Fresh off of USA Network’s Real Country stage, Cole and Kendra Porter, known together as Porter Union, have been given a great new platform and have earned many new fans from the show.
But before they earned that platform, the couple was working to earn their opportunities, playing their music all over the country, and releasing their excellent self-titled debut in June of 2017.
The end of the Real Country experience brings forward new opportunities for the duo, who are set to release an album in 2019. Hear all about their time on Real Country, get the stories behind some of the standout tracks on their debut album, how traveling the country together has strengthened their relationship, and more!
Pro Country: Who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up?
Cole: I grew up listening to country radio in the late 80’s and a good portion of the 90’s, so that had big influence on me. My parents also introduced me to guys like Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Roger Miller. In my teen years, I was mostly into rock n’ roll; a lot of classic and southern rock along with some modern rock. I got back into country and roots music when I discovered guys like Jason Boland and Hayes Carll coming out of Oklahoma and Texas.
Kendra: The first cassette tape that was my very own was Lee Ann Womack. I got it on my 6th or 7th birthday, and listened to it nonstop. I also grew up around a lot of old southern gospel visiting the church my Grandpa preached at. I remember focusing on the music there before I could barely speak and feeling so overwhelmed by emotions at all the different harmonies. As I got older, my parents listened to a lot of country radio, and my dad played steel guitar in our living room. He was one of my biggest influences. I don’t think I could have been anything but a country singer even if I wanted to. I did see The Eagles and Styx in concert thanks to my dad. And obsessed over some Carly Simon thanks to my mom. They made sure to keep it diverse.
PC: Was there a specific moment you guys knew you wanted to make music for a living?
Cole: I can’t really recall any single moment that it dawned on me. When I first started, I just played because I loved the music. I had always dreamed of being a professional musician, but I couldn’t compare myself to the guys that I looked up to that made a living at it. Lack of confidence for sure. Over time, I got better and gained more confidence, and slowly came to realize that I have a legitimate shot at making a lasting career out of a passion.
Kendra: It was always a dream of mine. I was definitely the little girl singing into a hair brush and practicing my award speeches (laughs). But as I got older, life and everything around me made me think that being a singer for a living wasn’t a realistic goal to have. It wasn’t until I met Cole (around 2010) that I actually thought it could be a career. He was just playing around local bars at that point, but he really showed me that no dream is out of reach if you just give it your all.
PC: In 2013, the Cole Porter Band released its debut album, which featured a bit more of a southern rock/swampy sound than Porter Union’s record. Was there anything in particular that led to this shift in sound to the more traditional style on the Porter Union record?
Cole: I think we all had a lot of rock n’ roll still running through our veins, and that just came out in the music back then. Kendra and I both share the same love for more traditional country music, but also the soul and roots music and the Americana sound. That’s the kind of music that feeds us, and it’s the kind of music that we would play when it was just the two of us. So when we decided to team up and form Porter Union, it just made since to follow our hearts.
PC: At what point was the decision made to create Porter Union after the Cole Porter Band had been playing for several years?
Cole: It wasn’t like a switch just flipped one day. Kendra and I both grew up listening to the more traditional sounding country music (thanks to our parents), and that’s where we felt our hearts really were. Around 2015, this company hired us to travel all over the country playing these 4-hour acoustic gigs for their customers. We went from having a loud band always accompanying us to a quiet stage with just the two of us. We were forced backed to the basics. We had to figure how to entertain people and ourselves for 4-hours with just a couple guitars and some songs. We just naturally gravitated to that more traditional sound and we just came to realize that this is what we truly loved, and where we wanted to take our music.
Kendra: The more rock n’ roll stuff was so fun. And it really taught us a lot in those early years. But when we started playing more songs- just the two of us- we really grew into a true duo even if we didn’t mean to. We loved telling our stories and sharing our life through our music, so it just made sense to make that change.
PC: Were either of you feeling any pressure- internally or externally, when writing/recording Porter Union’s debut album? Is there any stress involved with making and releasing a “first record” for a band?
Cole: I think you always put a little bit of pressure on yourself when you’re making a record, but the beauty of being independent is that you don’t have any outside pressure. We can do whatever we’d like musically. So it was fairly painless making music that we love. We were more excited than anything. We were definitely curious about how people would respond, but I think that’s pretty typical too.
Kendra: I felt pressure for sure. Not from anyone other than myself though. I was scared that people wouldn’t love the change we made. That they wouldn’t like it as much as they liked the Cole Porter Band stuff. But ultimately, I loved the songs we had written, I love the music that was built around and for them, and I believed in it all. I couldn’t be happier with how that album ended up.
PC: “Don’t You Know” is a song that has really struck a chord with people. What do you think it is about that song that song that has connected with your people in that way?
