Yakin’ with the Alaskans: Interview with Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man
Credit: Allmusic.com

If you’ve managed to put out four albums in as many years, you’re probably doing alright as a band. If you’ve managed to integrate sounds ranging from Motown to Abbey Road, you’re probaby doing even better. But if you’ve managed to pull off putting a period in the middle of your band’s name, you’ve made it in my book. Before their Belly Up! performance with opener Robert Francis, Portugal. The Man’s Ryan Neighbors and Zach Carothers gave us an interview.

          Portugal. The Man began out of vocalist John Gourley and guitarist Zach Carothers’ former band Anatomy of a Ghost. Portugal originally hailed from Wasilla, Alaska, Sarah Palin’s stomping grounds. WIth several members born and raised within the Last Frontier, the Alaskan environment translated into a unique musical creation. “[Alaska] affected the music in pretty much every way. As far as John’s lyrics, it’s pretty much all Alaska or things his parents taught him or he learned as a kid.  Also, when you leave it and go travel around the world you really put that stuff into perspective. You hear something as a kid, and then you find out what it actually means to you later in life. Obviously a lot of scenery in [John’s lyrics],” said Ryan Neighbords.

Eventually, the band relocated further south to Portland, OR. “Portland is awesome.There are very good artists in general, it’s a real laid back town and very liberal  You don’t get looked down upon for saying, ‘I don’t have a job, I’m just in a band. I’m just an artist,’ because thats a large chunk of people in Portland. It’s affordable living. You don’t need a high paying job even to live downtown or have a house.  It’s just real comfortable for musicians and artists,” said guitarist Zach Carothers.

The band recorded three albums in the three years prior, including one ushered along by Kay Kay and the Weathered Underground. “We were staying in a basement area in [celloist] Phil’s house. There was nothing to do other than work on music. If you weren’t recording, there was a very small room with bunks to go in to hang out. But usually that was just a practice room with an acoustic guitar in it.  We all slept on the floor like sardines,” said Zach. “They are all fantastic musicians, the best musicians I know. It was a really crazy experience. We had one song we wrote before going in there. The rest we just wrote a song a day. They had some really out of the box ideas. So we gave a full record a shot,” said Ryan.

Portugal stepped into the studio with Pixies and Radiohead producer Paul Kolderie to record their The Satanic Satanist album released this summer. “We had never done preproduction for albums. We had always gone in and writen all the music on the spot, all the lyrics on the spot. But we had always recorded with friends, so we had some slack in that area  When we went in with some seriously pro people, we were nervous. We had to get our act together. We were kind of scared and intimidated. We did a little work and went in with the songs basically in mind. They were way easy going, and it was a really fast and enjoyable recording process.  It had all been spontaneous except for the last record. That was the only one we went into the studio with songs. It worked out in our favor. It was way easier. We will probably keep going that route. I do like the spontaneous thing. I am a fan of that first reaction to a song–the first time John plays the guitar riff, the very first bass line I come up with and
start playing naturally. Its the most real.  I’ll still do that with the demos and fine tune some fills,” said Ryan.

Fusing many genres into their sound, Portugal draws upon myriad influences.”We all obviously listen to a lot of music. We’re in the business. We’re in the van six hours a day a week at least. We get such a vast variety of music, because everyone’s got their own thing that their into. When its anybody’s certain turn to DJ you get a lot of stuff you’ve never heard before. You know Ryan’s gotten me into bands, Johns gotten me into bands.  It gives you more ideas. I don’t know if its ever direct. But it tends to make you think outside of your little world and what you like to play. Plus, there’s jamming. A lot of our friends our musicians. I get to play bass to stuff I’m not normally able to do and I get to bring that back to the band. It sets everybody’s minds off in different directions. Keeps us versatile as musicians,” said Ryan.

Concerning the bands current favorites, Ryan and Zach were quick to offer responses. “Fever Ray, we’re all really into that,” said Zach. “Yeah,
Fever Ray and Grizzly Bear,” said Ryan. “And Lady Gaga.”

Portugal. The Man will continue touring, as the band heads east through America. Opener and Los Angeles native Robert Francis joins the tour to promote his new Before Nightfall LP. Robert’s single Junebug will be the iTunes song of the day on October 13th.
Video for Portugal. The Man’s “Do You”