The eclectic, Alaskan-born, Oregon-based rock band Portugal. The Man returns to Aspen this evening to open the 2019 Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.
Ahead of tonight’s show, which starts at 6 p.m., Aspen Daily News arts & entertainment editor Erica Robbie caught up with Portugal. The Man guitarist Eric Howk to talk racism, the band’s Australian influence and a few “oh, shit” moments following the release of their hit, “Feel It Still.”
Below are a few snippets of their conversation. For more on Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ three-day Labor Day festival and its evolution, see the cover story to this week’s edition of Time Out, out today.
Erica Robbie: In your words, how would you describe Portugal. The Man’s sound?
Eric Howk: With every album we kind of try and step out and do something a little different. We’re easily distractible, easily bored kind of folks … I think we’re just always kind of challenging ourselves to explore different soundscapes and see what we’re capable of.
ER: How do you feel that Portugal. The Man’s sound or style has evolved since the early 2000s?
EH: I’d like to think that as we’ve all sort of matured and progressed and that we just get better at writing songs. And playing them, too. That’s a key.
ER: Portugal. The Man’s Instagram bio, in all caps, currently reads: “RACISM IS FOR CHOADS.” What’s the story behind this?
EH: Racism is everywhere, and right now, unfortunately, we’re in a society where white nationalists are getting emboldened and stepping out and trying to pretend that white pride isn’t something to be shameful of. So calling that a choad is saying, “Yes, indeed, [racism] is something you should be shameful of, and you should go away immediately.”
ER: Is this something that you all are working into your music?
EH: Every chance that we get, all around the country, we’ve had land acknowledgment speakers come out. We reach out to representatives of the people in the area that we’re playing, and we give them a chunk of our set to advance the show. And it’s ranged everywhere from traditional native performance and song and dance, and a lot of the time it’s just a speech, but essentially, it’s just something that, growing up next to the Alaska native culture, we find near and dear. It kind of started for us in Australia, actually. Our touring photographer, Maclay Heriot, is a local Australian boy and he kind of introduced us to this concept of “Welcome to Country,” which is what they do down in Australia. And it’s much more commonplace down there than it is here. (The band was still working to schedule a “Welcome to Country” to open their show tonight as of the Aspen Daily News’ press time on Thursday.)
ER: “Feel It Still” was released in April 2017, which doesn’t feel that long ago. How was this song a game-changer for the band?
EW: It’s my favorite song. That song changed my life. You know, to talk about, “I can’t believe it was two-plus years ago,” for me, it still feels really current, as well, we’re still kind of touring on the strengths of it, and we’re still not really far enough away from it to have the perspective of just how big this song was and what it meant. There were moments, though — there’s little moments of shining perspective that have happened over the last two-and-a-half years. Just some like, “oh, shit” moments, basically. Like, shortly after the song was released, Lars Ulrich from Metallica, on his podcast, called it one of his songs of the summer, which is bonkers. Like, we didn’t expect that. And then, I feel like the same week, Kathie Lee and Hoda called it one of their songs of the summer, and, you know, they’re drinking their Chardonnay on The Morning Show, like singing along to it karaoke style, and I’m like, “If the drummer of Metallica and Kathie Lee and Hoda on the same week are saying this is their jam of the summer – that is an extraordinarily wide net. So if you can catch some fish in the middle of that, you’re going to be eating good for a while.” There were so many crazy moments like that, like going on The Ellen [DeGeneres] Show. We got to go on The Ellen Show twice — that’s just the craziest thing. That’s not what middle-age dudes from Alaska usually get at this point in their career.
ER: You guys have performed in Aspen three times, first in 2013 and more recently in 2017. Why Aspen? What brings you back?
EH: It’s a cool little town with some pretty heavy duty Alaskan vibes … It’s a rad little town and it kind of reminds us of home. I love it out there and can’t wait to get back.