Kendra: “Don’t You Know” has been the most life changing song we’ve written so far. It was originally written during a time when our country was in a lot of pain, and I wanted to write a song illustrating that we’re all in this together. The more I wrote, the more it turned into a love/heartbreak song. Cole helped me finish it, and I think I felt it as soon as we first sang it in public. I felt that people felt it. I think the original intention of the song still comes through, and people have adopted it to their own lives and struggles. I remember thinking when I was younger that all I wanted was to write a song that impacted someone I’ve never met in my life the way so many of my heroes had moved me through music. “Don’t You Know” did that.
PC: Some of the standout tracks on the Porter Union record are heartbreak songs, such as “Out of Spite,” “Over You,” and “Walked Away,” and these tracks come across brutally honest. How are you able to create that honesty/believability in those types of songs as a happily married couple?
Cole: Even happily married couples have trouble sometimes, and it’s certainly not lost on us how much work goes into a good marriage. Like most writers though, we don’t only draw from our own personal experiences. There’s so much heartbreak in the world, and sometimes that inspires a song.
Kendra: Being in love doesn’t mean being blind. We always want to write about real life. That’s what we know, and that’s what people connect with most.
PC: “The Child” is one of my personal favorites on the album. Can you guys talk about the writing process/inspiration behind that song?
Kendra: “The Child” was the hardest song I’ve ever written. It was inspired by my parents and their struggles. I reached a point in my life when I really started looking back on what all transpired through their divorce, and I realized it wasn’t as black and white as I had once thought. It’s a weird thing when you realize your parents are human and make mistakes. I was terrified for both of my parents to hear it, and actually sent them the final cut of it right before the album went to print via email. I was too scared to watch them listen in person (laughs). They both were so supportive and proud of the song.
PC: What do you hope people take away from the Porter Union record when they listen all the way though?
Cole: I hope they laughed, cried, and thought deeply about something in their life. Music has always taken me inward and forced me to wrestle with ideas or emotions that I had swept under the rug. I hope it moves people the same way other records have moved me.
Kendra: I hope they feel the way we feel when we listen to music that we love. I wish I could bottle that feeling up.
PC: How did the opportunity for Real Country come to you?
Cole: A scout for USA Network called us one day and asked if we were interested in meeting with them to see if we were a good fit for their show. Apparently they got our name from Miranda Lambert’s mom, Beverly. So we went down to Texas to meet the with the producers and play a few songs for them. The meeting was early in the morning, and we had driven over night from a show in Iowa, so we didn’t think it went very well on our end. I guess they thought it was good enough, and so did Travis Tritt. We met the Mr. & Mrs. Lambert while we were there. Very sweet people.
Kendra: We were in the studio when we got the call. Cole was working on producing an album at the time. I honestly wasn’t sure if it was real or something we’d end up wanting to be a part of. I’m glad we did it though.
PC: As performers, what is it like to perform for artists with the collective success of Travis Tritt, Shania Twain and Jake Owen? What did their kind words following your performances mean to you, and what kind of validation do you take away from moments like that?
Cole: Honestly, I wasn’t as intimidated performing in front of them as I thought I would be. Travis obviously thought we deserved to be there, so I just pushed any fear to the back of my mind and tried to focus doing what we always do. I’m not going to lie though, it was pretty damn cool to hear Travis Tritt say that we gave him “chill bumps.” He’s one of my all-time favorites, so that’s definitely a moment I’ll hold on to.
Kendra: I don’t think I really understood how big of an experience it was all going to be until we watched it back the day it aired. I was full of nerves and excitement and the actual filming day went by so fast. It almost seems like a dream. I do know that on stage, all I thought about was looking at Cole and just doing what we do. That helped me a ton. Looking back on it, I really can’t believe some of the kind things that were said from such successful artists.
PC: What are the biggest things you guys can take away from the entire Real Country experience?
Cole: Always just be yourself, especially in a big opportunity like that. You got there by being yourself, so don’t try to make a big change just because it’s a big moment. Own who you are.
Kendra: Enjoy it. Like I said, it all went by so fast, and I wish now that I had taken the time to really let it sink in how incredible it all was.
PC: How has traveling across the US playing music helped build your relationship both on and off the stage?
Cole: Ever since we got together, we’ve been on the road playing music, so our relationship has definitely been shaped by our love for music. It’s been an amazing experience, but it’s not always easy. We’ve gotten pretty good at learning from those difficult moments though, and I believe that if we can make it out on the road, we can make it anywhere.
Kendra: I think we’ve grown as people and artists together through all these years. We’ve learned how to balance working, living, and traveling together and loving each other through it all. We really are best friends, and we love what we do, so that makes this seem like we’re getting away with murder.
PC: What are your plans for the near future?
Cole: We’re looking to put out a new record this year, with some other cool stuff coming sooner rather than later, so keep an eye out!
Kendra: We’re gonna keep on keeping on. We’re so thankful for everyone’s support and love over the years. Our friends, family and fans are the only reason we get to do what we love.
*All images courtesy of Porter Union website*