There is nothing better than interviewing a rock group that is as genuine as the music they make. Portugal. The Man (period intended) is the best band around today that you’ve never heard of. But that is all about to change. Since their move to the major label Atlantic Records back in April 2010, they've been hard at work on their highly anticipated new album In The Mountain In The Cloud. Yesterday, I got the great opportunity to talk with Ryan Neighbors, of Portugal, who plays Keyboards and percussion. We discussed the new album, how David Bowie and T-Rex influenced the new album's sound, how lucky they were that Grammy Winner Andy Wallace mixed their new record, and why music festivals are the biggest parties.
It's taken 6 years and 7 albums, but at long last, Portugal. The Man is finally on the very verge of success they deserve. And rightfully so, if you haven’t listened to their aesthetically genre bending music yet, I highly suggest you do. Watch for their new album In The Mountain In The Cloud coming out in stores July 19th.
You guys are back in Portland, right?
Yep. We got home on July 4th at 7pm.
How long will it be until you guys are back on the road?
Umm. We don’t have like a tour tour until September, probably. But, we will be playing at Lollapalooza (Chicago), and a small thing in San Francisco next week. But no actual tour until the fall.
Can you give a specific time frame?
I think it’s going to be late September, early October.
Very cool. It’s the 20th anniversary of Lollapalooza, are you guys excited to play?
Hmhm. Yea we played two years ago it was awesome. So, I would imagine it would be awesome this year too.
How was playing Bonnaroo(Tennessee) this year?
It was awesome. I think I just said awesome like ten times in one sentence haha. But, Bonnaroo was really cool, that was our first major festival, which was two years ago. It was our first experience doing like a major festival so, it’s kind of—Bonnaroo is kind of close to our hearts in that sense. It was really awesome, we hung out all weekend, got to watch bands and stuff like that.
I saw your set in 2009 at Bonnaroo, it was a great show. And this year too, both were great.
Ah, cool. Thank you.
Was it as hot on stage as it was in the crowd for us fans? It seemed like it was nearly 100 degrees. haha
Oh yea, it was. I mean, I don’t usually sweat on stage that much because I sit down haha. But uh, yea I was sweating a shit ton.
Your band has played a lot of festivals. What would you say is your favorite music festival besides Bonnaroo? Like worldwide, you’ve guys played so many.
Yea! We just did some festivals in Europe. Hurricane and Southside in Germany. Those are really cool festivals. I had a great time at Coachella(California). And Sasquatch(Washington)was fun, because it’s fairly close to our home(Portland, Oregon), so a bunch of people I knew and friends, were there camping and stuff like that. Bonnaroo is still the favorite though. But, they really are all just great in their own right.
Yea! In their own unique way.
I like the ones were people camp, because it’s just more fun and everyone’s just pretty crazy. But, yea.
Do you guys camp as well when you go to these festivals?
We did in Sasquatch, but usually no. Sometimes we can’t even stay the whole time, and we have like interviews and were usually staying pretty busy. But, at Bonnaroo we just got a hotel close to the festival. Like, were not opposed to camping, but usually we don’t end up doing it.
That’s cool. The camping festivals are always a lot of fun. You do get to meet a lot of crazy people. Have you guys ever walked around General population at the festivals? Or was it strickly backstage and the band area’s?
Not at Bonnaroo, because we stayed at a hotel. But at Sasquatch we went into the camp grounds were everyone was partying and going crazy. It’s pretty wild, people go pretty nuts. Did you camp at Bonnaroo?
Yea I did, it was a lot of fun. There were so many parties; people were going crazy all night. But, next year I’m trying to get a press pass, so it’s exciting to see where they’ll be putting me.
Alright, let’s get into the new album. In The Mountain In The Cloud comes out July 19th. Could you describe the recording process?
Yea! We actually recorded in like 4 different studios, and it was quite-quite long. But we recorded in El Paso (Texas) for a month. We recorded in San Diego for two weeks; we did Las Angeles for a week. And then we finished in Seattle for two weeks. It was awesome. The recording process was pretty stressful though, because we didn’t plan on it taking so long, we thought we were just gonna finish it in a month on the first recoding date. But, I think it turned out great and were all really happy with it.
That’s awesome. Yea, I read somewhere that this record, according to the band, is the best record you’ve made so far.
