The Evolution of Willy Porter

Art by Natalia Zuckerman

Art by Natalia Zukerman

Willy Porter is on a journey; as are we all.  Despite the archetypal scripts we write for ourselves, Life rarely seems to listen to our pitches.  And while this drives most of us crazy, Willy embraces it; at least for the purpose of his craft.  Once in a while, during our personal treks, we hear a resonant chord and a soft-spoken voice from the ghost in the machine.  It could be a moment of clarity or transcendence, or, then again, it could be a Willy Porter tune.   

He observes his world like a boy drifting down a river in a raft, and many regard his songs as snapshots of what he sees.  I prefer to think of them as sketches.  (While a snapshot could be mere recorded observation, a sketch always involves the artist’s active hand.)  Some are simple and minimalist attempts to capture a moment, while others are abstractions inspired by a kind of Universal Honesty.    

His latest release, How to Rob a Bank, is true to form; and truth is something Willy has been searching for his whole career.  Where many song writers use the word “love,” Willy has invariably replaced it with “truth.”  It is, after all, the essence of love.  Would you rather be in love, or would you rather be in true love?

The theme recurs regularly throughout his entire discography, but each song is a different sketch, produced during a different phase of his growth.  My favorite album, what I believe is his consummate collection of sketches, is still Falling Forward.  What can I say; it resonated deeply and continues to. 

One example of his latest musical foray into the visual is the song Too Big to Sell, his homage to the painters who dared to see what no one else could.  And while many of their works are posthumously coveted, by accident or design, others could not be.

Willy is not blindly Pollyannaish, however.  The richness of Willy’s world, like that of Willy himself, is fluid.  It does not consist solely of blue skies and boundless freedom; there are briars and mud as well.  In renewal there is entropy, and in entropy there is death and sorrow.  Thankfully, Willy casts his unflinching third eye onto these scenes as well.  (If you can listen to One More September off of Available Light and not feel a lump in your throat, you likely aren’t human.)

Psychic Vampire off of his latest release is a dysfunctional tale of codependence and our blind addiction to anyone who offers to fill the desperate, empty places within us.  And it’s got an amazing hook. 

Every Willy Porter fan has experienced Willy’s soulful side, but Willy also possesses an impish sense of humor.  In How to Rob a Bank’s title track, he transforms that twinkle in his eye into a snappy ditty about unfettered greed with the sincerity and easy satire of a new-millennium Woody Guthrie.

Willy Porter is not about re-invention, but rather evolution; both spiritually and artistically, and whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we too are on a similar journey, and often we don’t know where or why.  One day, we just woke up walking.  We know that inertia will eventually carry us to our final destination, and the curtain will ring down.  Along the way, we encounter shiny shards of fractured truth that we attempt to reassemble into our purpose. 

Willy Porter’s How to Rob a Bank is one more piece of the puzzle.


P.S.  Much more at

There are 3 comments

  1. Dlyan~~Mellifluous writing, flowing smoothly, sweetly like honey, from the gut, true and clean. You’ve intrigued me to look for an MP3 of “Psychic Vampire” and to explore Porter’s discography. You sound like a professional music reviewer, but then, the basic meaning of “amateur” is that one does a thing out of love of for it. Maybe we share a similar problem: it’s not about bringing your out light from under a bushel, it’s about having so many lights they’re like a scattering of fireflies, which is pretty close to the image of “scintillating.” Phrases like “briars and mud” and the image of the boy on the raft taking snapshots are “forays into the visual” that make your writing muscular. Keep throwing off sparks, Sparky.

  2. Agreed. A solid effort from one of Milwaukee’s finest!

  3. Dylan,
    I am a long-time, hard core Porteracolyte and greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to give a sensitive, enthusiastic, and incredibly insightful read of Willy’s work. You encapsulate this disc perfectly and much of what Willy exudes professionally, personally, and artistically. As brother Martin Sexton says “it’s in the journey where we’re all gonna see that we can’t do it alone,” and isn’t it a blessing and a privilege to have such fine, fine traveling companions? Thanks again!