The Calcutta

Portugal. The Man Interview

March 30, 2009 · No Comments

John Gourley, from Portugal. The Man, took some time out of his touring schedule to talk with us over the phone. For a man with a very powerful voice onstage, he is surprising soft spoken offstage. He gave us some insight about their upcoming album, their new approach to recording and some other interesting things. They’ll be hitting some of the big festivals this summer so keep an eye out for Portugal. The Man.

Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man - (John is second from the left)

John: Hello?

Mike: Hey, is this John?

John: Yeah, this is John.

Mike: Hey John, this is Mike…
Colin: ….and Colin
Mike: ….and we’re from The Calcutta Blog.

John: Oh, alright. How are you doing man?

Mike: Good. How are you?

John:
I’m alright. Just got to our venue in Utah.

Mike: Oh, right on. Do you have a few minutes to talk with us? Are you busy right now?

John: Yeah man. No, right now’s cool.

Mike: Alright cool.
Colin: Right now you guys are in the middle of a Midwest tour. Are you guys playing any new songs? How’s that going?

John: I guess we’ve played a few new songs at the very beginning but I think it was something that we felt it kind of needs a little space to grow before we bring it out on tour. I think it’s not necessarily that it’s harder to play than anything. It’s just kind of getting back into the groove of touring. Our drummer, Jason Sechrist, is back with us again, which we’re all really happy about. We just didn’t want to put too much pressure on the tour, we just wanted to go out and play. Play a lot of songs we didn’t really play on the headline tour anyway for Censored Colors.

Mike: What’s your favorite song to play right now?

John: Um, I really, really like “New Orleans” actually. It’s just kind of fun to mess around with that song because there was so much happening on the album. The album version with the trumpets and the trombones and everything. It’s really fun to take a step back and strip it down. Try the things on keyboard, guitar and whatever.

Mike: What’s your favorite non-musical activity to do on tour?

John: To do on tour?

Mike: Yeah
John: (laughs) Probably going out and watching movies. We go to any movie that’s coming out, that everybody can get into. Yeah, we watched Watchmen last night, which was pretty cool. Well, actually, you know I thought it was bad.

All: (laugh)

Colin: The book is better.

John: Yeah, I can imagine. Our tour manager said he liked it but I imagine because he had read the book and wanted to like it.

Colin: All you guys but one come from Alaska. What’s the music and stuff like up there?

John: Well, you know what? I was never really apart of the music scene in Alaska and I mean we are. We’re traveling around, we represent Alaska very much but it’s something where the venues are always constantly getting shut down. I think it’s been a little better lately with internet and everything getting bands to come up to Alaska and getting people to know about the bands up there. But there are really great musicians in Alaska.  I mean, there’s a lot of really good (laughs) metal and bluegrass. The band The Builders and The Butchers, if you know them?

Colin: No, never heard of them.

John: Oh, they’re from Alaska. Just really, really great band and they come down to Portland(Oregon) as well.

Colin: How’s the scene out in Portland? I’ve never been out there before.

John: Portland’s pretty amazing. There’s a lot of really, really great stuff going on there. We really don’t hang out a lot in that scene either, as you can imagine. We tour year round and it’s kind of hard to find a home in all that when you’re always gone.

Mike: Right. How did you guys decide to move to Portland? You know was that something you thought about a while ago or was it just random?

John: Well, it was actually pretty random. I was living in Alaska and I really had no intention of (laughs) singing for a band or playing in a band. Just cause I was so shy. I never want to get up in front of people. It was just weird circumstances that led to it. Zach(Carothers), our bass player now  and some other guys were in Portland playing in a band called Anatomy of a Ghost, who were all from Alaska. They just called and asked me to stay one day. I flew day three days later and the band was signed within a month or two of that. It was really random. I pretty much just came down to visit and ended up…singing. Even when I flew down, I didn’t expect that I would sing for them I thought they wouldn’t even want me to. And then, everything kind of just went from there. Portland just became the place we knew the best. It’s a small town and it’s close to Alaska, which meant we could get back home easy. It’s just a nice spot to be.

Colin: Yeah, that’s pretty sweet just how everything came together.

John:
Yeah, it’s just really random.

Mike: You guys just finished recording a new album. When did you start recording? Where did you record it? When did you finish recording?

John: Well, we headed out to Boston, I think, around January 14th. And we went out there with Paul Coldry and Adam Taylor and Anthony Saffery from Cornershop. And we were out there for about three weeks, I suppose. And it was actually probably the best experience we every had recording.  And everything we’ve done in the past has been with friends.

Mike: Why so?

John: It was something where, I think, I was so anxious and nervous to head out there and record with somebody so professional anyway (laughs). Because everything we’ve done has just been, I guess, the opposite of professional in every way. We’ve always gone into the studio with no songs and just to see what happens. You know? So this time we’ve finally got really prepared and just were really ready to go out there. We did pre-production and did demos for everything. I stripped everything back down and played it all on the acoustic as well. It was actually a lot of fun, it was a really great experience. It was good for us to figure out that we should be doing pre-production, we should be practicing and we should be doing all these things we’ve avoided so much.

Mike: Right. It’s nice when you can break a song down, you know like you said acoustically and really get a feel for how the song suppose to be past yourself. So that’s cool.

John:
Yeah definitely. It made a lot of sense.

Mike: Do you know it will be released?

John: I’m guessing it will come out around June or July along with the festivals this summer.

Colin: Aren’t you guys playing Bonnaroo?

John: Yeah, we’re playing Bonnaroo as well as some others. We haven’t really had a chance to do a lot of that stuff so it’s been really great to take a step back this year. And you know, get to see bands finally. (laughs) We never get to see any other bands play because we’re always on tour.

