Cheval Sombre is the project of New York-based poet and musician Christopher Porpora. He’s published two books of poetry, Becoming and In Mine Eyes. Earlier this year, he released his self-titled debut album on Double Feature Records, the new label founded by Luna alums Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham. Porpora began writing and recording tracks in the early 2000s; eventually, the recordings found their way to Sonic Boom (Spaceman 3), who ended up producing his album.
I recently caught up with Christopher to discuss the album, shoegaze, and working with legends Sonic Boom and Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips.
Rollo & Grady: Tell me about your background as a musician.
Christopher: As a child, I was very much drawn to an old classical guitar of my father’s, on which I taught myself, with the help of some invaluable and patient guidance from my aunt. Growing up, I lived in a house where I recall music playing most of the time. There was a reverence for all types of music there. Sifting through the vinyl in the wooden cabinet, I recall being mystified looking at the sleeves on The Mamas & The Papas’ albums, obscure flamenco guitar records, various medieval recordings, Laura Nyro, even Donovan. The artwork always fascinated me – how it suggested the sounds inside. Billie Holiday could be playing one afternoon, while the next it might be a folk song sung in German, The Who, Bach, or Roxy Music. As I got into school, I discovered – through a small radio station nearby – The Modern Lovers and of course The Velvet Underground – sounds which got me playing along with those records, imagining I was the sixth member of the band, sitting on the edge of my bed with this old classical guitar. Around that time I also was very much absorbed by a certain radio show that played mostly Delta blues. I was fortunate enough to get a slot as a DJ there, young as I was, and skipped school once a week to do a show, in which I played everything from Genesis P-Orridge records to Sonic Boom’s Drone Dream wax, and everything between and beyond. I joined a band around that time, where I mostly played noise and feedback, just content really to be playing with somewhat like-minded folks. Did a long stint in an upstate band known by a few in a thoroughly wild place that no longer exists called The Rhinecliff Hotel; we played hour-long songs at full volume, drenched in delay. The Holy Trinity ended after a good run as a result of the tired old rock and roll clichés involving relationships and certain excesses. After that, I suppose I got to writing songs and recording alone, looking not to depend on others, doing home recordings, listening to stuff like Terry Riley, Alastair Galbraith, Nikki Sudden, Zbigniew Preisner compositions for film, anything really, anything which took me away…
Rollo & Grady: Why did you choose to perform under the name of Cheval Sombre?
Christopher: I guess you could say I was named by a certain clever one, and it stuck…
Rollo & Grady: In addition to being a musician, you’re also a published poet. Do you write about different themes when you write poetry than you do when you write music?
Christopher: Thematically, despite the medium, very similar concepts emerge. Love dominates as a theme and it always has – I imagine it always will. There is also, in both mediums, an obsession with Beauty, which has always been unrelenting. It is in the process of creation where the differences lie. Poetry, and writing in general, has always been a very deliberate act for me, where I often compose the same line several times in my head before writing it down. I will subject a piece to a rigorous editing even once I feel finished. What’s interesting is that often the final changes have to do with allowing the music inherent in the piece to reveal itself, unlocking the musicality of the words, allowing the syntax itself to sing out. When I write music, it’s often upon waking, after a melody was somehow presented to me in my dreams. I wake humming a tune, and I reach for the guitar to capture it. Words usually follow after I put the music together, and words come as I strum the guitar, and I sort of frantically jot them down as they do. Very little editing happens then – it’s as if songs come for the first time in an almost finished, whole state.
Rollo & Grady: Did any of your previously written poems make it onto the record?
Christopher: Not properly as finished pieces, but certain people who have inspired poems I’ve written in the past have indeed been the subject of some of the songs on the records. They continue to…