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Published: 2011/12/16
by Mike Greenhaus

Entering The Stratosphere with Portugal. The Man

It seems like for every band there’s a time where you’ll almost have to creatively butt heads for a second to realize how close you are.

Definitely, that happens. People just come in from different musical backgrounds. You hear an idea in your head that you think sounds a certain way. To someone else the reference point is way off. Like, it doesn’t sound like that. It sounds like something totally different. But we were able to overcome that and continue to improve and it’s tough. We all love each other, but we also fight a lot. Quite often like all bands do. We make it work.

You mentioned before how at these bigger live shows, in that old-school punk rock way and you kind of mentioned that each of the members in the band have different musical backgrounds. Can you talk a little bit about where the current band member’s original interests lie?

I know John grew up on oldies radio cause that’s pretty much all he had up in Alaska was radio that could get a couple of stations and a record player. He grew up on the Motown; he had Beatles and David Bowie vinyl records and stuff like that, which you can definitely hear in our sound. That’s where he came from. Zack grew up all about Rage Against The Machine, Pantera, and just heavy stuff. I think his first show ever was Primus. Then we did a tour with Primus, and he was like a little kid every night watching Les Claypool play the bass every night. Jason grew up with an electronic background—he was into industrial music. The band he was in Portland that Portugal first noticed him from was an electronic space-rock band and it was really cool. Jason knows a lot about the synthesizers as well. Cause the band he was in growing up had so many keyboards. I grew up singing in choir and in church and then when I started playing in bands for the first time, I was all about punk rock. Not real punk rock, whatever, pop-punk. It was cause of my age so it made sense at the time. You know, NOFX, AFI and all those bands. I got OK Computer when I was 16 and that kind of like, turned me around and made me want to play weirder, more interesting music. Like, “Whoa, I just heard an electronic drumbeat and a keyboard, and I liked it.” I used to think of techno when I heard that. ¬_Kid A_ was the record that really made me want to explore interesting musical bands and things like that.

In terms of the tour with Les Claypool, did he give you any advice that you’ve taken to heart?

He didn’t give us any advice, but watching them live every night was enough to make you want to go home and practice and you know, stick to what you do cause they’re an extremely odd, weird band and they’re very successful as well. And it’s just cool to watch them still doing it. [They’re] so much older now and put out a new record. That’s crazy that they’re still going at it. And yeah, just the musicianship is enough to inspire you every night.

You got to work with veteran producer Andy Wallace, who has worked with some of the greats like Nirvana and Phish. Could you tell me more about his involvement in the new record?

He didn’t produce our record, he mixed it, but he made that record incredible. Just the way he mixed it. He was asking us what we wanted, to give him notes and we just said, “No, you do your thing. You’re one of the greatest mixers of all time.” He mixed Nevermind by Nirvana and Grace by Jeff Buckley. He knows what he’s doing; we didn’t need to give him notes. Just ring out the parts that you like, just do your thing. He did and it was incredible. Guitar parts that I forgot were even recorded were all of a sudden the main parts in the song. But that’s what he heard that was the best so that’s what was highlighted and it sounds great. I love it.

Is John still designing the cover art and the visual aspect of the band?

Yeah, John and Austin Sellers have done every poster, every piece of album art, every t-shirt since the band began. John will draw the pictures and Austin will put it together, add color and work on the computer. It’s awesome, I’m actually impressed that they’ve managed to continue to do it and still have it be different each time around. I like consistency in album art like if someone did our album art after six records, it’d be kind of weird. It wouldn’t be as cohesive. I think it’s great when there’s kind of a timeline of the band, and it’s the same people working together the whole time. I think that creates a cool effect.

Now that you guys are playing some pretty sizable stages, both on your own and at these festivals, the visual presentation of the show has also become very three dimensional and much like an event, not just a concert. Is the visual aspect of the live show something you guys are involved in?

On the last tour we had those orbs, the bubble lights all over the stage that was totally sci-fi. It reminded me of an alien movie just looking at those every night. Like, “Man, these look weird. I bet they look rad from out in the crowd.” We met a guy named Tobias; he does lights for Miike Snow and a bunch of those Swedish bands. He’s Swedish himself. We met him a couple of years ago and John kept in contact with him. So he and this guy who works with him, Iggy, designed the light show for us. It turned out great. We love it. We’re always trying to do something different. We’ve had the same lasers for a long time. People loved them cause lasers are awesome. But on this last tour we wanted to do something different for the fans of ours that have been seeing us for six years. So we stepped up the lights and practiced a lot more before we left. All bands practice, but we took practice very seriously this time around. Seven days a week, six-hour days really hammering it out and learning new covers. We wanted to put new jams in ‘cause we’ve been doing the same couple of jams for a while. New covers and new old songs we had not played in the past. There’s a couple from the first record that no ones ever heard live before. So we just wanted to keep the live show just as interesting as the album art and the music on our record. We wanted it to be live you’re not just hearing us play our record, you’re hearing us explore a little bit and sing a little bit of the other things that we like, like a psychedelic jam out and things like that. I really enjoyed the Terminal 5 show the other day. It was awesome and rockin’ –that was actually the biggest show we’ve ever played.

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