Alaska’s psychedelic rockers Portugal. The Man have been putting out albums and making road trips much better since 2006. After releasing six albums on a mix of Fearless and Approaching AIRballoons, the four-piece have signed to Atlantic Records for their seventh release, In The Mountain, In The Cloud, which is due out this summer. Besides the release of a new album, the guys in Portugal. The Man are gearing up to head out on tour and to play two of the biggest American music festivals: Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.
Check out what vocalist/guitarist John Gourley had to say about the new album, Mormon crickets, and what it’s like being signed to Atlantic Records.
So how is being part of Atlantic Records family so far?
I was just literally laying in my bunk thinking how amazing it is to be on Atlantic Records. I really didn’t know what it’d be like until we actually signed up. I mean we haven’t put out a record so we don’t really, really know. But the people have been amazing and everything leading up to this album’s release has been great. They’re really great people, really big music fans and they’re just really good at their job. It’s cool, I feel really privileged to be a part of it.
You have a very unique vocal style, how did you develop it?
By never singing before in my life. I’ve always really loved music but I was just a really shy kid growing up. We really did live in the woods and we moved around a lot. I went to school in schoolhouses with two other kids in my grade. It made me really nervous around people and it made me really shy. I didn’t really sing in front of anybody until I was 19, pretty much right before I left Alaska to start touring. Some friends just asked me to sing for their band and I took the opportunity and it pretty much evolved into this band. I’m kinda learning as I go.
Your lyrics are unique as well, where do they come from?
By being a bad writer, I guess. With my writing, singing and artwork, pretty much these were all careers that were not an option growing up in Alaska. I would fail English class, and maybe it was because of homework, I guess, but my teachers were never really into my writing, artwork or any of those things, but I always loved doing it.
What are you looking forward to the most when you play in New York on June 3?
I spent most of my free time in New York when we were recording this album. It was just working with [producer] John Hill, who was based in New York up until recently. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of our friends and the Atlantic Records people and just hanging out. We finally get to spend a little bit of time there after this show. It should be cool. The shows are always really great there. I guess the first couple of times we really went it didn’t work the way it was supposed to. Anytime you play a major city, I feel like those are the worst shows you play and in the last couple of years it’s been our favorite place to play.
From where you started with your debut album to now, with In The Mountain, In The Cloud, what will be different?
So, we recorded The Satanic Satanist, we were trying to focus our songwriting. We’re big fans of songwriting. And lately what I’ve been obsessing over is trying to structure songs properly and find nice sounds and tones. I think working on this new record with John Hill was really great for us. We were pushed to write the songs we wanted to write and be ourselves, but to also experiment with sounds and tones. I think it was really great.
This record is the closest to what we create in band practice or in the live setting. It sounds the most like us. I think the songwriting has taken a big step, if I can say that about my own music. It’s just something that when you play in a rock band, you just get self-conscious about melody and playing chord progressions you’ve heard before.
It kinda gets you almost pushing and kicking back against the song and not doing everything that you can. You have a tendency to change up structures more than you normally would and change up chord progressions more than you should. I think going in we kinda talked about Motown quite a bit. I guess it is kind of a soul record in a way, but it is our most rock ‘n’ roll record. We just talked about the Motown songwriters, there were only a handful of Motown songwriters it was basically the same structures over and over with different songwriters with different melody. We tried to look at that and be self-aware going in.
Are you planning on mixing older songs with newer ones in your setlists?
Yeah, we have been. We have like 80 songs at this point, and I think mainly right now we’re playing Satanic Satanist, American Ghetto and some of the new record, In The Mountain, In The Cloud. There is some of it mixed in there, there is definitely some older stuff too.
What are some of your favorite songs to play?
The setlists are really fun for me. I have a really good time, putting together setlists and transitions and trying to find covers to do and things like that.
So you’ll be making your second appearance at Bonnaroo this year, how are you expecting it to be different or better than your last appearance?
Honestly, I expect to be just as nervous as I was the first time. It was our first major open-air festival that we have ever played. And we really love music and we love seeing it, but I don’t think that we’d expect to end up in situations like this. It was just crazy to be playing Bonnaroo, to be playing this festival with all these bands, people we really respect—the Beastie Boys were there! So fucking cool.
I really hope, I think about this every day—like today I was in Fort Collins and Garden of the Gods, I think they filmed Planet Of The Apes up there, and it’s a really amazing area out there. So I went out there and hiked around and walked around this place thinking, I really hope bands appreciate what they get to do. Things like Bonnaroo, we could play it every single year and it would be the coolest thing for us. It’s amazing, we get to play music with bands that we grew up listening to, bands that we love and we get to be in amazing situations that we wouldn’t have been in before this band.
Does the same go for Lollapalooza, what are your expectations for that?
Same thing, it’s just a different setting. It’s going to be really cool, everyone in the band is really excited. The fact that we get to play these festivals, and that we get asked to play these festivals is amazing so, we’re just going to play and be part of the party!
What’s the oddest thing that’s ever happened while being on the road?
We were just talking about this yesterday. The thing that I found the most crazy was we were traveling through Idaho—and this was when [we had] first come down from Alaska, so this was our first tour. We passed through just as the Mormon crickets were waking up. If you’ve never seen them—sure you can find pictures of them online, but if you’ve never seen them in person—they look like giant rubber crickets; like those fake rubber bugs.
They can’t jump because they’re too fat and too big to jump. They were all over the ground; we couldn’t really walk without stepping on them, and it made you feel so much worse because if you stepped near them they scream. It was the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen. They were smashed all over the ground, jumping all over each other and screaming as you walked through them. It was pretty wild; I’ve never seen anything like that. I thought that it was so fitting that it was my first tour out of Alaska.
What are your expectations for the new album?
We just record music and just put it out. We never really paid much attention to it. I mean this time around we hope it does well for Atlantic. I mean it’s Atlantic Records. Again, this is the coolest label in the world, and I feel pretty lucky to be part of it. I hope we do well for them, at the same time I hope people appreciate the music, support it and get behind it. I just hope people do that.
I think back to all those records and the thing that happened when we played Bonnaroo—it was the first time we played a festival. Again Beastie Boys were there and there were 80,000 people there waiting to see Beastie Boys and yet TV On The Radio was playing for maybe 20,000. It just made me think back to the time when we’d buy records, be so excited about music and pick up the newest album and listen to it until the CD was worn out. Then we’d go buy another one. That’s really what made those albums great; it was really sitting down giving it the time, working for it and being a part of it. That’s part of the thing I miss about music. I like buying records.
What do you think are some of your fan favorites?
It’s kinda random. We have some people who love Church Mouth, some people like the first record. We make so much different music that it’s really nice in a live setting because there are so many different people that it’s just a fun set.
Portugal. The Man will play at Webster Hall in NYC on June 3. For more information, go to portugaltheman.com.