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Portugal. The Man on Being Star Struck by Other Band Members

Recording an album a year clearly isn’t enough for these Portland-based fellas. After recording and writing all 15 songs on Censored Colors (their September 2008 release) in 15 days, Portugal. The Man just finished another 3-week stint recording their latest album in Boston (still unnamed and without a release date). Those loveable boys originally from Wasilla, Alaska have been on tour for nearly three years straight (nearly 300 shows a year) and recording albums on their few weeks off a year, but after Alternative Press named lead singer John Gourley the “Best Vocalist of 2008,” they began blowing up in the press and we can’t say they don’t deserve it. With people like Paul Q. Kolderie (Pixies, Radiohead, Throwing Muses) mixing Censored Colors, Adam Taylor (The Lemonheads, The Dresdon Dolls), and Anthony Saffery of Cornershop backing them up, we’re eager to see what they’ll reproduce live when they grace us with their presence upon the stage at Café du Nord for Noise Pop tonight. But first, John Gourley was kind enough to take some time out of band practice earlier this week to have a chat with us. Check it out:


What was it like growing up in Alaska?
It’s pretty amazing to look back on all of it now. I feel very lucky that I was able to grow up how I did with dogs and dog sledding and just moving around as much as I did. At the time I really didn’t think it was that strange. Alaska feels like you’re going to a totally different country. It’s just so isolated. I went to schoolhouses where there were 2 other people in my grade and we all got taught in the same room.

Tell me about the origin of the name, Portugal. The Man?
It’s hard to explain, but it made perfect sense at the time. Over the 5 years that we’ve had the band name it’s just kind of gotten lost, but the idea was that we wanted to back somebody up. I guess in choosing Portugal, it was just kind of a random choice. We really wanted a country to be the name of our person because a country is a group of people. The man just states that Portugal is a person. So really Portugal is the band’s name and the man is just stating that he is the man.

You’ve gone through your rotation of band members, how permanent is the lineup now?

Oh yeah, I think we’ve had 50 people play in the band at this point, but it’s pretty solid. Ryan has been with us for a year and a half now and he’s just such a fun guy and he’s gotten so good and he just brings a lot to the band. We’ve always been about playing with new people and trying things out and leaving it fairly open. It’s really funny when we’re on tour, sometimes we just grab people from the other bands to come play with us and I think they get a kick out of us just not giving a shit. We just tell them to go for it.

What do you think of all the recent praises and acclaim you’ve been receiving?

I had no idea. We just really have fun playing music and if that’s what’s happening then we’re very happy with that.

What’s with all the Beatles references on Censored Colors?
Well that was kind of the idea. The whole idea of Censored Colors was that I personally wanted to make a record for my family and everything that I was raised on. I was raised on The Beatles. We used to listen to oldies radio on every drive that we had to make that would take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours depending on where we were living at the time just to get groceries and go to school, but anyone who listens to oldies radio knows that it’s 90% Beatles. So the entire last half of that record is a total Abbey Road reference without sounding completely like Abbey Road. The recording went by really fast though. We worked from 9am-4am all day long and at 4am we would go to bed and Phil Peterson would stay up and play all the cello and trumpets while we were sleeping in the next room.


You just got added to Bonnaroo. Who are you stoked to see?

We’ve never done any festivals really, but that was the whole plan. For the last 3 years we’ve just been touring and been booked all year long and then we’re making a record during our 6 weeks off or 2 weeks off or whatever and everywhere we go we look at all the festivals saying ‘Man, I wish we could play this.’ We don’t get to see any of the music that we like or any of the bands we listen to. I’m pretty pumped that we get to see Beastie Boys and Al Green and Grizzly Bear. I’m really excited that they asked us to do it.

Who are you guys listening to these days that you wish you could go see?
As far as new stuff, I really like Lykke Li. I like her. Maybe we should just bug the shit out of her until she takes us on tour. I really wanna see Feist and we played with Grizzly Bear forever ago and it was so good then, I’d love to see it now. I wanna go see all these bands, but I don’t wanna talk to any of them. I get so nervous around people in bands. They’re always just so cool. Even when I’m on stage, I try not to look. I used to get panic attacks if I made eye contact with people. If I see people who really want us to play, I kinda get really nervous.


Starring in a few festivals later this year and booking another possible West Coast tour later this spring, we have a sneaking suspicion that this won’t be the last you see of Portugal. The Man here in San Francisco. See you tonight.