M. Lockwood Porter acknowledges that a song title like "The Dream is Dead" might be construed as "pessimistic or negative." But the Tulsa-based singer-songwriter believes the energetic track and its video, premiering exclusively below, has a more uplifting message behind it.
"For me it's a hopeful song, a hopeful sentiment," Porter, whose new album, Communion in the Ashes, comes out March 29, tells Billboard. "In a lot of the song I am detailing problems in our society. When a lot of people realize that the American Dream they thought you might achieve may not exist, it's traumatic. But afterwards you're kind of freed up to imagine all sorts of other ways of living. It's kind of like a first step to imagining a whole new way we could organize society."
The video, meanwhile, depicts the Yale-educated Porter playing a kind of Johnny Appleseed character, posting flyers featuring an assortment of affirmations (actually the album's song titles) in public places – not always with a positive results. "I'm kind of like this Pied Piper trying to inspire people, or at least plant a seed that you may not have everything you want or you might not like the life you have, but it isn't over. You can still try to make it better, somehow," he says. "We present it as something that's not gonna be easy; I don't have 100 percent success and I get turned down and beaten up. But there are little glimmers of hope in there, too."
Most of Communion in the Ashes offers Porter's reflections on a society bitterly divided by polarized politics from the perspective of somebody who lived in Berkeley and Oakland, Calif., for the past 13 years before returning to his native Oklahoma.
It's a bit of a new tact for Porter, too. "I wanted to make something that felt like it's of this time because there's so much happening and it felt like such ripe ground for material," explains Porter, who taught in the San Francisco school system. "I spent many years writing about the problems in my own life. I feel like this record is a turn towards trying to find solutions, and the kind of overarching solution to me is trying to build some sort of community and find some sort of togetherness that can help solve some of these problems, either your own or on a wider scale, political or economic."
The other fresh approach on Communion in the Ashes is Porter's collaboration with his "dystopian gospel band," players he's been working with for years -- some in other groups and projects -- but who he charged with more creative input this time around. "On all of my other records the format has been I write all the songs, I bring them in to the band, I give a lot of direction about what people play and they play it," notes Porter, who will begin touring in support of the album during April. "I wanted this record to be much more collaborative, so we blocked off an entire week and went to Chico, Calif., and were in the studio almost around the clock coming up with parts and production ideas on the spot. It was very quick and intuitive. Everybody was throwing all their ideas into the pot and stirring them up. It was a lot less top-down for me as a bandleader, and I think that really added something to this album.”