I love Portugal. The Man since their first album “Waiter: You Vultures!” came out back in 2006. Then I kind of lost my feelings and passion for them somewhere in between time. Their debut album would at least be in the Top 10 of my all time favorites. I even own a CD of “Church Mouth” – back in the days when I listened to CD’s. But their obvious new style (going on in 3 albums) of making music kind of disappointed me for a long time. Where are the good days gone? In 2009 I interviewed them. The recordings got lost somehow. I can’t remember. Finally, 8 long years later, in the middle of May 2017, I got a new chance at the Molotow Club in Hamburg. All of a sudden, there’s guitar player Eric and bass player Zachary sitting in front of me. The sun is shining, the first beer almost empty and there we go.
I want to start with a triple german question. How was the gig in Berlin yesterday?
Zachary: It was fun, hot. Very hot, really punkrock. Bunsh of shit broke, but it didn’t really matter. It was good to get back into a small club like that [Musik & Frieden].
Eric: That crowd was great! I said on stage that I want to move to this city, I ment it. I love this!
Zachary. We had a really good time and lots of friends in Berlin. We kinda took over the upstairs bar.
I heard you hung up with [German rapper] Casper?
Zachary: Yeah, Casper and his boys are close friends. Everytime we hang up in Berlin, we have fun with them.
Eric: He is the best city guide.
Zachary: For sure. He is awesome.
How did you met each other ending up going on tour together?
Zachary: We briefly met in 2006 on our first tour over here in Bielefeld. He was working at the club where we played. Years later he became quite huge und asked his manager who should open this tour. „Ask anyone, it’s gonna be an arena tour in Germany.“ He asked us. That was super weird but it sounds fun as hell. From the second we got there he was just like the coolest guy ever. He did certain things nobody ever done (laughs). Leadsingers are always a bit weird and a bit off, when the band is bigger than you there is usually a lot shit going on, often times you don’t talk to leadsingers hardly at all. By the time we got in he was having a beer with us within 2 minutes. First person I met at that place! He showed us the rooms and took care of us. He announced us every night. It was a very different genre and he explained the audience that he just really likes our band. It’s not the favorite band of the label or management or anything. He is just a fan.
Last year he supported you in the U.S.?
Zachary: Yeah, that wasn’t a plan. He flew over, because Kanye West was playing the Pablo Tour. Kanye played in L.A., next night we played in L.A. He came over to our show and hang out with us. We got him drunk and kind of kidnapped him that he should play a show the next day, his first show ever in the U.S. He agreed, we even made shirts over night with „Casper World Tour“ with just one day on it (laughs). It went over well and we asked him to push his flight back to come on tour with us. He did and it was awesome. Slept in the front of our bus, it was pretty funny.
How did the American audience react to German rap music?
Zachary: It was great. Not something you ever see. It is hard for them to connect lyrically, but his energy is so good. It excites us a lot when we see somebody went over a crowd like this with no idea what this is. The shit he talk in between was funny.
Eric: He was self-aware of that. One time he came to us and said „I know you don’t know what this song means, but don’t worry about it“ (laughing).
Zachary: It was super fucking funny. He played it off very well and amazing.
You also made a song with the German Producer-Duo Drunken Masters called “Louder”.
Zachary: Yeah, we met through Casper and did several things with them. We worked with them on our last album. We just like what they are doing, a fresh perspective. They tried our songs in different ways, it helped us to think outside of the box and in that time, we worked on Louder. They were helping us, we give them a hand of course. We like teaming up with other people.
Drunken Masters ft. Portugal. The Man – Louder
Because „Louder“ is really outside of the box.
Zachary: For sure, but that’s the kind of stuff we like. If it works, it works, you never know before, so you try.
Funny thing is, I interviewed you 8 years ago at the La Pampa Festival near the Polish border.
Zachary: Yeah, I can remember.
There was a small lake where I jumped into before the interview. I was freezing cold during the interview and shook all time (laughing).
Zachary: I jumped into many lakes.
Eric: Getting wet before the sun goes down is never a good move (laughs). One time I jumped into a lake before a show I lost my clothes and my underwear went soaking wet (laughing).
But I lost the recordings of this interview and it never got published.
Zachary: Haha, oh really? Sounds like a good festival (laughs).
Portugal. The Man – Modern Jesus
It was (laughing). So it’s almost 11 years since your first album „Waiter: You Vultures!“ How did things evolved since then?
Zachary: Oh man. We have been trough a lot of things since that. Everything before our latest stuff is practice, you know. We get ready and figure out how to write songs. We had no idea how to write songs with „Waiter…“. I’m super happy that all the things cools up. A lot of people think that we were way more prog and artistic and way more experimental back then. The truth is we just didn’t know how to write songs! With key changes and tempo changes. We didn’t knew how to do a fucking transition. People are always like „Oh my god that’s so experimental and crazy“ and I’m like yeah, but it’s like the ramblings of a madman like Bob Dylan lyrics, you have no fucking idea what you’re doing (laughs). I have been in prog metal bands and I have tried to write pop songs. Everybody was like „I could write a 3 minute popsong easy. We make like 8 minute epics.“ No you can’t. It is way fucking harder (laughs). If you are telling a story and want to create feelings, you don’t want to have 8 minutes time to go to all these places. Try „ain’t no sunshine“ and it’s like 2 minutes 34 seconds and has one progression, pretty much one melody. And it takes me so fucking deep in so many places in 2 minutes and 34 seconds. That’s crazy! But we are just learning more and more and it’s a fun process. Germany has a lot to do with that actually since from the beginning. „Church Mouth“ was pretty much made for Germany. When we went here for the first tour, we used to play 35 minutes sets. With the second album, we could play like 2 hours with all the jams and stuff. We found out how we just go as musicians. Nobody told us. But we learned a lot and keep on practicing.
