Bursting with potential stemming from vulnerable songwriting and an intricately acoustic style, Cayden Wemple shares his love for Phoebe Bridgers, his take on being compared to Elliott Smith, and his thoughts on the ever-so-controversial TikTok.
“but then i just stopped growing” – Portra
It’s no small feat to be compared to the likes of Elliott Smith, Alex G, or Pinegrove – especially when such greats are your musical inspirations.
Upon first listen to his recent discography released under moniker “Portra,” Cayden Wemple’s similarity to such artists is uncanny and such comparison is not without merit. The 23-year-old songwriter, hailing from the grandeur of California’s central coast, has been songwriting for as long as he can remember – paying homage to his musical inspirations through his acoustic-driven style and emotionally crafted lyrics.
Wemble’s ability to utilize intricate acoustic riffs to accompany his painstaking ballads was my first hint of a nod to acoustic greats such as Elliott Smith – who Wemble asserts is “one of the best songwriters of probably all time.”
Add in a dollop of emotional vulnerability, a dash of romance and an abundance of witty humor (just check out his TikTok page) and you’ll find yourself immersed in Wemple’s mind, as expressed through his acoustic-forward songwriting.
Drawing from genre influences such as midwest emo, math rock and 5th wave emo, there’s a consistent element of angst and distress that Wemble musically enunciates through arpeggiated melodies and beautifully clashing rhythm.
Wemple gently invites listeners to experience tidbits of his past experiences – the good and the bad – through his distinctively sublime vocals and a mesmerizing pluck of his acoustic guitar. Simple yet complex, Wemple’s style is welcoming, comforting, and oddly relatable – ever stumbled into your grandparents’ house to find a comically out-of-date picture of your ex-girlfriend pasted front and center on the fridge? He has a song about it – “Not To Catch You By Surprise,” his most-streamed single under the name Portra.
Take this as you will
There’s a picture of us still
Hanging up on the mantle at my parent’s house
I would take it down
I just haven’t got around to it
Got too many falling outs to fill the vacancy
I’ve got shoes to fill that I won’t fit in
How am I supposed to live in size elevens
You expected big things
but then I just stopped growing
– “but then i just stopped growing,” Portra
“Seeing a picture in my Grandma’s house of me at 15 in a relationship started making me think about how there’s reminders of past relationships all around your parents’ house, and it’s a really surreal thing to see reminders of your past,” Wemple said. “It kind of turned into this thing: Have I really even changed since that past relationship? Have I done anything different to progress myself and make myself better, or am I still the same person?”
Such introspective thoughts resulted in Wemple’s desire to understand and learn from past experiences regardless of expectations, whether that be his own personal expectations or societal expectations being cast upon him. Growth happens at a different pace for everyone and the key is to find your own stride, he proudly declares.
Oh you’re welcome, you’re welcome,
you’re welcome to stay
But don’t you dare forget the difference
Between venting and complaining
Because you’re driving me crazy with your outbursts of antics
And I love you goddamnit, don’t make me put you in the attic
– “little spider on the shower wall,” Portra
Outside of emotional and physical growth, Wemple is growing exponentially as a musician.
He’s taken on a maturely poetic songwriting style that seeks to tell stories in detailed fashion without distracting from the creative use of open tunings and strumming patterns to make just his singular acoustic guitar feel full of sound and character.
There’s a distinct notion of authenticity in each and every verse Wemple pens, marked with a genuine desire to replace stagnancy with maturity.
Atwood Magazine caught up with Wemple to discuss his musical influence, writing style, and newfound TikTok success.
It’s just kind of like this theme of growing, which is sort of constant with me right now and I think that’s just kind of how it is for everyone in their early 20s.
A CONVERSATION WITH CAYDEN WEMPLE
Atwood Magazine: How does it feel when you open TikTok and see you’re being compared to Elliott Smith and Alex G?
Cayden Wemple: I mean, it’s amazing. They’re my heroes. I feel like I’m trying to do my own thing too. But I mean, all art is derivative, right. I mean, like, everything that’s come out in the past 10 years in the hip hop world is partially due to Kanye, right? All music is derivative and so to do something completely new is almost impossible, I think. But no, I take totally no offense to [being compared to them].
What influenced your interest in that sound and style of songwriting?
Cayden Wemple: I was listening to a ton of Bright Eyes at the time. And Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes is like my biggest influence. And then I was listening to a ton of Bon Iver, Gregory Alan Isankov, like really that 2000’s, early 2010’s indie folk which is what really inspired me back then. And then I found Phoebe Bridgers in late high school and It all changed. I got totally obsessed with Phoebe Bridgers, I think it was my senior year of high school. And I think I started to get more personal with my lyrics, a little more vulnerable, and I took that into college a little bit.
