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Interview and video: Tulsa singer-songwriter M. Lockwood Porter brings new album 'Communion in the Ashes' to Norman Music Festival

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M. Lockwood Porter will perform Friday night at the Norman Music Festival. [Photo by Kris Payne]
M. Lockwood Porter will perform Friday night at the Norman Music Festival. [Photo by Kris Payne]

An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.

Musical 'Communion': Oklahoma native M. Lockwood Porter brings timely new album to Norman Music Festival

M. Lockwood Porter indeed croons of the demise of the American dream in his new song “The Dream Is Dead.”

But that doesn’t mean the anthemic track is a pessimistic downer.

“I actually think it’s a hopeful song about the possibility of kind of creating a new sense of what our collective future could look like. Now that we’re kind of past this idea of like this American dream where ‘I’m out to make a bunch of money for myself and get my house and my two cars and all that stuff,’ (it’s about) maybe imagining a different sort of a dream that might be about working together to make all of our lives better,” he said.

“I feel like I wanted to tackle some of that heavier material that I think just felt relevant to what I was experiencing at the time and also relevant to just the conversations that I was constantly having with friends of mine and other people my age. But I didn’t want to make just a really dark protest record or something like that – I had kind of already done that before, to be honest – and I thought, ‘If I’m gonna write about this stuff, I want to have some sort of answer for what we could do about it - or some sense that it could get better,’ so that’s kind of what I set out to do with this batch of songs.”

The Tulsa-based singer-songwriter released last month “Communion in the Ashes,” his first album since he moved back to his home state last fall after about 15 years away.

“There’s part of it that’s kind of a goodbye to the Bay Area and to California,” said Porter, who goes by Max. “The last few years especially there have been these really scary wildfires that have been happening kind of all over the state, but especially close to where I’ve been living, and that was really on my mind. And then just the stress of trying to live in such an expensive and crowded place, that kind of just all got mingled together in the writing.”

 The Oklahoma native will perform in support of the new album at the Norman Music Festival at 10 p.m. Friday at the historic Sooner Theatre, 101 E Main. He said it will be his third time to play the 12th annual festival but only his first to bring along a full band, comprised of both California and Oklahoma musicians.

“I felt connected to the Oklahoma music scene already, so it felt like a pretty natural move back. … I’ve known John Moreland since I was 15, and I had played some shows with him and opened for him on tour a few years ago. I’ve been touring with John Calvin Abney for a long time; I’ve played probably close to 50 shows with him over the last few years,” he said, adding that Abney will play drums for him Friday.

“I wrote and recorded the whole album before I moved back to Oklahoma, but I would honestly say the kind of music I’ve been making all along was a little out of step with the music scene out in the Bay Area. … It actually probably had more in common with the music scenes in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.”

Fans listen as The Ivy performs during the Norman Music Festival on Friday, April 27, 2018 in Norman, Okla. [The Oklahoman Archives photo]
Fans listen as The Ivy performs during the Norman Music Festival on Friday, April 27, 2018 in Norman, Okla. [The Oklahoman Archives photo]

Heading West

Porter is one of more than 300 acts on the lineup for the free, independent festival, which continues through Saturday at several indoor and outdoor venues. The festival annually features an array of Oklahoma, regional and national acts, and this year’s headliners include Beach Fossils, Black Milk with Nat Turner and Oklahoma expatriates Skating Polly, an “ugly pop” sibling trio originally from Edmond and now based in Tacoma, Washington.

Originally from Skiatook, Porter initially left Oklahoma to attend Yale University.

“That in itself was a huge change. It was not part of the plan when I was applying to colleges and stuff. When I was a senior, I cast a wide net and I got in and they gave me a scholarship. So, I kind of couldn’t say no to that really,” he said.

After graduation, he worked as a seventh-grade English teacher for four years through the nonprofit program Teach for America, which placed him in the San Francisco Bay area.

“I brought a little Tulsa to my classroom because I would always have them read ‘The Outsiders,’” he said. “Seventh grade might be the hardest grade to teach. It was a trial by fire for sure, but it definitely made me more equipped to handle rowdy audiences. … You learn that it is possible to get a roomful of 30 to 35 hormonal seventh-graders to be quiet and listen. And if that’s possible, then anything is possible.”

