There’s something different about Portugal. The Man. The Portland psych/pop-rockers have a new-ish record out now (2011’s In The Mountain In The Cloud), devoted fans that include several celebrities, and a big-label record deal with Atlantic. But they’re not just another indie rock band with funny punctuation on a trajectory to super-stardom.
Their musical output is so vast and so precocious (seven albums in six years!) that fans are in constant debate as to which record they think is their best. As quickly as a new album is created, the band’s creative powerhouse – singer John Gourley – is on to the next record, dipping into more influences and working out new musical ideas. There is a certain sense of awe to their music. Their records feel… important.
P.TM fans would agree, of course, as do we, which is why today is the first day of Portugal. The Man. The Week. At TVD.
To kick off a week of giveaways and other fun stuff, we interviewed Zach Carothers (bass/vocals). He and John Gourley form the nucleus of Portugal. The Man, and both have come a long way since playing music together in and around Wasilla, Alaska.
We spoke to Zach while he was en route to Boise, Idaho, which is where Portugal. The Man is kicking off a big springtime headlining tour with The Lonely Forest tomorrow, April 3rd. Zach filled us in on yet another new album in the works, the benefits of growing up in the middle of nowhere, and why vinyl is so important to the band.
Your tour kicks off in less than a week. How excited are you to be headlining?
I am pretty pumped about it. It’s been a while since we’ve done a full headlining tour, it’s always good to get back out there. We’re learning new songs we’ve never done before live, and some old ones we haven’t played in a while, we’re looking forward to it for sure, and we’re super busy getting prepared for it as well.
You guys have put out an album a year since you got started, and you’ve got a new album due this summer. Can you tell us a bit about it yet?
We have been working on it, but we’re not sure when the album is going to drop. I doubt it will be anytime soon this summer. We’ve got plenty of work still to do on it. But we’ve been working on stuff, we’ve been writing. I’m really excited about the direction it’s going. It’s really fun – it’s something totally new that we’ve never done before, and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s got a lot of energy and it’s pretty fun to play.
How different is it from what you guys have done before?
The things that we’ve been into lately – and I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, because we got plenty of time to change things. We tend to never stop; we always keep it changing. So far, it’s got a lot more punk influence – not that it’s punk songs, it’s just kinda got that vibe. It’s filled with a lot of high-energy, a lot of thrashing, it’s pretty exciting. They’re still pop songs, but we just added an element that we’ve never had before and I’m really liking it.
It seems like there’s always variety of influences on every Portugal. The Man album. Do you and John [Gourley] collaborate on any of that?
John writes all the songs. We help – once we get in the studio it’s more of a collaboration, I guess. But he writes the chord progressions, the melody, the lyrics and stuff like that. We just come in and color it in in different parts. But he’s got the overall view of where he wants the song to go. And sometimes that changes when we start jamming a lot, but basically he’s really talented and has a really good knack for kind of seeing the song at the beginning as a whole and where it needs to be.
You guys grew up in the middle of nowhere in Alaska. Did that experience influence your sound and your decision to become musicians?
Oh, definitely. We grew up in Wasilla, Alaska – and John grew up a little bit outside of Wasilla – and it’s just a very, very beautiful place. Very inspiring on all levels. I think a lot of it had to do with.. it’s apparent in our music in a lot of ways. A big part of [our sound] too was leaving Alaska, to be honest. We grew up there and didn’t have many outside influences. We were very cut off and very isolated out there. We pretty much had Top 40 radio, oldies, our parents’ music, and I grew up with MTV. That’s all we had, so anything that was underground or indie – we had no idea who they were.
The things that were underground I would look for, but there was no way of finding them. There was no internet back then, you know? It seemed like if something was cool and underground in California, about eight to ten years later it would be cool in Alaska. So, when I was in high school, I was listening to all the late ‘80s punk bands from California like Agent Orange and the Dead Kennedys and all that stuff. I was just a little bit late on it, I think.
