Creative inspiration can be born out of the most challenging of times. While adversity and gruelling experiences can set us back and make us feel hopeless, some of the most renowned musical works of our time have been fuelled by them. Using his past pains and inner demons as inspiration, Porter Robinson unveils his album Nurture. Taking us on an electro-pop journey filled with introspection, reflection and overcoming, the album is something to behold. Featuring production-heavy tracks – such as “Look at the Sky” and “Musician”, Robinson’s airy vocals and juxtaposed elation trickles out of the songs – all the while exploring the themes of overcoming creative blocks and mental illness.
“A lot of what you hear in the lyrics is me giving voice to this inner critical voice or this thing that’s consumed by doubts and fear,” explains Robinson. “It was really really hard to put a spotlight on those things, but in the end, I knew that vulnerability had to be shown. And I knew it was right because every time I would write a lyric that was really incisive and expressed some kind of fear perfectly, I would get this gut punch, and that’s how I knew it was the right lyric.”
Accompanied by surreal visuals – which are born out of a collaboration with Samuel Burgess-Johnson, the creative director that he shares with the 1975 – it is clear that the album is both a re-birth and a reflection. But, Robinson’s musical offerings don’t end here. Set to feature the likes of Baauer, Boys Noize and James Ivy, the singer-songwriter presents his Secret Sky Festival live stream. Choosing this as his stage to debut live performances from his latest album, the festival is sure to be a spectacular – and lockdown friendly – affair. With 2021 clearly set to be a very busy year for Porter Robinson, we couldn’t be more thrilled that he is back
Check out our intervew with Porter Robinson below…
Hi Porter, how has this last year been for you? How have you coped?
I remember the big day where everyone in the U.S. realised this was going to be super-serious, and that things weren’t going to be the same anymore – it was like two days after the second single dropped. At that point, I had no idea the album would be delayed by like a year because we still had no idea how long this thing would last. But as time went by, I tried to take it as an opportunity. I kept working on the album, added quite a few songs and got rid of some others that I hadn’t been totally in love with. In the end, I think the album really benefited from an extra year. It was like turning in your final paper and then the professor turns to you and goes, “Oh yeah, by the way, you get an extra year to improve this.” And at first, you’re like: “I wanted to be done!” but then you realise it’s a real opportunity.
Congratulations on your new album Nurture – your first in 7 years. What felt right about now to release the album? And how long has it been in the making?
I had this really strong desire to write and sing my own music. I had this sort of shift in perspective — I think a lot of my other music is really vast, and far-off, kind of dream-like. It feels pretty, but distant. I wanted this new album to feel beautiful, but also up-close and intimate. And what that ended up turning into for me was this album where I was writing all the lyrics and singing. A lot of what you hear in the lyrics is me giving voice to this inner critical voice or this thing that’s consumed by doubts and fear. It was really really hard to put a spotlight on those things, but in the end, I knew that vulnerability had to be shown. And I knew it was right because every time I would write a lyric that was really incisive and expressed some kind of fear perfectly, I would get this gut punch, and that’s how I knew it was the right lyric.
Nurture was the result of overcoming creative drought, depression and family illness – why that name?
The album is really all about trying to find meaning in creative work, about persistence, and about purposefully cultivating hope and love and things like that. So there’s this strongly personal aspect to it, where it’s about trying to become a better version of yourself. The ‘nature through a window’ art direction called to me so early on, and I realized that for me, nature is this aesthetic stand-in for health. It represents things being as they should be. And in personality development, we talk about “nature vs. nurture” — that’s what makes us into who we are. Your nature is the things that you’re born with, but your nurture includes your life experiences. And you can affect your life experiences, and you can change things for yourself. That’s why I loved the name Nurture — it invokes nature, but it puts a spotlight on how you can make things better for yourself and ultimately the world.
You’ve talked about suffering from imposter’s syndrome when putting together Nurture, despite all your years of success – what lifted you out of it?
The biggest thing for me that got me writing music and having fun again, rather than constantly trying to make music and failing and putting massive pressure on myself, was cultivating new interests outside of music. I genuinely think you can’t be creative in a vacuum. You can’t stare at a blank canvas and expect genius. You have to go do life. You need raw materials — you need, like, this giant compost pile of experiences and influences from which creativity can grow. Things like listening to albums, playing games, making new friends, taking risks, getting hurt, falling in love, all of those things. You won’t pull from all of it, but I don’t think you can be creative without them. Going out and experiencing real life made me realise that I actually love reality, and that allowed me to unclench that white-knuckle grip I had on my own sense of self as a creative person. Instead, I was just someone with interests to express, musical love letters to write, and most importantly, I had the ability to relax and be playful around what I was doing. That’s my biggest piece of advice.
At the start of lockdown you organised epic online festival Secret Sky, which has over 4 million people attend. Why was it important for you to find another avenue to connect people with music?
Honest-to-god, I just felt like music needed a moment during the pandemic. There was actually a ton of data showing that people were just streaming music less overall. Secret Sky felt like a total holiday for me, it was the most fun I’d had in ages. And it was like there was this pent-up creativity for all the artists, everyone came with such an amazing set.
And you released your single from the album, “Look At The Sky” with this amazing tongue-in-cheek video with all the ghosts – what did you want to evoke with it?
At first, this idea of a ghost band playing the instruments for me was something that Samuel and I really loved. It just seemed cute to have this song that sounded like it was made by a band, but was made by a single individual, so the band members would be these ghosts. I was almost thinking of it as this “Kyary Pamyu Pamyu” kind of video, how she has these mascots in her world that she interacts with. But as we developed the idea more, I started falling in love with this idea of showing how nobody is actually making music ‘alone’. Like, it occurred to me how, even if I produce and mix and master and write and sing everything, that there are so many fundamental things borrowed. Like the idea of music at all. Who thought of music? Who thought of the idea of there being 12 tones in an octave, 7 notes in a scale? The idea of meter and rhythm? People throughout history did amazing things like build pianos, build computers, software, samplers, all these things I rely on. I could never do it myself without human history. That’s what I wanted to put into clear focus: I wanted to show how art and culture can be like this massive, interwoven tapestry that we all can sew something onto, even if it’s in a minimal way.
The video was creatively directed by Samuel Burgess-Johnson, who is also your art director, who you share with The 1975 – how did that come about? Would you love to work with the band on anything?
I mentioned a few art directors who I was a fan of, and my manager reached out to Samuel. I think at that time, SBJ had been trying things out with a few new clients, but me and SBJ connected so so much. We share so much in terms of musical and visual taste — we just send each other things we think the other would love all the time. It’s actually shocking how much we have in common. SBJ and I have this massive text thread where we would just send visual references back and forth, little iPhone photos of mine, things of that nature. Ultimately, we wanted the album’s art direction to express all of those little nuances. Oh, also, SBJ just works harder than anyone I know. He’d just iterate on the same idea for hours, I would be feeling bad sometimes, but he’d just keep moving forward and eventually nail it.