Interview with Zach from Portugal. The Man
The new album from Portugal. The Man, Senseless is due out later this Summer. They play their first Dublin gig in The Academy on Saturday April 9th. I caught up with bass player Zach while they were in Germany this week.
We love it here (Cologne), it’s always been awesome to us. Usually the day that we get in, there’s a hotel that we really like here that we’ve stayed in since we first started coming to Europe. There’s a music shop nearby and a record store, so we come here and get all the things that we realise that we forgot. We come here to Cologne, stock up and hang out with a few friends just before we go off on a tour.
Portugal The Man have a mountainous back catalogue with E.P.s coming out between albums, meaning there’s always a new release to love forward to. What makes the band so prolific, what is it about you that makes you want to make music so much ?
Honestly, we make a lot of music cos that’s what we do. It’s our job, it’s our hobby, everything that we love to do. We don’t take time off, we pride ourselves on working very hard. John and I are from Alaska and used to build houses and work in warehouses and stuff like that. We’ve had some pretty tough jobs and we’ve always been fans of a work ethic and when it comes to the music we definitely don’t change anything. We feel very lucky, of all the bands in the world trying to do something with it and the fact that we have this chance is pretty amazing and so we didn’t were not going to mess it up. We’re going to work harder at this then we’ve ever had in our lives.
You only get one shot I guess?
Obviously, it’s more about the fact that we love to play, even if we had no kind of record deal or we went out on tour and nobody came to the shows, we’d still be playing our music everyday because that’s what we like to do.
That shows a certain passion. I think a lot of bands forget why they got into music.
Oh for sure and I can see that too. It’s a hard lifestyle, you have a lot of things to try keep up with and its a very busy one. Not a lot of people understand that, how incredibly busy you are. A lot of my friends will get mad with me when I get back from tour, I have ten days off and they want to hang out everyday and see me because I’ve been gone for a few months but even when I get home there’s a lot of work to be done. There’s rehearsal and recording and getting thing’s ready for the next tour.. All of my friends are finally starting to see how much of a full time job it really is.
Your singer John is in charge of the band twitter account, earlier he posted an appreciative tweet about how things have changed for you guys. Remember those mini-van tours an canceled shows? Rice cookers and a bag of vegetables? Hardwood floors as beds? Happy we had those times . What did you learn through those times, did it turn you into the band you are now?
We definitely appreciate everything that happens, we don’t take anything for granted. Any time something good happens to us, we always feel very appreciative, very lucky but we’ve definitely paid our dues. We didn’t get overnight success by any means. Things are going pretty well right now, we can’t believe how well everything’s going but we know where we came from. Things were bad, we bought a rice cooker and we’d go on tour all packed in our minivan with no trailer sleeping on top of our gear. The ceiling was so close to your face you had to lay down in the back because it was the only way that you would fit. The ceiling was so close to your that you couldn’t lift your head up enough to read a book. You had to just lay there and talk or just lay and think. It was pretty funny. It was pretty rough times on our first couple of tours. But I’m really glad that it happened, it just makes us appreciate everything more. Everytime we get a hotel we’re very happy about it.
You’re on tour at the moment and you’re pretty booked up for the next couple of months. One of the events you’re booked for is Bonaroo in June and they call you a movement rather than a band. What do you think of that?
(laughing) I think that’s very nice of them, that’s pretty awesome. I don’t know exactly what to think about that but they put on a very awesome festival. They’ve been so kind to us, they had us play a few years ago, 2009 and it was our first major open air festival and it was absolutely amazing. The night couldnt have gone better so the fact that they are excited about us and we’re excited about them. It’s.. really pretty amazing.
When you guys play live, you have tendencies to jam and you’re going to get comparisons to a prog rock band for that. When you’re recording though, how do you discipline yourselves not to go off on a tangent?
We all stay pretty focused, we know the difference in the band when it comes to our recorded work and our live shows. We definitely want that difference to be there, we want them to be two separate things to give people another reason to come out and watch us play.
