It’s been three long years since Portugal. The Man released an LP (2013’s Evil Friends) and half a decade since the Alaska indie rock giants played The Ritz in Ybor City just days after their drummer walked offstage at a sold out New Orleans show (founding drummer Jason Sechrist had left the band prior, but has since returned to the lineup). Now the boys — who first landed in the area with a 2007 show at the old Orpheum — boast a sound big enough for Jannus Live where they’ll play on April 8.
A new, 10-track record doesn’t have a release date, but it has a name (Woodstock) and crazy cast of producers (Dangermouse, the Beastie Boys’ Mike D). A video for the LP’s only single (““Feel It Still”) recently drew the ire of Infowars’ Alex Jones who was pissed about an image of a burning newspaper adorned with the name of his controversial radio program. CL caught up with bassist Zachary Carothers to talk about Woodstock, the material they threw out after Evil Friends, fake news in the mainstream and music media, and more.
Read our full Q&A below. More information on the show is available via local.cltampa.com.
I haven't heard the LP yet. I know there's a lot of optimism, but lyrically what specific themes and ideas about human rights and equality are you covering on Woodstock?
I would say that we're touching on a lot of them and it’s not 100 percent about that. We knew that it needed to mean something to us and we generally leave a lot of our lyrics open to interpretation for the listener. That's always been a big thing of ours, leaving a lot of topics open enough to think for yourself.
You threw all the work from 2013-2016 out the window when starting work on Woodstock. Which parts of the work on Gloomin + Doomin didn't mesh well with the approach to Woodstock? Were there really just too many layers in it?
We really just lost connection with it, lost perspective on it. We over thought it too much and we had about 40 songs and probably about seven different versions of each one of those songs and it got to be a little too ridiculous. We didn't throw away everything, we did keep a lot of ideas, a lot of lyrics, and a couple of gems from Gloomin + Doomin. There was a lot of great stuff on there we just didn't really love it as much any more; it kind of lost some of the colors, lost some of their saturation and we needed to go in and do something quick and fresh.
You’ve said that the band might be overthinkers. How did you guys combat that impulse when making Woodstock?
I don't know. I think we just overthought so much on the album that we threw away that we had to be very conscious to not do it on this one. And so we just went in, recorded everything very fast, and like I said we did use things from and we didn't throw away absolutely everything. It was really in our forethoughts to keep everything fresh and keep most of our first instincts there because we felt like that would be most natural. We had to try really hard to not overthink; we had to think a lot about not overthinking.
"We had to try really hard to not overthink; we had to think a lot about not overthinking."
Casey Bates helped on Woodstock. Explain bringing him back for another one despite some of the work from other producers (John Hill, Dangermouse, Mike D)?
We got to work with a whole array of amazing producers on this album, but Casey Bates is just our very, very close friend. We've worked with him — at least a little bit — on every album and he's always in there; he'll always pop in and do something right at the end because he's someone we feel really comfortable with. And he’s really really good.
How many tracks are on Woodstock?
Not at any of the shows yet, thankfully. We have a lot of hate mail from a lot of different people but it’s starting to tone down now. I'm not bummed about it at all, I thought it was funny. Those things are gonna happen. If we piss off people like that I like to think we are doing something right.
Let's hit on this idea of fake news and how/if it affects music journalism. You're a band that gets a lot of attention, and the media obviously covered your lineup changes some years back. Do you feel like we get it right? What do you wish we did differently?
Great question. Goddamn amazing question. It is weird, I don't trust any news source ever because I’ve done so many interviews where I’ve said something, and I'm talking to the person right there giving a quote and then later on it sounds different; it gets twisted and skewed around. I've seen what the media can do and how they can spin anything in the way that they want. As far advice, I think the person who wrote this question obviously did it really well, but just investigate.
There's nothing more annoying than when you can tell when someone [who wrote] a piece didn't do their homework whatsoever. It's the biggest bummer. I did an interview for a paper in Alaska, in my hometown, and the first time she said, "So this is your first time coming back home and playing the state fair." I was like, "No, it's like our third time." And I thought "this interview is going to be bullshit" right off the bat. So, as long as you do a little research it's good.
Your live set features a lot of different tempos and aesthetics, and you've covered the Beatles' "I Want You(She's So Heavy)" as well. Talk about how you guys put the set together each night? Is it the same? What do you want your audience to get out of it? What do you get out of it?
It’s similar every night. We have a basic template of what we want to do but we do change little things every night. Just to mainly keep us on our toes and not get too comfortable. Honestly, live we like to be skating on very thin ice, we want it to be hanging by a thread and the whole thing could come tumbling down at any second and that's where we find the magic. If we are too comfortable, it sucks; If we really have no idea what we're doing, it sucks. We love what we do, and we hope that energy transfers on to that crowd. We may not be the best band to some — I think were the greatest, but that's because I'm in it [laughs]. But we will have a lot of shots and have more fun than any other band out there.
You're gonna be bringing a political album on the road in a very polarizing time. How would you like fans of all social/political persuasions to receive this work and react to it when you bring its message on the road?
First off, we're not putting out a political record. We're touching on some social issues; I don't know when clean water and equality for races and genders became a political issue but it shouldn't be. We're not Lady and the Machine, those guys did it the best, and we're not trying to be them, but we do want something that can make people think and maybe do something. We're not trying to push our agenda on anybody. It's very subtle. It's not a protest album per se; it is just something that meant something to us and that hopefully means something to other people.
You're supposed to have a bunch of kids from the community checking out the soundcheck. Talk about the band's motivation to put their money where the music's message is - it seems like a cool idea.
We're all about doing those kind of things. Anything that we can do to help communities, especially children. We've worked with a lot of different companies to help, donate instruments, our time, money from shows and things like that. We definitely have to practice what we preach and we're all about that for sure. It's something that just makes us feel good. A lot of times when we're out on tour we drink far too much and we play too little and it's kind of nice to do something that makes us feel good.
Could we also just update the record and get when, where the record was recorded? Who mixed and mastered it?
It's yet to be mastered at this point. It was recorded mostly in our basement in Portland and the rest in several different studios around Los Angeles. Dangermouse worked on it, Mike D worked on it, John Hill worked on it, Casey Bates worked on it, Asa Taccone, and then it was mixed by Manny Marroquin who did the last album.