Cheval Sombre – Interview

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The songwriter Christopher Porpora – Cheval Sombre – coming from NY, has performed at the antient Carcere Borbonico during the festival  La Bella Estate in Avellino last July 12th. This is our interview.

What did inspire your album “Mad Love” and why
did you say that it’s “a long delirious swoon”?

Well you know, many aspects of this life could be
described as long, delirious swoons. For instance,
being in the garden at the prison in Avellino felt
that way to me, after being so graciously welcomed
at the train station in such swelling, hot weather,
after having a lovely beer amidst all the fragrant
lavender, mint and sage there at the bookshoppe,
after being in the excellent company of folks who
have a particular aesthetic — something
unnameable, something just so. Mad Love was
produced under such circumstances, just in New
York. Deep, troublesome, sensual longings in the
countryside, in the depths of the Hudson Valley,
long, endless bottles of cava opened in Brooklyn,
corks drawn from dark green glass, the beauties of
friendship fizzing over the soundboard in the
studio just hours before the dawn, music — the
lushness of music — of guitars, strings, of song, of
organs passing nights away, hidden, protected from
the usual noise of life. When it was all wrapped up,
finished, and the record was coming out, there was
no other way of describing it I suppose. It was like
waking after some heavy slumber with a faint taste
of sweetness on the mouth.

Who did you work with in the making of this
album and what are the other bands you play with
when you don’t play solo?

Just before I came out to Italy I played a show in

Minneapolis, and Dean and Britta and Sonic Boom
were with me on stage. It’s quite a band when we
get cooking together. We four will do it when we
have the chance, especially if we are booked at the
same place at the same time. That line-up is what
we call luxury. We’ve all been playing together for
quite some time now — since the making of the
first Cheval Sombre album — almost six years
now? Dean and Britta contributed some beautiful
stuff to Mad Love as well. I worked closest with
Pete though, on every song. We did it in a
wonderful studio called Blanker Unsinn which no
longer exists. It was MGMT’s place. Those guys
helped make the album too, playing some beautiful
parts, creating a lovely atmosphere in which to
work. Gillian Rivers, an exceptional strings player,
did some breathtaking parts. Truthfully, many folks
got involved with the record, contributing in all
kinds of ways. It was, in many ways, an idyllic
situation. The great constant though was Nick
Kramer, with whom I did the first album as well.
His expertise got everything recorded and
astonishingly. I’ve done shows with Nick and
Gillian too, and some other very special folks over
the years. I have treasured each experience live,
and have felt blessed in every configuration.
Playing with Pete and Dean and Britta recently
was like playing in an expansive, pulsating
orchestra, vast. Having the chance to play solo in
Italy gave me an opportunity to reveal something
really very intimate to audiences, stripped-down as
I was simply to guitar and voice. I discovered that
there is a glorious lushness in both — accompanied
and alone. Each show is an opportunity for great
beauty and deliverance for all of us, and I feel
fortunate and grateful to be able to share these
things — especially through song.

On the cover of your last record there’s one of
Emma Hauck’s letters. Why did you choose this
work of “outsider art”?

Sharon Lock, the great artist based in London,
introduced me to those letters. Looking at those
letters, how can I say — I felt instantly connected.
The intensity, the sentiment, the dedication, the
surrender — all of it very much spoke to me. The
cover art of Mad Love is Sharon’s vision. An
interpretation perhaps of the kindred nature of
Hauck’s letters and what the music often expresses.
Wonderfully executed. Sublime, really.

Tell me something about your covers. What’s the
traditional song you played in your live session in

I find it difficult to explain what draws me close to
a song — there’s much mystery in it. I enjoy the
mystery and no longer feel the need to figure it out.
When I do a cover, I am honouring a song which
has in some way deepened my experience of this
life. In Avellino I played “Once I Had a
Sweetheart”. Looking back now I suppose it was it
was an appropriate song to play in an old prison. It
was one of my favourite venues on the tour —
what a strange, mystical place — a prison amidst a
beautiful, delicate garden. “Once I Had a
Sweetheart” flowed naturally there. I’m just
thinking about this now for the first time — about
the demands put upon a love once one gets locked
up. How horrifying, how awful. There’s a recorded
version of that song on Mad Love. I first heard it on
a live album of Joan Baez.

Are you writing something for a new album?

Well I should say that I am writing — perhaps less
than usual but still writing. Your question just
made me have a quick look around and I count
seven or more new ones. We’ll see which shape it
all takes. I’d like to write one about my short time
in Avellino, about the splendour of that place and
the loveliness of its people. Maybe it’ll come. I
won’t force it. But something tells me there’ll be
another recording, at some point. Another cover, or
two, too.

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