Experimental rockers Portugal. The Man return to Vail
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –Unassuming, prolific, weird, Alaskan – and heading back to Vail.
Not exactly traits you’d attribute to rock stars, but Portugal. The Man, which has sold out most of the shows on its current tour, embodies all of them.
Lead vocalist and guitarist John Baldwin Gourley, with his ’70s-porn-star mustache and haircut, speaks in a soft, timid voice that makes one question if it really is the same strong and sultry singing vehicle on Portugal. The Man’s sweeping, conceptual rock albums. Gourley is definitely unassuming. He is a devoted Star Trek buff and an offbeat painter. He, like bassist Zachary Scott Carothers, hails from Wasilla, Alaska, though it’d be tough to find someone more unlike former Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin. However, Gourley is proud of his heritage.
“I just feel very lucky that we got to see such amazing wildlife and just that the place we got to grow up in – I think it’s pretty cool,” Gourley said. “We got to see bears and moose and hear complete silence, which you don’t hear often outside of Alaska. It’s a pretty amazing place.”
Admittedly, however, Portugal. The Man, which plays at the Sandbar in West Vail Saturday night, isn’t technically an Alaskan band. Gourley and Carothers are the only two remaining Alaskans in the four-piece experimental rock group, and Gourley said the band didn’t take off until they moved to Portland, Ore., where they are still based.
“We never really played much in the Alaska music scene. We pretty much only played shows and only played music in our parents’ houses – we played in our garages and things like that,” Gourley said. “I don’t think we ever really knew what it was like to really go out and play music until we left the state.”
Leaving the state was seemingly a shrewd move for Gourley and Co. Since 2005, the soulful and folksy rock group has been well-received in both hipster and popular music circles. Their 2008 album “Censored Colors” was selected by Alternative Press magazine as one of that year’s “10 Essential Albums” in the same issue where Gourley was named the “Best Vocalist of 2008.” The band has put out two more albums since “Censored” (three if you count “Majestic Majesty,” an all-acoustic version of 2009’s “Satanic Satanist”), and Gourley said life has been kind to the band recently.
“It’s been crazy. It’s been really, really amazing. It’s by far the best tour we’ve ever done,” Gourley said. “You would hope and you would expect things to grow and get bigger and do better, but it doesn’t always happen that way. This whole year has been really, really great for us. Most of the dates have been sold out.”
That’s an impressive feat for a band that put out its first EP in 2005 and its first full-length in 2006. What Portugal. The Man lacks in longevity, however, it has made up for in productivity. Since the group started recording music professionally, six full-length albums and five EPs have made their way into the world. Given that the band also plays 250 or so shows a year, this may seem like a breakneck pace to those familiar with the music business. To Gourley, though, it’s not a big deal, especially in the grand scheme of things.
“It’s just what we do. I think the thing that I always look at is what my dad does. My dad builds houses for a living,” Gourley said. “And he doesn’t just build one house a year. He works on hotels and does a million other things. And it’s a house – it’s where people grow up and live their lives, and what we’re doing is so small. You write an album, and how many lyrics are in an album? It’s maybe a few pages. … It doesn’t seem like a crazy pace to me. “
Gourley makes it sound easy, but the fact of the matter is that his band’s musical output in the past five years is uncommon, especially given the strength and individuality of each quirky, psychedelic, swaggering album. If the band’s apparent ease in the studio and rapid rise to success isn’t frustrating to other bands, Gourley’s nonchalant attitude toward it all might be.
“To be honest, we haven’t really set a whole lot of goals. We just want to put out music,” Gourley said. “We just want to keep putting out music.”
That seems to be one thing you can take for granted with Portugal. The Man – “American Ghetto” was just released March 2, but Gourley said preproduction for the next album is already finished. If you haven’t heard this band yet, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Aaron Butzen is a freelance writer based in Denver. See more of his work at http://www.butzenmedia.com.