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Interview: Portugal. The Man on new album, Woodstock

The band return to the UK for headline shows in September.

Indie veterans Portugal. The Man are preparing to release their eight studio album. The follow-up to 2013’s Evil Friends acts as a direct response to social and political changes both in the US and internationally, and arrives following the scrapping of the originally announced Gloomin + Doomin.

Having discovered his father’s ticket stub for iconic 60s festival Woodstock, and combined with a reinvigorated activism, singer John Gourley led the band towards a new record, named after the musical gathering.

On the verge of releasing the record, Portugal. The Man played a handful of intimate shows around the UK, during which we caught up with bassist and founding member Zach Carothers. Read our interview in full below, as the band are set to return to the UK in September.


What can fans expect from a Portugal. The Man headline show?

You never really know, because we have no idea. We decide about five minutes before, and then usually change it in the middle of the set somewhere. I can tell you that it’ll be fun. We have more fun than any other band.

You may not know it, but we don’t talk very much. Songs go into other songs. We work on these transitions, so if you want to get super psyched by a frontman with his feet on a monitor asking you to scream, you probably don’t want to come and see us.

How is the tour going in general?

We’ve been playing a lot of smaller, punk rock places, but we’ve got a bigger tour this fall. It’s really fun. We’re getting down and dirty, and up close with people. It’s very sweaty and very boozy. It’s definitely been a lot of fun.

Your new album, Woodstock, is being heralded as a bit of a change in direction. Would you agree?

Yeah, we always do that. We don’t like to do the same thing twice, that’s not us. We always like to evolve and change.

What do you think is the main difference compared to the previous record?

We tried to go to a lot of different places at once. We wanted this to sound kind of like a music festival, with our take on different genres. Nothing super crazy though, we don’t have a hip-hop track and then a country tracks or anything like that. We tried to make it like our CD binders were back in high school, drawing from a bunch of different influences and then rolling with it. But it’s still all very tight and collective in thought. Lyrically and thematically it’s all very cohesive.

When you say influences, where did those come from?

We tried sampling for the first time, so I guess like Missy Elliot or the Wu-Tang Clan for that type of stuff. OutKast for beats. Blur and Oasis as far as general songwriting goes. Then just some added creative things, we kind of go all over the place when it comes to that. We draw a lot of inspiration from the 60s, and relating them to how we imagine Kurt Cobain would have seen it. Then watching his whole career and what he made out of that, and then that coming to us. It’s about passing things on. It’s about the whole connection really.

Would you say that’s the message behind the record?

A lot of it, yeah. It’s us talking to our teenage selves. In that way, also speaking to the kids of today who have to grow up with the responsibility of social media, and taking care of your fellow human. About how social media turns every human on the planet into a talking head, and how it turns into its own form of propaganda. It’s about realising the power of that, and to be careful with that and use it for good.

You were working on another album called Gloomin + Doomin’which you scrapped in favour of Woodstock. How did that come about?

Honestly, we couldn’t stop writing. We were very, very comfortable, and wrote about 50 or 60 songs. When we were trying to shave it down it was getting very confusing for us. We had some really amazing stuff, but as we were reaching the end of it a lot of things started changing with the political and social climate in America and around the world. We felt like we couldn’t put an album out right after that and not say anything about the elephant in the room. That made us take a step back and channel our energy and focus into one thing.

Are there any other bands that your listening to at the moment around that vein?

Nobody will do it better than Rage Against The Machine. But granted, we are not a political band. We just fight for equality among all humans. We’re all about humanity.

Woodstock is available from Friday 16 June 2017. Portugal. The Man will return to the UK in September. Tickets are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.

Interview by: Beccs Lott

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