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Published: 2011/12/16
by Mike Greenhaus

Entering The Stratosphere with Portugal. The Man

I guess the small silver lining in your gear getting stolen is that it allowed you to get new equipment and everything.

Yeah, and everyone being so supportive on the Internet and on Twitter. People were really supportive of us and felt bad for us for having our stuff stolen. Everyone kind of came together. Orange Amps gave us some free equipment and Onyx microphones. Fender gave us some guitars and amps. It was really, really cool. We weren’t expecting the immediate support from so many different people. Like there’s a band based in Portland called Blitzen Trapper, and we’ve never even met them and they immediately offered us any equipment we needed to borrow for our next show through Twitter just because they felt bad for us and I think that’s great. Twitter actually had some great benefits for us in a time of need. Blitzen Trapper are actually from my hometown in Salem, Oregon and my mom knows the lead singer’s mom. Just random things you find out of nowhere. Like if I cross paths with him one day, we’ll be immediate friends just because we have that connection.

Speaking of the live show and the idea of improvisation and surprises, you guys played Bonnaroo this year. Not only did you play a proper show, but you guys did a cool surprise event after the festival’s Mardi Gras parade. Can you talk a little bit about how that came together and a little bit about that performance in particular for the people who weren’t there.

Bonnaroo is like the first major festival we’ve played so it holds special meaning to us because we had never played a festival before then. To be quite honest, we never expected we ever would. I couldn’t believe I was at a festival, let alone playing one. When I was in high school I just dreamed of going to something like Coachella and Bonnaroo to watch the bands, let alone play. So that was just incredible. So we played in 2009 for the first time and played again this year.

They approached us about doing ‘something cool’ with our band. They didn’t know what it was yet. They wanted to do something unique and interesting. We do those types of secret shows and just random cool stuff. So we were brainstorming and couldn’t really figure out what to do, but then thought a secret show would be really fun. They have this Mr. T float that has been involved in the parades they’ve done in the past, so we set up all of our stuff on the Mr. T float. We really had all these lasers and fog. It was 3 a.m. when we ended up playing, but Preservation Hall Jazz Band did a parade through the festival and ended at the float where we were playing. So the parade ended there and we kicked into our first song. It was awesome. It was one of my bandmate’s birthdays so we had a bunch of champagne on the float that we were spraying all over people.

Did you have any musical highlights from Bonnaroo?

Yeah, I’ve always been an Explosions in the Sky fan, but had never seem them live before. Live, they just blew me away. It was just loud and perfect. I talked to them and told them how much I dug their stuff. And then Junip was great as well—the Swedish group. We met them at Bonnaroo and actually hung out after we watched them play, drinking beers at the catering area. Jose Gonzalez, the lead singer and John, our singer, exchanged emails and we ended up doing a remix with them a couple of weeks later of their song, “Without You.” We started a bond with them at that festival, and it’s really cool. Another thing I like about festivals is meeting other bands that you’re fans of. And it’s great when they’re not dickheads cause so many of them are but so many of them are so great.

Let’s shift back to the album recording. When you first started working on this album, which I believe is your sixth album. At that point when you first started recording how many songs had you written and played live?

When we started recording them, we hadn’t played any of the songs live. It was the acoustic demo type of thing so we knew the basic structure of five or six of the songs, a lot of them didn’t come out—like the last two of the songs didn’t come out until the last two weeks of the recording. But we went up to Seattle to do pre-production, and that’s when we finally started jamming the songs live a little bit: experimenting, figuring out how to turn them from acoustic demos into rock songs. So we did Seattle for two weeks and we did a month-long tour and then went to El Paso to record the song, “Branch.”

What we usually do when we go into the studio is we’ll have songs half-written. I think that throws some people off because they’re expecting us to go in and just play our songs. But the way we do it, we like to add things last minute and change things last minute if we want. So with the pressure of Atlantic and everything, we just couldn’t really figure out how to make the songs come to life so we spent a month in El Paso and left with just the skeleton of three songs complete. We were obsessing over tempos and tones and other little things that we just couldn’t get our brains to cooperate with each other and actually finish this record, so we left to El Paso pretty upset with ourselves and the whole way it worked out. We spent some time in New York recording, San Diego, Los Angeles, our home in Portland, and then we ended in Seattle last December and that’s when we figured out how to do it.

We just went in with our friend Casey Bates who did the first two records in the studio that John and Zack helped build when Casey first bought it. We felt comfortable again. There was no pressure on us. We were playing video games, hanging out, talking openly about what we wanted to do with the songs instead of keeping things inside if we had disagreements, which we had been doing previously in El Paso. We ended up actually finishing the record with us just hanging out being friends again and making music fun instead of all the pressure like this has to be a great record. You know, don’t fuck this up type of talk, which was really just holding us back in the long run. We finished it on our own, and it made everyone feel really good. Like, see, we could’ve done it all along we just have to let ourselves do it. Hopefully, next time around, we’ll have learned our lesson, but all the trouble led to a good record. There’s moments in there where if we would have finished it in that first month like we planned, “Sleep Forever” wouldn’t have been on the record. That was the last song that John wrote. So all in all, all the trouble was good and we ended up being closer now because of it. Going through that tough experience, if you never had it before, it brought us together in a good way and we’re really happy with the record now.

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