Toward the end of last year, I picked up the album The Satanic Satanist by Portugal. The Man and fell in love with it. Now, a few short months later, they’ve released their follow-up record American Ghetto online and are almost done writing the next album (as well as a pair of EPs). Lead singer John Gourley was nice enough to take some time two days after the release of American Ghetto to chat with me about following your passion, keeping up their prolific pace and being afraid to write in the major key.
MP3: Portugal. The Man – Dead Dog (from American Ghetto)
Portugal. The Man :: the You Ain’t No Picasso Interview
YANP: So, I’ve been following you on Twitter for a while and trying to keep up with American Ghetto, but I think I didn’t start following and keeping up with the band until you guys were already done with this album, so I sorta missed out on the story of how it was recorded and the time line and everything. When exactly did you start recording American Ghetto and where was it recorded?
PTM: Well American Ghetto was basically born out of how we put together the Satanic Satanist disc. … We had really done pre-production for the first time ever when we made that album. We had never sat down and done demos or anything like that. So, I guess we had Satanic Satanist pretty much rounded out by the time we went into the studio; we’d had it for about a month, a month and a half. So, anytime we’re getting ready for the studio, there’s just a lot of excitement, a lot of inspiration comes out of that excitement. So, I guess for lack of a better word it just got me really excited to work on the new material and try new things…I just start kinda piling up ideas, and started working on what became American Ghetto. There was no pre-drafting to it; I didn’t really do any demos, but our manager Rich just sent me out there for 10 days and we started tracking some things with our friend Anthony Safry, who did production on Satanic Satanist as well.
YANP: Now, I’ve not really read about you guys having any ties to Boston, so what brought you there?
PTM: It was just mainly Paul. But actually when we finished the album about two years ago now, we decided that we really wanted to do this mix for it. And it obviously never went to that finished stage, but we started sending the album out to different producers– we wanted to let them produce the record without having us around, just to see what they would do. I’m a big fan of collaboration and just seeing what new people would do with our music. That’s why we have guests on our album and have guests musicians live from time to time. I just like to hear the way that people interpret it. So we sent Censored Colors out to a bunch of producers with the idea that they would mix and do a final production. But Paul Kolderie is just so cool and so laid back and really positive about everything and he just understood that we weren’t too precious with the band. Once the songs have gotten your – our contributions– to the art it’s kind of done and it’s fun from that point on. You know we get to mess around with delays and reverbs and song structure and things like that. Paul was just “the guy.”
YANP: Nice. And then he was the one that you worked on Satanic Satanist with, right?
PTM: Yeah, so we went up to Boston made Satanic Satanist with him. We had talked to other producers…
YANP: Oh ok, sorry, I didn’t catch that he was in Boston.
PTM: Oh yeah, so sorry. his studio is out in Boston.
YANP: Awesome! So you went back there to work on American Ghetto as well?
PTM: Yeah. That was pretty much a few weeks after Satanic Satanist was completed that we went back up to Boston.
YANP: And now I’m missing my reference points. So when was Satanic Satanist completed– when would you have been back in Boston?
PTM: Satanic Satanist was, I think, January 14th until somewhere around February 20th. And then I came back out on the 28th maybe?
PTM: So, that was at the beginning of March, and we were there for ten days. It’s one of those really great things– something really special that’s born out of those spontaneous moments. Jumping into it and putting deadlines on things and just seeing what you can do in that amount of time. There were a lot of ideas– just being inspired by all the different instruments and there was a lot of experience being built up … just no real demos. It was very fun for us, just to dive in headfirst to see what we could do. I think there’s also something to be said for practice, preparation and pre-production; time that I think is probably necessary to albums like Satanic Satanist. But American Ghetto was just born off that freedom to just do what we wanted.
YANP: So how much relief did you feel finally getting to release it almost a year after it was finished?
PTM: I felt like this album needed to be released in this way, from the very beginning I think we knew what Satanic Satanist was– it’s definitely our most focused album and it’s more of a band record. It was all of us in the studio together, jamming. And I’ve really obsessed over songwriting lately, in the last three years I’ve just really been obsessing over songwriting and trying to have a lot of fun with it. And Satanic Satanist, it was obvious to me while on tour for it that I didn’t want to throw anything out there that would stop what that record was doing. You know, we were playing Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza and we didn’t want to confuse everybody by throwing out multiple records out of nowhere.
But yeah, I guess it just happened the way it needed to. I’m not to precious to those things. The main thing that I love to do is just make music. I love to be able to go into the studio and get it all out of my mind and move onto the next thing. So at my favorite thing is sorting out in a business sense and to actually understand why and when everything should come out. And we have a really, really great manager who handles a lot of that– or pretty much all of that. I just kind of trust him with all of that and I just kind of make music.
YANP: Yeah, I just love that you guys couldn’t wait until the next day– you put it up at like 10:00 at night, the night before…[laughs]
PTM: [laughs] Yeah. We were talking about it and we said, “we could just do it. Can’t we just put it out? And we’re putting it out ourselves, who cares?” You know, we’re not relying on some SoundScan sheet to tell us where our band sits in the list of 5 million bands playing today. We weren’t even thinking about that. It’s a limited edition CD — at least it’s gonna be limited to the amount of copies that we put out there. It’s supposed to be fun– its for people to give out to people who helped support the band. All of last year was such a great year that it just felt right to just give it to people.
And it wasn’t a shot at– I know Satanic Satanist leaked a month and a half in advance or whatever, and it wasn’t necessarily because of that. But looking at it now, it is pretty amazing that it didn’t leak because friends of ours had it, we just didn’t send it out to the amount of people that we normally would. And we won’t do every record like this, but seeing how well it’s done like this, the fun that we had with it, I would imagine that we would do more releases like it in the future.
YANP: Awesome! You said something a little bit ago and I didn’t want to stop you, but you said you were getting really focused on song writing in the past three years, is that something that you would say almost that you would study when you listen to other peoples’ music or is it something that you just work on with yourself?
PTM: Uh, you pick it up everywhere. I think that it’s one of those things. I always get so caught up, just so scared of major chords, for whatever reason. Any time you start working in major chords with really tight song structures, everything becomings really obvious. I just got used to avoiding it, and I think that with Censored Colors we would jump in and see what we could do– see how we could change up songs. It got me thinking about bands like the Beatles, obviously my favorite band, anyway and bands like Pink Floyd and really great songwriting, really great musicians, really great atmospheric pop.
Yeah, I guess I would say that I study it to an extent, but mainly it’s something that you would have to find for yourself. And there are a million bands that do throwback rock n’ roll, I mean you can probably name 50 right off the top of your head that you’ve heard before. So, it’s something that you have to get to know yourself. You can study it all day long but until you put yourself into it, it’s pretty hard to find.
Continue reading the rest of the interview after the break.
Continue reading Portugal. The Man :: the YANP interview