1883 Magazine
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It all started in a gravel pit in Alaska, just a couple of guys hanging out and listening to music they loved. Fast forward 15 years and American rock band Portugal. The Man about to release their eighth album Woodstock and are travelling the world on their biggest tour to date. The albums first single "Feel it Still" released earlier this year, has launched them back onto the international stage, in a big way.  

When asked where the rest of the band were, they joked that if you get all of them in a room together it would be absolute pandemonium. So meet Zac and John, two fifths of Portugal. The Man. 

How did you guys meet, where did this all start?  

Zac: Probably the gravel pit in Western Alaska – getting drunk (literally an actual gravel pit). Where we are from in Alaska, it’s a very very small town and we used to have outside parties with big bonfires, just everybody would drive and blast music out of cars, get in fights, drink a bunch of beer and listen to Pantera. We probably first started hanging out there, we had a mutual friend that we would just talk about music, when we were in early ages of high school and then we just started hanging out and playing music together and just didn’t really stop doing that. 

Who came up with the name Portugal the man? 

Zac: That was John. 

So what’s the story behind it? 

John: Well we wanted to make a Ziggy Stardust, Sgt. Pepper alter ego, we just wanted to have a name to play under. We always knew that we were going to play in a band together, it was never going to be like "David Bowie" we’re not going to be that. So we decided to name our character after a country. Because a country is an individual in the world that represents a group of people and Portugal. The Man just states that. 

And why Portugal, have you guys spent much time there? 

Zac: Oh I love it yes, we’ve been there a few times and it’s a blast. They really like us there. We weren’t sure, you know when we first went there, we didn’t know if they were going to be offended that we borrowed their countries name. They are really passionate people and they will write to us and tell us what they think. Some people don’t like it, but obviously in our shows people don’t buy tickets to come and hate us.  

There was a bit of a gap between your last album and your new album Woodstock being released, you kept your fans intrigued for 4 years?  

Zac: We wrote too much music, we were trying to go the whole Prince, Elvis Costello, Michael Jackson route where you just write as much music as you can, we had over 100 songs for an album. We decided that just didn’t work for us, first of all we just couldn’t stop writing, we kept on starting new songs. 

John: Atlantic Records put a lot of faith in us and its easy to do that because we had a Beastie Boy on board, we were recording at Rick Rubin’s Shangri La studio in Malibu California and it was a super productive period. We were writing new songs every single day and we made a ton of music, it was just so relaxed we had no reason to stop. I mean why would stop hanging out at Shangri La in Malibu on the beach drinking smoothies? 

Zac: The only reason we we’re going to have to stop was Kanye West had it blocked out but he was over here (Europe) for fashion week in Paris or something. Then he decided to go on a little vacation and so he extended his stay, so we got to stay longer, basically we had it until Kanye came back in. 

How is it touring with all your closest friends? Do you all get on? Is there a prankster of the group? 

Zac: Nobody is ever serious, we’re always having a good time. We always talk s**t to each other. We are very close, the whole band and the entire crew – all very close and we have a good time. We love to travel, we love to see things and so we don’t sleep very much. We’re up early just walking around, taking pictures, hanging out. We love to eat the food, we love to drink the drink we love to meet the people. 

John: Yeah you’re a sports team and that’s the way you have to be. You have to get up and do everything together and train together. As long as everybody is in that same mindset its easy to be on tour together.

 

So is that how you all chill out when you’re on tour? Eating, drinking, sight seeing?  

John: Its not just about sight seeing even, we are genuinely interested in a lot of different things. Kyle our keyboard player was a barista and did competitions. He gets really in depth on coffee, so we’ll go out and we’ll check out whatever the top coffee shop in London is. Jason has the craziest pallet of anyone I know, he’s really into food. Bands and chefs get along really well, there is always music being played in restaurants and kitchens and we tend to gravitate towards people in those positions anyway. So we will go around and meet rad chefs and eat at good restaurants. We check out art and how things are made, we do a lot of that stuff. We went to a place in Berlin, they make sunglasses and glasses and their engineering is crazy.   

Zac: We love just walking down the streets, its just all about soaking in the rest of the world. 

John: You have to do that, bands are typically pussies, they want to sit in their green room. We never started playing music because we wanted to be on stage in front of people or getting millions of Instagram followers. We started playing because we really like music and that took us travelling. We realised that we have all these opportunities that nobody gets. So few people get the opportunity to travel, basically for free and go and meet people in other countries. 

Tell me about your new track Feel It Still... 

John: That song was kind of the easiest song to write, which is how things should happen. I think we were working on something completely different in one of the side rooms at the studio and I stepped out for a minute. I was in the lounge area just playing base and Asa Taccone from Electric Guest heard me playing the base and he just said "Yo Jay come here real quick, let me record that base line". So I laid down the base line, then he just gave me the mic and said you should try something on this, its just cool when another artist is just so excited to hear you get it out. He then started banging on the desk and doing these whoops, all the things you hear in the track even the laugh, that’s all him. He’s a really talented producer as well as a musician. Everything you hear on the track is exactly what we did that day, we recorded it in like 45 minutes at the end of the day. As soon as it was done, we sent it round to a couple of friends to check out and they were like, I think you’ve got something here.  

There is a theme of social injustice in your music, is that something you feel you have a responsibility to talk about? 

Zac: Yeah Totally. 

John: It comes back to what we do everyday, we travel for a living and you see a lot of this nationalism happening. That all comes from people who grow up in small towns who don’t ride the bus with Muslims, they don’t eat at Ethiopian restaurants down the street. That’s where you get this divide between the big city folk and then the country bumpkins. We come from a really small place, I saw racism growing up but I grew up in a  family that wasn’t racist. It’s more about teaching people, yes I ride the bus with this guy, but he is exactly the same as me. Everywhere we go people are the same. When you see things like Brexit and Trump you realise that should be enough to recognise that these people are dealing with the same bulls**t that we deal with. What I don’t understand is the unnecessary hate, it doesn’t make any sense.  

Zac: The hate and the arguing is so tiresome and it doesn’t do any good.  

John: Yeah, let’s find something to agree on, that’s the whole point of this video. Everything is politicized lately. Racial and gender equality, clean drinking water, Native American rights, native Alaskan rights those are issues we saw growing up and seeing it all politicized and that’s the whole point of the tool kit, be open to learn and grow. That’s what this world is about, you don’t have to have the same opinion that you had when you were 5 years old.  

What about Number One, your latest single? 

John: June 16th is when the album comes out. Just to be clear what it is, its not all about social issues or politics. I mean music is meant to be listened to and enjoyed and some of it is just fun, us just having fun in the studio. Our experiences come into the music and form who we are.  

Describe Portugal. The Man in one word.  

Zac: Un - fuck - withable.

 

Portugal. The Man have a new album, Woodstock, is out June 16th and you can pre-order here.
For their latest new head to www.portugaltheman.com

 

Interview Tanya Francis
@tanyajfrancis

Photography Alexandru Luchita
www.alexlukita.com

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