You once said you always want to do something new and different. Some big bands like Coldplay, Mumford & Sons or Linkin Park tried something new and turned into pop music and people hated it.
Zachary: It’s always a risk you take but in general we don’t give a shit about that. The popularity of a band is out of your hands unless you really try hard to sellout. We just write the music we want to hear in any particular moment. We want something that everybody can relate to and feel. There is bullshit pop music and there are good songs. Look at David Bowie: How many number ones did that guy had? Nobody questioned his creativity.
Eric: You can take great artistic licence in a pop song. If we would go back and try to re-record the old albums but with the new sound (laughs), it would be same with Georg Lucas what he did to „Star Wars“.
Don’t pay attention to the guy in the background. Photo: Julia Stiller
You sometimes do play old songs in your current sound.
Zachary: Yeah we play songs different. Actually, we change the songs a lot. We have to think selfish and write the songs we want to hear in that moment. That has to stay true.
What do you think changed most in the sound of Portugal. The Man during all these years?
Zachary: We became wiser and figuring out where we want to go and to be as musicians. We didn’t really know at first. Now we are trying out a bunch of different things with no real names. We got a direction that always changes because the world changes with it. It’s always guided by our experiences. [We look at Eric]
Eric: I have nothing to add (laughing).
Zachary: I appreciate that.
Portugal. The Man – AKA M80 The Wolf
When I re-listened your discography a couple of days ago, I thought it’s the way you use voice as an instrument. Listen to Johns voice in „Waiter…“ and then in „Church Mouth“: it was getting even higher. Different people are singing.
Zachary: yeah, we get bored of our own voices (laughs).
Eric: If you look at John and how he was back in the days: He is more expressive today.
Zachary: And he actually thinks about vocal takes when we used to not. We made the first two albums with a simple old mic sitting down on a couch. Now we think about performance and how you say a word better. We think about things a lot more, we think about things too much, quite honestly. Ignorance is bliss. We had no idea what the fuck we are doing and now we have some idea what the fuck we are doing. It drives us crazy (laughing). Every album was more about what to do and what not to do again.
So what would you never do again?
Zachary: We are more careful by working with producers and songwriters. We colaborate with musicians. The music industry got really bad and basically the greed got bigger. I played on other peoples albums and never thought about money, because I just wanted to do it.
Eric: I played on a lot of other people albums too. But it’s always 2 to 4 weeks later you feel like you got people asking how to split up stuff and things. I would never do that.
Also some members changed. Like you Eric, we meet the first time.
Zachary: He is a new old guy. We are friends since kids and played together in my mom’s basement like first band I ever had.
Eric: A 90’s band (laughing)
Zachary: A 90’s Cover band but just in the 90s (laughing).
Eric: Real time cover band (laughing). But getting Jason back when Kyle turned out on „Church Mouth“ was also great. He is a pretty big fan, we wouldn’t say he is the new guy. He is family.
Zachary: We made him quit all his other bands. We often played in the same cities and asked him to come over and jam. He always did. He actually learned our songs and asked „in what key is it? Allright, I got it!“ (laughing). He was always one of us.
Let’s talk about your new album „Woodstock“. The press information says you threw away all the old stuff and started new?
Zachary: Yeah, that is not entirely true. We didn’t throw them away, it still exists. We just are not releasing them.
But is there a chance to hear it? Maybe in a remix or a rough demo?
Zachary: I hope so. But we always say that. We have hundreds of songs that are done and won’t be released. It’s hard to be excited about the old stuff, we also keep on going. But we took the best pieces of the old stuff. We had too many songs. Didn’t know how to stop writing while too many things going on in the world. Everything socially and politically going on, we couldn’t just not mention that when all this shit is going down. Too much shit is changing, so we had to change the songs.
Eric: When you write like 40 to 50 songs, you have to come down. People have their favourites and you lose focus and perspective on it. The whole re-recording and focussing on less songs was better. It’s hard to keep perspective on your own art sometimes.
Zachary: We never know what is going on. Think about a dentist, the noise of the drill. That goes away after a while. That happens to us. We have good songs. Until we put them out, it’s just different. Things are very heavy with weight when you put them out. You can’t change the record anymore but we are not done writing. We just have to fucking stop. Thats the hardest part.
You can try to do remixes and stuff.
Zachary: Yeah, we change things a lot. Sometimes we do things and people try to say that doesn’t work but we don’t give a shit.
Eric: We play songs like 200 times and everytime we do something different.
Zachary: Minor things just to keep us of going crazy.
Portugal. The Man – Feel it still (Medasin Remix)
Zachary: Oh yeah, you’re welcome (laughs).
Who came up with the whole idea?
Zachary: It was the collaboration of us and a couple of buddies. We wanted to use technology we haven’t seen before. We wanted to make it fun and like a game but for a good reason. We love the contrast. We wanted to do a music video that looks like a druggy fever dream. But underneath it gots tools to educate yourself and to help out other people around you.
Thank you really much for this interview!
Zachary: Thank you, it was fun. I appreciate it.