International Women’s Day has come and gone, but we at THP are all about female empowerment every single day. We were stoked to have the opportunity to chat with PORTES, a Guatemalan-American singer-songwriter that’s proved herself as a force to be reckoned with. We delve into her new EP, National Anthems, causes she’s passionate about, church choir and more.
Your music makes it obvious that you’re a very vocal activist. Specifically, your lyrics in National Anthems make jabs at the Trump administration. Is it intimidating to be so overtly controversial?
The preparation before actually sharing the music was really important. I knew it was going to be controversial. I consulted with my entertainment lawyer. I sent him the lyrics and scratch demos and had a conference call with him and my mother who is also a lawyer, she practices family law. The important takeaway was that my songs and music were protected by the First Amendment.
I have the right to creatively express my thoughts, feelings, and frustrations. We live in a great country because of that. My due diligence helped me to step out boldly in my faith and truth. I have to remind myself to be brave daily, but I’m doing it and that’s a great feeling to have in yourself.
Corruption is something you dive into in your song ‘In Lockstep”. What would you say to any fans that are facing those issues head-on?
I believe people have to be bold, brave, and courageous. It’s not easy, but the alternative is for someone to be disenfranchised or excluded. When we start “othering” a group of people we cause discord in our society. We always think “it can never happen to me”, but what happens when you become the one who is excluded? We should learn to be empathetic. Conflict can be very difficult and we may not always be in a position to do what is right for ourselves, but not advocating for ourselves can make the problem worse. I recently started therapy to help with the conflicts in my life and I can say from personal experience that it has been one of the best decisions in my life. Again, it helped me step boldly into that unknown that I may face with my music, or just in general with life.
Politics are obviously important to you. Besides that, are there any other causes you feel strongly about?
PORTES: I really care about the abuse and neglect of animals. There are a number of organizations that I support financially for the good work that they do to rescue animals.
Most musicians just want to write music about their own life experiences. Did you wake up one morning and think, “I need to make music that sends a stronger message”? What made you take this route in your art?
Truthfully, when I started writing music in high school it wasn’t my first thought to be an activist. I was writing about love and breakups. When I examine the hundreds of songs I’ve written, I recall a song written in 2012 called, ‘Injured Bird’ which is about a school shooter. What happened in the shooter’s life to cause them to plan and execute such a tragedy? I grew up near Columbine High School, so I’m very sensitive to school shootings and the community in which I live is very on guard, especially around 4/20.
I also have a children’s music project and there are two songs on my kid’s album that are gender-bending songs and the lyrics are, “It’s okay to be yourself and like the things you like. Be true to who you want to be and you’ll find you’re happy.” I want children to become their authentic selves no matter what that means and to love themselves. A song like ‘Human’, my last single and songs on National Anthems are meant for people to ruminate and act on with regard to improving the environment or social injustices. What drew me into the art form is that I simply love music. I’ve been a voracious reader and I love words and language.
A lot of your musical history has been in church choir. Was it a big change to become an independent artist? Are there things you’ve learned that have carried over from choir to now?
PORTES: Singing in church has been an integral part of my musicianship and development as an artist. I still sing in church. In church, I sight read complex music and it helps me with the harmonies in my own songs.
When you’re writing music, do you have a topic in mind that you want to shout to the world, or do you just let the words flow out of you naturally?
PORTES: The activism in my music came about organically. With ‘Human’, it just happened. However, with National Anthems, I was very intentional. I like for things to flow naturally. I usually start with a phrase that catches my ear and the music builds off of that or, I hear a cool sound with my record producer and we save it for another session and that’s how we started writing ‘Pressure’. I definitely wanted a Nine Inch Nails sounding song and then with all the political rhetoric, everything just came together. The music was easy to write, but finessing the lyrics happened up to the day of recording final vocals and even afterwards. Sometimes, you have to tweak things.
Out of the five songs on National Anthems, is there a particular song you want your fans to pay attention to the most? Is there a song that sticks out as exceptionally important?
PORTES: A song like, ‘In Lockstep’ is just so in your face and with Trump’s cronies following suit no matter what (including down a barrel of a gun), everyone should pause and redirect their moral compass. The song that I hope listeners take a moment to really listen to is ‘Lazarus’. My lyrics are intertwined with the infamous words of poet, Emma Lazarus whose poem is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. The poem is called The New Colossus. She really says it best. She offers us a template of how we should embrace all foreigners into this country. She extends open arms, gates, and a door. She never mentions closed borders or a wall!
Do you think that all artists have a responsibility to use their platforms to make a stand, or do you think it’s purely personal conviction?
PORTES: I don’t think there’s a mandate for artists to use their voice for social justice. Some artists may not want to or just not be mature enough to do so. I do think if you have a platform to introduce an idea or conviction that you should use it. I want people to share these songs with others and it’s only through sharing that the message gets out there. You don’t necessarily have to like what I have to say or the music in and of itself, but that’s sort of the point. I can have supporters and critics, but in the end it’s still about the message. I’m frustrated and luckily I have this passion to write music and use my creativity to empower myself and others.
Thank you so much to PORTES for taking the time to answer our questions! We’re always stoked to find more women in music that stand up for issues that are important to them. Let us know how you feel about National Anthems in the comments here or on Twitter @TheHoneyPop!
Featured Image Source: Parker Bark Productions