Q&A: Portugal. The Man @ Harper’s Ferry
August 2, 2008 - Allston, MA
By Vicky Zeamer
V: P.TM on July 30th signed to Equal Visions in a unique contract, can you explain what is so special about this deal?
J: The unique contract. Ha. It was just announced. I actually haven’t signed that contract either… But- what we decided to do was to just go into the studio and make the record. We had talked to a ton of labels, pretty much every label that you could think of that would be a good fit for the band. They were all really cool, but we just knew Equal Visions for years and years and they just knew, exactly like I said before, that we wanted to write songs, albums and that we wanted to record all the time. We have a plan for everything we’re doing and they respect that. They came into the deal after the album was done, since we didn’t talk to anyone until the album was finished, they came in with an offer that was just great. ‘You can maintain your own label, producers, directors, when you’re going into a studio,’ pretty much everything bands, as much as they say they want to do it, nobody likes to plan for. That is one thing we really like doing. The deal on the end is we’re on Approaching AIRballoons, and Equal Visions is just the backing for it. They treat us like we’re on the label which is amazing because the deal is so much different.
V: You guys released three EPs between Waiter and Church Mouth, any reason for releasing those at that moment as opposed to holding onto the songs for a new record?
J: The EPs are basically sessions. They are that time when we just go into the studio. An EP to us is just a session. A few days… in the year and you just let it all come out. They are not necessarily songs that didn’t make the record or anything. If we could write albums all the time we would, but you have to give each album some space and time to grow and do its thing.
V: Do you have any memories of hearing songs when you were really little or any other specific memories of music that made a mark on you?
J: I do. I remember, it sounds so nerdy, I hate talking about this, but I remember we always listen to oldies radio and the Beatles are 90% of oldies radio. I was digging through my mom’s tapes with my brother and sister, and we were just putting in tapes and taking out stuff we were like “Oh we don’t listen to that,” basically any song we didn’t know was just whatever. We put in Abbey Road and I remember we just listened to that tape so, so much. Every song on that road was just a hit. I remember Octopus’ Garden and just being this crazy visual. Even when I listen to it now, I hear come together I just picture the craziest dude dancing around. It’s really great understanding the songs more, I’ve had these songs for basically 27 years and I’m always learning something new with those records. It sounds so nerdy since the Beatles are such an obvious “oh you listen to the Beatles, okay.”
When I got into high school I jumped right into driving a car, being in town, which I wasn’t when I was younger and I played on baseball teams and gymnastics and all that stuff. I went into high school having never had that of the modern times, any thing that was a part of my peers growing up. Everyone listened to the 80’s, but I just hit the 90’s listening to Nirvana, Marilyn Manson, Blink-182, Oasis, Third Eyed Blind, all these bands. The biggest one for me was Marilyn Manson for awhile. I just loved that craziness because it was so much different from anything I’d seen.
Oh and Wu Tang, which was just, so weird, I have to explain it because it’s such a curve ball when it comes to why I play music. I just remember hearing that and immediately becoming familiar with the music. The way the wizard puts together beats and puts together old soul music and you can completely just hear it and feel it. He took the best parts of these songs, and lyrically even then not knowing what it was about you could sense that there were hidden meanings and so much going on within that group. Almost all those dudes are top of the top for me.
V: What mark do you want to leave on people who come to your shows?
J: As selfish as it sounds and everything, honestly, we play music because we really truly love playing and writing music and everything about it. We started out as kids in Alaska and all we got was mainstream music, like you’re going to make a ton of music and all that. We thought “oh right, we have to start a band!” As we got into this band there was a lot of realization that, you know we’ve been doing this for so long and making no money, we just wanted to make a band that, this sounds really nerdy too, we would want to listen to. We made a record based on that time and mind frame, just doing what we really wanted to do. If people are there watching and having a good time that is really great and really cool, but honestly we’d it either way. It’s more something that, I just want people to understand that because we just love to play.
V: You have to be like that this far into the game if you know that your not going to write one song and make millions, obviously you have to have some other motivation.
