Portugal. The Man find a new home in Boston

BMS talks with bassist and vocalist Zachary Carothers

, Staff Writer

Hailing from Wasilla, Alaska (yup, the same place as Sarah Palin), rockers Portugal. The Man have been keeping very busy over the past few years. Since the release of their 2006 debut album, Waiter: “You Vultures!”, the band has gone on to release three more buzzworthy albums. For their most recent release, this year’s Satanic Satanist, the band travelled east and made a home in Boston for the recording process. They also released The Majestic Majesty, and acoustic accompaniment to the band’s new work.

Combine this prolificness with a demanding year-round tour schedule, and it quickly becomes clear that PTM are doing a hell of a job of staying in the public eye, and the effort is certainly paying off. The band will return to Boston on Sunday for their first headlining gig at the famed Paradise Rock Club.

Earlier this week, BMS had the opportunity to speak with bassist and vocalist Zachary Carothers, who went into detail about recording in Boston, as well as life on the road and his band’s ever-morphing sound.

Boston Music Spotlight (BMS): How’s the tour going? You guys have basically been on the road since April.

Zach Carothers (ZC): (laughs) We’ve been on the road for the last four years, pretty much, so we’re fairly used to it. Just when we start getting tired of [touring], more people start coming out, and things get better for us. So it’s going really well. We’ve been doing awesome, the numbers have been great, and the bands [we’re touring with] are a lot of fun.

BMS: You’re touring in support of Satanic Satanist, which was recorded here in Boston. It’s not very common for bands to travel from so far away to record here. What led to that decision?

ZC: Pretty much it was the guys we got to record with, Paul Kolderie, Anthony Saffery and Adam Taylor. We’d been on tour before, and were stopping by studios every three days or so…we’d do a town, check out studios and producers, kinda get the vibe…and we’d already sort of worked with those guys when they mixed our previous records. We were really happy with the post-production stuff [they did], and we felt like the vibes were just really good. So we checked out the studio, and it had all this amazing equipment – we were like kids in a candy shop. It was unreal. So we decided that since we like cold weather – well, John [Gourley] and I do – we would record in Boston.

BMS: You chose a rough time to come here. It was a pretty rough winter we had last year.

ZC: Oh yeah. All I had were these tiny little loafers the whole time. I kept trying to find boots everywhere, but I kept forgetting. Stores would close and I’d be like “Oh, I’ll get them tomorrow,” and everyone kept telling us “Oh, this is the last snowstorm,” and then a couple days later there’d be another one.

[The snow] kept us working hard, though. If we’re in California and it’s beautiful out, when I’m done doing my track, I’ll just, like, go to a park, go swimming, or something. But if it’s freezing out, I’ll stay in and practice music.

BMS: Did you catch any cool shows while you were in town?

ZC: Yeah, we saw some good friends of ours, Builders and Butchers. They opened for Murder by Death at the Middle East. We were busy most of the time, and had no car, so that kind of limited where we could go. But if someone played in Cambridge we’d get to go. That Murder By Death show was awesome.

BMS: Your new album is musically a lot more straightforward and pop-y than previous releases, like a good old fashioned rock album. What was the thought process behind that?

ZC: We’ve always wanted to do that kind of thing, really. John and I were raised pop kids – you know, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Beatles, all that good stuff. So we’ve always wanted to do that, but we didn’t know how. Our first couple records were very riff-based, not necessarily song structure. Starting with Censored Colors (2008), we got ideas for chord progressions and stuff. So we dabbled with that [style], and fine-tuned it for Satanist. We did pre-production on this album, which we’ve never done before. And in a lot of ways, as far as the synth use goes, it was our most experimental record. We usually write more weird music, so when we do a pop album, it’s experimental to us…but to everyone else it’s the other way around.

BMS: It seems like with more structured songs, the album really opens itself up more to improvisation than previous recordings. Does this translate into more exploration on stage?

ZC: It definitely does. We do try to keep it a little more true [to the record], because with other records we’ve changed our songs a lot live, so with this one we’re sticking more to the original song. There are definitely still some songs where we just changed all of the music. We’ll stay in the same key, but otherwise it’s a totally different vibe, and it comes out really cool.

That’s the thing about not having a dedicated rehearsal space…we write everything in the studio, and then before a tour we kind of have to learn how to play the songs that we wrote. And some songs that I love on the record just didn’t have a good feeling, live, in which case we had to make some changes and step it up a little bit, and that’s really the fun for people who go to our shows.

BMS: Yeah, I don’t love going to shows where you just end up hearing direct copies of studio cuts.

ZC: Exactly – I’ve got respect for people who can play songs all the way through and have it sound exactly like the album. Part of me is thinking “wow, that’s impressive,” but I don’t really like it. I’d rather hear something different. It’s like I could get a bunch of friends in my living room, turn up the volume and drink cans of Pabst and it’ll feel like I’m at a show.

BMS: You released an acoustic accompaniment to Satanic Satanist. Was it easier “unplugging” or filling out the songs?

ZC: I’m not sure – it was probably easier to unplug the songs, just because it’s not as many instruments, but there are only so many things we can do to keep it organic and acoustic. It’s hard, though. Sometimes you feel like things are missing when there’s no bass. I’m usually playing congas and shakers, and it’s really fun to do that kind of thing.

BMS:& Have you incorporated more acoustic sound into your live show now?

ZC: We haven’t really put it in the live setting, no. Like, if something breaks, then we’ll go into something. We do do a lot of acoustic shows for college radios and stuff, though. Every now and then we’ll do acoustic after-parties, which are awesome. We did it in Europe a couple times. Sometimes last-minute we’ll get a night off and pick a bar, get word out on the net and get people to come out.

It all started when we were touring in Pittsburgh. The show was advertised as all-ages, but it turns out that was a misprint in the paper, and it was a 21+ show. So there were sixty or seventy kids out front to couldn’t get tickets, and were really bummed. They asked us if we would play in their apartment, and for some reason we were like “yeah, sure”. We went in with a bunch of drums and acoustic guitars, and it was so much fun. Everyone was stomping and singing along, and you could barely hear us. Man, it was such a good time. I’d love to do a tour where every night – or maybe in cool cities that have always been good to us – we kinda plan an acoustic thing at a bar or a house party.

BMS: Is the new album an indication of where Portugal. The Man will be going in future recordings?

ZC: I don’t really know. We always tend to switch up our songwriting album to album. We’ve actually already recorded another one, but it’s not going to be advertised as a new album. We’re going to find some cool way to distribute it – I don’t think we’ll make CDs…maybe a one-sided vinyl, or a set of 7-inches. [The music] is a little abstract, definitely way more weird than anything else we’ve done…lots of loops and sequencing. It’s pretty cool and out there. So, that’s done.

We listen to so much different music, is the thing…just so many influences in general between the four of us that things are probably gonna keep changes. Plenty of stuff to get ideas from in this world.

BMS: Anything we should expect from the show at the Paradise?

ZC: I imagine we’ll do a bit of collaborating with Drug Rug. We’re on tour with them, and we’ve wanted to take them out for like two years. We’re really excited to have them with us. I imagine a few of them will come on stage with us, and vice versa – we’ll kinda make a party out of it. And we might, you know, we might get some sitar players on stage…some people who did extra things on our record. I’m not totally positive, but hopefully we’ll bring them out.

Portugal. The Man will play the Paradise Rock Club with Drug Rug and Hockey on Sunday, October 18. Tickets are $15 though Live Nation. For more information on the band, please visit their MySpace.

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