Then we moved down to Portland, Oregon once we started the band. I went down there for college, actually, and then started a band [Anatomy of a Ghost] with my friends and flew John down to sing for us. Moving down there was really an eye-opening experience. Portland is just a mecca for art and film and music and anything like that. It was really insane to get flooded with so much underground music and art everywhere. It really was a mix of growing up with not hearing much at all and then moving down to a place where I was just overwhelmed with [music].
I think the mix of those two things have really helped define who we are as a band. Just being cut off for so long and then having our eyes opened… we kind of went crazy with it. We had a lot of influences really quickly. Luckily, all in all, for growing up in the middle of nowhere, our parents had really good record collections. Thankfully! [Laughs]
What’s in your record collection right now?
As far as LPs, I buy anything on vinyl that I love or that means a lot to me. I have certain albums that I just have never really stopped listening to – all the normal answers like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles. I’m actually getting into the Stones; I was never a huge Stones fan growing up. I’ve been listening to a lot of them lately because, obviously, I feel like I need to. I knew all the hits and everything, but I never went too deep. I was always more of a Beatles guy.
Lately – over the last year or so – I’ve been on a real ‘90s kick for some reason. I’ve been listening to all the music that got me into finding my own music. I found Nirvana on my own when I was about 12. It was pretty much the first that I found that my parents didn’t show me and my older cousins that lived someplace cooler didn’t show me. I found them on my own, and I loved it, so Nirvana really signifies something special to me. So I’ve been listening to the first bands that I found on my own and fell in love with: Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Beastie Boys, Flaming Lips, and The Pixies. To tell you the truth, I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Wu-Tang and Kanye West as well. [Laughs]
Your albums on vinyl are really impressive – with fold-outs and lots of great cover art. What does putting your music out on vinyl mean to the band?
It’s important to us. Album art in general has been really important to us. We’re big fans of photography, art, film – all that. And anything that you can do extra to put into your music or into your packaging or anything is worth doing. John does all our artwork, and he gets really excited about stuff like that. I think he’s really good at it, and we’re lucky to have a guy like that. We’re pretty self-contained and we can kind of do most of the things that we do on our own.
When it comes to vinyl, we do put in extra time with that and make it special because – like I was saying earlier – I don’t generally buy something on vinyl that I haven’t heard or heard just a couple of times. If I buy something on vinyl, I really like it – close to loving it. That’s what I save for all my special albums.
We all live together in one house so, between all of us, we’ve got a pretty awesome record collection. And that’s how we all feel about our vinyl, and that’s what we want to give to our fans. We feel that anyone who buys our vinyl… we know that they’re obviously into it and we figure they probably like us a lot, and so we want to give them a little something extra.
You like giving your fans the whole experience.
Oh, definitely! And that’s what I love about it. Everybody has a system [for vinyl], you know. You work for it a little bit. I know I do: I go down to my favorite record shop, I sift through, I take way longer than I need to. When I buy a CD, I generally run in and buy the CD that I want or get it at a show.
But with vinyl, if I’m looking for something or waiting for something to come out, I go down to my shop in Portland and pick it up, drive back home, make some coffee, and sit in the living room. I put it on, go through all the artwork, read all the credits and thank-yous; it’s kind of a system rather than just downloading the new single off of Twitter or whatever. It’s just a completely different thing. But it’s pretty cool that I can download singles off of Twitter as well. [Laughs] We’re lucky enough to live in an age where all things are possible. But if the music means a lot to me, I definitely buy it on vinyl. We all do.
What’s your go-to record store in Portland?
Living in Portland we’ve got several really good record shops, but Music Millennium and Jackpot Records have great selection and have always been extremely cool about the band over the years. We’ve played at Music Millennium a few times, and they’ve always been cool guys so we support them back.
Check in with us all week long for Portugal. The Man contests and giveaways! And don’t miss the band on tour; shows are already selling out! Their full tour calendar can be found on their website.