In college, that’s when I started with my band. And I’d never been in a band before. So it was super exciting. But it was all my roommates, so you know how it is living with people. Then you start to do business together and it gets a little messy.
But we had some personnel changes and we started to listen to a lot more midwest emo and like math rock and stuff like that. I found alternate tunings on TikTok and I got super into that. That sort of totally consumed my songwriting space – the midwest emo thing, sticking with those vulnerable lyrics that I took from Phoebe Bridgers and Carl Oberst and Bon Iver and stuff like that.
Last summer I started to kind of get back to my roots doing the indie folk thing that I did in high school. But I was also kind of still taking the, you know, math rock influences from college. And that’s sort of how Portra was born.
“Portra” – tell me about that name.
Cayden Wemple: So my drummer in college was super into photography, and “Portra” is this type of film that Kodak makes. I was desperate for a name, and I just was just like, yea, that’s cool.
What inspired the artwork for your most recent single, “But Then I Just Stopped Growing?”
Cayden Wemple: My girlfriend did that! That’s actually how we met. The whole reason she found me is because she heard “Not To Catch You By Surprise,” which is about my ex-girlfriend. And it’s just this very surreal thing that the only way she even knows who I am is because of that song, so if I never wrote that song she wouldn’t have found me. Again, it’s just kind of like this theme of growing, which is sort of constant with me right now and I think that’s just kind of how it is for everyone in their early 20s.
What’s your songwriting process like?
Cayden Wemple: My songwriting process is always the music first. Then I kind of come up with a lyric and a melody at the same time. I just start singing over the music, and I just kind of revolve the whole song around that one lyric. Sometimes it’s pretty cohesive and sometimes it gets a little off track, but I try to keep it as closely related to that lyric as possible. And I just kind of see where it takes me, honestly. I normally don’t write about a specific thing in mind, maybe like a general theme, but I don’t really write about anything specific.
What do you mean, in terms of not being specific?
Cayden Wemple: In my songwriting, I try to keep it as general as I can, but also be as specific as I can. Do you kind of get what I mean by that? I want it to be my experience, but I want it to resonate with people as much as possible.
I just hope people can find some solace in my music. One of my favorite parts about songwriting is that in putting myself out there, sometimes people will reach out to me and be like “Hey, I’m going through a breakup right now and this really helps a lot.” It’s amazing to hear stuff like that. It’s so fulfilling and gratifying.
You’ve mentioned TikTok a bit – you’ve created quite a following and post a lot of your original songs on that platform. Musicians seem to have a very love/hate relationship with the platform. What’s your take?
Cayden Wemple: Yeah, I don’t know if I want to talk shit about TikTok…
I don't want you to get shadow banned!
Cayden Wemple: I’m so worried. I’m so paranoid about the algorithm just knowing that I hate it.
TikTok has been amazing for me in so many ways. It’s connected me with A&R people, it’s gotten me further in the industry than I could ever take myself without paying exorbitant amounts of money, right. It’s amazing in that way, it’s incredible. However, for a musician’s mental health, it’s hell. It can be so draining. It’s crazy. I mean, like, I will spend three hours trying to get a good take of a song sometimes. And then I post it and then I check it literally every two minutes. I’m like, “Why isn’t this doing well? Why don’t people like me?” You know, it could be totally draining in that way. So I don’t know. I have such a love-hate relationship with it. It’s it’s a little bit toxic.
Can we expect to continue to see Cayden Wemple content?
Cayden Wemple: I’m definitely going to keep doing it. I treat it like it’s my job. It’s a big part of like, any, even minor success that I’ve had, it’s pretty much the sole reason. It’s all very arbitrary, right? Like, who cares? Like nobody actually cares that I am posting, but I care. I don’t know, it’s become an addiction of sorts. And it’s definitely draining, but can be super rewarding at the same time.
Now we just need to get you off TikTok and in front of live audiences!
Cayden Wemple: I’m working on it for sure. I put together a band out here in LA and we are practicing right now. And hopefully we’ll be playing shows late summer, early fall.
What is your ultimate goal as singer/songwriter Cayden Wemple?
Cayden Wemple: I think I mean, my ultimate goal is like I just want to be like, like my heroes, you know? It’s kind of a cheeseball cornball answer, but like, I just want to do what my heroes do. They go on tour, they make records, they write with cool people, they produce cool shit. Like, that’s just exactly what I want to do. And I hope I get there. Sooner rather than later. I mean, of course, it’s a process.
I just quit one of my day jobs like a week ago, so I’m very excited to be spending this whole summer recording.
“but then i just stopped growing” – Portra
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© Caleb Theil
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