Lollapalooza, next weekend, marks the year anniversary of the time Portugal. The Man's gear was stolen.
"We played Lollapalooza last year and we woke up in the morning to drove home. We went into the parking lot right in the middle of downtown Chicago and our van and trailer were just gone," recalls bassist Zach Carothers.
The band's fans spread word of the theft and through the power of social media, within 24 hours, the van was recovered (as well as most of the gear).
"The whole city of Chicago was so rad with us. We were stuck in town and people bought us plane tickets home," says Carothers.
Portugal. The Man is not playing Lollapalooza this year; the band has plenty of other things on its plate. They are working on a new album and recently recorded a cover of T.Rex's "Main Man" for a tribute album produced by the Los Angeles public radio station KCRW. A week ago, the Portland, Oregon, based rockers flew into L.A. to perform at the official EP release party.
Prior to the show, we sat down with Carothers, who talked about mosh-pitting with his mom, explained why rock 'n' roll is better when it's sloppy and joked about his tendency to overdo the f-bombs, which he’s desperately trying to get out of his system before his singer’s baby turns one.
Portugal. The Man has a reputation for being experimental on stage. How much do you stick to the set list versus spontaneously change it up/take audience requests?
We wing it but last minute. We haven’t written a set for tonight yet, for instance. I have no idea what we’re playing so we’ll figure that out about 15 minutes before we play and then probably change it once we’re up there. It depends. Also, over the last six months or so, we’ve had a lot of lineup changes and we’ve lost a couple of different drummers and added some new members. They haven’t been around for the whole time so if somebody shouts out a new song, our drummer may be like, “I’ve never even heard that song before.”
When you do change up the set in the middle of a show, is there a quick little huddle or does one of you just start playing?
We just kind of fall in. We’re all pretty good at watching each other.
That sounds like it has the potential for the occasional blooper…
Oh, definitely. Sometimes there will just be a head nod and what’s a head nod to me may be something else for somebody else. When “slow down” and “speed up” are similar signals and you’re 30 feet away on a festival stage, it’s pretty tough to see.
That’s the joy of a live show though.
All I do when I go to live shows I look for fuck ups. It’s like watching NASCAR. I’m a big fan of rock and roll because it’s not perfect, because there are mistakes. If you want perfect music, there is the opera, there’s Bach, there’s Beethoven. That’s not what we do. That stuff’s awesome but that’s not what rock and roll is. It’s supposed to be imperfect and I like it that way.
Why was T.Rex such a big influence on you?
They are just fucking cool. I don’t know how to put it. Our singer’s got a baby that is turning one in a couple of days, so I gotta get all the fucks out of my system. In about six months to a year I gotta stop saying fuck around the kid because I live with them. We all live together in a big house and I have to get it all out of my system.
How is the music scene in your hometown of Wasilla, Alaska?
It’s not much. I started a band there at 14 and didn’t get on the Internet until I was 17. At that time, we were the only band in town that had vocals. There was a metal band called Phantom A and they played shows with us. Their singer was in jail for manslaughter and so it was them and us and that was it. Obviously we played shows together quite often. Shows up there are crazy but they are always fun to play and people are excited about music.
Do a lot of bands come through your hometown?
There’s not a lot going on. When I was a kid, I went to every show that came up. I went to shows of artists that I not only didn’t listen to but actually hated. I don’t like Garth Brooks. I paid $50 for a Garth Brooks ticket because I was like, “Shit. We only get a few shows a year and there’s nothing else coming up for four months. I’m gonna go.”
What were your favorite bands growing up?
I loved Rage Against The Machine. We used to practice at the house and we used to cover a lot of Rage Against The Machine when I was a kid. When the band got back together for Coachella, my mom flew down from Alaska – I was on tour and drove like 30 hours to go and my brother drove down. We had a little family reunion and was in the mosh pit with my mom and little brother for Rage Against The Machine. It was awesome!
How do you come up your album titles? You have some interesting ones, the latest being "In The Mountain In The Cloud."
Every album has a story and a lot of times we come up with a title before we go in and record and that sets the vibe for everything. The last one "In The Mountain In The Cloud" oddly enough was based off a concept that we were going for about our singer – he met a guy in Germany in a kabob shop. He started talking about American politics and we had an election coming up and the guy knew all the candidates, all their platforms and everything about it and we just couldn’t believe it and how dumb we were in comparison.
We were thinking about how Americas in general tend to focus on ourselves. We think of ourselves very highly and we just don’t picture anything around us. And then being from Alaska too a lot of imagery and clouds came up. "Waiter: 'You Vultures!'" is our first one. Hunter S. Thompson killed himself while we were recording that record. It wasn’t a direct quote of his but we figured that was something he’d say with odd punctuation and things like that. "Church Mouth" is just pretty much about a crazy guy that we met in the South that talked our ear off about things.
How many times do people leave the period off of Portugal. The Man?
Quite often but that’s okay with us I guess. We’ve opened for ourselves before technically. We pulled up to a show when we were a young band and it was “Portugal” and then the next band was “The Man.” We tried to get paid double that night but they weren’t into the idea.
Where does the name come from?
The name Portugal is an alter ego kind of like how David Bowie created Ziggy Stardust. We really liked the idea of building a fictional character. We weren’t just one person so we wanted the one name to represent our group of people so we figured a country is one name that represents one group of people with one voice in the world. We randomly picked Portugal because we thought it would be a cool name for a guy.
Follow Nicole Pajer on Twitter @NicolePajer for more news and interviews.
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