Portugal. The Man: All you need is a guitar and some imagination

Zach Carothers of Portugal. The Man performs at Sowing the Seeds Music Festival on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Zach Carothers of Portugal. The Man performs at Sowing the Seeds Music Festival on Saturday, March 21, 2015.

Zach Carothers of Portugal. The Man has just got back home from a photography retreat and he’s delivering some prints he developed the night before. He says he’s exhausted but happy about the trip.

“It was three days and I have these old shitty cameras. I shoot on these vintage models on film and it’s amazing.”

Portugal. The Man will be touring South Africa this week for the first time, and Carothers says it’s going to be all of the members’ first time here. “We never thought we’d have a following, let alone be playing shows all the way in South Africa,” he says.

“It’s when this kind of thing happens, like touring South Africa, it drives us to do better and be better and work harder.”

Portugal. The Man, from Portland, Oregon, is made up of John Gourley on vocals, guitar, organ and drum machines, Carothers on bass and backing vocals, Kyle O’Quin on keys, and Jason Sechrist on drums.

“We started as high school dropouts wanting to make music and we’ve been doing it ever since. John and I met and started this thing and we’ve just never stopped. It’s been fun.”

Carothers and Gourley initially started a band called Anatomy of a Ghost in 2001 and when that band split, Portugal. The Man was born in 2004, which was initially Gourley’s side project.

“We thought it would be cool for the band to be a sort of alter-ego. Like we were always fascinated by David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ character and thought that it would be cool for the band to be one person – a fictional character – to have his own character.

“We also thought about the idea of one country being one voice, just like a band and thought ‘Portugal’ would be a badass name for a man.”

He says that even though they have these big ideas, the band tries to be grounded. “It’s keeping it simple and fun that keeps our feet on the ground.”

The band’s influences are the likes of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd – all the greats – and Carothers says Nirvana is one of his favourites. Just like Simon Neil from Biffy Clyro told me a year ago, he says our generation was taught by Nirvana that it’s not hard to make a great song.

“All you need is a guitar and some imagination.”

He says that all of them are heavily influenced by The Beatles and Wu Tang Clan, which they wanted the band to sound like. “The Beatles meets Wu Tang. That would be awesome.”

However, the band doesn’t really quite fit that bill, and Carothers says the idea is to do what they want, and not make every album sound the same. “It shows in the music.”

Until recently, the band was independent, and it took them a long time to decide on which record label to go with, and it was a great moment for Carothers to call his dad and tell him they’ve signed to Led Zeppelin’s label, Atlantic.

“It was a great feeling, because they’re one of my favourites and it felt like we’d arrived.”

He says that over the years, he’d like to think they’ve gotten better, but it’s more than that. “It’s about being better songwriters, not necessarily better musicians.

“It’s hard to craft a three-minute pop song. We’ve experimented and come to a place where it’s easy to write a seven-minute epic prog song, but it’s harder to bring that same kind of feeling and meaning to a three-minute song, and I think we’ve reached that stage.

Portugal. The Man will be playing in Cape Town on Friday, March 20, 2015 at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and at Johannesburg’s Sowing the Seeds Music Festival at Emmarentia Dam on Saturday, March 21, 2015.

Carothers says they’re excited to not sleep, go on safari, do touristy things like shark cage diving and walk everywhere they can.

“I’m open to suggestions, he says. Mail me and tell us what we can do when we’re in your beautiful country.” – Nikita Ramkissoon

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So Much Music will be taking suggestions as to what the band can do while in South Africa. Leave a comment.

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Nikita Ramkissoon

Editor at So Much Music
Nikita is a Journalism and Education lecturer by day and music Jedi master by night. She can be seen in the photography pit or stage left with her Wookie husband. She can also be found trying to source corn dogs. If you see her, buy her a corn dog. She loves corn dogs.