Features Interviews Portugal. The Man, Cornered in a Basement

Portugal. The Man, Cornered in a Basement

Portugal. The Man
Portugal. The Man

Interview by: Chad Hutchings

Portugal. The Man and discussions on new work, record deals, and 21st century fandom.

When we caught wind that Portugal. The Man would be making a stop in the city, a little groundwork on the group turned up this same fact over and over again: Portugal. The Man fans can't talk about the group without gushing. And with good reason. With their roots growing from Alaska to Oregon, the indie psych-pop act has spent their seven years together branching out and building a worldwide fan-base, winning over their following with ever-impressive stage shows and a distinct sound that matures with every new release. 

To promote their latest album (In The Mountain, In The Cloud — their first with Atlantic Records), the group has set off on an extensive tour across North America and Europe, each show so far being amazingly received by fans and critics. For their stop in Toronto, Sticky had a couple of pairs of eyes and ears in the audience, snapping photos and judging every move they made (if you haven't read the review, you can take a look here). Before the show, though, we had the chance to catch up with Portugal's Zachary Carothers and Ryan Neighbors. Tucked away in the record stacks at Sonic Boom, we talked about the upcoming release, their itchy Twitter fingers, and, well... ass jokes.

Sticky: So you're on the new label now, with Atlantic. Can you tell us how things have changed with the new team?

Zach: It's changed for the best, really. It's awesome to have help, finally. We've been doing it on our own since we've started, pretty much.  And, I mean, they're SMART people and just big music fans, and they've got a lot of good ideas and a lot of really interesting strategies... instead of us just trompin' all over the place for no rhyme or reason. We're starting to get kind of a system down.

Ryan: "People Say" is on the radio now. It's really cool.

Zach: Yeah! It's really been helpful for sure.

Sticky: And you've got a new album coming up with them this summer?

Ryan: Yeah, July 19th!

Sticky: Your last album was on a bit of a lock-down before it was released - supposedly mostly because of previous problems with leaking?  Are you concerned about that this time around?

Zach: Well, we've been keeping this one pretty safe.  Also, it wasn't just because of the leaking... we were curious to see how it would go if we just gave it to everybody at once.  We wanted to see how, you know, our fans would kind of take it and spread it out there a bit through the social networking sites. We were kinda interested in how that would work out, and it ended up being really cool and working really well.

Ryan: I'm sure this new album will leak. It's bound to happen.  We won't get our panties in a bunch.

Sticky: Well don't blame me if it happens, but I've actually already heard the album - Atlantic sent it over to us a couple of days ago.  But, for the sake of the people that're going to be reading, what can they expect? They've heard the 30 second clips you released on your site, but, really, how does it compare to the last one?

Zach: It's gonna be like that, except looonger songs. (chuckling)  Nah, we've put a lot more time into the tonal aspect of it....really, really focused our tones... I think it's our best SOUNDING record by far.  We had Andy Wallace mix it, who's mixed some unbelievable things.

Sticky: Some pretty broad stuff, from all corners...

Zach: Yeah! (Nirvana's) Nevermind, Jeff Buckley, Slayer... it's a lot of stuff I grew up on.

Ryan: There's a lot of strings on the new record, too, which I like a fair bit.

Zach: Yeah! I really think it's a little bit of a mix of everything we've done, and it's a pretty obvious next step on where we're going, from where we've been.

Sticky: So it's the evolution of Portugal?

Zach: Yeah, I think we're starting to kind of figure out what we wanna do, and... (sheepish laughter) we've been confused about that in the past.

Sticky: Did the new label have any part in that? Did they give much guidance, or is it all you?

Zach: We talk to everybody.  We try to communicate a lot with everybody about it beforehand, so we don't reach a weird point where they thought they were getting something different. And so we told them, you know, what kinda record we wanted to make and they... just threw us in the pool.  They were like, "Go out and make the record you wanna make."  And, luckily, they got it and they really liked it;  They were cool with it.

Sticky: Lucky for everyone. Now back to those thirty second song clips you've been posting on your site -  they're set to some pretty rustic looking videos.  Is this Alaska? What's the story behind those?

Zach: Yeah, that's Alaska. 

Ryan: Pretty much John (Gourley)'s backyard.  Not his butt...

(stiffled boyish giggles all around)

Zach:  Yeeeeahh, we filmed a music video up there,  for two songs with some space in between.  It's about 13 or 14 minutes long, and we've been playing it for shows on this tour.  We brought along a projector and a screen.  I'm not sure if we're doing it tonight... it always depends on stage space, if we can do it, we need a certain amount of feet....

Ryan: We're doing it tonight!

Zach: ...and so, it's all kinda b-roll from that. We're doing it for this tour, and we're ONLY putting it in our shows.  Then, once the tour's over, we're gonna put it online. 

Sticky: That's awesome.

Zach: And it's a really cool video... but, it was a little bit hard.  We flew up a small film crew, just three guys and they really didn't know what to expect.  It was about 35 below zero (laughter from both) ... and all of their stuff was freezing.  It was an interesting experience, but it all turned out really cool. 

Sticky: Aside from your main site, posting these videos and all that, you guys are really active online.  You were talking earlier about spreading out through social networking...

Ryan: Facebook, Twitter...

Sticky: Exactly. Your posts on there are completely random, and it's great. It's obvious that you have a lot of fun doing it, but aside from just having a laugh, how does it factor into the game?

Ryan: I think it keeps our fans excited and connected with what we're doing, and not, like, checking back once a month (to see if) maybe there's an update.  It's keeping people involved with what we're doing.

Zach: With EVERYTHING we're doing (haha)

Ryan: Yeah, it lets them into our lives a little bit, and I think people like that.  To connect on a much more personal level.

Zach: We wanna be a very accessible band to our fans.  If anybody has a question, feel free to write.  I answer every email that ever comes to us.  Sometimes it takes me a little while if I'm real busy, but we try to answer everybody.  We like to keep them informed and don't wanna push it on them or anything, but if you wanna know what we're up to, it's pretty easy to find out!

Sticky: You post a lot of weird and interesting things that come up.  Is there anything really odd that's happened lately that's worth a mention?

Ryan: I don't think so...

Zach: Nothing too bad... everything's been fairly cool and normal on this tour, actually.  Nothing really out of the ordinary.

Ryan: Unfortunately.

Zach: We're kinda waiting for something weird to happen. But everything's been pretty cool.  We think that stuff's kinda fun.  I'm SURE it can get kind of annoying at times... but, yeah, it's just one of those fun things.  I'd like to know, especially when I was growing up with, like, Nirvana and Rage Against The Machine and Beastie Boys... if I could find out just what their day is like! It's kinda interesting, now that we have this network...

Ryan: Probably much cooler than our days.

Zach: Definitely much cooler than ours! I wish... yeah, can you imagine what it would've been like, to have been.. like... 80's hair metal, if they had a Twitter, and then to just see all the ridiculous shit that they go through? That woulda been awesome! Now it's a little more boring, but we try to keep it interesting.

To see just what we're talking about, check out Portugal. The Man at their links below, and watch the Alaskan film in its entirety, just released to fans on Monday.