Despite a crippling shyness as a boy and growing up in Alaska where the music industry was almost ‘non-existent’, singer John Gourley and his indie-pop/psychedelic rock fitout, Portugal. The Man have joined the ranks as one of North America’s must-see bands.
Taking the main stage at festivals including Lollapalooza, Splendour in the Grass and Big Day Out, Portugal. The Man are returning to Australia for the third time in 18 months for a series of free concerts with Corona Extra.
I sat down to chat with John ahead of their tour.
We're looking forward to coming to see you perform in Brisbane. Have you left for Australia yet?
John: Yeah, looking forward to it. We’re out in LA, in Santa Monica right now and we’re just recording some new music with Mike D of the Beastie boys at the moment, which is exciting.
Tell me about how you got into the music industry? I don’t really know much about the Alaskan music industry.
That’s because it’s not like anything (laughs). Growing up there it was all metal and blue grass; that was pretty much it and I wouldn’t call it a music scene.
Honestly, I was just talking about this yesterday with one of my friends here and I don’t know how I ended up in music. I was very shy growing up; it was crippling. I couldn’t order food at restaurants, but something happened at one point, which changed things.
I graduated high school, and my girlfriend at the time broke up with me; I was so sad so I went and visited some of my friends in Portland, Oregon, which wasn’t nearly as hip as it is today and I ended up playing some music with some friends.
I played with them a little bit, and I don’t know how it happened but we got signed up at one of the shows we played while I was down there just by chance and I ended up falling into it. I mean I’ve always loved music, it’s what I’m passionate about, but I certainly never expected to do it for a living.
Did you sing at school?
No, I never did any of it in school!
So you basically just started the band and that was sort of your first foray into singing?
Yeah pretty much. I sang at a couple of things back home in Alaska simply because they couldn’t find a singer due to the lack of music scene in Alaska. I did it out of necessity.
Portugal. The man started off as hip-hop because I couldn’t play anything, at the time I just hit the notes that sounded good. It’s cool though, I guess I learnt music like you learn a trade, it was all hands on training.
Who would you say are the bands biggest influences? And who are your biggest influences growing up?
We go from Wu-Tang to The Beatles. We sampled lots of things from the Motown era with Wu Tang and we share some of the same tones from Motown and the Beatles. Wu-tang was one of the most inspiring things I heard when I was in high school and that’s really what pushed me to try the music that I did.
Do you all contribute to writing the songs?
It’s all inspired by and collaborated on by the entire band and the producers. I’m a big fan of having producers in the studio simply to get a different take on your music. It’s a really exciting thing to have someone around who can play and can suggest things.
How has the band evolved since its inception?
I guess there are a lot of things that are the same, (bass guitarist) Zach Carothers and I grew up together, we went to the same school, and for us, it’s always been about the song writing.
We really didn’t expect to play in Australia, we really didn’t expect to play in Europe, we didn’t expect to play festivals. So the fact that we are is amazing.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in a band?
I’d probably be building houses and carpentry, which I also like doing.
What is the response like here in Australia to your music compared to other countries?
Pretty much everything that comes up about Australia is “I love that place”. We hang out with really fun people, and that’s all that really matters to us anywhere we go! (laughs). We rarely think about the show, which is what makes it fun and exciting for us. There’s something about you (Australia); it’s an isolated place and coming from Alaska we seem to connect on a personal level.
I really like playing shows there, the last few shows we’ve played there were crazy amazing.
Do you prefer doing your own stuff or do you prefer doing big festival shows?
Doing your own show, it’s easier to get away with a lot more, you can work in old songs or change up the set if you like. At festivals it’s more about the party vibe. You have to write a set list that will keep moving and it’s so not so much about your band, its about the party and it’s about keeping every one moving towards that show that’s headlining.
Is touring your favourite thing to do other than playing?
Yes. Travelling is pretty nice, and so many bands just don’t get to do anything fun on tour. It’s not the way you should spend your life if you ever get that opportunity!
We’re big fans of checking out the arts districts, going to restaurants and trying new foods and experiencing the culture.
Do you get on well with your other band mates while touring?
Yeah we do. We’ve had some heavy moments no doubt, but you kind of have to!
I think it would be really boring if you didn’t (laughs) and you can’t experience anything without being angry every now and then.
Do you have any routines, rituals or guilty pleasures that you rely on when touring?
I would say most of what we do is based around food, we like to go and watch movies together. We just really like to eat where we hear the best food is, be it Chinese in Minnesota, or something else.
What did you get up to the last time you came to Brisbane?
The last time we were there was for Big Day Out which was basically a big hotel party every single night. Oh my gosh - I have a notepad from when we were there, I have things I don’t remember writing. I think it was pretty crazy, it was pretty wild!
What are you looking forward to doing when you get here this time?
Kyle, our keyboard player used to be a barista doing competitions. There’s a bunch of coffee places in Australia he’s been dying to go to, so we follow his lead. Australia has some of the best food in the world, and the best coffee in the world. You guys are doing it right. You have awesome style, fashion and food.
How did you get involved with Corona Extra for the free shows?
We just wanted to drink beer, money is not an issue! (laughs).
It came about through Monster Children, which is a pretty amazing magazine. They connected us with Corona and it’s a really good excuse to come down and be able to do what we do in the States and play lots of random venues. And playing for free that’s a plus, we don’t give a #$&% about the ticket price. When they say it’s free, I’m psyched, because that means we’ll have a blast.
What will people expect from the shows?
I have no idea what you can expect, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun though! We’ll be playing for the people, that’s for sure.
Portugal. The Man will perform in Brisbane on Saturday November 8 at 3pm, Paddo Tavern, 186 Given Terrace, Paddington and 9pm, Jubilee Hotel, 470 St Pauls Tce, the Valley.