Larson – lead vocals, bass, guitar
Tristram – vocals, guitar
Jim Cleveland – keyboards
Matt Emmette – drums
Finding quiet places for interviews is often a challenge, thus the reason why I picked a low-key café on 6th Street. I could have a badly needed caffeine kick at the end of the day, and afterwards, I’d actually be able to hear what the guys in Porcelain had to say when I played back the tape.
But that particular spot didn’t suit this Boulder based band’s fancy.
As I was paying for my mocha, Tristram entered the café, “You must be Kim.” We had never officially met before, but I recognized him from their 15th Street Tavern gig months before. “We’re actually across the street at a bar,” he explained with a grin. “We wanted to have a real drink.” My kinda guys. I quickly got my mocha to go and we headed to Don’s, a much more fitting place for casual conversation over cold, potent beverages.
This neighborhood bar has a great dive vibe, complete with pool tables, cozy booths, and working jukebox. Larson was waiting for us at the long, wooden bar, and quickly apologized for changing the local of our interview. “I walked in there and it was like…I don’t know, some guy was clicking way on his laptop. I knew that wouldn’t work. Want a drink?”
Larson is the lead singer, guitarist and bassist for the band, while Tristram plays guitar and backs up Larson’s angelic, sultry vocals. To complete their sound, they’ve also got Jim Cleveland on keyboards and Matt Emmette on drums.
But this story actually began years before, when Larson and Tristram first met in their homes state of Atlanta while attending advertising school. They couldn’t agree on how long it had been – seven or eight years, “It’s kind of like my dog. I don’t know how old he is, I just know he’s pretty old,” says Tristram.
“When I first met him I told him I was going to be in his band,” Larson explains. “But he said, ‘No fucking way man, you suck!”
“I did not say it that way,” Tristram argues.
From what I gathered, Larson tried out on every instrument possible to get into Tristram’s band, Cruel Shoes (yes, the Steve Martin reference), going from guitar, to drums, to bass, and back to guitar. “I was jack of all trades, master of none,” he boasts with a laugh.
The first day Larson was able to make the grade was after Tristram had fired two of his band members, and giving Larson an invite to come over and jam. But it was Larson’s own instrument that got him into the band – his voice (no, not his other instrument). Once Larson opened his mouth, Tristram thought, “Holy shit. That was it.”
It was fate, a series of circumstances, and the kitchen sink that brought them both to Boulder within a few months of each other, leaving their southern roots to set up camp in a dark, damp, and cheap homestead – the basement of their friend’s house. “The door to the bathroom was shorter than me. I lost so many pairs of sunglasses off the top of my head,” Tristram recalls. But the pipes on the ceiling made for some interesting late night action when he was in the company of a woman, “As much pleasure as those pipe brought me, they brought just as much pain. You don’t know how many mornings I would wake up and thong! I would whack my head on those things.”
Three years later, several band member changes, and seven or eight years total, they’ve decided to get serious about getting their music out there and making their first, real release under the Porcelain moniker. But like the makings of a fine wine, some things just take time.
“Now we have a product that we’re actually proud of,” Larson says, adding, “…although I hate to call it a product. But we are comfortable enough now to say, ‘This is who we are.’ It took me a long time to come around, I think that’s part of it.”
In the Cruel Shoes days, it was a different sound and a different line up. Larson had so many changing roles, he felt it difficult to find his groove enough to play live. Today, his role and the others are defined and have fallen into place.
Tristram expands on that, “After you play a long time, you finally get to a point to where you can do things. It’s maturity you know, where you don’t feel like you’re just fucking around in a garage somewhere. Think about it though, everyone has girlfriends or boyfriends. It’s hard enough getting two people together and getting all the elements in place, let alone four.”
Adding a fourth piece to the Porcelain puzzle was an element that has enhanced their band’s Brit-pop, space rock style. Jim’s keyboards and electronic beat wizardry has allowed them to further spread their musical wings, to raise their expectations of what they want to be when they grow up, figuratively speaking.
At the same time, they want to preserve the basic essence of what they consider to be a good pop song, avoiding the trappings they’ve seen other indie bands fall into – where the sound gets so abstract that people don’t get it anymore.
Speaking to said bands, Larson feels that, “Yea, you’re not ‘selling out’ and you’re doing something that’s against the grain, but it’s just noise. And it’s so against the grain, how can you feel anything emotional about it? What do you take away from one of those shows?”
As the third round of drinks are flowing, the guys loosen up even more, describing how their creative process has changed from Tristram as the sole songwriter, to more of a collaborative process between four unique minds.
