Portland indie rockers Portugal. The Man have just completed their sixth album, with the latest making its major record label debut this summer. Before their show at the House of Blues in Anaheim on Saturday, frontman John Gourley talks about the post indie record label life, the making of their new album In The Mountain, In The Cloud and small club shows versus music festivals.
OC Weekly: How did you come up with your band name? What does it mean?
John Gourley: We wanted to create an alter ego much like Ziggy Stardust and Sgt. Pepper. We were sitting down to pick a name and we decided that the country was the best representation of the group of people as an individual in the world. I think (.The Man) just states it and the period is there to say that Portugal is the band.
What was your initial reaction when you signed on to Atlantic Records?
I don't know if there was a reaction when we signed to Atlantic just because we've been talking to them for so long. We were honestly really excited when they approached us in the first place, but we ended up talking for eight to ten months before we actually signed to the label. I feel like it was a really good move and hopefully positive things come of it on both sides. I know the new record is coming out in a big way because of the label.
How has your experience on a record label been so far?
It's been really great. We moved around a lot during the recording process because we were touring the whole time. Every time we finished a recording session, we would be really self conscious about everything and apprehensive about showing anybody this stuff, but I think that Atlantic really helped the process. Every time we sent new stuff, they would just say, “It doesn't sound like you're doing what you want to do.” and they really pushed us to create the sounds we wanted and to write the songs we wanted to.
Is there a major difference being on an indie label versus a major label? Which do you prefer?
To be perfectly honest, I think there is more pressure to perform (or it has been for us) on an indie record label because you don't have the same resources as a major label. Every label we've been with has been very cool to us and we've always got what we wanted. That was the major difference. On a major. you don't worry about the recording and time as much because they just want you to create the best record you can. On indie labels you're constantly under time constraints and recording budgets and things like that. Not that this record cost a lot of money to make, but we just had time to do it right.
Can you tell us more about your latest album, In The Mountain, In The Cloud?
When we were in the studio, the whole idea was that I wanted to write this record about my grandfather passing away. Things kind of fell apart for some reason or another and became a record that was more about the band and the way people interact with each other when they're basically shoved into a little bubble for a long span of time. It became more of a social commentary than any focus piece but I think in the end it became a focus piece because it is pretty much everything that happened in the six months that was last summer.
When you're not touring, what do you guys like to to during your downtime?
We're pretty nerdy guys. As for myself, I watched a lot of River Monsters, Star Trek and pretty much every documentary I had interest in. I also drew pictures the whole time. I do all the artwork for the band with my time off. We pretty much draw pictures, eat food and watch nerdy shows.
You're playing music festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza this summer. How does it feel to be performing at such huge venues?
It's definitely different and cool. I think it's kinda cool not being the focus for a day and just playing music for people. The great thing about festivals is that you have the opportunity to hear other music. As much as we tour, it's so rare that we get to go to shows and see anything that is going on. It's cool to have that option.
Do you prefer playing smaller shows or playing at music festivals?
I have no real preference to be perfectly honest. I think when we play in big places like The Fillmore, it's cool to be part of the history of these places that have been there forever. I think small clubs are cool because you get to go back to the punk and rock n' roll roots. You just play and you're not worried about your monitor or volume. You're not worried about those things, you're just having fun with the crowd. You're a part of the party and you just have to live it like that's what you're there for.