“I heard her sing, and that changed my life.” – Cole Porter
At first glance Cole and Kendra Porter, the married couple behind Porter Union, are remarkably reminiscent of Johnny and June, Jessi and Waylon, even Porter and Dolly, or Loretta and Conway. As one of Country’s most genuine, talented contemporary duos, however, they do anything but merely fall in line behind the legends. The Porters met in what could only be a setting fit for a country song. Kendra, then a waitress at the local bar in their hometown of Republic, Missouri, and Cole, the singer/songwriter who played there on weekends, came together the better part of a decade ago. Cole wasn’t aware that Kendra was a singer/songwriter when they first met, but her talent ended up changing the trajectory of their lives forever. Now, as they live and write and work together, the Porters rely on one another’s unique musical gifts to create stunningly touching new music.
“The first time we hung out, Kendra came over, and we sat down with the guitar and wrote “The Trailer Song,” Cole explained as the couple talked about their writing process together. “I had this idea for a song–kind of a funny look at marriage. I started it, and Cole helped me finish it. We ended up recording it down the road–but we started right off the bat writing together,” Kendra added as she reminisced about their earliest days as friends.
Porter Union’s self-titled debut album is a result of their collaborative nature as songwriters and their shared passion for original, organically composed music. With eleven original songs, the couple elaborates on the trials and tribulations of relationships; bringing to light some of the highest highs and lowest lows of falling both in and out of love. “This album was more collaboration than I think we’ve ever done as far as writing together. We had Cole Porter Band before Porter Union, but that was more of a harmony thing. This time we wanted to do something fully together and fully back and forth,” Cole explained their decision to write the way they did, while Kendra elaborated more on their process. “We definitely wanted this album to be fully written together with duo style songs. We also wanted that old south sound that we’ve always loved to go into the album. There were songs we didn’t realize were going to be duets until we got in with our producer and he said “that’d be a great duo”– so we ended up splitting a lot of songs in two.”
The couple’s artistic synergy is apparent in many of the songs on the album; one would never guess Kendra began many of them on her own, only to take them home to Cole for the finishing touches. “One song I wrote–Walked Away–I wrote it the day before we went into the studio. I came up with the line “If she had walked away” and I was specifically thinking about June Carter Cash. If she had left Johnny, how different would the story be? The night before our producer, Joshua Thompson, got into to town to start recording we sent the song to him, and he knew it had to go on the album. Cole actually wrote what I think is the best line in the song, “If she had never tried, or stayed and fought, never drew that line for him to walk”. Cole put that line in there.”
“Thief,” like “Walked Away,” was another brainchild of Kendra’s that the couple ultimately wound up penning together. Kendra went on to explain the advent of this song, laughing about how many she’s begun in the couple’s almost ten years to have Cole help her finish. “I think I wrote “Thief” like I do a lot of my songs- I was singing in my car! No radio, just singing. “I’ll steal your name,” the very beginning, just kind of came out. I brought it home to Cole, and he loved it and helped me finish it like he does most of my songs! The song was obviously inspired by Cole stealing my heart, and my stealing his last name. After that, we pitched it to our band and started developing it.”
Cole and Kendra added that this was a very collaborative song with their band, “Once we got into the studio this song really took on a whole other persona, if you will. This was one song where we started on it, we had all these different ideas of where to take it, but there was so much excitement surrounding it that we almost couldn’t gather our thoughts. We knew there was a right feel to the song and we so badly wanted to get it right. Josh Thompson made us stop and catch our breath partway through it. We came back into the studio and started with the symbol swell at the beginning and the rest just sort of fell in to place. The song became something really cool and unique on the album, which I think is one reason why a lot of people have gravitated toward that song when we play it.”
