Interview: Portugal. The Man Talk New Album

By Joseph Giannone 2011-07-08 22:21:42
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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 youíve 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 havenít 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 donít 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 itís going to be late September, early October.

Very cool. Itís 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, itís kind ofóBonnaroo 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 donít 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, youíve 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 itís 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 itís just more fun and everyoneís 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 canít 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 donít end up doing it.

Thatís 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 areaís?
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. Itís 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 Iím trying to get a press pass, so itís exciting to see where theyíll be putting me.
Thatís awesome.

Portugal. The Man


Alright, letís 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 didnít 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.

Thatís awesome. Yea, I read somewhere that this record, according to the band, is the best record youíve made so far.
Yea! We definitely all think that. I mean, itís 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 oneís weíve ever written. So, were pretty excited about it.

Iím glad to hear that, man. Iím really excited to hear it. All the snippets of the songís Iíve heard on your official website are pretty cool.
Yea, they are.

I know you guys are signed with Atlantic Records now, so thatís a big step up for your band. Are there any cool gadgets or new equipment you got to use in the studio that you didnít have access too before?
Yea, the Studiosójust every different studio we went too had like different, especially for me, just different synths to play that Iíd never played before. We used a Moog Voyager on the new record in El Paso, and thatís like pretty much the coolest synth Iíve ever played before. And there are just like lots of different guitars and amps thatóin El Paso, the Sonic Ranch(studio) is just such a big place, thereís like 3 different studios and the owner would just be like: ďOh yea, let me run over to the other studio and pull out this old amp thatís really cool.Ē 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.

Thatís 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. Youíre on a Peacan farm with like 3 different studios. Itís 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 werenít 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 didnít actually end up throwing anything out completelyójustóstarting almost from scratch with a lot of the songs. So I think we just kind of overóover 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 shouldíve been, we just tried too many different things that didnít work, I guess.

From what I read, the execís over at Atlantic Records are really cool with you guys, and they were just like ďDo what you want.Ē
Yea, theyíre awesome. Theyíre super supportive andóyeaóitís actually great. Theyíre not sucking our souls like everyone--everyone thinks the major labels do to bands. Theyíre actually not, theyíre 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. Theyíre like ďOh no, the band is going to completely sell out.Ē Or something like that. I think itís a ridiculous statement. Would you say so?
Yea, I mean. Iím sure it has happened, but I canít think of a band that Iíve 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? Itís funny, because they signed to Atlantic too and it was a great record.
Thatís awesome. Yea, people just want their music to reach more people, ya know. I mean, thatís not like, I mean Kings of Leon I guess are a prime example of a band that actually are making worse music than theyíve made before.

Thatís 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, thatís all.
Yea, exactly.

What is your favorite song from the new record?
Ummmm. Good question. Uhh, Itís probably ďSo American.Ē

Cool.
Or ďAll Your LightĒ 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.

Heís awesome.
Ah, man. Itís been so long since we recorded, Iím trying to remember like-- I mean I guess it took almost a year to record, so Iím 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. Theyíre group. Theyíre 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.

Thatís 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 doesnít 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 upóthat we ended up starting over on. Itís funny to listen to it and be likeóI donít even know haha were this particular part was recorded, you know? But uh, yeaóitís funny to say, but Iím not actually sure. I may have. I did at one point, but I donít know if itís on the final recording, soÖ

Thatís cool. Itís so long ago, ya know? Yep

Portugal. The Man


Alright, letís 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 heís 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. Thereís some sample beats on the record, and thereís some very cool stuff that he did.

Heís a great producer.
Yea, heís awesome.

Andy Wallace also mixed the record.
Yes! Thatís pretty crazy. Heís 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 Ďdream oní type of thing. But, he just enjoys the band a lot, and he wanted to mix us, so. Yea, thatís awesome.

The guy mixed Nevermind by Nirvana and Grace by Jeff Buckley! Do you have a favorite record of his?
That Andy Wallace mixed?

Yes.
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 didnít listen to that for 10 hours a day when they were growing up, you know? Haha

It was a staple in the 90ís, you know?
Yea!

How was the legend Andy Wallace to work with?
Well, we didnít 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 ďYou know what youíre doing, youíre the man! So, go ahead and do whatever you want.Ē So, thatís 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.

Thatís awesome. Was he a nice guy?
Oh yea. He was probably like the nicest person in the world. Haha And I donít just say that about anybody, you know? He actually wasóhe was absurdly friendly, you know? He was awesome.

Heís 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 Ďone.í Right when we heard like the first mix. We were like, oh yea! He just gave our songs this new life that we didnít know existed before hand.

Awesome. So, he highlighted certain aspects of the band?
Yea, yea. Heíd bring out certain parts at certain points that just worked, and just made sense. We were like, ďoh, I forgot that was in there.Ē And now thatís the prominent sound of that specific part. And thatís what the song is now. Itís kind of like a visual mix, when you listen to the record, itís 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.

Thatís great. I canít wait to listen to it.
Thanks, man.

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 oneís are just kind of random haha Itís 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: ďSee 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.Ē Can we talk about that?
Umm, well.

Is that still under wraps? Haha
Iím not sure if we can talk about that or not haha I mean, itís still in the works, but were going to be writing a new set list, bringing out some old songs that we havenít played for a while, and a bunch of the new ones. And were justówere 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 youíve seen all summer?
Well, itís 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 didnít like it. Other than that, I havenít seen any new movies.

Yea, I was disappointed in X-Men too. Well, I appreciate the time, man. Thank you
No problem, man.
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