Whisper to Scream

From punk to folk, poetry to prose, Patrick Porter is a voice of unease.

There are people who walk through a door and on pops the spotlight -- heads turn, glances flash, and the air crackles with the presence of an electric personality. And then there's Patrick Porter. He sort of ducks into rooms, squirming around people's stares as if they were security-system laser beams. If he could choose one super power, it would no doubt be invisibility. Accordingly, Porter is almost colorless. Everything -- his pants, his shirt, his hair, his skin -- all dissolve into a faded yellow-beige that would be camouflaged well on a plate of fish sticks and macaroni and cheese.

"I got real drunk the other day and cut my hair into a Mohawk," he says, fingers fidgeting across his wheat-straw buzz cut, "but after a couple days, I realized how dumb it looked and shaved it off." He pauses sagely. "It was crooked, anyway."

Porter is the kind of guy the term "renaissance man" was coined for. Just 25, he is an aspiring novelist as well as a published poet; his third book of verse, Tender Sociology, is due out by the end of the year. He is also a singer-songwriter with two full-length albums under his belt: Reconsider, with his defunct outfit Phineas Gage, and Reverb Saved My Life, a solo effort on which he wrote, sang and played each instrument. Though released in May of this year, Reverb was actually a half-forgotten project recorded when Porter was seventeen. Both albums were released by the prominent Australian psyche/space-rock label Camera Obscura, and fittingly so: Porter's music is a splashing cascade of folk-rock arpeggios and psychedelic swirl, full of bitter melody and veiled anguish. With handfuls of indie-press accolades now stuffed in his pocket, he is putting the finishing touches on a new solo album that promises to be even more fragile and entrancing.

"The wussy stuff? I don't know how I got into playing that," he says with a shrug, his voice wavering between bashful drawl and syllable-jumbled angst. "Half the time when I was younger, I listened to a lot of punk rock and stuff: the Crucifucks and F.Y.P. and Millions of Dead Cops. But Nirvana is my favorite band ever. I used to feel embarrassed that Nirvana was what got me into punk, but now I feel fiercely non-embarrassed about it."

Growing up in the backwoods mountain town of Bailey, Colorado, is enough of an excuse for not being on the main pipeline to the rock underground. "Bailey is really isolated, which is good and bad. It forces you to have your own mind-set about things. It was a lonely place to be. Living up in that tiny cowboy town, you would never hear about punk rock...or anything," Porter says. "I totally remember the first time I heard Nirvana, like when your parents say, 'I remember the first time I ever heard the Beatles.' I was twelve, and I was stuck in Evergreen. It was during a total blizzard. I was trying to cross a river on foot, but I fell in. I was freezing in the car on the ride home, and 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' came on the radio. It just freaked me out."

For Porter, growing up in Bailey provided the backdrop upon which he scrawled a singularly weird adolescence. Porter was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; he and his family moved to Pine Junction when he was four and then to Bailey when he was ten, after his parents' divorce. "My dad was a disc jockey at KBPI back then. That's where I get my music stuff from," says Porter. "I used to go with him to his night shift at the station and sit in these rooms full of records and just listen to them all night, all this classic rock. I loved the Who and stuff like that. That old music has this heartbrokenness to it, even though it's poppy and happy. That's how I got my musical education."

In the late '80s, KBPI was, of course, the Queen City bastion of butt rock. "I remember meeting a bunch of these crappy rock bands at the station when I was a kid," Porter says. "The guitarist of REO Speedwagon, the singer of Cinderella. My dad would take Mötley Crüe to Shotgun Willie's. I just remember, at the age of ten, looking at these guys and thinking they were total dipshits. Immediately I hated rock stars, even before I got into punk rock. I wanted to be whatever the opposite of a rock star was.

"I got my first guitar, this crummy guitar, as a present on my thirteenth birthday," Porter recalls. "I started my first band that day. I didn't know any chords yet, but we wrote and recorded our first official album that night. We were called Freezerburn, after the Jawbox song. We were together for about a week, then we broke up 'cause I got in a fight with one of the other guys and punched him."

Temper, explains Porter, is a commodity he has always had in short supply: "I was always getting into trouble, always getting into fights. I was a real little asshole. By the end of sixth grade, I had already been expelled from school once."

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