Oklahoma native M. Lockwood Porter released his new album "Communion in the Ashes" March 29 on Black Mesa Records. [Cover art provided]
Oklahoma native M. Lockwood Porter released his new album "Communion in the Ashes" March 29 on Black Mesa Records. [Cover art provided]

Learning from history

The singer-songwriter, who was just 13 when he started his first band, began developing his solo music career while in California, but eventually the cost of living on the West Coast prompted him to move back to his home state.

“I just gradually took it more and more seriously and spent more time on the road playing shows and stuff like that. Finally, I got to the point where just the cost of living out there really kind of pushed me out. It was just too hard to try to do music in a place that’s so expensive.”

Living in and being forced to move out of the nation's most expensive real-estate market had a marked influence on “Communion in the Ashes.”

“A lot of my own sort of studies of American history – I was actually an American studies major at Yale – kind of inform the songwriting. … It’s kind of about looking critically at, I would say, some of the dominant narratives in our culture from maybe the last 50 years or so, and almost trying to look back at a time before that - like maybe the ‘30s and ‘40s, like post-Depression and around New Deal era and stuff like that - and maybe reviving some of the ideas that were more present around that time,” he said.

“I think that there is kind of a collective questioning of the way that American life has been structured, and the thing that was assumed to just be the norm that everyone was supposed to do probably really came into fashion right after World War II. … With this album – and just in my daily life and in my reading and conversations with people, which informed the songwriting – I’ve been kind of thinking, ‘Well, if that’s not the only way to live, what are the other options?’ That’s kind of something I was thinking through in these songs, that kind of idea of a more collective understanding of how society could be structured … where we all help each other out.”

The music video for "The Dream is Dead" depicts Porter literally taking positive messages of change out into the community, not always with positive outcomes.

“After the character gets beaten up, he still keeps going,” he said. “I hope that that kind of conveys a message that it’s not going to be necessarily easy to work to make our world a better place. But if you persist, then you can make a difference.”


GOING ON

12th Annual Norman Music Festival

When: Through Saturday.

Where: Various venues in downtown Norman.

Admission: Free.

Information: normanmusicfestival.com.

MORE TO COME

This is part of a series of feature stories about Oklahoma artists bringing new music to Norman Music Festival. To read my feature on Dylan Stewart, click here. To read my feature on Tyson Meade, click here

-BAM

 

Related Photos
M. Lockwood Porter will perform Friday night at the Norman Music Festival. [Photo by Kris Payne]

M. Lockwood Porter will perform Friday night at the Norman Music Festival. [Photo by Kris Payne]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-192994a903263f3e702753f7e0427b4a.jpg" alt="Photo - M. Lockwood Porter will perform Friday night at the Norman Music Festival. [Photo by Kris Payne]" title="M. Lockwood Porter will perform Friday night at the Norman Music Festival. [Photo by Kris Payne]"><figcaption>M. Lockwood Porter will perform Friday night at the Norman Music Festival. [Photo by Kris Payne]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-15ee2f74d3a65c861d8881ede5655398.jpg" alt="Photo - Fans listen as The Ivy performs during the Norman Music Festival on Friday, April 27, 2018 in Norman, Okla. [The Oklahoman Archives photo]" title="Fans listen as The Ivy performs during the Norman Music Festival on Friday, April 27, 2018 in Norman, Okla. [The Oklahoman Archives photo]"><figcaption>Fans listen as The Ivy performs during the Norman Music Festival on Friday, April 27, 2018 in Norman, Okla. [The Oklahoman Archives photo]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5809cf2be0aac54b8453d4ed655e9b88.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma native M. Lockwood Porter released his new album "Communion in the Ashes" March 29 on Black Mesa Records. [Cover art provided]" title="Oklahoma native M. Lockwood Porter released his new album "Communion in the Ashes" March 29 on Black Mesa Records. [Cover art provided]"><figcaption>Oklahoma native M. Lockwood Porter released his new album "Communion in the Ashes" March 29 on Black Mesa Records. [Cover art provided]</figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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