There are a few artists that truly embody soulfulness and the essence of life into their music, it’s not an easy feat to do. That exact talent is par for the course however with two-time Grammy-winning recording artist Gregory Porter. The California native is hitting the stage this week in the City of Brotherly Love and will be lighting up the Kimmel Center’s stage with his immersive repertoire, including performing songs from his sixth studio album, “All Rise” coming out in April.
Porter sat down with Metro to discuss his inspirations, what drives him to put his whole self into his music and what he most looks forward to when performing on stage.
How did you get started as a recording artist?
I think music was probably my first love, I was musical singing in churches as a little boy and all throughout my years up until high school. But I was also a good athlete and I actually went to San Diego State on a football scholarship. After injuring myself I really started to involve myself in music and theater. That was really the slow start of my career, there are a lot of stops and starts to a music career, but that was when I began immersing myself wholly. I guess I was 22 after college was when I really dove in harder, just putting myself out there. I was actually singing in a nightclub in San Diego, and a producer for one of the local regional theaters saw me and thought I would be perfect for this acapella doo-wop musical that they had that was originating out of New York. I joined that cast and did several other theater pieces and in a way, my music and my theater career go hand in hand as well, until 2004 when I stopped theater to solely focus on getting a music career together, and so here we are.
When you were first starting could you ever imagine your career progressing the way it has?
No, I couldn’t, I didn’t know anybody in the music industry. Knowing what little I knew about the process of making music and having a career in music, I’m glad that I didn’t hit when I did because I didn’t know anything. I lived a life and I had ups and downs in life and relationships, nothing tragic—just normal life. But I think this normal life has helped me and the maturity has helped me in my songwriting and my stage presence and just kind of the way I’ve been doing things in my music career. But I never could have imagined it, no. Maybe my mother could have imagined it before she passed away, because she told me to not forget about music and to focus on it—so she believed in me probably even more than I believed in myself in terms of music. I still consider myself a small-town Bakersfield boy, even though I’ve been around the world and seen some of my idols and seen some of these people who are high profile—it all just blows me away still.
What went into making your 6th studio album “All Rise” coming out in April?
This is quintessentially my process, I’m harvesting from my life experiences and the things that I love and the things that I want to talk about. The ups and downs, the optimism that I have about love and family stories. The song “Dad Gone Thing” is really about my father being very close but having nothing to do with my life or raising me and realizing that the gift that I have from him is the gift that I use every day and that’s my singing voice. I kind of harvest from personal experience and things that move me emotionally—that’s what I did on this record. I’m also combining my band that I’ve traveled with over the years with a symphony orchestra. It’s jazz but also it has a little bit of funk influence and soul influence, classic RnB, and gospel is definitely there throughout the music. This has been my process from my first record, to stay within the tradition of jazz but also bring in the cousins of jazz, which are gospel, jazz and funk. I do always tell the stories that are personal to me, that way it’s always authentically true and genuine. I don’t have to take a pill to tell the truth about one of these songs. They come from me, so it’s what I believe.
What do you like about being able to take these personal songs on the road and perform them in front of audiences?
I think the individual connection that is made with audiences around the world, and every audience is different. I say that, but at the same time, it may be the South of France, it may be Korea, it may be Japan, it may be Atlanta—we are all still the same. There is something that connects us about love and life, and they move us just the same. But with the individual audience, you become one with them, it’s a personal thing. You give them something and they give you something back. I look forward to having that and introducing some of these new songs with my older repertoire as well.
Is there a song that you are the most excited to perform live and share with people?
I was asking myself that question this morning. I love ruminating about love, and with the song “If Love Is Overrated” I really find myself falling into [it], just throwing out the poetry in this lyric and thinking about what it means. The playful poetry and the metaphors that I use in the song and the feeling that love can be so confusing and so perplexing, but it’s also the very thing you want the most. So that’s what I’m talking about in the song, and for me, I think that’s been one of the favorites on the records. But it changes actually pretty often.
Catch Gregory Porter Feb. 10 at the Kimmel Center, for tickets visit kimmelcenter.org