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Whisper to Scream

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

And what does a sixth-grader do to get expelled?

"Throwing a chair at the principal. I forget why, but I'm sure it was something pretty stupid."

As Porter entered high school, the first glimmer of his literary brilliance was already manifesting itself in the name of his second band: Neglected Lawn. "Neglected Lawn was my first real band. It was just me and this kid Luke. We were more notorious for destruction than music. We were just kind of dicks."

In the true spirit of retro-Reagan-era hardcore, Neglected Lawn chose a distinctly post-Cold War HQ. "Luke lived on a ranch with a bomb shelter, so that's where we practiced," Porter says. "That's where he lived too, in the bomb shelter. We'd just go in there and freeze and play. It was really cool. We built a chimney that went up through the ceiling, though, so it probably wouldn't work as a bomb shelter anymore."

Neglected Lawn took the idea of rock performance to a new level. "Once, me and Luke made this album called 'Live at Texaco,'" Porter says with a straight face. "We went over to the Texaco in Pine Junction; there were these electrical outlets right outside the gas station. We set up an amp and a snare drum and played for all the people going in and out of Texaco," Porter remembers. "It was really loud, us playing these horrible songs. The lady at the counter came out and told us she was going to call the cops, but we were taping the show, so we kept on playing. Finally she really did call the cops, so we grabbed our equipment and ran like hell to the other side of the highway, where there's this old restaurant. We put our stuff down in the parking lot to rest for a minute when this guy walked out, this big, burly cowboy guy. He comes up to me and says, 'I want to shake your hand!' So I put my hand out, and he takes it and starts crushing my hand! He was grinding it and wouldn't let go, and he said, 'I just want to shake the hand of the little motherfucker that's been messing up the house I'm trying to build!' I had a Neglected Lawn sticker on my guitar case, and we'd been writing 'Neglected Lawn' in this guy's cement every night for weeks. He would go back over it and erase it, then we'd sneak back and write it again: 'Neglected Lawn Rulez,' with a 'z.'"

Eventually, Porter's delinquency caught up with him. "I got sent to detention school when I was fifteen. It was for all the bad kids, all the gangsta kids. The gangsta kids in Bailey, Colorado. They'd, like, spray-paint trees."

After he was promoted to an accelerated school and graduated early, at age sixteen, Porter's punk-rock patois began to expand. "Probably my biggest influence at the time was all the Brit pop and shoegazer stuff: the Boo Radleys, Slowdive, Spacemen 3, Radiohead. My grandpa also got me into jazz, especially guitarists like Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. I also really loved the Felt Pilotes," says Porter, referring to the wistful Denver indie-pop band of the mid-'90s. "I was never able to write real punk songs anyway. When I try to write punk-rock stuff, it comes out of me like a screwed-up Play-Doh Fun Factory. It just comes out all sideways."

Porter, then seventeen, decided to try his hand at something more downcast and ethereal. The result was Reverb Saved My Life, an album that wouldn't see the light of release until this year. Recorded over the course of six months in a tiny basement studio, Reverb's songs are startlingly lethargic and subtle. Eraser-smudged guitars and bleary vocals seep into minor-key melodies; the delicate ennui of Spiritualized or Galaxie 500 enfolds a progressive folk-pop sensibility that recalls Dinosaur Jr, even the Meat Puppets.

"I recorded in this guy's basement, right next to his bedroom," Porter explains. "From midnight to six was when the studio time was cheapest. That's why it sounds so hushed. Even though I played everything on that album myself, I still wanted to do this type of music with a band. It gets lonely making these sad songs by yourself all the time."

Porter soon hooked up with Josh Wambeke, a fellow Bailey-dweller then playing in a band whose name Porter can't remember: "They were these yuppie-ish, good-looking guys playing shit like Creed. They asked me to join the band; they wanted me to be the weird guy in the corner playing the fucked-up stuff." Instead, Porter lured Wambeke away to form Phineas Gage.

"We recorded our first album, Reconsidered, and somehow Camera Obscura got a hold of one of our shitty dubbed tapes of it. They signed us to a three-record deal," says Porter. "Josh and I actually recorded a second Phineas Gage album, but we couldn't fucking stand to be around each other long enough to finish it. We got into fistfights all the time. We had a show at Cricket on the Hill once, and Josh was tuned a whole half-step down from me. The song sounded horrible. We got in a fight right there on stage. Deep down, we're both just these Baileyite rednecks. It was like Ike and Tina, man. That was Phineas Gage."

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