Ever since Portugal. The Man released Waiter: "You Vultures!" in 2006, Brian Burton, better known by his moniker "Danger Mouse," has been on the band's producer wish list. Until recently, it was nothing more than a dream.
Bassist Zach Carothers recalls touring with the Black Keys last January and Patrick Carney suggesting the experimental indie rockers work with Burton on their next album. "We were like, 'Yeah, no fucking shit, Patrick, but how are we going to get Danger Mouse? It's not that easy,'" Carothers says with a laugh. But after a phone call from the CEO of Atlantic Records, and possibly some good words from the Black Keys, vocalist/guitarist John Gourley found himself on a plane to New York to have a meeting with the five-time Grammy Award winner.
Carothers received the fateful call while the band was in the process of self-producing their follow-up to 2011's In the Mountain in the Clouds at El Paso's Sonic Studios, and all five members agreed it would be worth it to drop everything for this potential opportunity. But the meeting didn't begin quite as expected. "One of the first things [Burton] said to John was, 'Look, man, I've already got the Black Keys. I don't really need another rock band. I don't think I need to do this,'" Carothers recalls. "So John just said, 'Hey, man, that's cool. We're almost done with our record. Let's just hang out and listen to music.'" With the pressure lifted, they spent the day listening to records they both enjoyed, and after realizing they saw eye to eye on many levels, Burton decided to produce what would become the band's eighth studio album, Evil Friends.
Portugal. The Man perform at the House of Blues, 1530 Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.houseofblues.com. Thurs., July 11. Visit website for show time. $25. All ages.
Portugal. The Man scrapped all of the songs they had been working on except "Hip-Hop Kids" and "Sea of Air," then started anew with Danger Mouse manning the production. "It was a strong collaboration," Carothers says. "He really did join our band during the whole process. It's not about 'What did Danger Mouse bring to the table?' It's more what we created at that table together." Virtually acting as a sixth band member, Burton helped to write the songs and lay down some synthesizer and percussion tracks. He pushed the band and helped them to write their most accessible songs to date without losing their integrity. "He's an artist himself, so he understands how to write successful music and keep your artistic intent intact," Carothers proudly states. "That's very important for us and for him, so we were really on the same level."
As for the album's lead track, it's a marriage of creepy atmospherics and rollicking garage rock riffs that showcases a new type of duality in the band's songwriting. And then there's Gourley's ability to toy with your emotions before blasting you with a brutally honest chorus: "It's not that I'm evil; I just don't like to pretend/That I could ever be your friend." Conversely, the song "Purple, Yellow, Red and Blue" is a disco-tinged indie-rock jam, with the band returning to their proclivity for singing about the vices of the material world. Even the lyric "I just wanna be evil" sounds so catchy you never give its meaning a second thought.
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However, though the band believes this album goes back to their more experimental roots, some fans beg to differ. "So many people don't like our new record," Carothers says in a frustrated tone. "That happens with every record we put out. They say, 'Why doesn't it sound like Waiter?' That was seven fucking years ago! We're humans; we evolve. . . . I think it's important to grow the fuck up!"
But the backlash doesn't bother the bass player, who is happy with the group's decision to sign with Atlantic, thus becoming "mainstream."
"I want to make the mainstream cooler!" he exclaims. "I would love to go into any random town in America, turn on any radio station and hear amazing music. Sadly, it's not always the case, so I wish cool bands would really step up and try to make bigger songs. The whole world would have a better taste in music."