US alt rockers Portugal. The Man prepare to release their eighth album ‘Woodstock’ later this week. It is a predictably eclectic collection of sounds that cross various genre, all informed by global political unrest. We sat down with John and Zach ahead of their London headline show to talk about the new album, its subject matter and what else the band have to look forward to for the rest of 2017
1. You’re back in London – you’ve obviously played here a number of times, are there any shows that particularly stand out for you guys?
Z: The first place we played was this basement place, it was tiny, super hot.
J: And it was sold the fuck out
Z: Every time we come here we always a great time
2. How would you guys describe a Portugal. The Man show for anybody who hasn’t seen you before?
Z: We don’t stop much, we pretty much start playing and one song goes into the next.
J: None of us have really ever given a shit about being onstage in front of people. The reason we do music is because we love music and that’s what lead us here. We work on transitions rather than cool speeches to give between songs
3. How do the British crowds compare to your fan base back home?
J: Our crowd is similar wherever we go. Our band has no specific demographic, there will be 14 year old girls and 60 year old ladies, its pretty cool like that
Z: All ladies
4.Will you be premiering some of your new material on this upcoming tour ahead of the release of ‘Woodstock’?
J: The band is always stoked to play new music but you don’t know it. With social media you don’t want to be sitting at home watching a band play a new track live for the first time
Z: It’s going to be taped through a phone, sent via the internet, listened to on another phone. I don’t care how good the song is, it could be ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and it’s not going to sound very good
5. You guys have such a huge body of work, how do you work out as a band what to include on the set list each night? Are there ever any song disputes?
J: it is mostly down to whatever we are feeling in the practice space. Or me sitting at home saying “no we are not going to play that”. Whatever is happening the week before we leave on tour that is what is going to be on the setlist. It could be a lot of older stuff, mostly the new album, it could be anything if that’s the vibe we are running with.
6. And what’s on the pre-show playlist? How do you prepare for gigs?
Z: We don’t really have any rituals. We always choose a playlist of music that’s playing in the house that night then there will a couple of songs as a countdown so we know it’s time to get to stage. We pass around a bottle of whisky and listen to The Righteous Brothers or Pantera.
7. Let’s chat about the new record, it’s your first in 4 years and we’ve only heard two tracks so far. You’re playing cards close to your chest, is this to surprise fans?
J: We are excited to put out the record. We recorded so much music, maybe 15 songs at Rick Rueben’s studio in Shagri La with Mike D. We recorded 16/20 songs with Dangermouse. We took a step back and said “is this the record we want to be making?” with everything happening here and everything happening back home in the US. “Do we want to put out a record of word play and catchy tongue in cheek lyrics or do we want to say something as a band?” We went back into the studio and everything happened pretty quickly.
8. What sort of sound can we expect from ‘Woodstock’?
J: It’s different for sure, we decided to call it Woodstock as we wanted it to sound like all the reasons we started playing music and the way you listen to music today. That’s where the modern angle comes from, when I listen to Spotify I can make a crazy playlist and there’s no genre to it. I wanted it to sound like a music festival almost, over here you’ve got this motown sounding group, over here I’ve got Missy Elliott doing some sampling, Blur over here.
The consistency in the record is that we set out to write the best music we could and we succeeded. I think these are the best songs we have written.
9. I wanted to ask you about your work flow and creative process, as after putting out your debut in 2006, you released an album a year all the way up until 2011? Do you find the writing and creating process comes quite naturally to you as a band?
J: Those first years it was a lot to do with us having no fucking clue what we were doing. When we started playing music it was just for fun, when you start playing shows you start to realise what works and what doesn’t. Everything pre-Atlantic is the same as going to college or university.
10. Your new album was made during a time of intense political unrest in the States, how has this informed the tones and theme of the album?
Z: Going back to Woodstock and what was so important that time was artists, musicians and people coming together and channelling their efforts into finding something to fight for. All the stuff we were walking on before was great stuff but it just wasn’t the right time, we love it but this music has a purpose. We couldn’t put that out as everything started to get really serious at the time we were ready to release.
11. The video for ‘Feel Itself’ is impressively visual, who did you work with on that and where did the inspiration come for that?
Z: Its about the duality of man, a general rock star daydream with dancers and TVs etc with a whole bunch of hidden easter eggs including human rights issues
J: The whole idea is to have hidden messages within a fairly standard looking video
12. Finally, you’re coming back to the UK later in the year. What else are you looking forward to in 2017?
J: Nandos. My favourite thing here is hanging out with the graffiti writers over here, there are some really amazing artists here.
Z: It’s the new punk rock for us. I grew up in Alaska, when we were younger we didn’t see this.
J: We didn’t have walls to paint
Z: Graffiti was huge for me, I would buy books because I’d seen stuff in the movies.