Our singer John is our main songwriter and he’s pretty focused when it comes to that kind of stuff and there’s a lot of trust that we put into him and there’s a lot of trust that he puts onto us.We’ve all kinda got our rolls and he’s very good at coming up with chord progressions and melodies and we’ve kinda got quick at responding to them for our first initial thoughts or feelings on the matter and we’re all pretty good as a band at listening to it and thinking about ‘Do we really need this part and what does it really do for the song’?
Even personally if it’s cool if I’ve got some part that’s got an awesome baseline in it, I’ll totally trim it if I don’t feel that it makes the song move forward and makes you anticipate the next part. Nobody has any big heads about it. We keep our songs focused and we’ll stretch them out live but nobody’s got an ego about it in the studio. It’s all about what’s best for the song, what’s best for the album, what’s best for the band.
Your new record ‘Senseless’ will be out later in the Summer. You were working with Andy Wallace (RunDMC/Aerosmith/Prince/Rage Against the Machine) on it? How did you get on with him?
Andy was just mixing the record. John Hill (Lykke Li/Lissy Trulie/Devo) produced it with us. It was actually our singer John and John Hill, both got equal producing credits on it. Working with Andy Wallace is pretty crazy, I mean that guy has done some of my favouite records of all time. I mean, he did Nirvana’s Nevermind, Jeff Buckley’s Grace and he did a bunch of Slayer and Rage Against the Machine albums that I totally grew up on.
Being from Alaska, heavy metal is a big part of growing up there. There’s a very big mental scene. Everybody listens to Slayer and Pantera and stuff like that. It’s kind of a staple of the small town I grew up in.
John wrote about his first time ‘hunting’ on your website a few years ago. We get a view of Alaska that’s snow, hunting and Sarah Palin. How would you describe Alaska?
There are people like that, a lot of people that hunt. Honestly John and I, were some of the few families that grew up and didn’t really hunt at all, I feel like she’s misrepresented our home state a little bit. It’s a really good place, it’s community driven, the towns are all small for the most part. Everybody knows each other, everybody helps out.. It’s a really beautiful place. Anybody who has the chance to visit there I’d definitely suggest it. I loved every minute of growing up there and I miss it constantly when I’m gone.
You’re based in Portland now, was that purely for logistics and ease of travelling around the States ?
Yeah, definitely. Bottom line we can’t afford to tour from Alaska. Airline tickets are very expensive. We like Portland, it’s not the only reason. We started the band in Alaska but moved to Portland Oregan before even playing a show. We had lived in Portland for a little bit beforehand and we knew there was a ton of clubs and a ton of places to go down there. We definitely knew we had to get out of Alaska to go anywhere with music but for John and I at least, as soon as we can afford it we’re going to move back. We love it.
You said you tour constantly, you don’t take breaks, you’re booked for months and you’ve the album coming out.. Are you going to take two weeks off at any stage, go to the beach, chill, go surfing.. What do you do to chill out?
We don’t take too much time off and that’s ok with us. As I said we appreciate where we’re at and we want to keep the ball rolling so we so we don’t reach a plateau or get stagnant. We take little bits of time off, especially around Christmas time. That’s one thing that we always have, Our manager understands, our label understands, we get at least a week off at Christmas where we don’t do anything. We’ll keep up on emails and we’ll do some video updates, all that fun stuff but we take a little bit of time out a year to hang out with our families and decompress from the year of work that we had before.
When it comes down to it, our job is fun, I like to rehearse, I like to record I like to tour, that’s just what we do.
So what can we expect to see in the Academy?
Well, you’ll see were really pumped to be there. We’ve never been. I’m just excited to see some new cities. We’re pumped about this tour cos there’s two stops we’ve never done, that’s Dublin and Paris we’ve never got to play before. Hopefully we’ll get a little time to rewind and check out the city.
Ah so will you have time to check the Guinness storehouse and the Jameson Distillery? Two tourist hotspots? I apologize they’re both alcohol related.
That’s fine, as being in a rock band we’re pretty big fans of booze and those were already on my list. Beer will be involved on my little tourist stint. It’s kinda fun and it is a little cheesy but when you only get a day in a city, I do want to see the big things that are popular throughout the city that everybody goes to see and if I have time I do like to go check out the little things as well that only locals know about, off the beaten path. Hopefully I’ll get time to do both.
Dublin, keep your eyes peeled for a wandering Alaskan!