After most of a decade learning their craft in the murky depths of the punk rock underground, Alaskan rockers Portugal. The Man entered the big leagues and signed to Atlantic Records in April 2010. While the major label debut, 2011’s In the Mountain in the Cloud, was the band’s sixth album, frontman John Gourley considers it their first “real” full-lengther. 2013’s Evil Friends saw them progress further and receive wider attention thanks to the “Modern Jesus” single.
But this year, the game changed. The Woodstock album, produced by, among others, the Beastie Boys’ Mike D, John Hill and Danger Mouse, earned rave reviews and spawned the “Feel It Still” single, a quirky, funky little alt-rock gem that has helped musically define the summer of ’17.
Portugal. The Man has gone up a level, but Gourley is adamant that they’re still the regular, hard-working dudes that they’ve always been––not looking to please anybody but themselves with their tunes, but happy when others do tag along for the ride.
We chatted with Gourley about his band’s long and steady rise…
Music Connection: The band formed in 2004, but you went through quite a lot of members early on. Is it fair to say that there was a settling-in period before you really got going?
John Gourley: You know what it was? We all originally came from Alaska. The entire band moved down to Portland together and started touring. The thing about growing up in Alaska is, we never knew that jobs in art were even a possibility. We never thought that going to art school was a real thing. Once we got out of there, everybody saw the world and realized that they could be an artist and a musician. So everybody kind of fell into their own thing. Once everybody went their separate ways, it was just about whoever was around, we would take them on tour. Whoever wanted to come out with us. We did tours where there’d be 12 people on stage in the beginning. If people wanted to come and hang, that’s what we were doing.
MC: Drummer Jason (Sechrist) has been in and out of the band over the years––what explains that?
Gourley: With Jason, he’s our drummer. I say that in the sense that he’s got this crazy approach to drums. It’s something that you can’t really replicate. It’s just the way he and I play off each other. When you tour constantly, you get to see a lot of the good sides and bad sides, and not everybody can tour as much as we did. Ultimately that’s the reason so many people have come in and out, because we were doing 300 shows a year in the beginning. Sometimes he just wanted to be back in Portland.
The fun thing about being able to cycle out like that, and just the way this group has worked, we always had a spot for Jason. If he wants to stay in Portland, sure. Stay in Portland, hang out for a little bit. We’ll find somebody to fill in while he’s away. We get to play with other drummers from time to time, and just see how other people interpret the music. Jason gets to come to a show from time to time, and experience the show as an audience member. That’s something that you don’t really get to do. He has a unique take on the band and what we do.