With a spot on many sold-out festival line-ups and a new album on a major label, Portugal. The Man has been on the tip of everyone’s tongue lately. Their psychedelic approach to indie rock has been gaining them followers for years, but new album “In the Mountain, In the Cloud” is sure to please an array of fans. WUTK DJ and BLANK writer Brittney Bryant sat down with bass player/vocalist Zach Carothers and keyboardist/percussionist Ryan Neighbors at Bonnaroo this month to talk about the new record and more.
BB: Where does the name Portugal, The Man come from? I kind of get puzzled looks when I say your name.
PTM: It’s an interesting name, I guess. It is kind of an alter ego like Ziggy Stardust and Sgt Pepper. It’s our character to represent us as a band. In picking a country’s name, it was one name that represents a group of people. It made sense for a while, but we have regretted it ever since that day (Laughs).
BB: Is there a reason for the pronunciation and spelling of Portugal, period, the Man?
PTM: We did that to state that Portugal was the man’s name and he is the man; he’s the shit.
BB: How did all of you get together? Are all of your from Alaska or just a few of you?
PTM: Me (Zach) and our singer are from Alaska and we grew up together. We were in another band before this. The band started with a couple other guys from Alaska in Alaska, but then we moved down to Portland. We started doing some touring, and then lost a few members. Ryan and Jason played in bands that we played with a lot in Portland, so we took them on tour. We ended up really liking them and had them join the band.
BB: You don’t really hear of many bands that say they come from Alaska. What was it like trying to formulate a band there and how did living there influence your music?
PTM: We were raised on everything our parents gave us, so it was a lot of Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin. Also, my parents listened to a lot of 80s pop. There was just radio then. It was before the Internet, so we had no idea about the smaller music scene out there. We moved down to Oregon, and I went to college there. All my friends started taking me to shows and I just got flooded with all of this new music. So, it was kind of a mix of everything we were raised on and everything that we see today.
BB: I just saw the video you released called “Sleep Forever,” and it is really beautiful. What was the concept behind that video? Did you just want to show the beauty of Alaska?
PTM: Yeah, it is supposed to show how alone you really are up there and how secluded everything is. All of that was pretty much filmed in John’s backyard. We just wanted to show our home, and we are lucky to be where we are from. We wanted to show what it’s like up there because many people don’t get to see that side of it; they see Sarah Palin’s Alaska.
BB: That’s so true.
PTM: We tried to get her, though (Laughs).
BB: “In the Mountain, In the Cloud” comes out next month on July 19th. What was the story behind this album? I know usually you all have some sort of concept behind them.
PTM: We never really set out to make concept records because normally we record them so fast. It’s just a month out of our lives, so it’s just what is going on then. John will just start writing about one thing and then kind of go with it. This one has a lot more into it because we spread it out over seven or eight months. It’s a little bit of everything—growing up, living, dying, and reincarnation. Bunch of stuff, but a lot of reincarnation.
BB: You were on Equal Vision Records, and now you are releasing this album on Atlantic Records. What was it like moving to a big label?
PTM: Pretty crazy. There’s a lot of help, which is awesome. It’s a definite change. We’ve been on our own label for a long time, and we just partner up with different labels to release our records. We’ve been doing everything ourselves, and we kind of got to the point where we decided that it was the next step. We work all day every day and there was literally nothing else we could do, so we needed to step up. Atlantic was really cool, and it allows us to have more hands in the cookie jar.
BB: That always helps. I bet the financial support was nice, too.
PTM: We opted out of a signing bonus or anything, but it’s nice to not have to pay for our own records anymore. Normally, we would tour all year long and save up money, then spend all of it on recording a record. Now, Atlantic pays for our recording and we can go to better studios, so that’s pretty cool.
BB: You are at Bonnaroo now, and you were at the Orange Peal in Asheville, NC. You went from a nice air-conditioned venue to this insane outdoor heat. Besides the temperature change, what’s the difference of playing to a festival crowd in comparison to a small venue?
PTM: In a small venue, everyone’s there to see you. You know that because they paid for a ticket. A festival gives you more exposure to different people. Also, at our own show we get to set up lights. We like it all; they are both really cool.
BB: You played two years ago at Bonnaroo, right?
PTM: Yes, and that was our first major show at a festival, so this place holds a special place in our hearts.
BB: I remember going to that show, and it was so packed that I couldn’t even get in the tent.
PTM: We were very surprised by that. We walked out and were like, “What the F***?!” It was pretty crazy.
BB: You have put out so many albums. Personally, what is your favorite Portugal. The Man record?
RYAN(PTM): My favorite one is the new one “In the Mountain, In the Cloud,” but prior to that was “Censored Colors.”
ZACH(PTM): I agree. “Censored Colors” kind of started it off. We learned a lot from that record, and the recording experience was absolutely ridiculous and fun. We are really happy with this new record. I’m sure every band says that, but it’s weird because when someone asked, “Is ‘American Ghetto’ your favorite album?” I would be like “No, It’s ‘Censored Colors.”
BB: You know, what I have heard of this new album reminds me of “Censored Colors.” Was that something intentional?
PTM: I think so. We got the same cello player, so that definitely adds to it. He put a lot of the same vibes into it.
BB: You’re here two days at a festival with all of these great bands, but you’re usually on tour. Is it nice to go out and see some live music?
PTM: Yeah, we are going to go check out a ton of things. Primus, Arcade Fire, Buffalo Springfield. Eminem also.
BB: Oh really, are you Eminem fans?
PTM: Not really fans, but we like him. You have to lose yourself in the music (Laughs).
BB: What music are you guys listening to right now? What are you jamming to in the tour bus?
ZACH: As far as new stuff, I love Lykke Li. “Wounded Rhymes” is such a good album.
RYAN: I listened to “Astral Weeks” by Van Morrison last night. I know its not new, but I really like it.