The origins of Portugal. The Man go back to high school times in Wasilla, Alaska. This was where John Gurley and Zachary Carothers met out of necessity. There were not many musicians in Wasilla and in fact only two bands played original music, one of which was strictly instrumental at the time because their lead singer was in the slammer.
Carothers was in the other band and Gurley would come to the shows. They started hanging out and playing music together but went separate ways when Carothers left for college in Oregon. Eventually Gurley was convinced to move to Oregon to start the band that would become Portugal. The Man.
In the last seven years they have gained a large following, releasing six albums and playing shows all over the world. They have only played once in Aspen and it was during off-season so they are excited to be headlining the Belly Up this Thursday, July 4.
These days, Portugal. The Man tours almost constantly and will be on the road from now until Christmas, except for a few weeks in August. During their time off they will be in Alaska and even have a show there. They always make it back to Alaska at least once a year but their following isn’t huge there.
“There is just not a lot of people there,” Carothers told me while he prepared for a show in New Orleans. “The people that do come to the shows are into it like you have never seen. They are just fans of music.”
There’s not much going on in Wasilla so anyone who is a fan of live shows doesn’t have the opportunity to go to many.
“When I was growing up I went to absolutely every show that came up, even if I straight-up did not like the artist,” says Carothers. “I would go anyway because I knew that I wouldn’t get to see live music for another three or four months, and that’s how a lot of people are up there.”
Carothers listened to everything he could find growing up but most of his admiration goes toward Pink Floyd. Because of this, Portugal. The Man is regularly described as sounding like the experimental British band. Carothers loves Floyd and “Dark Side of the Moon” is his favorite record of all time, but he feels he was misquoted at times in the past as saying a particular song or record is intended to sound like them.
“Everything I do is somehow influenced by ‘Dark Side of the Moon,’” says Carothers. “It’s my Dr. Seuss; it’s my Sesame Street. Sonically it doesn’t sound anything like it (our last album).”
While Portugal. The Man were recording their most recent album however, they did go for reoccurring themes. At times, they will take the same keyboard riff and play it in various parts of various songs but with differing keys and tones. This type of idea was heavily influenced by Pink Floyd.
The album, dubbed “Evil Friends,” took more time than they have ever spent on a record and came out earlier this month. It was also put out by a bigger record label than they have ever had before, as they were picked up by Atlantic sometime last year.
“It’s pretty amazing to be on the same roster as Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles,” says Carothers. “They open doors that we would never be able to open on our own.”
One such door that opened up was the producer talent they were able to have during the making of “Evil Friends.” This was also the best producer relationship they have ever had due to his unique perspective.
“Having Danger Mouse on our side did not hurt at all,” says Carothers. “It was amazing working with the guy. He has incredible taste.”
Because Danger Mouse is an artist himself and he’s been in bands before, he understood the band dynamic and was able to help in every aspect.
“He has an old-school approach to producing,” says Carothers. “He was part of our band the whole time we were making the album. We wrote songs together; he would get up and play instruments.”
I can’t think of anywhere I would rather be on the Fourth of July than the Belly Up. It always makes for a great cap to our nation’s birthday, and with the cancellation of fireworks this year, Portugal. The Man will no doubt be the best show in town.
John Zelazny continues to live his life as though the Colorado Rockies are a plus 500 ballclub. He appreciates your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.