INTERVIEW: Portugal. The Man
“I was getting patched up, I was bleeding all over the place. I’ve had a few stupid accidents lately, I’ve let a door go over my heel, and there was a [laughs] nasty little gash [laughs].”
When my interview with PORTUGAL. THE MAN bassist Zachary Carothers kicked off, I knew I was in for an interesting conversation with a great, down to earth musician.
Forming in the very early noughties, Portugal. The Man deliver a unique, experimental sound, one that is also respectively found in the mainstream.
Like most bands, they’ve experienced their ups; such as playing amazing shows and festivals, signing to Atlantic Records, releasing an inexpensive short film and collaborating their projects with highly influential names. Their biggest down though would probably have to be the ongoing theme of relinquished band members. As you read ahead, you’ll find this isn’t all bad, but it definitely seems as though it would bar what would be a much more breezy process.
Released in literally a couple of days will be the band’s seventh studio album Evil Friends. A very exciting album after working with the highly regarded Danger Mouse, Portugal. The Man have just taken it on its very first tour!
So in the midst of it all, it was a complete pleasure to be able to chat with Zach Carothers about all things related to music, Evil Friends and even puppies!
So where did the name Portugal. The Man come from?
“I can answer that real well by now [laughs]. Basically we wanted to create an alter ego, kind of like how David Bowie created Ziggy Stardust or how The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. We love that idea but unlike David Bowie and Ziggy Stardust we’re not just one person, we’re a whole group of people. So we figured that a country as one name for a group of people with one voice in the world – and we knew that we wanted to name it a country; we just randomly thought that Portugal would make a fantastic name for it.”
Judging by the sound of Portugal. The Man, I was curious to know what the guys listened to growing up.
“Oh I listened to a lot of stuff, but I guess the main ones are our parents’ record collections pretty much. With luckily both John [Gourley] and I growing up in Wasilla, Alaska, our parents had really amazing record collections. So it was a lot of Beatles, a lot of Pink Floyd, a lot of Led Zeppelin, and then we had Top 40 radio and TV, the oldies station. And then when I was about 11 or 12, it’s when I first started finding my own music. So I found Nirvana on my own, Rage Against The Machine, Pixies, Pearl Jam.. A lot of Seattle grunge is what basically made me start playing Rock & Roll.”
With Evil Friends due for its Australian release this Friday, what theme can we expect on the new record? Is there a storyline?
“Oh definitely! Honestly, it’s mostly about us. It’s a record about how we interact with each other I think, because we’ve gone over a lot of changes in the last year so, we’ve lost our drummer and our keyboard player, and we’ve got some new people on board. So it’s been a rough year, and a dark year. But we’re coming out of it now. I think a lot of it is more specifically about me and John, and just the relationships with people and each other.”
As aforementioned, Evil Friends spent a lot of time with Danger Mouse, as it was produced by the music legend. What was it like working with him?
“Yeah it was amazing. He is such a smart guy, such a talented guy. We learnt, soo much from him. And we learn a lot everytime we go into the studio, but with him specifically, he has a very unique perspective into band dynamics. He’s an artist himself. He’s done Gnarls Barkley and a handful of other things, and so he’s been at the same spot that we’re at right now. And he’s wanted to make successful music but to keep your integrity, and to keep your artistic side of the image going, so it was really enlightening to learn a lot about the things that he did, about the things to keep true to yourself, while still trying to make mainstream music.”
Was the album influenced by anyone or thing?
“It’s influenced by everything. Every time we go into the studio, we travel a lot. We have a lot of life experience built up. The last year in our experience, and what we’ve been through – and we do everything together; we live together, we eat together, we do absolutely everything together and so we know each other unbelievably well. And sometimes things are good, some things are very, very bad. It’s like a five person marriage, and for this experience, Danger Mouse kinda joined into our marriage, and he really got it. He and John started off the record by themselves, cause this was a new experience for him too. Normally he just works with artists, but if he is working with a band like The Black Keys, well there’s only really two of them. So he never really worked with a full band before so it was a learning experience for both of us. By the end, the last two weeks of recording were the best time I’ve ever had in the studio and the most productive time. Everybody was on point, all the band members, Brian [Burton] (who is Danger Mouse), his engineer, the studio engineer, everybody was working so well and so hard. It was truly an amazing experience. I’m very proud of everyone involved.”
Usually the type of question that I find trumps the interviewee, Zach was very quick and confident to name his favourite record of all time.
“It’d have to be Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon.”
With the changes in lineup over the past decade, has the initiation of new members ever affected the sound of Portugal. The Man?
“Oh for sure! Lineup changes always affect the sound, but I think that’s a good thing you know. We’ve got John’s songwriting which is the entire base of our band. And then all the flavours that come in, everybody that’s ever been in our band has a very unique style. And even later when they leave and somebody else takes over their part, you know now Kyle’s [O’Quin] playing parts that Ryan [Neighbors] wrote, and he plays them in his own way. So it always breathes a little new life into old material which is very, very good for us; cause then we don’t get bored or things don’t get as old for us having new people around. And there’s never any bad blood between any past members, we’re all still very good friends. We’re out on tour right now and our old drummer Jason [Sechrist] is watching our house right now, and yeah we’re all still good friends. It’s just very, very hard doing what we do and as much as we work, there’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure and it’s hard for people to cope with.”
With the announcement that the band are playing in the States, what city are they most looking forward to playing?
“Ooh, that’s tough. As far as the States go, we have a lot of family all over the place. Tonight’s a very special night, it’s John’s birthday so we have an unbelievable amount of family at this show, and that’ll be really cool.
I can’t wait to get back down to Texas, a lot of love for Texas. And then obviously I guess going home, you know? Getting back to Portland, and by that time it’s the end of the tour so we’ll be completely on our shit and have really good shows. It’ll be fun to get back home and show all our friends and family what we’ve been up to.”
If Zach could request absolutely anything in the world to feature in the band’s tour rider, what would it be?
“Oh that’s tough. Anything in the world, I’d have puppies. Hanging out and playing with them backstage. We like puppies. I’m into cute things like that. But then that would be pretty sad cause you’d get attached to them for a night, and then, you know, more puppies the next day, but still! That’d be a pretty good thing.”
Well that’s pretty cute.
Portugal. The Man will be here next month to play Splendour In The Grass! I asked Zach who they’re most excited to see play and meet at the festival. Although not completely organised, he certainly made up for it with his love for Australia!
“To tell you the truth, I haven’t even completely checked out the schedule yet. I usually do it about a week before I get there, and I need to pull that up real quick and find out but I know that there’s a couple of friends that are playing there as well. Always loves to see our friends. And man I’m just excited to experience the whole thing because honestly, we love Australia so much. I told this to the last girl that we talked to – it’s the best first impression that I’ve ever gotten on a country ever. Just the morning I landed, it was unbelievable. Had a crazy delicious meal, went and saw some really amazing shops, everybody there is just beautiful.. It was nuts. It’s a little expensive, but worth it [laughs].”
Does the band have any extra plans besides all their extensive touring?
“Pretty much that’s just it. We do have a couple of special things. July and August are going to be the best months of the year. We’re going to come to Australia, right after that we’re going to do Japan for the first time, and then I get to go home to Alaska and spend a week at my mum’s house and sleep!”
Words by Hannah Galvin.