Yea! We definitely all think that. I mean, it’s up to the listener to decide. But we all feel that way. Before this record my favorite was Censored Colors, and what I liked about Censored Colors is on the new record, and I just think the songs are the best one’s we’ve ever written. So, were pretty excited about it.
I’m glad to hear that, man. I’m really excited to hear it. All the snippets of the song’s I’ve heard on your official website are pretty cool.
Yea, they are.
I know you guys are signed with Atlantic Records now, so that’s a big step up for your band. Are there any cool gadgets or new equipment you got to use in the studio that you didn’t have access too before?
Yea, the Studios—just every different studio we went too had like different, especially for me, just different synths to play that I’d never played before. We used a Moog Voyager on the new record in El Paso, and that’s like pretty much the coolest synth I’ve ever played before. And there are just like lots of different guitars and amps that—in El Paso, the Sonic Ranch(studio) is just such a big place, there’s like 3 different studios and the owner would just be like: “Oh yea, let me run over to the other studio and pull out this old amp that’s really cool.” And just like different amps and guitars, which we pretty much had the whole time to experiment with and mess around with. It was awesome.
That’s really cool. So would you say that the Sonic Ranch was the coolest place you recorded in during the making of this album?
Oh yea, definitely. That was the coolest place to make a record. You’re on a Peacan farm with like 3 different studios. It’s a great place.
I did some research earlier, and I read in an interview that you guys were going to throw out the entire session from El Paso actually. Is this true?
Yea, at one point we were just like considering starting over because things weren’t working out. But then we just kinda stripped things away and realized the basic skeleton for a lot of the songs that we recorded in El Paso was still fine. We just needed to do everything else over again. You know, so we didn’t actually end up throwing anything out completely—just—starting almost from scratch with a lot of the songs. So I think we just kind of over—over thought things, you know. We started going crazy about song structures and how things needed to sound. But ended up realizing that pretty much the first thought we had from the beginning was what it should’ve been, we just tried too many different things that didn’t work, I guess.
From what I read, the exec’s over at Atlantic Records are really cool with you guys, and they were just like “Do what you want.”
Yea, they’re awesome. They’re super supportive and—yea—it’s actually great. They’re not sucking our souls like everyone--everyone thinks the major labels do to bands. They’re actually not, they’re actually great people, and they love music, and they just want us to succeed, as we want to as well.
Yea, man. A lot of people actually think that about bands who sign to major labels. They’re like “Oh no, the band is going to completely sell out.” Or something like that. I think it’s a ridiculous statement. Would you say so?
Yea, I mean. I’m sure it has happened, but I can’t think of a band that I’ve listened to that signed to a major label and drastically changed their sound and started sucking. You know?
Yes! That's very true. Have you listened to that new Circa Survive album? It’s funny, because they signed to Atlantic too and it was a great record.
That’s awesome. Yea, people just want their music to reach more people, ya know. I mean, that’s not like, I mean Kings of Leon I guess are a prime example of a band that actually are making worse music than they’ve made before.
That’s very true. Haha
Most bands are not actually trying to do that, ya know?
Yea! They just want to get more people to listen to their music, that’s all.
What is your favorite song from the new record?
Ummmm. Good question. Uhh, It’s probably “So American.”
Or “All Your Light” is another one I really like.
Very cool. So, did you guys have like any specific artists or bands that you would listen to before going into recording?
Umm, there was a pretty steady diet of David Bowie on the new record.
Ah, man. It’s been so long since we recorded, I’m trying to remember like-- I mean I guess it took almost a year to record, so I’m sure we ended up listening to everything. But, David Bowie and T-Rex were a big thing we were trying to listen to, to intentionally take influence from what they do. They’re group. They’re great.
So, can audiences expect to see influences from Bowie and T-Rex in the new record?
Yea, yea. For sure.
Very Cool. I know this is a hackneyed question haha, but are there any albums you would listen to in order to get in the mood to write?
Umm, for me personally I love Astral Weeks by Van Morrison.
That’s a great album.
That really just makes me want to pick up an acoustic guitar and sing as loud as I possibly can, ya know? It doesn’t always lead to that, but it gives me that feeling for sure.
Did you play any other instruments on the new record besides Keyboard?