Colin: You guys were in Tucson(Arizona) recently and our friends opened for you, Mostly Bears. Did you get a chance to listen to them?

John: Oh my god, that was so good(laughs).  I mean that’s a really great band.  Yeah, we don’t always come across that, to be honest. But on this tour it’s been really good. There was Mostly Bears and also Born In The Flood from Colorado was really great. God, there was another group as well, Young Coyotes was really great. There were some really good bands on this tour. It was fun to go out without an opener so you could see what was going on in different places.

Mike: That’s pretty cool. So how would compare your new album which you just recorded to your most recent release, Censored Colors? You know, what are the main differences between the two?

John: Well, I think the biggest step was probably just the structures of the songs. We really rushed through Censored Colors. We went into the studio with no songs and recorded the whole thing in two and half weeks. And like wrote and recorded a song everyday. This time around it felt like we had touched on something so cool and so fun and so great. We kind of sat down and looked at the old Motown structures and The Beatles structures and just classic songs. We really realized how complicated it is to write a shorter song and write a song that fits into that, you know, world but it was really great. It was a really fun experience to actually try and  write songs and go for that. Because in the end we’ve all been pop kids, I think that’s what everybody known about us. We’ve just been going into the studio with no plans so it just goes where it goes. This time it was a lot easier to focus that.

Mike: When you guys normally write songs, you know, aside from what you just recorded. Is it usually somebody comes to practice with an idea and you just go from there? Or what do you guys do?

John: Well, we’ve never really practiced.

All: (laugh)

John: We’re always on tour, you know? The way it’s always worked is I would sit down with an acoustic guitar or electric guitar in the morning and just play a song basically from start to finish and then we would just build it all up from there. It was really, I guess  it would be more a hip-hop production more than anything. There was never really jam space playing. It was just, you know, we’d build up a piece, we’d put a drum loop to it then Jason would go in and play drums over top of that and make up his parts. Zach would play bass and Ryan who was playing keys before, would put keys over that. It was a lot of fun to do. I think we’ll probably do something like that in the future but this newer record, all the basic tracks were done with all of us together. It was all based on acoustic demos, you know?

Colin: So why is there a period after the Portugal?

John: It sounds weird, it reads weird, I hate how it reads(laughs). Especially because you come to the end of the sentence. The idea was, the band’s name is Portugal. And it was our Ziggy Stardust or our Sergeant Pepper, it was our alter ego that was meant to represent a group of people which is why it’s a country as well. The period was just there to form some sort of separation between stating that it’s a person and the band name. Now looking back at it, it’s so obnoxious. It’s obviously very hard when it comes to the editing.

Colin: It’s different though so that’s cool.

John: Yeah, it’s awful but we picked it and we stick with it and we stick by it(laughs). That’s the band name, that’s where it stays.

Mike: Do you get a lot of questions about it?

John: Yeah, we do just because it is so obnoxious. We honestly didn’t even think it was weird when we first made the band name(laughs).  We were like, “Whoa, you guys think it’s the man right? He’s the  man? Well, the man isn’t Portugal. The Man”.  That’s kind of what it’s become.

Colin: Yeah, we get a lot of questions about our blog site cause we’re called The Calcutta. We always get, “Oh, that city in India?”, but no.

John: (laughs) No

Mike: Would you rather have blue skin for the rest of your life or a fin on your back?

John: Wait, what? A fin or blue skin?

All: (laugh)

Mike: Blue skin or like a fin? Like a dolphin fin on your back and you gotta pick one.

John: Damn, you gotta stick with it huh?(laughs)

Mike: Yeah

John: Yeah, I’d probably go with the blue skin. I think that has more of a Star Trek vibe to it.

Colin: Definitely, you could even join the Blue Man Group.

John: (laughs) That’s true. You can do a lot with blue skin. You can be a Watchmen as well. I could of been the watchman. (laughs)

Colin: So have you guys ever played Portugal before?

John: No, we haven’t but we always get really random requests from Portugal. We were in GQ Portugal before the band had even put out our first record. They just called us up and it was just because our band name was Portugal. The Man, you know? And then more recently in Brazil. I guess because they speak Portuguese, I can’t imagine someone just found our record out of nowhere but “Lay Me Back Down” was used on a runway catwalk for some clothing designer down in Brazil. Which is pretty funny and very random.

Colin: Have you guys played in Europe before?

John: Yeah, we go over there quite a bit. Germany has been really, really great to us. And we now have been there five or six times now. We haven’t really done anything in the UK or around there at all. We haven’t played Portugal or France, we played in Italy. It’s mostly Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Amsterdam and places like that.

Colin: Yeah, I heard Germany has a pretty good scene. A few bands that we’ve talked to   they always mention Germany giving real big responses and real cool people.

John: Yeah, Germany is really great. That’s one of those places that we go over there, tour for three weeks just in Germany. We play villages, from villages to cities and it’s always really great. It’s really fun to see what honest people they are as well. They’ll come to a show and say, “Well, you know, it was better last time,” or “What’s wrong with your voice? It’s not as good”.

All: (laugh)

John: They just kind of say that stuff and I think it’s very entertaining to see what they think of the set.

Mike: Are you guys going to come east anytime soon?

John: Yeah, I imagine so. I think we’ve been kind of just taking a break for the sake of writing and doing just a lot of music this year. And kind of getting our feet again as far as the touring goes. We’ve been touring for three years, non-stop, and we recently just got a new booking agent. We kind of just want to hang out a bit and do the festivals  and do some light touring in between. Yeah, we always love playing anywhere.

Colin: That’s cool.
Mike: Well, that’s all we have for you. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Colin: We appreciate it. Hopefully we’ll see you soon.

John: No problem guys. Have a good one.

Mike: Thanks you too.

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