Porter Robinson heads to the minibar and fishes out a Red Bull almost as soon as he enters the hotel suite. It’s been a long day for the 21-year-old producer, but he can’t help but pace the room as he speaks, his statements peppered with little bursts of enthusiasm. He’s excited about what’s to come—grueling work schedule be damned. Things have always seemed to move quickly for Robinson, though. He began composing beats on a family computer at age 13, in the same bedroom he still works in. “My family dynamic is eerily perfect—it’s a comfortable place for me to be writing music,” he explains. At the outset, his goal was to do little more than emulate some of his favorite musicians. By 18, he began making a name for himself as a DJ, spinning in clubs he was too young to patronize. Now, three years later, he’s about to leave the dance scene behind with the release of his pop-leaning debut, Worlds.
“It’s a weird way to go about a music career,” he admits. “Everything that I released up until now was a different genre every time.” Introduced by a 10-hour-long YouTube video, Worlds is a big, unabashed pop album, full of sweeping hooks and grand choruses inspired by his love of Passion Pit and The Postal Service.
A significant departure from his previous beat-driven work, the dramatic tonal shift has been confusing for some listeners. He laughs when recalling SoundCloud comments for the album’s first single, “Sea of Voices,” featuring Amy Millan of Stars. A large number of the dissenters called out Robinson for not producing another EDM track. “I expect some degree of backlash,” he says. “People who have been listening to me for three years are never going to shake the feeling of wanting to hear something like the first tracks I put out. It’s a really powerful psychological force.”
Worlds thrives on a similar sense of nostalgia. Inspired by the multiplayer games (particularly Star Wars Galaxies) that he played as a teenager, Robinson strove to create a virtual reality where the listener could feel totally engulfed—if only temporarily. “I’ve never talked about the album in this way before,” he says, pausing to gather his thoughts and take another slug of energy drink. “It has to do with games and fiction and dreams, the feeling that takes root when you read a book. These places totally exist and they aren’t real at all. But they feel real to you. It’s a very modern experience, to feel convinced of a place that’s not real. I’d say that fiction is a motif of the record. It has nothing to do with the real world.”
Of course, recording wasn’t an entirely high-concept, tightly conceived endeavor. In the 11th hour, and still looking for a singer for the Vocaloid software/human duet “Sad Machine,” Robinson was forced to work outside of his comfort zone. For the first time ever, he stepped behind the mic and sang the part himself. “I was like, ‘Hey, do you have any alcohol?’” he recalls, laughing. “‘I’m going to go take three shots and sing my ass off!’”
-words by Laura Studarus
-photographed by Jay Hanna