Portugal. The Man is an American rock band that originated in Alaska, but really started their career in Portland. Since the band’s formation back in 2004, despite a rocky path through many labels, they have released 7 full-length albums and 5 EPs, quite a collection! The band is currently with their first major label, Atlantic Records and this seem to be going pretty well for them. When they came by Montreal to play Osheaga, I had the chance to talk with their bassist Zach.
CONFRONT: To start this off, can I have Portugal, The Man in a nutshell?
ZACH: We formed in Alaska about 7 or 8 years ago. The singer and I have known each otherfor a very long time. We played music in a couple of different bands together. We started off, our whole idea at the beginning was we wanted to make a project that mixed The Beatles and the Wu Tang Clan. I don’t think we ever really got that but we always still kind of strive for it in the back of our minds. Right now, we just got a bunch of new members actually. John and I are the only original ones but everybody that is with us now has played with us at some point so we’re really liking the group that we have right now and the summer’s been great. We’ve been flying out to all these cool festivals, a lot of them we haven’t played before.
CONFRONT: And how does it feel to play such a big festival as this? It’s one of Montreal’s biggest.
ZACH: This is one of the best festivals as far as playing goes. Catering is fantastic, trailer’s awesome, crew hands are great, sound is great, the crowd was amazing and Montreal is just beautiful. We don’t get to come here as often as we’d like to. We’ve only been here once or twice before and it’s been about 3 or 4 years since we’ve been here so we’re excited to come back I hope we can check out the city tonight.
CONFRONT: And throughout the years, on top of switching members, you guys have also switched labels quite a few times. Is that rough on the band?
ZACH: It’s great right now. Right now, we are on Atlantic Records, it’s our first major label. We’ve had our own label pretty much since we started. We were always an imprint on somebody else but we started off with indie labels and kind of moved up, then we got off that and were just on our own for a while. I really want to experience every aspect of the music industry. I think we really built it right and we had a plan from the beginning. We never wanted to get big quick, we wanted to keep it slow and steady and natural and it just helps everything. The fans that we made are real fans and not just some people that go to that concert and once you play that one song that’s on the radio every day, they take off. We like to do something different; we want to be real. And we are trying to make mainstream music, we are trying to be accessible but we want to make that cool. We want to do it with integrity and art and not sacrifice any of the good stuff.
ZACH: It’s just opened up so many more doors for us. For instance, our last record was mixed by Andy Wallace. He actually contacted us saying he wanted to do this. We can’t afford, even on Atlantic, Andy Wallace. He worked with his budget. He has mixed some of my favorite records of all time; Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”, Slayer. He has such a great ear and I learned so much about my own ears working with him and just talking to him and hearing his mixes. It was a real eye-opener. And things like that, they give us help where we didn’t have help before. When we’re putting out our own records, we didn’t have to worry about anything but we toured non-stop all year and saved all the money that we could to go into the studio for the record so it’s really nice to have that help. We can go in when we plan on it, regardless if we’re broke or not, at any given time. It’s nice to have that help. Everyone there is really smart and we’re learning a lot from them. It’s great to have somebody behind our back where there were never more than eight people working on our record.
CONFRONT: That’s cool because you learned how to do it on your own rather than dive into a major label without knowing how everything works and then possibly get manipulated, as we hear all the time.
ZACH: Definitely! Major labels have a bad rap and I believed it too before. The funny thing is a lot of the people that think this aren’t actually in the music industry. There’s a lot that they don’t understand. They’re surprisingly less evil than you might imagine. You hear those stories about how bands played seven shows and get signed to a major label. In that case, you can be molded and go into a direction that the producers or labels want you to go. But we had already put out five records before we put out one on a major label so they knew what they were getting into; they knew that we had established our own thing and they don’t want to change us. They like what we do and that’s why they sign us and that’s why they want to work with us. They just want to help project that and so that, I think, was a really good way to go and it’s cool! We have a really good relationship with them.
CONFRONT: That’s good! And You guys consistently release new music throughout the years, do you think that is still very important in today’s age where music sales have been declining?
ZACH: It’s important for us. When we’re not touring, we’re recording and when we are touring, we’re thinking of recording. It’s really all that we do; none of us have other jobs, none of us have much else going on but this so it’s very important for us. We kind of set out a quota to make a record a year. I think right now, we’re on the longest stretch that we’ve ever had without putting out a record and that was only because we had the opportunity to work with some really amazing people but they were busy so we had to wait. But we want to get it out this year, I don’t know if we will but it’s worth it. We’re not just going to go in with somebody else; we still want to work with who we want to work with and we’ll work around their schedule. That’s important to us because we want to make it right.
CONFRONT: So you’re working on new material right now?
ZACH: We’re staying in Los Angeles for a couple of months working on new material and I’m really pumped about it. It’s by far the best thing we’ve ever done and it’s not even close to being done. It’s going to be good.
CONFRONT: Where do you think your sound is headed?
ZACH: It’s still hard to tell; it’s really in early stages. I don’t even necessarily care to talk about that kind of thing when we’re this early in the process because it’s almost like we start off and we talk about it a lot. We always kind of set off in one direction but it’s always interesting and amazing to hear a song get a life of its own at some point. We’re sitting there doing it, our fingers pushing all the buttons and plucking all the strings, but it just kind of tends to go somewhere. I think it’s a really natural and beautiful thing about music so I don’t really know where it will end up; I know that it’s so far super sweet! I’m very happy with it.
CONFRONT: That’s what matters! Now, I’m going to ask you to draw something that represents you.
ZACH: I’ll let you know, I’m no artist. You should’ve gotten our singer, he’s a fantastic artist! I’m not a Satanist but I’ve been listening to a lot of metal lately so I felt like drawing that.
CONFRONT: So it really represents your current self.
ZACH: Yeah! Grew up in Alaska and like metal.
ZACH: Thank you very much for this interview.
CONFRONT: Thank you, it was nice meeting you!
ZACH: You too!
You can check out more shots of the interview in our galleries!
To check out the band, visit one these sites:
Official site: http://www.portugaltheman.com/