Portugal. The Man
'For Satan and Country'
For the past five years, Alaskan natives, Portugal. The Man have flown silently under the modern music radar. Their avant-garde approach to classic rock ‘n roll is innately hip, garnished with elements of synth-driven electro-pop and expressive, confessional lyrics.
Not wasting any time since their last album release in 2008, Portugal. The Man’s fourth full-length album was released on July 21, 2009 and has already peaked at #81 on the Billboard 200 charts. The Satanic Satanist is a smart, bluesy combination of 60’s sunny pop-rock and deeply-delved, futuristic lyrics; a groovy new sound that is sure to launch PTM into the indie pop stratosphere. If you haven’t heard of Portugal. The Man yet, you will.
Exclusive Magazine had the recent opportunity to speak with keyboardist Ryan Neighbors about the new album, new tour and the eccentricity that is Portugal. The Man.
Your music has it’s roots in indie rock with elements of soul, folk and blues. Who were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "Well I didn't necessarily grow up on the coolest stuff. Weird Al was my first musical love and through his covers I was exposed to almost every genre of music. Singing "Smells Like Nirvana" enabled me to find Nirvana and end up listening to them. I did my time in Christian rock which really didn't help me out with music at all."
"I spent a couple of years listening to punk rock and very loosely living my version of the lifestyle, which really just meant I acted like an idiot at school and got pissed at my parents. It was around the time that I started loving Radiohead that my musical tastes and opinions really took a positive turn that is still with me today. Kid A did a number on me and really just blew my mind and changed my whole mindset. Everything else prior got me started singing and writing songs but I didn't get pushed in the right direction until later."
Your new album 'The Satanic Satanist' was recently released in July. For someone who may be unfamiliar with Portugal, The Man, how would you describe the sound and style of your music? "Rock n' roll may seem like an easy out but due to the varying influences and goals on each album it seems like the only description that applies to most of the music we have put out. Soul is another goal we go for, soul and rock 'n roll are kind of undeniable genres that always seem to stick around and that is definitely a sound we have tried to accomplish with each album. I guess there it is, SOUL and ROCK N' ROLL."
You’re currently based out of Portland, Oregon but are originally from Wasilla, Alaska, the hometown of former Vice Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. What do you think is the most 'interesting' thing to come out of Wasilla in recent years, Palin or Portugal, The Man? "I am actually from Salem, Oregon but I think I can answer for the group and say Sarah Palin is a far weirder character than the members of this band. As strange as it is for a band to come out of Wasilla, she is just so crazy that it has to be her. She has turned many more heads than we have. I like to think we are an interesting folk but I would definitely pick up the Sarah Palin story before ours."
You’ve now released four full-length albums, “Waiter: You Vultures!”, Church Mouth, Censored Colors and the newest release The Satanic Satanist. Which album do you feel says the most about the group as artists? "Each record speaks for the band in its time. Right now it is totally Satanist. That is where we are at as a band currently. Last year it was Censored Colors but I think it comes down to live performance more than records. We like to jam and we have a great time playing music which is not necessarily the most prominent part of each record. Right now we seem to be perceived as a psychedelic pop band (which is awesome) but we still play songs from all over our catalog. Satanic Satanist does say the most about us right now but I think our live show says more. Thats how we let the emotion pour out each night, its all in the moment with a live show."
You enlisted the help of producer Paul Q. Kolderie whose former clients include such phenomenal artists as Radiohead and The Pixies, as well as producer Adam Taylor (The Dresden Dolls) to work on the new album. How do you feel this powerhouse production team positively influenced the direction of The Satanic Satanist? "They did amazing things with this record. Their knowledge and quickness of synths and samples, their overall knowledge of music in general. All of it. They helped us with textures and layers, The moods in the studio were just so positive too. No one felt any kind of intimidation, no one was out of place. It was like 8 friends hanging, working towards the same overall goals. Then there is always that end of the day vibe, trying to add as many different ideas as possible before the song is done. Sometimes you need to be told, "its good, it doesn't need anything else." Just guitar in some places, just vocals in other. They were very tasteful and just awesome. It was a really god experience."
You just recently played your first major festival show, Bonnaroo, in June. What was this experience like for Portugal, The Man and what was your favorite part of the live set? "Bonnaroo was amazing for us. Thats the kind of festival that I would attend and camp at if I lived in the area. Playing it was just unreal. Being a part of the small chunk of amazing bands that are offered something like Bonnaroo was just an incredible feeling. I got to watch bands I liked, meet awesome people, get out of the rain if I needed to. It was great. We played on Thursday night and the band before us (Delta Spirit) had a delayed flight. Because of this we had somewhere around a 90 minute setup. We were able to get a perfect monitor mix and relax and warm up our vocals. The performance felt so good for me. I think my favorite part of the live set was the jams. No one in particular but those always get a good response and have os much energy, put that on top of an awesome stage sound and it was the best show it could've been. Bonnaroo was a fantastic experience."
Speaking of music festivals, do you have any new shows or tour dates lined up? Where can fans see you play next? "Right now we are in Germany but we will be back in the states early August. We will be heading down to Lollapalooza and also Outside Lands. We are so excited for that. Then early September we will start a US headliner for the new record. After that we are coming back to Europe and we also will be doing the UK again (we did it for the first time this month). We will pretty much be touring hard until early December. I think that will leave most people with an opportunity or two to see us in the next 5 months. It's going to be a lot of fun and a lot of work. We are pumped."
Where exactly did the band name, Portugal, The Man, originate from? Is there an interesting story behind it? "Portugal the man is an alter ego of sorts. Kind of like Ziggy Stardust or Sgt. Pepper. Those type of names and characters are just awesome. The idea of a fictional and mystical dude who is just badass. The Portugal part is how this character is able to represent the whole band, rather than just one person. Since a country is a single word that represents an entire group of people, it made sense for Portugal the man to be a character that represents our entire band. Portugal the man is an alter ego, he is a person, but he is our whole band."
How easy or hard is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderments and accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "Well I think the mind set has to be that we are creating music we want. That has to come first. It is amazing that this record has been getting a good response and that people like it. Of course we want people to like our music but this was the kind of record we wanted to make. No one told us to make a pop record, or a rock record, or anything."
"It was a challenge to accomplish, as any record is, but it turned out this way because it was an overall goal, and then things just fell into place. We wanted to make short songs with traditional structures, with weird sounds and catchy melodies. It just comes down to making the music you want to make and that is what we did. We are so excited that so many people like it, it's amazing, but the goal was just to make a great record."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy) pop/rock song would you love to cover today and why? "Hmmmmmm. That is a great question. Probably "Like a Prayer" by Madonna. The rest of the guys might not agree with me on that one. Oh well, I love it."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins, do you? "Yes. I mean, I don't see why not!"
Interview: Erin M. Stranyak
For more information on Portugal. The Man, check them out their band website and Myspace page. The Satanic Satanist and even more PTM music is available now for download on iTunes!
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