The secret to Porlolo's success: "I write and record songs I know aren't good for the radio," says Erin Roberts, who first launched the Fort Collins-based collaborative project in 2002. "I find art in doing things the way I want to do them. Part of the reason we can have this radically authentic sound that meanders fluidly between genres is that we are not beholden to the industry."
Today the band checks the boxes that matter to the singer: Porlolo is authentic, it's creating art, and it continues to develop a deep connection with its following, says Roberts, who has been the core of Porlolo since the beginning, heading up the band through its first releases in the 2000s and bringing it back after an eight-year hiatus that ended in 2014. The group has been performing ever since.
Roberts and Porlolo have again gone against the dictates of the machine on their latest EP, No Praise, No Blame, which drops on May 21. The four tracks stay true to the band's style; Roberts puts an indie-rock spin on country music, creating an EP that's both consistently catchy and contemplative.
"This album, in particular, focuses on the intimate nature of our relationships and then all the joy, beauty and pain that accompanies intimacy," Roberts says. "A couple songs came out of times when I was experiencing really heavy-duty grief. I'd lost a handful of friends in really rapid succession, and I didn't have the tools to deal with the piling on of grief like that."
Roberts turned to songwriting, she says — leading to the penning of two of the tracks on this EP, "Medic" and "God's Punishing Hands." "'Medic' is one of those songs that's definitely about addiction and mental illness, [which I wrote] after losing some friends to suicide and drug dependency," Roberts says. "And then 'God's Punishing Hands' came out of the death of a couple of young friends I lost to cancer and being robbed of such beauty. That's probably the most depressing song I've ever written, but it's one of the songs I love the most."
Additionally, the album speaks to Roberts's decades-long journey as a musician and her approach to making music. No Praise, No Blame derives its title from a William Stafford poem of the same name, which highlights the balance of staying humble but never apologizing — a nod to Roberts's own balance of pride and humility.
"I'm really profoundly proud of the process and the community and the friendships that go into pulling off a Porlolo record or show," she says. "Coupled with that, there's a lot of humility in recognizing that I'm just this tiny cog in the wheel that is Porlolo."
The band's current lineup also includes Anna Morsett and Jake Miller of the Still Tide and Joe Richmond of Churchill and Tennis, with the latest album produced by James Barone of Beach House. But that's just a small sampling of the musicians with Porlolo ties; the group has been known to bring in numerous collaborators for its various projects including Andy Wild of Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and singer-songwriter Jess Parsons of Bluebook.
"I remember being at a show one time and the emcee was like, 'Raise your hand if you've actually been in the band Porlolo' — and a lot of people raised their hand, because we have a lot of guest players," Roberts says. "We love it that way. It's a revolving, inclusive project."
No Praise, No Blame will be available on major streaming channels starting May 21. The group has also gotten back in the swing of playing live, in-person shows, with two earlier this spring at Lost City and hopes to schedule more in the near future. Roberts says listeners can expect more new music to drop later on.
That's one more way Porlolo subverts the music industry's expectations.
"I'm going to be making records till I'm a hundred years old," Roberts says. "The industry ages out musicians, especially women, but it's been really fun to just keep going and keep going. I can't wait to put out the next five records."
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