AUSTIN - Riding the waves of one of the top hits of the summer, it was no surprise indie rockers "Portugal. The Man" drew out fans from across the globe during both weekends of the Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Though they've been attracting an eclectic group of fans since 2006, their 2017 hit "Feel It Still" recently earned the band their first spot in Billboard's Top 20, and snagged them the No. 1 spot in the Billboard rock charts earlier this month.
After taking the time to meet with a lengthy line of fans at the Waterloo signing stage during weekend two of ACL, bass player Zach Carothers and keyboardist Kyle O'Quin sat down with KVUE to reveal the mysteries behind Portugal. The Man:
So you’ve just recently earned top spots on the Billboard charts for the first time. That’s got to feel pretty good.
Zach: We just recently switched over to the pop side and we’re breaking top five now. It’s absolutely wild. I don’t know how that happened. You can’t really plan for those kind of things. We knew we had a good song, but it’s just a complete anomaly.
Up until now I don’t think you’ve ever hit the mainstream quite like this before.
Kyle: [Laughs] Yeah this song is far beyond anything we’ve ever done before.
Zach: We just got our platinum record two days ago in El Paso. It’s pretty wild, man.
Was there anything different behind the creative process for “Feel It Still” or the new album (“Woodstock”) this time around?
Zach: “Feel It Still” absolutely. It was the easiest song we’ve ever wrote. I owe a lot of it to Asa Taccone from Electric Guest. John [Gourley] was just kind of taking a break and we were working on another song. John sat down, picked up a bass and started playing it and our buddy Asa was just like, “Hey, let me record that real quick,” threw a mic on it and started being real excited. That’s something that we lack in the studio. We’re not normally very happy people in the studio. We’re not like “Great job! Keep it going! Give us more stuff like that!” It’s way more dark than that.
You guys actually just went on tour with Electric Guest. Did you notice a big difference in your live shows after having put out “Feel It Still?”
Zach: Slowly but surely. It’s still pretty new and it takes a while for things to catch on. The song is everywhere but people are still learning. A lot of people are like, “Have you heard of Portugal. The Man?” What is a Portugal the man? But if you show them the song they’re like, “Oh yeah, I know that song.” But you can tell the newcomers. We meet people that have only heard “Feel It Still” and bought concert tickets, and we’re like, “Well, you’re not going to get 90 minutes of ‘Feel It Still.’” We open with 80s Metallica and then we go all over the place.
I went to your show at Float Fest a few years back and you covered “The Nightman” from the show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Can we expect any other interesting covers like that tonight?
Zach: Oh man! Yeah, yeah, yeah. We haven’t been doing that for a while now, but we oughta bring that back soon. Tonight we’ll touch on a little Metallica, Pink Floyd, Weezer, Ghostface Killer.
Kyle: [Laughs] Killah. It’s Killah!
Zach: Oh yeah. We’ll throw a few snippets in our solos, a lyric.
Kyle: I’ll play a little Wutang on the piano over “Purple Yellow.”
A portion of you guys are from Alaska. What’s it like trying to start a band there?
Zach: It’s me and our singer [John Gourley]. Also our guitarist. It’s not much. You can be a band, you just can’t really go anywhere. We moved down to Portland, Oregon. I love Alaska and I’d love to live there again. For now, it’s just too far away. But I was born there, and if all goes right, I’ll die there.
Besides the heat, how does it feel playing in Austin?
Zach: Austin is the best music city in the world. I love Texas in general. We’ve recorded a couple albums out here. A lot of the songs we’re playing tonight were recorded in Texas. I have a bunch of family here. We feel very at home here. Even though it’s wildly different, there’s a lot of similarities between Alaskans and Texans. Since we first started touring, Texas has always given us the most rowdy and rad shows.
Kyle: Yeah, at White Rabbit at SXSW! You can come to Austin and play 18 shows in like 12 hours [laughs].
So you say you’re located in Portland now. Would you say it has a lot of similarities to Austin?
Zach: For sure! They’re sister cities. We keep it weird, as well.
Kyle: Good food, good people, not too big but big enough.
Do you have any other favorite cities to play in?
Zach: I’m excited to get to play new places.
Kyle: Mexico City.
Zach: Mexico City is unbelievable. Salisbury, Austria.
Have you actually gotten to play a show in Portugal yet?
Zach: Yeah, totally.
Kyle: That was great!
Zach: It was so much. It was this beautiful place in a national park. We’ve actually played there twice.
I’m sure you guys get this a lot, but I’m sure our viewers want to know. Why the name Portugal. The Man?
Zach: We do get that a lot [laughs]. We’re big fans of David Bowie and how he created Ziggy Stardust -- the alter ego -- a plastic fictional character that could just shuck all responsibility and be like, “That wasn’t me, that was Ziggy Stardust.” And I loved that idea. So we wanted to create a fictional character, but we knew we were always going to be a group, so we wanted the one name to represent a whole group of people. We thought a country was one name for one group of people with one voice in the world, so we just ran with that and thought "Portugal" would be a good name for our guy.
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