the end result has to be taken to a larger group of people. You are using your improvisation and you are creating skills. So in a way when I was a chef/caterer, it was a very independent thing. I didn’t have a boss standing over me, so I enjoyed it. Thus far I don’t have a musical boss standing over me asking me to do stuff (laughs). It try to shy away from the competitive thing that can be in music. I’m interested in an organic approach and just having a voice – my voice being independent of other voices but also connected and unique. In that sense I’m a unique entity and can’t be judged by way of a competitive arena.

You put a lot of yourself in the music. It is very authentic and honest. But is there a sealing point?

I’ll say no because when I write, you know, I kind of want to tell it all. But I kind of have a governor in a way that …..There are some songs that I’ve written that are really really revealing of some infirmities that I have, some weakness that I have. Then there is something in me that says I probably can’t. (trails off)…I may have to rewrite that one. Maybe I do that, you know. I think that things that have happened in my life and my past, in my current relationships – I will probably record it. I don’t mean to make my friends feel that our relationships may make their way to a song, but they are aware of that and I just say ‘let’s live our lives’. That fight we had might make it into a song. Do you know what’s funny? The songs that I’ve written about past relationships, where they’ve broken my heart or something, they always come back and say they really like that song and that they’re glad something came out of it.

A lot of your songs have a positive message. Has there even been a time when your stories have come out more more negative and you’ve thought that perhaps you don’t want to put that message out?

I’m not really that calculated when it comes to the overall vision of the record. There were a few songs which made people wonder if it was a breakup record. I say no, these were the songs that I put together that were about some period of time in my life. These are the songs I’ve coupled together right now. I have all of it, I have both the positive and negative, full balance of relationship experience, a full balance of political experience, and life in general, that is all whirling around inside of me. So I suspect over time, if I’ve been more positive or more negative in my three records thus far, over time there will be a balance because all of the things exist in me. I hope to have some triumphs and failure in relationships, and in life, period.

You say that you and your band are a team, and you are equal. What do you think it is about your performance that mesmerizes audience members and makes you stand out?

Most of the time I wear a white jacket and I’m tall (laughs). I always make sure the brightest light is on me (laughs). People connect…I’m aware that everyone has a voice and can sing. But not everyone can sing well. I’m aware of the connection people have to my voice, but the necessity is not to look at me all the time. After I have sung I prefer to step to the side, let the band members have their say as well. So there is a collaboration happening on stage when I put forward a song. I can’t sing the lyrics, and sing the bass line as well. So everything  I do is supported by rhythm, harmony and bass. So it is definitely a collaborative thing. If I sing a crescendo and it is not supported by piano, bass drums and saxophone, it would just sound like some guy singing a strange high note.

How comfortable do you feel appearing alongside famous musicians and celebrities on high profile TV shows and awards events like the Grammys?

You know, it’s interesting. I’ve had phone calls from Jill Scott, India Arie and a mention from Erykah Badu and even Prince. Those are people I’d never thought id be in the same room with, or even be in the same sentence of conversation with. But to have my music somehow come past them, be on the radar and for them to comment on it, or catch some feeling from it, that’s amazing to me. It gives me a confidence and a level of belonging. I think for people who do music for a while view it as a family of music. You are essentially a storyteller and you know, a county singer, is a jazz singer, is a R&B singer etc….

Is there anyone who could watch you from side of stage that would make you crumble with nerves?

Yeah, you know, that has happened a few times. I’m always amazed by the people who come to gigs and stand to the side and think that their presence doesn’t cause some…..I remember I was performing a few years ago and Stevie Wonder was in the audience. And a great singer who I have respected for many years, Will Downing was in one of my concerts recently in Washington DC. It’s the great voices I’ve respected for many years. Herbie Hancock was in the audience the other day when I was performing in California. It could make you tremble but I kind of have this healthy thing where I think that I can only be me, and I have to be satisfied with that. I can only be Gregory Porter, I sing the way I sing and write the way I write. I’m trying to be organic with that and with that I should be okay. I’m not telling a lie. If the truth of me is good enough, then I’m fine with that.

In terms of writing, what is the environment that works best for you?

I enjoy open space and quiet – simple surroundings. I love nature a lot. I love what nature can do. A warm breeze. I love springtime all over the world and the explosion of life. Those environment inspires me. I love walking in green caverns and valleys and this kind of thing. The more I can get of that, the more I’ll be inspired to write about nature and love, and all of those things. You know sometimes you can walk in a beautiful environment and be reminded of the consequences of not cherishing such things. So something tragic can come from being in a beautiful environment. So yeah, put me in a beautiful green place.

You’ve performed your music in various locations and unusual venues, including schools. Is there anywhere you really want to perform?

The Royal Albert Hall performance was extraordinary. New York, if I am given the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall someday, I think that will be extraordinary. I think for many musicians it is the ultimate, in a way. I think if I ever make it to The Carnegie Hall I don’t know if i would try to perform some hits,  I think I would perform some childhoods songs and maybe work my way up. It seems like such a place that is just about the raw bones of music. I would love to do that some day. Sometimes when a venue is put on a schedule I don’t have the ability to find out where I am at or what it is I am doing till a week before. So when I was performing at the Berlin Philharmonic, I didn’t quite know. It just said Berlin PH, and then you get there and you are like ‘Wow, this an extraordinary place!’. Sometimes there just isn’t time to absorb the environment you are going to be in. Until you stand on the stage and you do a soundcheck, you don’t really get a grasp  for where it is or what it is. It’s been a really magic ride and I appreciate it, and I’m humbled by it. It’s not false humility as well.

To finish off can you tell me something that might surprise people about you?

I collect old cameras. I don’t know if that’s unusual, but I collect old cameras. Wherever I am I try to find some unusual camera – it doesn’t have to be of great value, but I love it when it has the native writing on it. When I go to Russia I like to pick up a camera that has some Russian writing on it that I completely don’t understand – I love that! So yeah, that is one of my quirky type things that I enjoy doing.

They are beautiful objects…

I love the manual constructions. There are some old cameras that I have that are so heavy and well put together. They don’t even make the film for them anymore, but the construction is so well done and beautiful. I think of the stuff that’s been required – some of it is copper, some leathe and some wood. Where were the things from? Where was the animal walking around? Where did that tree fall? Where did the copper come from? I’m fascinated by all the things that have to come together to create this interesting instrument.

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