“All our second chances come when we’re done closing our eyes,” writes Willy Porter in a lyric from the title track of the new album Human Kindness. Porter’s new record encompasses more than the outstanding musicianship audiences and critics have come to expect from this indie-artist, it is also a call to make a positive impact in our own communities.
Featuring the talents of artists such as Martin Barre, Natalia Zuckerman, Carmen Nickerson, and Peter Mulvey, Human Kindness sets Porter’s blistering guitar work against a big studio sound on a stunning book of songs that explore themes about connection, compassion, and the human journey. Willy plays Cardiff this weekend and recently took time out to answer questions from Andy Howells.
I understand Human Kindness has been a few years in the making, what was the initial inspiration behind the album?
The initial inspiration came from an incident in England while on tour with Jethro Tull several years back. I had watched an Arsenal Football match with my friend Tom in a pub and as we exited onto the busy street, I looked the wrong way for traffic and stepped out as a bus was flying towards us. Tom grabbed my shirt and said, "steady there, mate". As the bus went by I felt the breeze off of the mirror on the side. It dawned on me later that "doing the right thing" is reflexive for almost all human beings-- we are hard wired for that. That led me to write the tune, Human Kindness, and the central theme of the record was in place.
You’ve got several guest musicians joining you on the album, how good is it to get input and ideas from others when putting a record together?
I have been very fortunate to cross paths with tremendous musicians from many different disciplines. As a producer, I enjoy following the direction a song suggests, and then finding the right people to fill the rolls within that vision. Having the input and creativity of other musicians, particularly my core band, is simply invaluable to me. I couldn't have made this record without all of these amazing humans.
Tracks like Chippewa Boots and A Love Like This have a real feel good and harmonious vibe about them, how important is it to you that your music is uplifting?
I strive for emotional balance in a collection of recorded songs. I think an album needs to have that balance to be listenable in its' entirety. So, I try to put some tunes in the mix that lift the tempo and drive a bit more to keep the more contemplative moments anchored.
You’re touring with the album for a year with The Year Of Kindness, can you tell us a little bit about that?
We have tried to find ways to give a bit more. It is a mission for me and my label team to find interesting and helpful ways to involve a charitable collaborative approach as we pass through different towns. We have partnered with local food banks & women's shelters, for instance. This year we also created a scholarship fund in the name of a recently deceased bass player I worked with for years. Doing small things on a local level has added more momentum and purpose to what we do.
How do you balance been a musician and a family man when you’re on tour?
I listen to what is happening when I am away from home. I try to focus on what the time line is like where my family is concerned. Touring is narcissistic to say the least. "I have to be here, I have to sound-check, blah blah blah..." I get on with it and don't complain to those at home.
You’re returning to Cardiff this weekend following a few appearances last year including a memorable Roots Unearthed gig with Martyn Joseph at St David’s Hall. Do you enjoy playing Wales?
I loved playing at St. David's Hall with Martyn, and I have had a great time at every show I've ever played in Wales. I've also enjoyed exploring the beautiful countryside, visiting the writing cabin of Dylan Thomas and touring the mining museums. I admire the spirit of the Welsh I have met, warm & compassionate, but with a steely hard work ethic built on a strong sense of history, like the confluence of poetry and rugby.
What can people expect from your Cardiff show?
I'm excited to play many tunes from Human Kindness as well as some new songs and catalog favorites. I'll have my 9-string baritone along on this tour as well, so some songs I couldn't play on the last tour will be in the running.
What are you enjoying listening to at the moment?
I'm searching for melodies these days. So much contemporary music seems to feel flat in that regard to me. I've been listening to Neil Young's Harvest record as autumn kicks into gear here. Also, Dark Side of the Moon continues to inspire me as one of the best productions ever. Jeff Beck Wired is the disc to drive to. Finally, Bruce Cockburn's Nothing but a Burning Light has been creeping in there as well.
- Willy Porter plays Cardiff’s Beulah Community Centre on October 3. For further information contact 07792 798564.
- A version of this Q&A appeared in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on October 2, 2015.