Features | Interviews

Portugal. The Man

By Peter Holslin | 6 October 2008

When they’re not touring, half of the foursome Portugal. The Man resides in the northwest. The other half hails from the sylvan wilds of Alaska. Songwriter John Gourley, for his part, is a native of Wasilla, the epicenter of the state’s evangelical movement and the home town of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Last month, Gourley posted a touching missive against the Alaskan governor on his band’s website. Over e-mail a day before the vice-presidential debate last Thursday, he didn’t have any juicy tidbits on Palin to share, but he shouted out to his musical allies, recommended some Alaskan bars, explained how his father might’ve met Jesus and discussed the band’s new album, Censored Colors.

CMG’s Peter Holslin (CMG): GOP handlers have worked hard to protect Governor Palin from the mainstream media, so it’s hard to get a lot of information about the vice-presidential candidate. Since you hail from Alaska and from Palin territory, the Mat-Su Valley surrounding Wasilla, what can you and your Alaskan bandmate tell us about her that we wouldn’t know otherwise?

Portugal. The Man’s John Gourley (JG): I’m afraid we wouldn’t be much help to you on the matter of inside scoops. Ha, we run with a different crowd during our Alaskan lives. Outside of friends partying with her husband and her kids, I don’t think there is too much we could bring that wouldn’t just be gossip. We have never fit in, or wanted to fit in with the religious conservatives of Wasilla. They are anti everything and everyone and too stubborn to acknowledge the mess of mistakes their party has made by reaching out for a cheap grab at youth and that “Hillary” vote everyone had put up in the air.

Look. Just watch the interview with Sarah Palin and Katie Couric. Have fun.

CMG: How does it feel now that your home state is getting all of this national attention?

JG: It really doesn’t do much for me or the people I know in the town. I doubt anyone in any small town is excited to have news crews focused on them. I am pretty indifferent to it.

CMG: Do the Alaskans in the band have Alaska or Mat-Su Valley pride? Is your music at all influenced by Alaska or things Alaskan?

JG: Our time is very much split between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington and Wasilla/Willow, Alaska. This evens out to the basic plan of life that is rest between tour or recording new music or time with family. We still live there but can we really claim we “live” anywhere? We are on tour three-hundred days a year and touring out of Alaska is too hard at this point. We will one day go back and live full time but for now we are set to the schedule of work work work work work.

Our music is fully influenced by Alaska and family and friends and our lives at this point. I will always say, no matter the band, their upbringing and surroundings make their sound. It is fully who and what you become. We were just lucky to be raised in such a beautiful and amazing place. I love it there. We are just lucky we weren’t raised next door to Fred Durst.

CMG: How do you feel about your new album, Censored Colors?

JG: It is everything we could have asked for. We played with some of our best friends and favorite musicians in the finalizing of it’s sound. We send only love to the boys and girls of Kay Kay and his Weathered Underground for helping us create a new sound for our band and a new step in our song writing. This is the closest we have come to the original idea of the band.

CMG: What kind of music is popular in Alaska? How is indie rock received up there? If I came over to Alaska on an unlimited budget and wanted to check out some great music, where should I go and what should I listen to?

JG: All music is received with open arms. There is just a love for sound up there. Very supporting and very loving people that are fully about community and love and respect. We owe Alaska all of this and all of what we do. It has been very accepting of this band despite our constant travel and absence.

This is where I give some shout outs to some really good friends and great bands that are the Builders and the Butchers, Dr. Helicopter, Oh Captain My Captain, the Spox, and Strept as well as the Hoons and Lavoy. The main man from Port O’Brien spent his summers on a fishing boat up there as well but claims the bay area. This counts in my book.

Check out Chilkoot Charlies for a bar in Anchorage or the MatSu Resort or Mug Shot Saloon in Wasilla. Mainly, we have bars and trees. I would suggest going north of Fairbanks to Chena Hot Springs or even further north to the Arctic Circle. The tundra is amazing. All mossy and soft and covered in blueberries in the summer.

CMG: How does Portland compare to Wasilla?

JG: They are different places in every way but Portland is amazing as well. A very tight community full of music and love. If you like Menomena, the Get Hustle, Panther, the Builders and the Butchers, 31Knots, the Shins, the Decemberists, the Thermals, the Dandy Warhols, Elliott Smith…etc. You will like Portland. It is a great place for music.

CMG: Now that gas prices are skyrocketing and the economy is collapsing, is touring more difficult?

JG: Of course, but, it hasn’t affected us enough to slow down our moving and traveling. We have had the good fortune to grow slightly with the steadily growing gas prices. We maintain the fine line between broke and scraping by. It has never changed for us and we have never expected more or taken anything for granted. We are thankful.

CMG: I read that your band used to employ keyboards and drum machines. This leads me to believe that you have some understanding of why so many bands these days use electronics to make quasi-hippie pyschedelia with the boundless abandon last seen at Woodstock in ’69. Why is that?

JG: I have no idea, I don’t know if we necessarily “connect” with most of these bands. Our idea behind the use was just purely for fun and learning. It is good for a mind to move about and try different things. It gives us a good idea of where the band can go and how it can grow. We are not hippies and neither are the hipsters playing to these sounds. We merely represent what our parents’ generation gave us. Any and all of our referencing is an “I love you” and a “Thank you” to family. I have never met Jesus through these sounds. My father on the other hand was at Woodstock in ’69 and had the good fortune of running in to him down by a creek outside of the festival. He said he was dirty. He also, upon meeting, had the suspicion that it may not be Jesus…I like to assume it was.

CMG: Why did you name your band Portugal. The Man? Why not U.S.A. The Man?

JG: Lets be honest here, we are not gaining anything by naming this band “U.S.A. The Man.” Thank you George Bush.