M. Lockwood Porter
628 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA, 94117
Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is 21 and over
To create his fifth full-length album Start Livin', Hawaii-based singer/guitarist/songwriter Donavon Frankenreiter holed up in a Southern California studio for seven days with his longtime bassist Matt Grundy—and no one else. The follow-up to 2010's Glow, Start Livin' is a nine-track selection of folk-infused songs that sweetly reflect the simplicity of their recording. With its smooth showcasing of Frankenreiter's rich, honey-thick vocals and masterful guitar work, Start Livin' bears all the intimacy of an impromptu back-porch performance and the tenderness of a treasured love letter.
"Start Livin' is basically a love album," says Frankenreiter, who co-produced the record alongside Matt Grundy and Adam Ableman. "Most of the songs are about my wife and our two boys, and the life that we've built together in Hawaii." Thanks to Frankenreiter's infectious warmth and finely honed pop sensibilities, each of those songs has the singular effect of drawing the listener into that bright and breezy world for a blissed-out moment.
Essential to the record's playful feel is Frankenreiter's inspired use of instrumentation. "This album's completely unlike anything I've ever done before, in that we skipped the basics and went for a whole lot of different instruments," he says. "We never brought in a drum set—instead there's handclapping for percussion, or the two of us banging on pots and pans. We were using everything from bells to singing bowls to Zippo lighters; at one point we put some beans and salts in a can and shook it around." Grundy played a key role in the wildly varied sounds on Start Livin', according to Frankenreiter. "Matt was playing ukulele and lap steel guitar and banjo—he'd grab an instrument and we'd do a take live and just build the track up from that. It was a real fun vibe."
Despite that kitchen-sink approach, Start Livin' never comes off as cluttered. Each of the songs shines with a crisp, clean sound perfectly suited to the album's sunny spirit: "You" achieves a hypnotic dreaminess by layering lap steel over beautifully crooned harmonies and a twinkling acoustic riff; "I Can Lose" matches its island-breezy guitars with shimmering mandolin; and a gracefully plucked banjo backs up Frankenreiter's hushed, heart-on-sleeve lyrics on the quietly epic "Together Forever." On "Shine," meanwhile, ocean-wave-like effects merge with a swaying melody and smitten lyrics ("You and I, girl, are like a sun and moon/Lately you've been in orbit in my head like a good summer tune").
While love songs serve as the album's centerpiece, Frankenreiter also explores non-romantic love throughout Start Livin'. The gloriously ragtag "Same Lullaby," for instance, makes a sweetly hopeful plea for world peace. "I wrote that song a little while after the tsunami in Japan, thinking how lucky I was to have a family and be alive," Frankenreiter recalls. "The line that goes 'I believe the world could be fine if we could all sing the same lullaby'—that's me hoping we could all just get together and be on the same wavelength even for just one moment." On the irresistibly toe-tapping "Just Love," Frankenreiter turns his focus to his two sons, Ozzy and Hendrix. "Sometimes my kids'll get scared of things in the dark—you know, the monster under the bed," he says. "So that song's me telling them, 'Instead of thinking there's something bad there, think of it as just love creeping in. Embrace it. Talk to it.'"
Elsewhere on Start Livin', Frankenreiter hones in on more heavy-handed matters. Undoubtedly the album's most somber moment, "A.I." pays tearful tribute to Frankenreiter's friend Andy Irons (a professional surfer who passed away in November 2010). "I'd never been that close to someone who passed away before. The song's about me telling Andy that I just wish I could see him one more time," says Frankenreiter of "A.I.," which pairs pained lyrics ("Help me get through another day away from you") with gentle guitar melodies and shushing percussion. Frankenreiter also says goodbye to a friend on "West Coast Fool," but this time it's a wistful takedown of "a Southern man with big ol' Southern plans." A high-minded twist on the typical kiss-off track, "West Coast Fool" pulls off the unlikely feat of seamlessly blending banjo twang with the soothing hum of a Tibetan
For Frankenreiter, the essence of Start Livin' is most fully captured in its album-opening title track. Accented by handclaps and a stick-in-your-head harmonies, "Start Livin'" is a feel-good, uptempo call to "celebrate tonight." "To me the most beautiful thing about this record is it really reflects who I am today," says Frankenreiter. "Start Livin' means stop worrying about where you've been, where you're going—just start embracing what you have around you. Start loving what you have right now."
