Bobby Townsend talks to Portugal. The Man's Zachary Scott Carothers about the band's upcoming appearances at Australia's St Jerome's Laneway Festival:
"I'm just outside of Paris and I'm feeling a little sick. I took a bite of the worst thing I have ever eaten in my life today. We didn't know what we were ordering. It was intestines stuffed with other intestines. I've eaten some really nasty food in my life, just to try things. But this was by far the worst."
Portugal. The Man's Zachary Scott Carothers might be feeling a bit rough in the gut department, but it isn't tempering his high spirits at the fact that he and his three bandmates are soon to embark on their first ever jaunt to Australia. "We're really looking forward to it. I have some family in Perth but none of the band have ever been there. I've heard it's a really nice place. Everybody that I've talked to in other bands says it's really nice. It's known to have a really good rock n roll scene"
And the reason the Portland band are on their way over to Aus is because they are set to play at this summer's Laneway Festival. While they are looking forward to the opportunity to win new fans with their dreamy brand of psych-rock, don't expect to see them down the front checking out all of the other acts on the bill. It turns out that the four dudes who make up Portugal. The Man are pretty much the hardest working fellows around. "The Laneway line-up is rad but I actually don't know if we'll get to see anybody. One of the bummers about this job is that a lot of the times we don't get to see any bands because we are doing press and just really busy all day. It happens at all festivals." Not that Zach is especially concerned about this. He has other priorities on his debut trip to Australia. "When it comes to going to a country for the first time, I'm more excited about seeing the country, eating the food and drinking the drinks more than seeing other acts because I can do that in places that I've been before. To be honest I'm more interested in seeing whatever of Australia I can."
The band will arrive in Aus with six albums under their belts. Having been around for the same number of years, that's a pretty prolific turnaround, which brings us back to the hardest-working-band-in-music thing. "It's something we set out to do," he explains when talk turns to their album-a-year output. "We've got a very strong work ethic. We're not going to rush it. If a record isn't done, we'll wait until it's finished but we never really take days off. A lot of bands take a really long time with records but we love playing music. It's our hobby, it's our job, it's our passion, it's our career. It's really all we do. We're always doing something, whether we're on tour, rehearing or writing new music. We take advantage of the position that we're in but we definitely don't take it for granted. We know that it takes hard work to do this."
So, having logged over 800 shows and written, recorded and released an album every year since they started out, do Portugal. The Man ever have just straight-up time off? "Definitely not," Zach laughs. "Except for Christmas Day. I know that I don't have to do anything band-related on Christmas Day. Besides that, we're always doing something. There's never a week where we can turn off our cell phones and not answer our emails. We're pretty much on call 24 hours a day. Which is fine. There is so much more to playing in a band than just the music. There's artwork, videos, photos, blogs, video updates. There are so many things you can do to make it better. We really want to do this for our whole lives so we try to put ourselves in the mind-state that, no matter what time it is, we're always thinking 'what can I do right now that will take ten minutes that will help our careers?' We like to have fun and we do like to relax and, honestly, I would like a vacation every now and again, but most of the time, our job is fun. It's playing music, It's what we've wanted to do our whole lives so we work hard at it."
Portugal. The Man's new album, In The Mountain In The Cloud, is their first on a major label. Considering their DIY, homegrown ethic, one wonders whether it was a tough decision to sign with Atlantic. "Yeah. It was a hard decision. Major labels have been contacting us since we first started six years ago but we always said that we wanted to build it our own way. We had an idea of where we wanted the band to go. We wanted to start out doing everything ourselves and our way. We had some great help and great management - I consider our manager as family - but when we released a record and there was only the four band members plus our manager, booking agent and publicist working all day every day... you need more help if you want to get to the next level."
While it was clear that the band were ready for the clout of Atlantic behind them, it was still something that took serious consideration. "We took our time with it. We talked to them almost every day for about nine months before we signed with them. They really made us feel at home from the very beginning. Obviously we were a little sceptical and very scared because there is a lot to live up to on a label like that. They have this legendary roster: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin... and then us! We put a lot of pressure on ourselves but, when it came down to it after hanging out at the offices and talking to everybody, they are just really big music fans and they are smart and cool. I'm glad that we did it. It's not like we're some band that has played 20 shows and a label has picked us up and crafted us into what they want us to be. We ask them for advice but they never make us change anything. All they do is help. They like us for what we've done and what we do."
As anyone who checks Portugal. The Man out at the 2012 St Jerome's Laneway Festival is sure to discover, they are indeed a hugely likable band.
Interview By Bobby Townsend