What you’re about to hear almost didn’t happen.
Portugal. The Man drops its new record June 16 and kicks off its tour at the House of Blues in Boston this Thursday, but the album and show have been a long time coming.
The band hadn’t put out a record since 2013, and the record label was starting to get nervous — for a band that’s somehow managed to crank out about an album a year since 2006, that’s a pretty big gap.
It wasn’t that the band wasn’t producing — they wrote (and eventually trashed) over 100 songs, but the band was struggling to find its vision.
Wikipedia describes the five-piece as an American rock band from Wasilla, Alaska, but over the band’s 13-year career, they’ve come to be known for much more than that. The psychedelic-influenced, pop-twinged indie dance beats carry influences as diverse as David Bowie and Missy Elliot, and Portugal. The Man is known for writing songs that say something, or as guitarist Eric Howk puts it, “It’s necessary to put out music that matters.”
Inspiration struck in the form of a ticket stub. Lead singer John Gourley was digging through some old things at his Alaska home when he unearthed his father’s ticket stub from the original 1969 Woodstock music festival.
Gourley knew what he had to do: like the bands of the Woodstock era, Portugal. The Man needed to speak out about the world crumbling around them. With that idea, they threw out the catalogue they had been working on and started from scratch.
And it worked out — the album’s hit single “Feel It Still” has more than 1.6 million views on YouTube and hit No. 1 at Triple A radio nationwide while breaking into the top 10 at Modern Rock.
We sat down with guitarist Eric Howk, who joined Portugal. The Man in 2015, to talk more about making the album “Woodstock.”
Metro: How did you link up with Portugal. The Man?
E: We’ve kind of been intertwined for a long time. Zack and I were in a punk band, so there’s history, and they knew what I could do. They just knew what I am capable of, and I joined as a full-time touring member in 2015.
Metro: Why did it take four years to put out “Woodstock"?
E: We were trying to do the Prince or Michael Jackson approach and write as many songs as we could — 100 or so — and then find the vision. Ultimately, that wasn’t how it was going to work for this band.
Metro: So how did you find your vision?
E: I hear the same thing over and over. It’s necessary to put out music that matters, and that said, something to everyone in the band, and it’s about finding a story. The final track kind of describes how we did it. “Noise Pollution” is about cutting through social media and the fact that everyone is in arguments all the time. The song is about hitting mute on all sides, and in a similar way, we had to do that getting down to the core material on this record. I think that was the entire idea behind this sort of renewed focus and for calling the album “Woodstock” in the first place. For us to put out anything that wasn’t behind any type of vision or something that mattered would be weird.
Metro: Woodstock has a loaded meaning in pop culture, why did you choose that name for the album?
E: We saw Woodstock as a time of renewed consciousness. A time to have eyes opening again, looking around the world and seeing what was happening — there was a lot of fear mongering, of McCarthyism, of the Nixon presidency, and we definitely see similarities of the political climates of then and now. But there’s a lot of push back and hope on this record, too.
Metro: Are you making connections with the activism of the '60s with this record?
E: It’s not a completely literal record. It’s not super on the nose — it’s still pop music, but it’s pop music that is accessible and still says something. It acknowledges just that we’re in a different spot than we were four years ago — as a band and as a country.
Metro: Is that vibe incorporated into the sound as well as the lyrics?
E: Yes, and there’s definitely a lot of Mike D [of the Beastie Boys] influence — Missy Elliot, Mo Town and solid '90s hip-hop. Coming in from an outsider perspective just knowing the guys, there have been a lot of curve balls over the years, but on this album there are clearly sounds that this band never really dabbled with — samples, electric drums.
Portugal. The Man kicks off its 47-date U.S. and European tour at the House of Blues in Boston on June 1. Click here for tickets.