I think I played percussion and a little bit of guitar, but uh, it could have been in El Paso, or it could have been something that ended up—that we ended up starting over on. It’s funny to listen to it and be like—I don’t even know haha were this particular part was recorded, you know? But uh, yea—it’s funny to say, but I’m not actually sure. I may have. I did at one point, but I don’t know if it’s on the final recording, so…
That’s cool. It’s so long ago, ya know? Yep
Alright, let’s get into the new album. In The Mountain In The Cloud comes out July 19th. Could you describe the recording process?
Who produced the new record?
John Hill Produced it. And uh, he did like Santogold and he’s done some stuff with M.I.A, which is why we originally hired him for just like his production and the weird beats he creates and things like that. The album ended up being really cool. There’s some sample beats on the record, and there’s some very cool stuff that he did.
He’s a great producer.
Yea, he’s awesome.
Andy Wallace also mixed the record.
Yes! That’s pretty crazy. He’s like the best.
How did you guys get the Grammy Award winning mixer to work with you?
Umm, he actually heard the record and liked it so much, that he wanted to mix it for us. And we were kind of shocked by that. Cause I think at first were like-- we might be able to get Andy Wallace, but basically it was a probably not. It was a ‘dream on’ type of thing. But, he just enjoys the band a lot, and he wanted to mix us, so. Yea, that’s awesome.
The guy mixed Nevermind by Nirvana and Grace by Jeff Buckley! Do you have a favorite record of his?
That Andy Wallace mixed?
Umm, I think probably the Jeff Buckley album is one of my favorites. Uhh, At The Drive-In Relationship of Command he mixed as well, which is an awesome record. And Nevermind of course. I mean, who didn’t listen to that for 10 hours a day when they were growing up, you know? Haha
It was a staple in the 90’s, you know?
How was the legend Andy Wallace to work with?
Well, we didn’t actually hang out with him. We were home or on tour and he was just mixing from his studio and we sent a couple notes back and forth but we basically told him “You know what you’re doing, you’re the man! So, go ahead and do whatever you want.” So, that’s what he did. We actually met him at our Webster Hall show in New York, uhh, like 3 weeks ago. But, that was the first time that any of us had met him in person, not just over the phone.
That’s awesome. Was he a nice guy?
Oh yea. He was probably like the nicest person in the world. Haha And I don’t just say that about anybody, you know? He actually was—he was absurdly friendly, you know? He was awesome.
He’s been in the music industry for so long, the guy really knows his shit. How did you feel about the mixes he sent back to the band?
Oh, we knew that he was the ‘one.’ Right when we heard like the first mix. We were like, oh yea! He just gave our songs this new life that we didn’t know existed before hand.
Awesome. So, he highlighted certain aspects of the band?
Yea, yea. He’d bring out certain parts at certain points that just worked, and just made sense. We were like, “oh, I forgot that was in there.” And now that’s the prominent sound of that specific part. And that’s what the song is now. It’s kind of like a visual mix, when you listen to the record, it’s almost like you picture yourself watching the band and your eyes moving from person to person and certain parts, because of what he would like beef up in the mix and stuff like that. It was really cool.
That’s great. I can’t wait to listen to it.
No problem. I follow the band on twitter. John(Lead singer) runs the account, right?
Yea. John runs the official one, and we all have our own separate twitters, but those one’s are just kind of random haha It’s whatever we feel like tweeting about. Not necessarily band oriented at all.
He tweets all the official band stuff, right?
Yea, yea. The official band twitter actually has a point to it, ya know? haha
John tweeted this last week: “See you soon. New set list, new songs, new venues, new stage set-up. Seeing all of our friends post album release. You're all the best.” Can we talk about that?
Is that still under wraps? Haha
I’m not sure if we can talk about that or not haha I mean, it’s still in the works, but were going to be writing a new set list, bringing out some old songs that we haven’t played for a while, and a bunch of the new ones. And were just—were going to beef up the light show a little bit as well.
I can only hope more lasers? Haha
Yep, there will be more haha
Great! Alright, I have one last question. Since this will be featured on an Entertainment news website, what is the best movie you’ve seen all summer?
Well, it’s actually the Thin Red Line. Not exactly a new movie, but I had never seen it before. I also saw the new X-Men, but didn’t like it. Other than that, I haven’t seen any new movies.
Yea, I was disappointed in X-Men too. Well, I appreciate the time, man. Thank you
No problem, man.