Music News

Portent Melodies

It's only early evening, but the smoke in Sputnik is already hanging low when Erin Roberts shows up clutching a beat-up, pre-Oprah's Book Club copy of John Steinbeck's East of Eden. In her other hand is the eponymous debut full-length by Porlolo, the semi-acoustic project that revolves around her and elegantly lyrical lead guitarist Tom Mohr. Where last year's split EP with Roger Green was a shaky-handed sketch, this new disc transmutes Roberts's hushed nonchalance into a sound that evokes raspy winds, desert steppes and a bit of Will Oldham's hardscrabble cluck. And while her cast of contributors on the disc and in concert includes Jeff Linsenmaier of Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots, Joe Sampson of A Dog Paloma, Jamie Smith of Dang Head and Jeff Davenport and Ben DeSoto of d.biddle, Roberts keeps her songs simple, dusty and rustically mystic -- not unlike the work of her favorite author.

Westword: So why are you reading John Steinbeck?

Erin Roberts: 'Cause I wanted a big, fat book, and this was the biggest one I could find. It takes place in California, post-Civil War. One of the characters gets wounded, loses his leg. The only thing he really likes about the war is the drinking and whoring and hanging out with his buddies. He went into his first day of battle at eight o'clock in the morning, and at eight-thirty, he got his leg blown off. He was actually in the war for thirty minutes.

He was never really passionate about anything in life before then, but after he gets injured, he has this incredible lust for war knowledge and facts. So he studies up on it, and he starts believing that he was at every infamous battle and met every general. He believes he was Lincoln's understudy, and when Lincoln dies, he becomes horribly depressed. Then he gives his wife gonorrhea. She's so crazy-religious that she convinces herself that God is punishing her for something, and the only penance is to drown herself in a mud puddle in the back yard.

Sounds like a Porlolo song.

It might turn into one. "I Drowned Myself in a Two-Inch Puddle."

Are any of your songs based on books? There seems to be almost a folk-literature or magical-realism type of feel to them.

I always have a hard time with questions like this. I never really think about my songs. I just make them.

You still wind up getting a fair amount of attention, including a top-ten ranking in the annual Denver Post underground-band list last year and a trip to South by Southwest this year. But you don't seem to ever go out of your way to promote yourself. Does it surprise you when people pay so much attention to your music?

Yes. I think music promotion is completely essential, but I really hate self-promotion. I hate to hear people talk about opportunity that's just around the corner. There's always so much talk, but all that energy should just be spent playing music.

Plus, people will jinx themselves that way.

I have this crazy amount of superstition. I totally believe in the power of jinx.

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Jason Heller
Contact: Jason Heller