M. Lockwood Porter
The Berkeley, California-based singer-songwriter M. Lockwood Porter is part of a promising crop of up-and-coming Americana singer-songwriters. In the past three years, he has released two critically-acclaimed albums and performed all over the US, sharing the stage with acts like American Aquarium, David Wax Museum, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, Water Liars, Samantha Crain, David Ramirez, Aaron Lee Tasjan, and John Moreland. He has performed at festivals like Outside Lands, Noise Pop, Norman Music Festival, and CMJ. No Depression called Porter’s 2014 album 27 “a solid album worth your time, attention, and money." In a review of 27, Americana UK said, "Take care with M. Lockwood Porter. He is an important singer-songwriter.”
Porter, who got his start in music playing in punk bands in Tulsa, Oklahoma when he was in high school, is resistant to simple categorization, though. Like Conor Oberst or Jeff Tweedy, his songs are equal parts traditional songcraft and indie rock attitude. “I get called an Americana singer, and I get why. But it’s a narrow label. I still have this punk rock point of view that, whenever I’m around a bunch of people that are doing something similar, makes me want to take a left turn.”
How To Dream Again – tracked live in three days with minimal overdubs – is one of those left turns. While Porter dabbled in lush country-rock and expansive power pop on 27, How To Dream Again sounds tougher and leaves more space. The band – consisting of Porter, Peter Labberton, Bevan Herbekian, and Jeff Hashfield, and John Calvin Abney – sounds tight and heavy, like Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers if they’d cut their teeth at CBGB. The acoustic songs are raw and haunting, recalling Springsteen’s Nebraska.
The heartbreak and existential crises of 27 have been replaced with boldness, wisdom, and a deeper level of self-examination. “I’m in love, in a very healthy, serious relationship, and I’m happier with where I’m at in terms of my music, but with being further along in my personal life come new questions like “How do you maintain what’s good about a relationship? How do you keep it from going stale?” “Burn Away”, “Bright Star”, and “Strong Enough”, all ostensibly love songs, are really about the uncertainty inherent in love – that there is no guarantee that it will last forever.
Porter – who has degrees in English and American History from Yale University and taught English at an inner-city middle school for four years – has also rediscovered an interest in social justice and activism. “I started teaching because I wanted to help make the world a better place. When I quit teaching to do music full-time, I shut off that part of my brain. As an independent musician, you spend so much time thinking about your career that it can be hard to make room for anything else. At one point last year, I realized that I had no idea what was going on in the world anymore. I felt like I had run out of things to talk about, and I needed to refill my brain.”
The result was a year of re-education. Porter read extensively – progressive writers like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Thomas Piketty – and took time to rethink what he wanted to write about. “I strive for 100% honesty in my songwriting, and that means I write about what’s on my mind and in my heart. I spent most of 2015 thinking about how I should respond to what's happening in the world, so that ended up being a major theme on the record."
Porter also immersed himself in the works of topical songwriters – some obvious influences (Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan) and others less so (Joe Strummer, Public Enemy’s Chuck D). In the process, he learned about Joe Hill – the protest singer and IWW labor organizer who was executed on highly questionable charges almost exactly 100 years ago. “I went to this Joe Hill tribute at a small café in Oakland on the 100th anniversary of his death in November. I didn’t know very much about him when I went, but I came away really inspired.” So inspired, in fact, that Porter wrote the song “Joe Hill’s Dream” shortly afterwards – at once an examination of Hill’s legacy and a critical look at the recent history of politically-engaged songwriting.
“American Dreams Denied” and “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be” are anthems of millennial post-recession frustration. “Sad/Satisfied” and “Dream Again” trace Porter’s evolution from a navel-gazing songwriter into a more thoughtful, outward-looking artist. “Charleston” was inspired by the horrific June 2015 mass shooting at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The album’s centerpiece, though, is “Reach The Top”, a five-and-a-half minute dissertation critiquing the philosophy underpinning the American Dream, tying together its myriad consequences – isolation, materialism, depression, suicide, drug use, destruction of unions, college debt, gentrification, police brutality, media distortion, and American imperialism – using nothing but his voice, a guitar, and a harmonica. This song alone is a strong case that this California-based Okie transplant may be Guthrie’s closest modern heir.
On How To Dream Again, M. Lockwood Porter blends the personal and political in a way that is courageous, moving, and representative of this historical moment. “I can’t have a conversation with anyone my age right now without talking about things like inequality, gentrification, racial injustice, student debt, or climate change. I wanted to make a piece of art that captures this time, where daily life is political.” Yet at its core, this album is a very personal statement from a thoughtful, daring young artist. “The album is called How To Dream Again because it’s about trying to change my priorities – from chasing dreams of individual success to dreaming about creating something bigger than myself, whether that’s being in love or building a better world.”