“Well, we were doing rails one night,” Tristram attempts to say with a straight face, then immediately cracks up at the whole picture of them as rock stars doing blow. “Seriously, you can take different approaches to songwriting. It can be so much fun, and it can be a real pain in the ass. You have to explain to three people what you want. One person might get it, but the others are wondering what the fuck you are saying. But man, it’s such a beautiful thing when it all falls into place.”
Tristram and Larson’s longtime companionship has created something between a brother/brother meets husband/wife type of relationship. When they get together, whether it’s to practice for an upcoming gig or to write songs, Tristram and Larson’s passion for their individual opinions and ability to throw out harsh criticism makes for some lively bickering that often scares their other two band members.
Tristram laughs as he explains how Jim was, “Horrified the first couple of practices,” but for the two of them it works out; this formula enables them to play off each other to get exactly what they want. “We don’t pull any punches when we’re doing things together.”
Besides the longevity of their friendship and musical relationship, the real turning point for getting their band’s ass in gear and getting serious about their future came after a gig at the 15th Street Tavern where they opened for a Kindercore act, Maserati, who blew them away. They knew nothing of the band and hadn’t taken the gig too seriously, and therefore, hadn’t really prepared as much as they probably should have.
As Tristram explains, “Me and Larson were sitting there afterwards…people liked us and all, but we knew we played a sloppy, mediocre show. The difference between us and them was stark. That’s when I knew that I would never, let that happen again.”
If you check out Porcelain’s sparkling new web site, www.porcelainmusic.com (another caveat to making their band real) you’re able to hear MP3s from a live recording they did earlier in the year at the Fox Theater in Boulder, where Larson is also employed.
The songs are a mix of old and new, including “Buried Life” that was originally created when they were Cruel Shoes, a song Larson and Tristram would like to bury for good. “That thing just won’t die,” says Tristram. But their fans dig the haunting opening of heavily layered guitars and harmonic vocals, stringing across lightly across a smoky atmosphere, then grows to a fiery vibe – so the song stays on the playlist.
For fans of Ride or Coldplay, “Glory” delivers the aching vocals with English inspired rock rhythms; and Jim’s keyboards add a heartbreaking element of reflection on “Sleep ‘Til Noon”, slithering across your ears with the softness of silk sheets before it gets a bit more aggressive, tying you up with velvet ropes.
“Taking Your Time” is a favorite of Larson’s, which is also a track on Fox’s Summer 2003 compilation. “It’s got so much of an emotional impact…I get tired after that one, but I love it.”
“Suffocating” takes Porcelain in a different, more poppy direction, and they feel they have many more directions to explore. Beyond the five songs on the site, the band has another 25 songs in their back pocket, “But only 12 that are ready to play,” Larson points out profusely.
They plan to pull out some of those new tunes at the upcoming FREE show a the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Tuesday, July 22 with Fortywatt, Woven.
You’ll also be able to hear how Jim’s keyboards and effects put a new electronic twist on their sound.“I’ve been getting into this whole Postal Service kind of thing lately and getting some beats involved,” says Larson. “It will be something you can shake your ass to instead of me getting up there and crying all night.”
Since that Maserati show, their practice schedule prior to a show is grueling. After their full-time jobs, they’re at it every night making sure they’ve got every riff, drum beat and note down to a science. But once they hit the stage, “The fucking chains are taken off, you’re unshackled, you’re unfettered. Going up there, you’ll find spaces of freedom because you’ve practiced it so much,” says Tristram.
“You almost have a bit of a swagger, ‘cause you’ve been at it for six hours every day for a week,” adds Larson. And if we’re lucky, as you’re shaking your booty to their beats, Larson may even join in, a far stretch before his days of dreading being on stage. “Yea, the last few times I was actually getting’ down to the groove. And Tristram actually smiled at me once.”
Tristam laughs and shoots a wide-eyed grin at his buddy, “Ah shit dude, I’m always smilin’ at you. You just always have your eyes closed!”
Porcelain’s plan of attack is to do as other local bands do – build a local following. But they really want to get on those highways that take them beyond Colorado by working any connection they can to jump onto a tour with a national act.
After the Fox gig, they’ll also have some change saved up to make it out to the Mountainworks recording studio (www.mountainworksrec.com) in Idaho Springs, where a $1000 can get them a whole weekend of recording time and a place to stay and soak their weary, band bones.
So now I have a new favorite interview spot at Don’s on Washington and 6th, and another group to add to the list of local bands that have a bright white future, if they can just get along. Just kidding guys. And thanks for the drinks. I’ll take a vodka tonic over coffee any day of the week.