In our latest interview, we chat with Portugal. The Man’s Jason Sechrist about ditching albums, hitting the big time and their future plans.
Hot on the heels of their international smash ‘Feel It Still’, the band is in Australia for a series of headline shows and for a spot on the Groovin The Moo line-up across the country.
As Jason tells us, one thing the band’s noticed post the success of that aforementioned single is that they’re in much hotter demand on this tour than in the past.
“I think we’re just doing a different type of touring this time around,” he admits. “Last time we were doing our shows only on the weekend and then getting a little time to explore. I think we’re a little more busy.”
Though they’re relatively new to worldwide commercial success, Portugal. The Man has been relentless with their musical output over the past decade and a half, up until recently releasing an album every 12 months.
The band was founded back in the early 2000s in Alaska and decided to pay homage to the likes of David Bowie and The Beatles in deciding on their intriguing name.
“What we ended up thinking was that we liked how David Bowie created the whole Ziggy Stardust movement with his band,” Jason reveals. “The same with Sgt Peppers – how the Beatles made that album.
“We just took that same theory and we figured that would be a lot of fun to use as an example. So for no reason at all, we decided that the guy should be called Portugal. And we just wanted him to be “the man”.
“So just how the similarities are between Ziggy Stardust and Sgt Peppers, we wanted to create a fake character and a fake band. Instead of calling it ‘the singer and the other guys’ or ‘the singer and the back-ups’.”
One of the constants throughout the band’s trajectory has been the band’s lead singer John Gourley. But beyond him (and guitarist Zachary Carothers), there have been a number of cast movements elsewhere, including Jason himself. We ask him how the changes in the line-up over the years have influenced the music the band makes and the messages it contains.
“Not too much,” he admits. “Every record, we try to make it different than the last one. And so we’re never looking to make the same sound twice entirely. There’s always going to be a new message and by the time a new record comes out, it’s been 24 months of time or so at least, so there’s a whole lot that changes in the world today. You don’t really feel the same as you did two or three years ago.
“I think with the line-up changes, we might have a member or two who’s new stick around for a year or two or three, depending. Sometimes it’s shorter collaborations, but when that happens, it is nice. Every once in a while we get a new spin on things and it always helps things live. It’s really helpful live.”
As mentioned above, Portugal. The Man’s musical output had been pretty consistent from 2006 right through to 2013, with a staggering seven album releases across the course of eight years.
They were ready to continue that trend with an eighth studio album called ‘Gloomin + Doomin’. But, armed with a swag of new songs bound to become new fan favourites, they decided a reset was on the cards and the album was ditched.
“There were too many songs that were stacked,” Jason reveals. “We were kind of losing vision of a theme. We had 40 or 50 songs that were kind of all partially done and as a result, we felt that we weren’t going to have a statement to be made when we were going to release it.
“We knew that the US was going through some big election changes. After the election, we definitely wanted to have a statement that was a little more accurate. Something a little more authoritative. Something with a little more punk rock power. Because everyone in the States was going wild at the time. And we’d been working on it for a few years.
“So yeah, we just wanted to make sure that the statement was right. So we had to step back and reset probably half the record.”
It was a decision that paid dividends; the band’s eventual eighth studio album ‘Woodstock’ becoming their most commercially successful both at home and across the planet. In hindsight, the decision to ditch ‘Gloomin + Doomin’ was one they were glad they’d made.
“Yeah, we worked on it right up until the last minute, you know? The label was like, ‘are you guys done with it?’ and we replied, ‘yeah, almost’ and ‘are you done with it?’, ‘yeah, almost’. And we were finally done with it. It was a long process, but in the end, the last six months really grinded it out.”
That said, ‘Woodstock’ wasn’t to everyone’s tastes. It – and the very pop lead single ‘Feel It Still’ – got a lot of long-time fans off-side, many taking to the band’s social media accounts to register their displeasure and accusing the band of selling out.
“In my world, that’s the listener’s problem. That’s not my problem,” Jason says. “By that I mean I have a couple of favourite artists right now that I love and not every record speaks to me. And you have to know how to be okay with that.
“There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘I don’t like album two and three but I sure love number one and four and five’. There’s nothing wrong with those things. I just think that with fan bases, if you don’t like it, maybe you’ll like what we do in a year or two. I think it’s weird if people just totally jump off the ship and say ‘screw those guys’.
“Deep down, we’ve always been punk rock/rock‘n’roll/garage rock kids at heart. But we’ve always been trying to write a song. We’ve always been trying to connect and write a song that moves people and so we’re definitely happy.
“When ‘Feel It Still’ was finished, we knew that it was our cleanest, most obvious radio song. But we didn’t think it was going to go as far as it did. We just thought, ‘that’s going to be our single’, but it’s crazy how far it went.”
‘Feel It Still’ was a bonafide smash. It hit the top five here in Australia, in the UK and on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the US. It claimed top tens in a slew of territories across the planet and earned the band their first ever Grammy Award – for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance – earlier this year.
Its music video (above) has also smashed through more than 150 million views. Suffice to say, it’s also put a little bit of coin in the boys’ pockets. The commercial success of ‘Feel It Still’ may now influence the band’s trajectory in the future.
“What’s weird is that that song for us realistically was an amazing song to make. It really only took us a day or two to solidify it, versus all the other songs. Basically you don’t want to spend too much time on a tune. But will it affect our future writing? I’ll just say that we have an awareness of pop music now. Moreso than ever before.”
Those last two sentences may result in the band’s long-time fans recoiling in horror, but Jason says they needn’t be worried.
“Well I would just say to our fans… relax, we’re not going to ever put down a guitar. We’re never going to put down the drum sticks. We’re always going to try to play the keyboard parts. You’re not going to see us only holding a button down.”
The success of ‘Feel It Still’ adds another pressure for the band; to avoid becoming the latest member of the dreaded “one hit wonder” club.
“Yeah, that’s obviously the biggest thing that sits in front of you as a roadblock,” Jason admits. “We’re used to swinging the bat. We’re used to trying. We’ve done alright in the past. And we’ve always just been around being a band. And I think we’ll always be around as a band.
“We’re going to try for another home run, for sure. We’ll see what happens. I will say though, there are a lot of great one hit wonder songs out there. Put together, they’d make a hell of a playlist.”
As for new music from here, Jason hints that it may not be too long before we experience more new music from the band, time permitting.
“I don’t think we’re going to intentionally take a long time,” he says. “I think that in the rarity of our breaks, we’ll always try to see if we can record one new song. Things like that. I think that’s our best approach… to work on one song at a time on our breaks back home.
“Because I think when you put away one or two months of time in an effort to force a record in that position, you’re really putting a lot of pressure on the time. And if you’re not feeling it on day one, you’ll just push it away. You’ll say, ‘I’ll come back to this tomorrow’ and before you know it, you’ve just come back to tomorrow too many times and your studio time’s up.
“Work always and things get better day by day.”
Portugal. The Man’s album ‘Woodstock’, featuring the smash ‘Feel It Still’ is out now.
Catch them playing The Tivoli in Brisbane on Thursday night before they wrap their Groovin The Moo commitments with the Bunbury edition this Saturday.
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