When Kathy Lee and Hoda, and Metallica’s Lars Ulrich, separately declared their shared “song of the summer,” a wide net of fandom was cast. Just ask Portugal. The Man, the band behind the undeniable ditty, “Feel It Still”, which took over mainstream radio in 2017.
“Feel It Still” is a hallmark piece. It’s an easy icebreaker song; the party soundtrack; the dance jam; and it’s a no-brainer, advertisement accompaniment. It just works, and it went viral quickly.
“Right before ‘Feel It Still’ took off we had this crazy couple of weeks where we were getting calls from everybody,” said bassist Zach Carothers. “My friend sent me a video of first grade kids out at recess playing hopscotch and singing the song. I thought, ‘Well that’s a good sign. That’s going somewhere.’
While Portugal. The Man’s Pop chops proved to be a great gateway to mainstream, the band rich, varied catalogue spans more than a decade. Culturally conscientious lyrics and easy, alternative beats make for a combination that offers something for everyone. The band strikes an unparalleled balance of business and party — a musical mullet you actually want to rock.
Portugal. The Man is John Gourley, Zach Carothers, Kyle O’Quin, Eric Howk, and Jason Sechirst.
Carothers is excited about the launch pad their recent success has offered, as well as the opportunity to work with other musicians on more collaborative songwriting.
“That’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Carothers says humbly. “Every now and then I come up with something and I think, ‘Well, I can’t sing that but if Rihanna could sing it then it’d be badass!’”
Carothers connects in from the road to share more about the inner-workings of “Feel It Still” fame, and the social causes closest to the heart:
It’s clear through your environmental and social initiatives that Portugal. The Man is a socially conscious group. What is your philosophy on the role of music in people’s lives?
It’s just one of those responsibilities that we think we have. It’s just personal. I think it’s an artist’s responsibility to do what feels right. I grew up in a small town in Alaska and I didn’t know much of the outside world at all. One of the things I actually knew about was music. So honestly, I learned about questioning politics from Dead Kennedys and Rage Against the Machine. I learned about mental health after I saw what happened to Kurt Cobain. I learned everything from the arts: whether it was movies, music, painting, or photography. That’s how we learn about the world. That’s how we see and enjoy it. So that’s one way for us to give back.
I think everybody should pick a few things to fight for. When you do this job specifically, you travel a lot. We travel more than most state senators and politicians. We get around a lot of people and see a lot of things. The whole idea behind music is getting out there to experience things, soaking in information and telling stories, so why not bring it to a different platform and do some good with it?
What are the most important causes to you right now?
We pick things that are close to our hearts and lives, things we grew up with and see every day. Environmental conservation is important to us. We grew up in Alaska with a very particular perspective on watching glaciers melt — literally. Instead of arguing whether climate change is real, we can all agree that recycling and using things more than once, is a good thing to do. It’s just one thing we stick up for. It’s one step we can take.
We grew up native to Alaska. There’s art. There’s culture. Everywhere we go on tour we invite a spokesperson of notoriety from either the local area tribe. We have a big audience. We have a platform and a microphone, so this is time to let them say what they want to say. It’s been really interesting. They’ve done lectures talking about issues; they come out and do traditional song, dance, ceremonies. It’s been so amazing to learn about [the richness of places we play].
I really like the ‘Keep Oregon Well’ initiative [a public advocacy campaign and social movement designed to reduce stigma surrounding mental and behavioral health] … As far as mental health, it’s just as much for us as it is for the people in our crowds. It’s okay to not be okay. We want to let people know that there is help out there. Once again, growing up in Alaska, you didn’t go to the doctor [for mental health]. If you started talking about feelings, nobody listened to you. I still have a very big problem talking about my feelings. I don’t talk to anybody. But I’ve gone to therapy. I’m totally okay saying that. It’s okay that we’re not okay. Taking the shame out of it and getting the conversation going is important. People need to know they’re not alone. Of these issues that we want people to be aware of. When it comes to people hurting, everybody is going through something. If you’re not alright, you’re not alright.
I’ve got an amazing job. I’ve got people I love that love me. I’ve got a very nice roof over my head. I’ve got a good life. And I’m still not good, and so you can’t compare yourself [and your life] with someone [else’s circumstances]. Everybody is different and everybody struggles. You’ve got to learn to listen to yourself, to give yourself what you need. Maybe take some time out of the day, to help yourself be okay.
Sage advice. Did the success of “Feel It Still” make you want to recreate, or move forward? Perhaps a bit of both?
Definitely a bit of both. With “Feel It Still” it’s a double-edged sword, because it’s kind of laughable to think we can ever get there again. That takes some of the pressure off it. Well, shit, that was just ridiculous. That was magic. And timing. And luck. And stardust. You could have the most talented, beautiful artist performing with a craft team of the biggest songwriters and hit makers in the world, backed by all the money and connections in the world, and it might not have gone that far. There’s just no telling.
Did you anticipate the influence and reach of “Feel It Still” when you wrote it?
No. Well, my mama didn’t raise no dummy. I knew we had a good song. I thought it would chart high on alternative charts, but it introduced us to a whole different side of our record label.
When “Feel It Still” started doing so well on the alternative charts, the label [Atlantic Records] brought in the pop team. We always worked for years with the alternative group — they’re great. We’re very close. The pop team said they would try to cross it over to the mainstream Top 40, and I had this thought, “Are you kidding me? Look at us.”
At the time I was 36 years old. I’m from Wasilla, Alaska. I don’t have a six pack. I don’t have a tan. Looking at the charts: It’s Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift. We just don’t fit in. But the team was confident, and they did a fantastic job. It was so fun to be able to see a completely different side of the record industry that we had never seen before.
Pop radio is a crazy machine and it was really fun. For them, a lot of the DJs and program directors of pop radio had fun with us. They’re used to working with pop stars that walked in with their publicists and a list of things you can’t talk about.
This type of industry success is fitting for such a creative and talented band. I’m glad for you guys!
Thank you. I just want to experience everything. We’ve done a little bit of everything in the music business. This has provided more of an opportunity to work with other songwriters and start helping writing songs for other people which is something I’ve always wanted to do. Eventually that’d be really fun. I’d love to collaborate on something that’s not ours.
People are reaching out and we’re getting to do cool collaborations. We randomly made friends and wrote a song with Paul Williams. It was amazing. He is so old school and he’s seen so much. It’s so unbelievable. Who knows what will happen with it, but just the fact that we’re doing that and learning from these people, it’s all about the experience and it’s really cool. We’ve gotten to do some really projects. We’re making some new friends and having a really good time.
Portugal. The Man is playing Forest Hills Stadium in New York City September 22.