Portugal. The Man: From the Underground to the Mainstream

MC: Why was there a four-year gap between the last two albums?

Gourley: It’s a hard thing to explain to people. The thing that I learned working on this album and what I honestly feel took the most time was actually just “wanting it.” We started out recording with Mike D in Malibu, in this crazy private community, recording in Rick Rubin’s private studio in Shangri-La, and it was just us and Kanye in the studio at the time. Whenever he was out, we’d be in. It was just a situation where we were drinking smoothies, living on the beach in this private community. What do you have left to work for? We had to take a step back from that.

MC: A lot of bands go through that but don’t acknowledge it…

Gourley: I think it’s a tough thing. It’s hard to admit to yourself. I trashed, like, 40 songs. Maybe they’ll come back around in some way. But trying to convince the band that we need to step back––I’m going to throw out these songs. The fear that I saw in everybody––I imagine that lots of bands feel that. But if you can’t trust yourself to write a better song tomorrow, then you shouldn’t be doing it.38C_ptm_june17_credit_maclay-heriot_02

MC: It worked, and “Feel it Still” has been a smash. Could you tell, when working on it, that you had something special?

Gourley: You know. When you put down a song like that, you definitely see it, and there’s definitely a feeling in the studio. We felt that on “Modern Jesus” on the last album. It may not have been the hit that it could have been, but there’s something about that song, and you feel these things as they go down.

“Feel it Still” is a completely different beast. You cannot predict if it’s going to be a hit with people, you just know that what you’re working on is special. The thing with that song is, we were working in the studio and it was the end of the day, and we started mixing a different song that we were working on that day. I stepped into a side room, and I started playing that bass line. Then the producer handed me the mic. Everything but the bridge was recorded in 45 minutes. It was so natural and off the cuff.

It was all spawned from a George Carlin quote, “Fighting a war for peace is like screwing for virginity.” It was just on the spot. “Rebel just for kicks” makes me think of George Carlin. He’s going to tell you all the things that are wrong with politics and religion today, but he’s also the guy who isn’t going to vote. I’ve always been drawn to that. It’s not being apathetic, it’s just who we are. Everybody who heard the track thought we had something.

MC: Started thinking about the next album yet?

Gourley: I feel like, when a song’s doing what this song’s doing, you don’t want to get in its way. I’ve always felt that way. You have to give things room to breathe, to get out there and do what they’re going to do. For the average listener, it may seem like, “These songs are great––they should just follow them up.” It all comes down to promo teams and pushing that radio.

It’s sad to say, but you can’t push two songs at once. As much as I’d like to think this song is fully there, and as much as we’ve gotten off of this song, and as cool as it is to see, it’s not there-there. We’ve been Number One on Shazam in the U.S. twice now. We’ve been in the Top 10 forever. That tells me that many people are still unaware of who the band is. Until we drop off that list and people just know who we are, we can’t change anything.

MC: Has the live experience changed with the leap to the major label?

Gourley: It’s still the same. We’re still that band. The thing that you have to understand about this band is we’ve never followed any of the elitist music views of any genre. It’s just never been a part of it, and I don’t give a fuck. Honestly, I don’t give a fuck about that shit because music is meant to be listened to and enjoyed by a lot of people. That’s what we do. We share our stories and that’s it. I don’t give a fuck if you don't like it, because it has obviously connected with a lot of people. That’s really great. We’ve never been about money or some elitist music thing. We’ve always invested everything back into the band. We put $40,000 into our live show to make these modular lighting systems —we’ve always created our own video content with directors who are amazing.

MC: You’ve played plenty of festivals over the years, like Bonnaroo. How do you make the most of a festival opportunity?

Gourley: We got lucky with our first Bonnaroo experience. We came out and there was a storm. I think it was Delta Spirit that was supposed to play right before us, and we landed in this spot where Delta Spirit’s flight got canceled and they couldn’t make their set. So we had almost two hours of set-up time before we actually played our first major open air festival. We had this crazy opportunity that not many people get. During our set, it started pouring rain. I mean, it was packed in the first place, which was crazy to see. It was a wild experience for all of us, because nobody expected it to be as big as it was. When it started raining, everybody packed in, and it’s something I feel lucky about, everything falling in place.

But that also came with years of hard work and touring, and years of preparation to be that band that can get on stage and not freak out if your monitor’s not working. And not stress the small shit. That’s the biggest thing you have to understand. If you’re playing a festival and your monitor’s not working, just fuck off and play your set. Nobody wants to see you flip out about your monitor not working or having sound issues on stage. Nobody wants to watch that. You have 45 minutes. Play your set and play the best you can. You better be a good enough band to know that your guys are hitting the notes and tempo.

We came in with a lot of experience. We played a lot of festivals where I got Zac’s monitor mix in my face. Damn fucking straight I played through it and I didn’t say shit. That’s your opportunity. Don’t fuck it up because you think you’re not presenting the best you. Just getting out and playing your set is what you need to do. The best you is definitely not shouting at the monitor person, flipping out about monitor mixes. You see it way too often, and it’s the most unprofessional shit. I lose respect the second I see it. If you can’t play through that shit, I don’t need to see you. You’re a rock band and there are so many rock bands. Or rappers playing to tracks. How many rappers have I seen playing to tracks and asking for their vocals to be turned up in the monitors? Fuck man, how much do you love yourself?

MC: Do you still like playing the old songs live?

Gourley: I’m on Reddit pretty much constantly, talking to people about our setlist and why we do what we do. That’s also the advantage of being a band for such a long time and not giving a shit. We can have an interaction. That’s who we are. Lords of Portland is our pseudonym, when we go out there and play older stuff. But this band was working up to the point when we signed to Atlantic. When we signed, we put out our first album. There are a lot of fans who came on board over the last couple of years who know the stuff that’s been on the radio or in commercials. I think it’s mainly, if you’re at a Portugal. The Man show it’s going to be about us putting together the best flowing set. We work on transitions a lot. Jams. It takes a long time to work that stuff out. We’ll play any of it if we end up in a situation where it makes sense.

MC: How are decisions made within the band? Is it a democracy?

Gourley: Our keyboard player has a really great off-the-cuff quote for this question. Brian said it’s a “dick-mocracy.” I thought that was so funny, and scarily on-point. We need somebody to direct it and that’s just a role I’ve taken on. It’s like working with producers. I like the idea of somebody saying, “There it is. That’s the thing.” When it comes to commercials and things like that, I try to stay the fuck out of it. Where we get involved is if we see something going on in the world that we believe in or want to fight against. For the most part we let it run its course.

MC: Finally, what do you have planned for the rest of the year?

Gourley: I think we’re just touring. It’s just constant. I’m super-excited to head back to Europe. The thing I’m most excited about right now is playing Ellen. She’s so funny and so likable. There’s something about Ellen. I watched her show growing up, and I remember when she came out. She’s just always been a cool and strong person, somebody that I’ve always respected, that probably not a lot of people realize how much of an impact she’s had on all of us. 

Contact jason.davis@atlanticrecords.com

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