The band behind Cole and Kendra has been crucial to their success as they fully compose the songs they’ve written and tour the country together. The Porters elaborated on their band family, the differences between an acoustic set and a full band performance, and what they hope to accomplish with the guys who support them every day. “I think there are two incredible feelings you can get when you’re performing. One of these feelings comes from a very intimate crowd that is completely silent as you’re singing a song, and then there’s a crowd that goes crazy after the end of a full band show. They’re both a lot of fun to do. You can get the same amazing level of energy from a crowd that’s dead silent as you can from a crowd going wild. They’re different energies, but they hit your heart in similar ways,” Kendra mused as she compared the differences in performances.
“We have great guys in the band,” Cole explained, “Chris Heifner used to play bass with us, but he had a baby and decided to get off the road. We love Chris and wish him nothing but the best. Now we have Justin Boswell, and Tyler Giles is back playing steel [guitar] with us. We do like to mix it up between acoustic and full band shows. The duo/acoustic thing is a really great way to connect with people and build lifelong friends and fans in a new place. It’s usually more intimate; with a smaller, quieter setting people can really focus on what you’re saying and it winds up being a totally different type of show than a full band set. It’s been an awesome way to make connections and create little families in each of these different towns we get to go to. Once we build those places up and it makes sense to bring the band in, we do. The bigger shows have a ton of energy, but it’s a different kind, as Kendra said. Our goal is ultimately to be able to travel with our band and do both acoustic and full sets. Both types of shows have a spot in our heart. We love our band, we love traveling with them and the energy that comes from them. We will get to the point where we have a band touring, but we also have the opportunity to pull back and do our acoustic sets when they make sense. The acoustic sets are just good for the soul; you get this chance to pour your heart out to a group of people who are there to really listen to you.”
Seeing success across the country has not made Cole or Kendra forget how truly fun and inspiring this life they get to lead is. With both humor and humility the couple explained what it’s like to work alongside some of their biggest influences and, in some cases, call some of their heroes friends. “One of the really cool things of our career is that we’ve gotten to play with people we were fans of. You know- you get there with these people you looked at as heroes and you try to act like you’ve been in that situation before when it happens and not act like a total dork, but its hard sometimes! People say don’t ever meet your heroes because they’ll let you down. That’s not true; everyone we’ve met and looked up to has been so cool. It’s been a really nice experience, learning and knowing that there are genuinely good people in this business. You also get to a point where you get to play with your friends- it’s our absolute favorite. You don’t always get to see your friends who are musicians because you’re always going in a million different directions. When you do it’s like a big reunion. It’s such a blast; everyone is supportive and singing on stage together and having fun.
To round out our time with Kendra and Cole, we asked them about some heroes they haven’t met. A nearly impossible question for any artist to answer: if you could choose anyone in your genre to perform with, who would it be? “I would love to sit down with Roger Miller. I think he was a creative genius well beyond his time, and an absolute nutjob. He would have been a blast to hang around; I love kooky, creative minds like that,” Cole laughed as he debated on who to choose. Kendra had a much easier time choosing than Cole did. “Mine is one hundred percent easy. Dolly Parton. Even if we didn’t play a show with her, I just want to meet her and hug her. I just want to hug her. She has always been so engaging. I love watching her old duets-anyone she was with she was just so funny. It wasn’t just a show with Dolly, it was a full blown performance from the moment she walked on stage, no matter where she was or what she was doing or who she was with. And her heart! I love that she is not afraid to be who she is and love everyone in the process. Yea, I want to hug Dolly.”
Cole and Kendra are the epitome of humble, kind artists. Not only their music, but their attitudes are what draw fans in and will keep them by the couple’s side for years to come. From openly recognizing their heroes and their biggest support systems to referring to their fans as family, it is clear that the path to stardom for these two is paved from the hard work, love, and humility that built their foundations in small town Missouri. Their music, filled with gorgeous melodies and deeply personal lyrics, is the perfect other half to the equation; the Porters will no doubt go down in country music history as the next great duo.
The Porters are departing on their Texas Acoustic Tour soon, to include the following dates and venues:
To see where Cole and Kendra Porter are up to after their tour, or to purchase tickets, check them out on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and be sure to check out their debut album on Spotify and Apple Music.