Interview: Portugal. The Man


Bad Ass Satanistic Satan: An Interview with Portugal. The Man

Why should you read about Portugal. The Man--because they're bad ass. Their music combines aspects of psychedelic rock, with folk music, African rhythms, and much more, or as lead singer John Gourley tells me "I like to ask people what their favorite band is, and say it [their music] sounds like that." Originally formed in Alaska by Gourley and bassist Zachary Carothers, the group later moved to Oregon, added pianist Ryan Neighbors and drummer Jason Sechrist. Besides rocking shows, getting high praise from the likes of Spin and NME, they have a "sound guy who can dunk," and John wants to be Spock.

*all photos courtesy of Victoria Smith

John, do you want to talk a little about the artwork for the album The Satanic Satanist?
I had the idea for quite a while, but I just didn’t know how to make it work. Austin was really the guy who executed it and made it work. He is really good at pushing me.

Where did the idea come from for this elaborate design?
The record, The Satanic Satanist, is about the years I moved around quite bit with my family. I used to watch these animated films like Fire and Ice, Fantastic Planet and Light Years, just these really heavy movies for a kid. I think that combined with the isolation and everything just made me think about playing in the stars, or the trees. The whole thing is based on those films, it was just something I wanted to do that I had in my head.

So what is your process like when you go into the studios? You guys have been putting out an EP and a LP each year for the last three years.
We really like recording and playing music so it makes sense. As far as the writing process goes, John pretty much writes all the songs. He will sit down write the back bone. He will start writing chord progressions and coming up with melodies. Then we all just kind of follow his lead on it. Chip in with anything we got, and eventually, it all comes together.

The other thing I noticed on the website is you put the art for the album up so that people could change and elaborate on it. Is art or music a communal process or an individual project for you?
I think it’s all relative to be good at anything. There are people that do this very well. Quentin Tarantino is the reason this band started in a way, just because he had this really great way of putting the right music to the visual, bringing in the right characters, having the right dialogue, having the right reference points. He is somebody that is so hands on in everything he does. It’s obvious in all his movies. He has people that work on casting, but there is a consistency to everything he does. He’s about all of it. I don’t know why I am going around circles on all of this. I like having the option to do that. It’s great to work on videos, the CD package, work on t-shirts, and make the music.

How do you go around sharing ideas? How do you collaborate?
In practice we just jam for like an hour. We just dink around [laughs]--dink around. We try to get something cool out of it. Then in the studio John will have structured songs, we’ll just see what we can do over the top and interject. That’s it, there’s nothing else.

I heard you're a big fan of Star Trek. How did you feel about the new movie?
It was amazing. It was so good, I watched it three times. You know it’s so funny I absolutely hated that dude they got to play Captain Kirk. He just came off as the type of dude who was like, “I never watched Star Trek before, but they asked me to do it, so I am going do it.” He nailed it.

Who would you be in Star Trek?
I would want to be Spock. I don’t think I could play it properly though. Spock is just so cool. He’s always cool, and he knows everything.
Zachary: You’re way funnier than he is though.
John: You should say that in the microphone.
Zachary: No, I’m cool.

Do you guys spend a lot of time together outside of the band together?
Yeah, pretty much all the time.

What other stuff do you guys usually do when you’re not playing music?
Eating, playing basketball. We probably did that for two weeks, it was fun.

What happened with basketball--did your ball pop?
[laughs] No, we just went on tour. It’s hard to play on tour.

Well if you guys want to play, I play basketball.
Alright. It’s on.
Jason: We actually got a decent team of ballers.

How many of you usually play?
There is usually five or six. Our sound guy can dunk. Ryan can rebound.
John: [Grabs the microphone] Our sound guy can dunk. How cool is that? Who has that sound guy? I don’t know what he knows about sound, but he can dunk.
Ryan: We just saw him on the court, dunking, and we were like, “Hey--do you do sound?” [laughs]

Are you like a Rolling Stone?

What metaphor are you like?
It’s a good question. I don’t know.
Zachary: Do you even know what a metaphor is?
Ryan: I know what a metaphor is. I’m not like any metaphor. I’m aware a nuance will take place.

So if you could describe why people should listen to your music within one sentence or less, what would you say?
Because it’s bad ass. [laughs]

- David Johnson-Igra

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