If there’s one thing that’s obvious, OurVinyl and especially yours truly love Portugal. The Man. Hell, two years ago at SxSW I saw them THREE times in a 24-hour period and wrote to you about the nuanced differences in their performances depending on the venue. This is one of the most vibrant and melodically engaging bands of the past ten years, hands down. While many of their indie rock peers are content with subtlety or virtually non-existent catchiness, this is a band unafraid to reach for anthemic choruses that would make the Beatles proud. June 4th sees the release of their 7th studio album, ‘Evil Friends,’ produced by the infamous Danger Mouse.
As part of part of pre-album press, the band invited a couple of music blogs, including Our Vinyl, to participate in a Google+ Hangout with the band, answering questions about the new album and anything else on our minds. What took place was a brief, informal pow-wow that found the band very candid and open to questions. We weren’t able to record the hang out and it was all happening live, so all that’s left is my scribbles and impressions, which won’t be exact or complete, but do give a brief glimpse into the minds of this great band.
Regarding the new album, they had nothing but positive things to say about the experience, remarking how they’ve never had more fun in the studio. Their approach was simple: write better songs and take their sound in an exciting new direction. Anyone who’s heard “Evil Friends” can attest to just how different it sounds compared to their past work, mixing pop with a playful dark side and a propulsive beat that gets your hips shaking.
They went to great lengths to detail what a pleasure it was working with Brian (Danger Mouse). When asked what it is was they felt he contributed to the process, John remarked that his drum sounds are the best; they were able to get sounds they’ve never had before with drums that felt very present. They also remarked how their recordings with him had much more sense of space. To explain, he said that most of their recordings have so many layers on everything, especially vocals, so it was nice to strip it back and allow each individual piece of the composition to breathe more.
When asked what their favorite past material from Danger Mouse has been, they really had to think about it. “He’s just really consistent. But if I had to choose it would still be Gnarls Barkley’s ‘St. Elsewhere.’ It was so groundbreaking at the time. When I first heard “Crazy” I thought to myself, ‘Motherfucker! How do you get that sound?! It’s the oldest sounding new song I’ve ever heard,” said lead singer John Gourley. They all pretty much agreed on this and reiterated what fans they are of all his work.
Social media seems like a no-brainer for a band in this day and age, but many bands either don’t want to do it or leave it to their PR people. Portugal. The Man understands its importance and the authenticity that comes with using things like Twitter themselves. John said he loves the transparency of doing something like the Google Hangout we’re participating in, to show everyone they’re not some crazy rock and roll band with wild antics. They are regular people who happen to love making music. He adds that he understands the frustration when you tweet at bands that never respond because he does it all the time; he never wants to be like with their fans.
One journalist remarked on their consistent schedule of album releases and extensive tours for each album and wondered how keeping such a schedule allows for a personal life. They quickly quipped that they don’t have one, laughing a little as they said it. “Everything is shared, that’s just how it is,” they explained. To further elaborate, they used a metaphor we would grasp, “it’s like asking a writer why they write so much. How can they not? If you really love doing it, you want to wake up every morning and do it,” they said, even remarking they get bummed if they wake up in a house and it doesn’t have a piano or music instruments to get ideas out.
A couple of random, but enjoyable questions included what their musical guilty pleasure was, to which they replied La Roux, though John was quick to point out that they just genuinely enjoy it and questioned whether that even counted, to which the journalist who must have been a fan was to quick to tell him it didn’t. In regards to touring, they were asked what their favorite places to play were and one of the first off the top of his head was Texas, which made this Texan very happy to hear. They also enjoy playing hometown crowds in Alaska and their adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon.
Perhaps appropriately, one of the final questions of the event was how they’ve been able to put out consistently quality work over the course of their career and continue to be such a great indie band. While they may no longer technically be indie with their Atlantic Records deal, they keep the work ethic and humility of one, referring to themselves as a small band. John emphasizes the necessity of being extremely controlling of what music they put out, ensuring only quality albums and songs reach the listener’s ears. He says this music is who he is and what he wants to do for the rest of his life. “If it’s not who I am, then I’ll die,” he says to add dramatic effect before laughing at his own statement. But you can sense the sincerity in it, knowing this is where his heart is; it continues to pour into every release the band puts out. We can only hope for our sake and his that Portugal. The Man continues to release delightful, boundary-pushing music.
Written By Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Senior Writer