After the release of their new album Evil Friends in May 2013, PORTUGAL. THE MAN are on tour for several months again. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION had the pleasure to meet with Zachary Carothers and Kyle O’Quin before their show at Astra Kulturhaus in Berlin the 20th of September 2013 and talked about musical inspiration and collaboration, recording the album and their homeland Alaska.
You have been on tour since July again. How was it so far and how was the show in Hamburg yesterday?
[Zach] It was great. It was really fun yesterday. We played in the club next door to where THE BEATLES used to play every night eight ours a day. That was pretty inspiring seeing that. We have got friends in Hamburg. We have been over here the 16th or 17th time. We have been coming here in 2006, when we first put out our very first record. We were very small and nobody knew who we were. For years we were way bigger in Germany, than we were in the states. I have been a lot of times here and I love this place. It is just amazing. We really appreciate all the love that we got, especially in early years.
It´s hard to describe your music in common terms. Who do you consider your most influential artists and artists that inspired you?
[Kyle] I really like the description of us: THE BEATLES meets WU-TANG.
[Zach] That was the original idea, when we started the band. We wanted to sound like THE BEATLES and WU-TANG CLAN. I don´t know if we ever got there, but that´s what we always were kind of driving for. Both were probably a huge influence. Also Nirvana. I always loved music and I always played music, but I played horn, when I was a kid and NIRVANA was the first band, that actually made me pick up a guitar. And also PINK FLOYD, BEASTIE BOYS, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, NEIL YOUNG. I love that one
For your album “Evil Friends” you were collaborating with the famous producer Danger Mouse. How was it working together with him? In which way he influenced the sound on this album?
[Zach] He was amazing. His presence is so inspiring. He has just got such great taste. A lot of the music, that he listens to is very similar to ours. It always takes a little while to get on the same page with a producer. But communication was really good. It was overall the best time we ever had in a studio. We learned a lot from him. He just jumps up and grabs a keyboard and gets an idea. A lot of artists are very weird about that and kind of have an ego about those kind of things. We are all about collaboration. Rock´n´Roll kind of means collaboration to me. I´m thinking of Hip Hop, where everybody is featured everywhere. I think back to Classic Rock and Woodstock, where all these musicians came together from different bands and played together. That´s what´s cool about him, because he´s an artist himself. He kind of helped us along. He was like a mentor
Is there any artist you would like to collaborate with in future?
[Zach] There are so many. I would love to work with anybody of the remaining guys of the BEASTIE BOYS, anybody of WU-TANG CLAN, with THOM YORKE, FEVER RAY. I got so many.
PORTUGAL. THE MAN: “We don’t take it for granted”
Since its foundation almost 10 years ago the sound of PORTUGAL. THE MAN changed a lot. In comparison to your preceding Albums, “Evil Friends” sounds a little catchier and less psychedelic. Do you see this as a general development of your sound or more like an experiment?
[Zach] Everything we do is an experiment and an evolution of what we have done. You never want to make the same record twice. It´s all about growing and changing. That´s what humans have done forever. We strive to be something different and better. We like change and that´s something very important to us. And we did set out to make a record, that was a lot more focused and fine tuned, than we have ever had before. We spent more time on it, than we ever had on a record before. This was a really good experience. We learned a lot about songwriting, about condensing a lot of the ideas, that we wanted to portray into a smaller and more pin pointed sound scape.
How long did it take you?
[Kyle] It was like three months of recording spread out over a year.
[Zach] It was really difficult because, when we started, the recording was pushed back a little bit to work with Brians schedule a little more. We had tours booked and we had shows planned. It was incredibly frustrating. We have been in the studio Monday to Thursday and Thursday we got to fly to New York to play a couple of shows and come back late Sunday night and than back to the studio. It was really difficult to just stay focused. Until the last 2 weeks, we said 2 weeks goodbye, fuck every body, I am not answering my phone, I´m not doing anything, we just gonna sit in the studio and get the shit done. That specific time was the most productive time the band has ever been. Everybody was incredibly positive, working really hard. Brian and the engineers, everybody was very on the spot working really hard. We did more in two weeks, than we did in two months. That was crazy. Pretty much the whole record got finished in the last 2 weeks. Almost hundred percent of the lyrics were written in the last four days I think. But it was a lot of fun.
Lately the Rolling Stone Magazine published a pretty intimate photo-diary of you in your hometown Wasilla in Alaska. It regularly appears in your videos or in your lyrics in some way. What role does your hometown play for you personally and in which way does it influence your music?
[Zach] It has a huge influence on us since the beginning. A lot of it kind of obviously is the natural beauty of it. It´s a very, very beautiful place. And very great isolated. It´s a good place to concentrate and focus on writing songs. Every time we go back for Christmas to stay with our families, that´s usually where John starts writing songs, coming up with ideas for the next record, that we do. And growing up there, since it was so isolated before the internet and everything, we did not have a lot of options when it came to music. We had Top 40 radio, oldies and I had MTV. I think I was the only kid in my town, that had MTV. And so those are my first memories. Watching Headbangers Ball, when I was four years old. That’s what made me really fall in love with music. My parents had a very good record collection. So it was a kind of growing up with a lot of the basics. And then moving to Portland just get me flooded with so much underground art and music. It was crazy. Since I never had that, we went crazy, when we came down to Portland. We were watching shows all the time. We could not believe it was so cheap to get to see shows and go to bars. So both, growing up in Alaska and leaving Alaska were both equally inspiring to us.
Whether it´s your videos, your website or your album covers. Your work is always connected to a pretty exceptional and unique artwork. Are you creating this by yourself?
[Zach] Yeah, our singer John does all the drawings. He works a little bit with our good Buddy Austin. They have kind of an art collective, the two of them together. John does pretty much all the drawings and then Austin does a lot of the design work and coloring and stuff like that. We like to do anything we can our self, because it obviously will make it feel way more organic and it has a real natural connection to our music, rather then hiring some artists. There are so many people, that inspire us, but it really keeps a lot of continuity. Just since we have been doing this the whole time we´re kind of like sticking to one thing, but just as the music is changing and evolving, so is John’s art. I think that´s important to see the two side by side.
Last one: What do hope and passion mean to you?
[Zach] That´s kind of all we do. I mean I don’t have a back up plan. I play music and I play music specifically in this band and to be honest, it´s the only thing I take seriously in my life besides family and friends. We have worked really hard. John and I, we have been playing music for fifteen years together and we got an amazing opportunity and we work hard on it. We don´t take it for granted. So it´s very imported to me. Without these things I don´t really have much left at all.
Interview by Stephanie Otto and Fabian Köhler