Portugal. The Man, the Portland, Ore.-based pop-rock band formed in the Alaskan city that once had former Alaskan governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin as its mayor, usually makes an album a year.
The band’s just-released Evil Friends, however, didn’t appear until nearly two years after 2011’s In the Mountain in the Cloud. The chance to work with one of music’s most sought-after producers, Danger Mouse, aka Brian Burton, was an opportunity Portugal. The Man couldn’t reject.
Danger Mouse’s credits include his partnership with Cee-Lo Green in the duo Gnarls Barkley and his production and mixing work for the Black Keys, Bright Eyes, Beck, Sparklehorse and, more recently, U2. He’s also won five Grammy Awards.
“It was pretty crazy,” Portugal. The Man co-founder and bassist Zach Carothers said a few weeks ago from his bunk in the band’s tour bus, a day before the band performed at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn.
“We were almost done,” Carothers said. “And everybody trusted us. Management, the label, they all said, ‘Yeah, you guys got it. Go in the studio. Cool.’ We felt really good about the thing. And then they threw that really awesome wrench in our stroke.”
Atlantic Records arranged a meeting with Danger Mouse.
“Once we met up with him, I mean, obviously, we were going to work with Danger Mouse,” Carothers said. “That guy’s the best producer of the past 10 years. He’s done so much stuff. And he’s so smart and down-to-earth and just cool. He knows how to get the best out of every band he works with.”
Danger Mouse and Portugal. The Man recorded Evil Friends in Los Angeles at the producer’s studio and a second, larger studio.
“The last two weeks with him were the most positive and productive time I’ve ever had, that any of us have ever had, in the studio,” Carothers said. “We had a lot of work to do. Nobody thought we could finish it in two weeks.
“But we didn’t have any fly dates, we didn’t have any shows, we didn’t have anything. We went into a different studio that had just a little more room than Brian’s studio. Everybody got their own little station. John (Gourley) bounced lyrics off me in the back. Everybody pulled together and John really killed it. He wrote almost all the lyrics in the last two weeks. We’re very proud of everybody involved, Brian, all my boys, all the engineers.”
Following Evil Friends’ June 4 release, Portugal. The Man, as usual, has a busy schedule. Mixed amidst the band’s club, theater and ballroom dates are festivals such as the Boston Calling Music Festival, the Governor’s Ball Music Festival in New York and, of course, it’s return to Bonnaroo.
“Bonnaroo was the first festival we ever did,” Carothers said. “It’s such a cool vibe. I love all the music festivals, but they’ve all got their own style. Bonnaroo is just very real and amazing and huge.”
Nevertheless, clubs and theater shows have some advantages over festivals.
“The festivals are amazing and you can feel the excitement in the air,” Carothers said. “Everybody’s so pumped to be there for the weekend. It’s one giant party — but it’s not your party. It’s really cool to walk into a club and have the whole night just be our light show and our production. And we pick the opening band and we get long sound checks.”
Before the festivals and the recordings, Carothers and his young skateboarding friends back in Alaska raised $75,000 in private funds to build a skate park for the youth of Wasilla. He subsequently spent years arguing with the city’s then mayor, Palin, for the matching city funds she’d pledged to the project.
“In the end, she made good,” Carothers said. “It is still the most frequently used public property in Wasilla.”
Carothers moved to Portland in 2002 to attend college. Being there was a revelation for him and his Portugal. The Man co-founder, Gourley.
“John and I felt so isolated up in Alaska,” he said. “We had no idea about underground music. All we had was Top 40 radio, our parents’ record collections, oldies stations and TV.
“The only bands that were coming to Alaska were playing the arenas and a few little punk bands we didn’t know about. So when we moved down to Portland, we got flooded with art, film, music and everything. It was crazy. Growing up in Alaska and then leaving Alaska has so much to do with our music.”