Portugal. The Man has been making music for quite some time now. They’ve swapped members and producers and record labels and maybe even saliva, but they have finally found their feet as a band with their newest album ‘Evil Friends.’ I had a chat with the band’s softly spoken lead singer, John Gourley, about the band’s journey, and for someone who claimed to be having a hectic day, he seemed irregularly calm and polite.
How are you?
I’m all right. (Laughs) Today has been so crazy.
Why? What’s going on?
I woke up this morning and I did seven or eight interviews that weren’t on my calendar. So I woke up and was immediately on the phone, like “Hey what’s up!” (Laughs)
How did they all go?
Its all been cool, I mean its totally fine.
So you’re in Canada right now? What are you doing there?
Yeah, in Toronto. We’re playing a show tonight in the Phoenix Theatre. We just walked past Collin Hanks on the street and I thought we should probably tweet at him and see if he wants to come to the show tonight… so I did that.
Did he reply?
No he hasn’t, but he did follow us, which I thought was a good sign.
So tell me, how did your name come about? How did Portugal. The Man come into fruition?
I started this band a long time ago, back when I was living in Alaska. That’s where I was born and raised. The only reason I left in the first place was to play music. Zach, our bass player, called me and asked if I wanted to come down and sing for the band he was in and really, I didn’t want to. I was happy playing music at home… I really like writing music. I grew up kind of away from everything, and I was really shy.
When we started a band and started the project we obviously needed a name and I liked the idea of Ziggy Stardust and Sgt Pepper and having this alter ego. I could have a character to just go on stage with that would help me through the initial bits of this band. When it came down to picking the name we wanted something that acted as an individual but represented a group of people, and a country as an individual in the world. And it’s period because Portugal is his fucking name, period. And that’s it; he’s the man.
You guys have been around for a while, it’s six records now, and you gained a lot more traction after signing to Atlantic and with the release of your last album ‘In the Mountain in the Cloud’. So has anything changed?
The way I’ve kind of always looked at it is, this band has always been about us breaking into things, learning how to play together and how to do this.
Its really fresh and it’s really new to me. I didn’t grow up around, well shit, I didn’t grow up around cities or anything. The whole thing has been (in the mentality of) lets just tour as much as we can, lets just get better at playing together. If you use The Beatles as your business plan (laughs) in terms of Atlantic Records and all that, it just makes sense that you need a lot of practice, you don’t just step in to it and expect people to listen. So we just have a really well documented, I guess, history of practice and learning and we’ve just shown everybody our growth along the way… that sounds disgusting.
What was the vibe of the band when you were recording the latest album ‘Evil Friends’?
Everything just felt really fun in the studio. This band has put out so many records, we didn’t know it at the time, but all of it was leading up to this point. We tour all the fucking time because we want to get better at playing live, and you don’t really see it at the beginning of a band because every record you make has the same importance, or it’s more important than the last, so I guess in taking all these steps, we’ve done so much over the past seven years.
So coming into the studio for ‘The Mountain in the Cloud’ there was a lot of pressure on us. On top of that our original keyboard player was feeling strained at the time; he wanted to make his own projects and make his own music and do his own thing. I didn’t know any of that at the time, so the record took so long to make, and it wasn’t as much fun as it should have been, especially when working with someone like John Hill who I think is an amazing producer. But heading into ‘Evil Friends’ everything really opened up. I mean, I met Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and we talked about music and why we play music and what’s exciting about music for each of us. On top of that we have three new members that hadn’t actually made an album with us, it was all like a new band. It felt really good and it helped me realise a lot of what we’ve worked for this whole time.
In a lot of ways it felt like our first album, it was a really nice feeling.
How did you meet Brian?
We actually got a call from Craig Kallman, who is the president of Atlantic Records, and we were in the studio and self-producing, and he went and called Danger Mouse of all fucking people. The truth is you can find some annoyance in that, but that is people looking out for us on the highest level. One of the first things Brian said to me was “Man, why is Craig coming over to my house at two in the morning to talk to me about your band?” It’s exactly what you’d expect it to be; a major label stepped in and pulled some string. But that stuff really doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. Ultimately we could take meetings all day long but what’s the point? If we can’t hang, then we can’t hang and we can’t make music.
'Evil Friends' is out now, go get you some.