Getting into the groove with Portugal. The Man’s Zach Carothers
Produced by Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys, Sparklehorse), the new album Evil Friends from Portugal. The Man has a groove to it and features infectious songs such as “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” one of the summer’s best singles. The band is about to embark on a North American headlining tour and bassist Zach Carothers, who originally founded the band in 2012 with front man John Gourley, recently phoned in from New York to talk about the album.
I’ve read a bit about the band’s history. But tell me, how did you and singer John Gourley first meet? What did you two share in common?
Music was what we had in common. We met when we were 15 or 16 years old just through mutual friends at a party at a gravel pit riverbed out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of Alaska. He saw my band play. There weren’t a lot of other bands around. There was one other band in my town that did original music. Their singer was in jail for murder, I’m pretty sure, and John came and saw my band and thought it was awesome. We started playing music together. I played music with him for several years and all that time I had no idea John could sing. He was a very shy guy. He would play guitar and scream a bit. A few years later, I moved down to Oregon to go to college and started a band with my friend and we weren’t great. Me and this other guy would switch off on vocals. John had recorded a song and sent it to us. He had an unbelievable voice. The next day we called him up and told him, “Get down here.” We’ve been making music ever since.
What were your indie label experiences like?
Some of it was good and some of it was bad. When we started the band, we had a rough outline of a band. We wanted to build everything up very slowly. We were on smaller indie labels and it was really cool. It was a little difficult. Now, we’re on Atlantic and we’re honored to be on a label like that. When I called my dad and told him we were signed, it was a pretty good day. Led Zeppelin is his favorite band and they were on Atlantic. He was a proud father.
What inspired the short film Sleep Forever?
We didn’t intend it as a short film. It was more like a long music video. We made it for two songs off our last album. We love working with our buddy Michael Regan. He directed several of our videos and shot almost all of them over the last couple years. He’s a cinematographer, not a director. He only directs us. He’s a close friend and like an extra member of the band—only on the visual side. We have no plan when we do those. In the clips, John walks off into the woods but loses the dogs. We figure out the rest of the story as we go. It’s a lot of fun except for the cold. That was a particularly cold shoot. It was 40 below zero. The cameras kept freezing, but the dogs were totally fine. It was a fun experience. The last one we did up there in Alaska for Evil Friends was even more fun and the weather was better. It was 20 degrees. Again, we had no plan. We just got some friends and the snow machine and the beer and made the film.
How did you respond when Danger Mouse was brought into the fold?
We were, oddly enough, a little pissed off. We were already in the studio and we were nine songs in. We were going to do it ourselves. Everybody trusted us. We were feeling really good. Then, we got a call that John had to fly to New York and had a meeting with Danger Mouse. We had mixed emotions. One part of us was like, “Oh my God. That’s amazing.” The other emotion was “Wait, you don’t trust us.” It was crazy. John flew out there and Danger Mouse started the meeting by saying he didn’t need to work with another rock band. He said he already had the Black Keys. John said, “Alright, cool. We’re almost done with our record. You wanna just hang out and listen to music?” After a day of that, he wanted to work with us. They were on the same page with most things. We scrapped everything but two songs – “Sea of Air” and “Hip Hop Kids.” Everything else, we scrapped and started over. It was an amazing experience. He is so smart and amazing and has such great style.
How did Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon become a primary influence?
I think I got misquoted and for some reason that interview ended up everywhere. My actual answer was that Dark Side is my favorite record ever. I was asked if it was an influence and I said, “Yes, but not necessarily sonically.” Pink Floyd was so special, not necessarily in lyrics, but melody. They would have a certain riff that they would bring back to reflect different tones and different moods. I thought that was such an amazing idea. It connects songs and lyrics and makes you think way more. Albums like that I can’t stop listening to. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s such a solid album that I never take one song off it and put it on my morning drive time playlist. I have to hear the song that comes after it. It’s just my thing. If I listen to Dark Side of the Moon, I listen to Dark Side of the Moon. I don’t fuck around.
Is progressive rock in general an influence?
Oh yeah, we have a crazy collection of stuff. Right now, I’m on a huge hip-hop and metal kick. I listen to Kanye and then Slayer. Kendrick Lamar and then Cannibal Corpse. I think it’s because the in-between time when you’re done recording and the record’s not out yet is the worst. There’s nothing you can do. There’s no direction. We all turn into psychopaths. We’re very anxious. We’re not nice people to each other. Everyone gets real weird. Being anxious and stuff like that, makes me want to listen to really aggressive music. If I’m feeling crazy, I want to listen to crazy music. I love music that breaks new ground.
Do you generally think more in terms of the album?
Yeah. That’s what we intend to do. We really try to make the record as an idea. But we also try to make songs that can stand on their own. We prefer it that way. We don’t just make singles, otherwise I’d be wealthier than I am right now. We decide to make albums. Writing music is the one completely selfish thing we do. We just make what we want to hear. It’s fun. If nobody likes it, oh well, we liked it. That’s all there is.
Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates
Philadelphia, PA – Theatre of Living Arts
Washington D.C. – 9:30 Club
New York, NY – The Governor’s Ball Music Festival
Toronto, ON – Phoenix Concert Theatre
Buffalo, NY – Town Ballroom
Cleveland, OH – House of Blues
Cincinnati, OH – Bogart’s
Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue
Detroit, MI – St. Andrew’s Hall
Chicago, IL – House of Blues
Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theater
Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
St. Louis, MO – The Pageant
Dallas, TX – House of Blues
New Orleans, LA – House of Blues
Houston, TX – House of Blues
San Antonio, TX – Josabi’s
El Paso, TX – Tricky Falls
Santa Fe, NM – Santa Fe Sol Stage & Grill
Telluride, CO – Telluride Conference Center
Aspen, CO – Belly Up Aspen
Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Park City, UT – Park City Live
San Diego, CA – House of Blues
Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern
Oakland, CA – Fox Theater
Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom
Seattle, WA – Showbox at the Market
Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom