Portugal. The Man have released an album a year since their 2006 debut Waiter: You Vultures!, touring relentlessly with each release and building a reputation for loud, powerful, jam-laden shows. Their sound has rapidly evolved from generated beats and bizarre experimentation to a tapestry of 60’s-folk-rock riffage, space-jam abstracts and vocal arrangements that have absolutely no preconceived structural loyalties. Their newest album, Censored Colors, has been gaining solid momentum since its September 16th release, and rightfully so; it’s a thick jungle of multilayered jams that actually makes for a pretty epic record.
Until recently, Portugal. The Man were the claim to fame for the tiny town of Wasilla, Alaska. That all changed, however, when a certain winking cancer on the ass of intellectualism, a total clown caricature of the average modern, patriotic American was added to the Republican Presidential ticket. From where? Wasilla. You bet’cha.
The band has since made no attempt to hide their disdain for Sarah Palin. Despite having relocated to Portland, Oregon in recent years, the band’s usually chipper singer John Gourley (who laughed more and sounded genuinely happier than any other interview I’ve ever done, hand to Heaven) posted a long, impassioned blog entry explaining his feelings on the new spotlight on their hometown, called Palin, Because We Don’t Need It.
Excerpt: We don’t need a wolf in sheep’s clothing… or a sheep in wolves clothing, depending on how you look at it. She has billed her self as this overly average “hockey mom” and it is just not what I see. I see the sport hunter, the censor, choice taker, the revelations reader, and the high school cheerleader. It is endlessly embarrassing to watch people fall all over this idea. This is not my Alaska. The Alaska I know.
Gourley gave us a call recently to set the record straight on how he really feels (ha), shed some more light on Portugal. The Man’s spontaneous approach to the writing and recording of Censored Colors, and explore the pitfalls of stage fright and anxiety attacks.
Antiquiet: Let’s get this out of the way right off. Your hometown is a lot more famous these days, since Sarah Palin became a household name. Your blog entry doesn’t mince words about your feelings on that.
John Gourley: Right. I think it was really scary at first, because she came out and she got everybody so pumped. It’s a blessing that people have come to their senses. What a mistake. What an obvious grab at youth and celebrity and the Hillary vote. Such a mistake. There’s so much wrong with this equation. It’s funny how many just straight out lies came up with her. Like the idea that she’s even been out of the country before two years ago, much less having been to Iraq.
Antiquiet: The fact that we, or anybody, is even having this discussion is ridiculous. It’s absurd that the GOP and the mainstream media have had to find a way to legitimize her, so McCain’s campaign wouldn’t come off like the desperate charade that it’s proven itself to be.
John Gourley: It’s insane. How great is it though that we actually have a portion of the population that’s still undecided? People that actually step back and look at this circus in the hopes of drawing something meaningful enough to sway their vote on.
Antiquiet: It’s absurd. But anyway, to the music. If my story’s straight, you wrote and recorded all of Censored Colors in the studio in less than three weeks?
John Gourley: Yeah, yeah.
John Gourley: I have no fucking clue, to be honest (laughs). We had two and a half weeks off from the Church Mouth tour, between our breaks with our families and our next tour. It came together really, really well. A lot more smoothly than it should’ve. There was a lot of pressure and it was very stressful, but it was great. We went into the studio with a totally different idea than what we came out with, and that’s just something you have to embrace. It really made me focus so much on songwriting, and just being really dedicated to structure. The song Created came together within, like, 30 minutes, which I think is so hilarious. It’s one of those really great moments that I’ve always really loved hearing about with certain bands who wrote this song or that in no time at all.
Antiquiet: As fast as everything was put together, there seems to be a lot more texture, as with the added instrumentation and the layered vocals.
John Gourley: We were just really really lucky to have had the collection of musicians helping out up in Seattle that we did. All of the band Kay Kay And His Weathered Underground played on that record at different points. The singer and the cello player were the ones that produced the album. It’s so crazy to think about- they’re such great musicians. Our band has always been big on jamming live, and whenever we’d go out on tour and roll through Seattle they’d always come onstage and play with us. So that spontaneous dynamic was already there.
Antiquiet: How was the experience of working with a classically trained group?
John Gourley: I just think that it’s great because normally, classically trained musicians, from what I’ve seen, can’t jam for shit. They need their arrangements, normally. They need to read music. There was nothing written for these guys, though. They didn’t bring anything in, and we didn’t give them anything. It was all spontaneous, and it came out really, really well. It was so cool. I’m really happy with it.
Antiquiet: How many takes did it take for an average piece to come together like that?
John Gourley: All the cello and violin, all that stuff- anything that they did was one take. It was just insane.
Antiquiet: As a vocalist, how do you approach writing a melody? Is there a particular method you use in songwriting?
John Gourley: No, not necessarily. And I think that’s become really frustrating for our producers to deal with. I only really first began to notice it on our last record, but how frustrating must it be to edit vocals that are written in the studio, and there’s different voicings and words every time. It’s mostly just done on the spot. I mean, we have some melodies here and there, but it’s really doing it and seeing what works.
Antiquiet: How have your label experiences been thus far? You’re in a unique position with your record deal.
John Gourley: You know, I’d like to say that we’ve broken away from all the pressures of the industry, but to be honest we’ve never really had pressures in the first place. We’ve always been very clear with labels, fearless, really, just saying fuck, we’re gonna make albums and tour like crazy. Let us do what we do, and you do what you do. We’ll work our asses off, you don’t have to worry about that. But really, in the end, it’s just money (laughs).
Antiquiet: What other bands are you into? Any Portland locals?
John Gourley: Fuck, man, Portland’s just obnoxious with music. There’s just so many great bands out there. You’ve got Menomena, the Decemberists, and Get Hustle. There’s a band that’s really, really amazing, and incredible live, who actually happen to be from Alaska as well- they’re called the Builders And The Butchers.
Antiquiet: Yeah, we covered them recently. Fantastic band.
John Gourley: Awesome. They’re just really great guys, too. And actually, their mandolin player was originally in Portugal. The Man. We actually played together with them the last time we came through. It was great.
Antiquiet: What’s the best part of the live show experience for you?
John Gourley: That’s hard to say. Probably the energy of it all, and lots of eye contact between myself and the other bandmembers. I rarely look at the people in the audience, and it’s no disrespect- I was always just such a shy kid growing up in Alaska. I was scared of everything. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t have neighbors growing up or what, but I’ve just been really shy and I get anxious if I stare at a bunch of strangers. But if I’m looking at the band, and we just play together and jam and have a good time, it works out for a much better show for everyone. I mean fuck, man, I love watching those guys play.
Antiquiet: What’s the worst?
John Gourley: I’ve had such bad panic attacks. It mostly comes from when we’ve had to do acoustic sets. But I have more fun at those shows, to be honest. Just to get up and say fuck, I don’t wanna do this but I’m gonna throw myself into the mix here.
Antiquiet: So what’s next? Where’s the rest of the year taking you?
John Gourley: Well, we’re doing this tour now with Earl Greyhound and Wintersleep, and then I imagine we’ll record again in December or January. At least we’ll get the pre-production together and find a producer, maybe. Someone nobody would expect. Like if we could ever work with the RZA, that would be the shit. But as far as new stuff, we’ve actually been talking about stripping down for the next record and bringing in some of the live jams that people seem to really enjoy at our shows.