Porlolo's Erin Roberts.EXPAND
Porlolo's Erin Roberts.
Courtesy of the artist.

Porlolo's Erin Roberts on Belligerent Optimism

While making the video for “Wasting Time,” Erin Roberts — who’s been performing and recording under the Porlolo moniker since 2002 — got hypothermia.

Roberts and her husband, filmmaker Irvin Coffee, had spent about an hour and a half planning the video for the song — from Porlolo’s soon-to-drop three-song EP, Awards — while driving from Fort Collins to Rocky Mountain National Park to shoot it. Roberts figured that since they didn’t have a very strong narrative for the video, she would at least put on a stunning dress and go to a place that she considers the most beautiful in the world, “so that if we can’t figure out this narrative, at least it will look pretty.”

The couple decided to set the video at Mills Lake, but underestimated how long the hike there would take. Roberts says it took a crazy winter sprint to arrive in time to have enough natural light for shooting. While the video boasts many shots of gorgeous mountain scenery, it also captures the essence of the song “Wasting Time,” which sounds poppy and upbeat but also lonely.

“It’s about dealing with yourself and how the reckoning that comes when you just see yourself after you’ve been in your absolute worst, but knowing that that’s not entirely you through and through,” Roberts says. “I wanted to portray this sense of loneliness and kind of reckoning.”

Roberts, who rarely writes about specific stories, says the song wasn’t based on a particular experience, but conveyed a general feeling. “My songs more emerge from changes in my life or as I’ve moved around or gotten older or transitioned in and out of different social circles or just gotten to know myself better,” Roberts says. “Most of my songs emerge from kind of that internal place where I am at the time. Some songs I write are totally...I don’t hold [hem] close to my heart. Sometimes I just think of something catchy and write a song around it. And I think good songs — a lot of people can identify with them in different ways. So I try to make them meaningful.”

Roberts, who moved from Denver to Fort Collins about a year and a half ago to take a job managing artists at the Music District, penned the bubbly “I Don’t Want to Lose” (also from Awards) four years ago, just after her first son was born. She says the song, which opens with the line “I don’t want to fight. I just want to lose control,” is about maintaining a sense of self through major life changes.

“I think there’s so much pressure, just insanity when you first have a kid and you’re trying to figure out, ‘Wait, how do I do this? Who am I now?,'" Roberts recalls. "People look at you different. I was trying to be an artist, a mother and still work. It was like, ‘Oh, my god, I’m going to lose my mind.’ I just had this feeling: I just want to freak out. I just want to lose it, because I think that would feel really good. Then also that feeling of being so trapped with how I was feeling and having a good outlet. Music has always been an amazing outlet.”

Roberts says “I Don’t Want to Lose” was about trying to redefine her sense of self after what she called a “total disillusion of self"; she felt like motherhood was like peeling away layers of an onion to find her inner core. “It took me a long time to figure out what that inner core being was,” she says. “Essentially, it was an extremely healthy process, and I feel much better for that process, and I feel like the process helped me have better friendships, write better songs, be a cooler person in the world — but it was extremely painful to go through.”

Both “I Don’t Want to Lose” and the EP’s title track were attempts at figuring out who she was. The fire she mentions in “Awards” is about a shiny center she calls "belligerent optimism." “When everything felt really heavy and dark, I had maintained this belligerent optimism, like, 'No, you can’t bring me down,'” Roberts says. “I’m still going to do this. I’m still a person here. I’m still a human. With the help of my friends, I’ve preserved that shiny bright spot, the shiny bright fire on the inside, even though it’s a dark, dark world sometimes.”

Since starting Porlolo, Roberts has had a number of friends collaborate on the project, both on stage or on recordings over the past fifteen years. For Awards, she recruited Beach House drummer James Barone to engineer and produce it and worked with some first-rate local players like Tom Mohr, Jake Miller, Pat Meese and Anna Morsett, whom Roberts credits — along with Natalie Tate (who has toured with Porlolo) — for helping her see songwriting in a different light. 

"They completely changed the way I thought about songwriting, professionalism, dedication to a craft, because they are so incredibly talented and so incredibly strategic," Roberts says. "They just go about music in a way that I hadn’t really been around before, and were also extremely supportive of what I was doing."

Porlolo EP release, with Spirettes and Land Lines, 9 p.m. Friday, May 4, Lost Lake, 303-296-1003, $10-$12.

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