Member changes, stolen equipment and difficult recording sessions might cause the break-up of some bands, but for the oddly punctuated Portugal. The Man, it seems like these are the tumultuous conditions under which the band thrives.
While their style of music would be classified as indie-rock, few bands have explored as many facets of the genre.
To hear bassist Zachary Carothers tell it, one would think that the group — which signed with Atlantic Records in 2010, has toured the world and released six full-length albums and nearly as many EPs — is just warming up.
“We’re just now starting to figure out where we really want our band to go,” Carothers said. “But we’re concentrating a lot more on song structure, on progressions, melodies, and really being very intricate as far as what we choose to do.”
In March, Carothers and the rest of his bandmates started recording new material in a secluded studio located on a pecan orchard in El Paso, Texas. Currently, the group is taking part in the “Jagermeister Tour,” which will bring them to Denver’s Ogden Theatre May 3.
The day before Portugal. The Man’s tour began, the group announced the departure of its keyboardist, Ryan Neighbors, who had been with the group since 2008. Just a few days into tour, the band abruptly fired their new drummer mid-show, leaving Carothers, and guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, John Gourley, as the only original members. The group has seen more than six members come and go since Portugal. The Man began in 2004.
Portugal. The Man has built a large fan-base across America and Europe by touring endlessly and releasing a steady stream of ever-improving albums. Denver fans have consistently supported the group.
“Oddly enough we have more friends in Denver than anywhere else in the country — in the world I guess — besides Alaska and Portland, our two homes. Every time we roll through Denver, it’s pandemonium there,” Carothers said.
The group is still touring in support of their latest effort In The Mountain In The Cloud, their first release on Atlantic. Writing and recording the album didn’t come as easy as the group’s previous albums.
“I don’t know what was going on, but we weren’t playing well, we weren’t writing well, and we weren’t getting along with each other. Every difficulty that you could possibly imagine, we were going through. It was a struggle,” Carothers said.
After recording sessions in El Paso, N.M., New York, San Diego, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., the group finally finished the album in Seattle with producer Casey Bates. Though Atlantic never put pressure on the group, the members wanted to live up to their own expectations.
“We look at their roster and see names like Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin and stuff. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we knew [recording] was a pretty pivotal moment in our career and it still is,” Carothers said. “It was good for us to have a taste of difficulty in there.”
After performing at Lollapalooza in 2011 — a highlight for the group — their van and trailer, which contained all of the bands equipment, was stolen. Some of the equipment was later recovered with the help of fans, through social media and the group received a fair amount of support from various musical instrument companies.
The group has seen its share of ups and downs. Apart from equipment thefts, member changes and recording challenges, the grueling tasks of the music industry have posed a challenge to artists for years.
“I never see friends anymore and you can’t keep a girlfriend to save your life,” Carothers said. “My grandpa’s funeral was a few days ago and I couldn’t make it. It’s a lot of sacrifice and that’s a thing that a lot of people don’t get.”
While it looks like a glamorous lifestyle, the reality for most bands trying to garner a fanbase as they travel along America’s highways is far more humbling. Portugal. The Man’s early days were no exception.
“I love the fact that I rolled around with a 30 lb. bag of rice and we would pull over at rest stops and unplug the soda machine to plug in a rice cooker, because that’s all we could afford for months on end, [but] it’s really nice to see all that stuff is starting to pay off,” Carothers said.
The life of a touring musician can be a struggle, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also have perks.
“At Bonaroo last year, John [Gourley] and I got to hang out and listen to music with Neil Young in his Cadillac for about an hour. I have to say that’s about the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Carothers mused. “I grew up listening to Neil Young all day in my house, so I was texting my Dad, [he] was proud.”
It’s hard to imagine Neil Young inviting every budding musician that he meets into his car for impromptu listening sessions. Rather, it would seem likely that Young sees that Portugal. The Man has a promising career ahead.
Fans may get to see new material performed live on the upcoming tours, catching a glimpse of what lies ahead for the ever-changing and always-morphing group.
“We still want to make pop records but we want to make interesting pop records. With any material we’re doing it’s going to be a little punk-rock, a little bit thrashy, but catchy [with] a lot of energy,” Carothers explained, mentioning that, when it comes to the new album and the future of Portugal. The Man, he’s really excited. “They’re the best songs we’ve ever written,” Carothers said.