Portugal. The Man have just unveiled the new album WOODSTOCK. It’s the culmination of years of slog and comes after a seriously long wait between records – at least by their standards. The Alaskan band is full of eccentric personalities and their latest record sees these shine through whilst also taking the band down a somewhat different sonic path to their previous work.
The process behind the album was quite unusual too, in that Portugal. The Man had pretty much written a whole other album when they started again from scratch, feeling that another path needed to be taken. From there, they brought in a stack of big-name producers including Casey Bates, Danger Mouse and Mike D, and came out the other side with a record that is not only musically fascinating but also, in true Portugal The Man style, chock full of political and social commentary.
We caught up with PTM bassist Zach Carothers to chat about throwing away countless hours of music, being inspired by the response of people to disaster and despair in the world, and why the band decided to create their very own strain of marijuana.
Music Feeds: You guys are spending a fair bit of time on projects that supplement the music, making it a more comprehensive experience. How much time do you put into thinking up projects like your interactive video for ‘Feel It Still’?
Zach Carothers: We pretty much spend every waking hour doing that sort of stuff. We’re constantly talking about and throwing around different ideas for things to do. That particular video was mostly the brainchild of our amazing advertising agency who are the best in the world who we happen to be very good friends with. We’re always hanging out with those guys, just having drinks and coming up with different random ideas. Just recently we came up with that idea and the video was a really cool one. We definitely wanted to do something interactive, something that we hadn’t done before, and we like the juxtaposition of it. On a surface level it’s just this druggy, singer in a dream, but underneath it’s got some weight to it, which is a representation of what we do as a band. We live the life we do – we drink and like to party, we have fun, but we also try to do good in the world.
MF: The band has said recently that a lot of the music you wrote over the past few years was thrown out and you started again with the state of the world in mind. Do you look at the state of US politics and of the world at large with much optimism at all?
ZC: We hope that it will get better each year. We definitely got inspired by a lot of the responses to what is going on now in the world. We’re seeing the spirit of a different era, of that time of struggle for rights under Richard Nixon, and people are banding together and there are people on the streets singing songs. It’s really beautiful to see people reacting that way when there’s really bad shit going on, bringing communities together where people are really looking out for others. I like to think that I’m the kind of guy that always looks on the bright side and seeing how we respond positively to hardship is always great.
MF: It’s interesting you mention the spirit of a time gone by and Richard Nixon because I was about to ask, what made you decide to go ahead and create your own blend of weed?
ZC: Oh yeah, well a lot of it was to do with a friend. We’re always looking for new things to do and recently with Cannabis laws changing in Oregon, it’s a new feeling and it’s crazy to see our community change and grow with this injection into the local economy. It’s really a whole new business and it’s incredible. It’s a whole other marketing tool we could use because there’s a whole new weed culture. We had a friend who works on a farm and we just thought it would be a funny idea.
MF: This has been the longest it’s taken between records for you guys. What do you put that down to exactly?
ZC: Honestly we were just a little bit too comfortable and we had just been writing so much music that we lost track of what the album was going to do. I think a lot of it was because we didn’t have a name for it. At first, we had been writing and then we decided to scrap it all, clear the slate and build that canvas and create this new album called WOODSTOCK and that’s what we did.
MF: You were joined this time by a stack of collaborative producers including Danger Mouse, Mike D and stacks more. Do you think this changed the creative process much and the final sound on WOODSTOCK?
ZC: Oh absolutely, we worked with so many amazing people and everyone has their own way or own specific sound. Danger Mouse brings such cool vibe and really knows how to get the absolute best out of us and then Mike D is obviously incredibly talented. The record was definitely shaped by these guys being around us during the process, and we definitely try to bring in new influences and try to make each record something new every time. It was an honour being able to work with so many great minds.
MF: Is it important to you that people necessarily take some deeper meaning out of WOODSTOCK or will you just be pleased if they enjoy the music?
ZC: We try to make both of those things available, that’s what we want for our music. We know that people will understand it in different ways, but when it comes down to it, the music itself is the most important part. It has to sound a certain way, it has to have structure and actually get you somewhere and it’s important for us that it has these pop sensibilities so that people can enjoy it, whether it’s in the foreground or the background. We want to give something for people to move their butt to. But also, at a deeper level, we try to leave a message in the music, and obviously, our messages have a lot to do with themes like social justice and equality. There are definitely levels to the music that are not necessarily something that everyone who listens is going to hear right away.
MF: Thanks for your time Zach; we can’t wait to see you again here in Australia soon.
ZC: Thanks, we can’t wait to get back over there!
‘Woodstock’ is out now.