J: We are very happy doing what we’re doing. Fairly laid back dudes [we are], with the exception of last night.
V: Oh well now you’re going to have to tell me that story.
J: We were in New York City, and for some reason, we weren’t even suppose to stay in NYC that night and drive here. We just got it in our heads “we should party tonight!” In the green room, I guess that’s where everyone hangs out in NYC. I was up until the sun was up last night just sitting on the roof of the place we were at. It was just a long, long night.
V: You must be really tired right now.
J: No, no I’m not! I drove all day too. I’ll for got weeks at a time. I’ll be up until 3 or so and then wake up between 7 and 10 am.
V: Your upbringing in Alaska is drastically different from that which many people in the lower 48 states experience, do you believe that your environment strongly shaped you? How would your life be different if you say, grew up here [in the middle of the city].
J: I don’t know, it is so hard to say. Sometimes I think about it at night. If I had lived somewhere else I probably would’ve just started doing what I wanted to do a lot earlier. Maybe if I grew up in a community I wouldn’t have been so shy and awkward about voicing my opinion and getting my thoughts on paper. Really, if it wasn’t for Alaska and the way I was raised I definitely wouldn’t be the person I am, playing in the band I’m in, playing with Zach and all that. You could really say that about any place. I always say that all the time in Wyoming, the dude that plays music there, Wyoming shaped that dude’s music. Even if he played rap rock, whatever he does. He could play the most awful music, it comes from that area. Whether it was just being sheltered from underground music, I think the biggest thing was not getting that underground music, when we finally were exposed to it, it allowed us to do our take on that sort of music rather than play someone else’s music.
V: Did you ever think of this as an escape from Alaska?
J: I never pictured myself being in a band. I’m normally, and this is something I’m getting over, I remember when I first moved down I was so terribly shy. My friends just asked me to come sing for a band. I thought “alright, I’ll try this out.” I didn’t even want to sing for a band. I just wanted to right music and leave it at that. I had a job; living in Alaska we had plenty of money. I just worked construction. I worked seven 12 hours, which was just a crazy amount of hours. The pay is just really good. My brother and sister both have their own houses and everything. It wasn’t necessarily to get away, I don’t even know how it happened. I honestly shouldn’t be playing music based on my dedication to it. It’s something I just grew into and it’s just become everything I do. I love Alaska, if I could live anywhere and just sit for sometime, it would be Alaska.
V: The lyrics you write are heavy in imagery and large in sound. Everything from marshmallow clouds and other magical metaphors are addressed in your songs, where do you pull these out from? As a kid where you always this imaginative, or always a writer? You said you were shy, so did you use it as an outlet?
J: Yeah I always wrote, and that was something I always wanted to do. I actually always, always wanted to be a director. I didn’t tell anybody this either, it was just in my head. Everything was just so out of reach. Like I was saying with music, it was all out of reach for me as a kid. I guess in wanting to do all these things I was into movies and the cartoons I’d watch. We had this little video store, and for some reason, all the animated movies got thrown into the family films. Like Wizards, Fantastic Planet, Wind and the Willows, Light Years, Fire and Ice, and all these crazy cartoons that were really violent craziness. I just think watching all that stuff so young and having that set in with nothing to take it on and nowhere to take it, since my friends didn’t watch that stuff, we just lived in the middle of nowhere. It made it a little bit easier for me to imagine in. My imagination is always running.
With the lyrics the way that I found it best to let them out was to just let it go. I always just make them up as I sing. I’ll say “alright this one sort of works.” It’s funny, producers hate, hate the way I work in the studio just because every line in our records, every melody, is something that just kind of happens. “Alright, I’m going to go in today and just sing.” They end up doing like 15 takes if that’s how long it takes, normally it doesn’t but- if they do I feel really self conscious. So they have 15 takes and edit it together so they can find the best phrasing. I just sit there and kind of laugh to myself and I wont say anything because I don’t want them to know I’m an asshole and I’m just singing on the spot. They have to use big bricks to edit since the phrasing and words will be different. It’s just funny.