by Josh Smith & Jack Mueller
This is a bit of a departure for Stendhal Syndrome. Our round-table style music review column scored a webcam interview with John Gourley (vocals, guitar) and Kyle O’Quin (keyboards) of the prolific shape-shifters Portugal. The Man. We were also joined (albeit briefly) by Milena Quinteros of the music blog Miles Awaay. Despite technical difficulties such as Josh’s camera not working (and his incessant, awkward laughter), we managed to leave space for the band to deliver some interesting and insightful answers. Kick back with your beverage of choice and enjoy Stendhal vs. Portugal, complete with semi-discernible audio clips!
Josh Smith: First off, thanks for doing this – this is super awesome. It’s kinda throwing us out of whack though, we usually just kinda review albums and we’re usually really drunk while we do it. So we’re both sober and we’ve never interviewed anyone, let alone bands that we actually really admire.
Jack Mueller: Whoa, um. Actually there’s a correction. I’ve been drinking since about nine o’clock this morning.
John Gourley: I feel you.
Jack: Actually I was at work earlier and they made me leave ‘cause I kept talking about this over and over again. Kept having to take a drink to calm my nerves, so here I am.
Josh: Well, Jack, do you want to just get into it? Should we get the stupid question out of the way?
Jack: Oh, yeah, might as well.
Josh: We have one stupid question for you.
John: What’s the stupid question?
Jack: I got a buddy who writes prose-poetry, Colin Reed Moon, his stuff’s a little hoity-toity, a little pretentious and he likes to throw in his jottings a little extra punctuation so I’m wondering, is that where you guys are coming from on the name?
Listen to John’s answer in stunning “no-fi!”
John: When we started this band, obviously we hadn’t been in print before, it wasn’t something we thought about. The original band name was “Portugal and the Approaching Air Balloons,” which was: this is our Ziggy Stardust and that’s his backing band. And to us it didn’t come across. We played a few local shows but, I think after a bit we decided; fairly quickly, we needed to point out that “Portugal” is a man, he’s the man and the period is there because it’s Portugal fucking period, all right. He’s a fucking man.
Jack: Hit that with a heavy one!
John: “I don’t know what you’re talking about, why isn’t it a comma?” or something, what the fuck ever.
Jack: No, I know exactly, it didn’t need to be a comma. But I had my own theories about why this was kinda rolling along. I figured maybe you guys were pulling some stuff from the news, you were touring in Europe or something and you had to read through just some random shit and the one sentence ended and the other one began. And then I was like, “what would those sentences be?” and I came up with a whole list of them.
Josh: He did, it was ridiculous.
Jack: Absolutely ridiculous, but my favorite is, “The plague of conmen selling ferrets as poodles has not yet moved from Buenos Aires to the shores of Portugal period The man in charge of animal imports assured poodle owners throughout the nation not to be concerned.
John: Those things come up in my Google alerts all the time. I mean, I guess whenever it happens, so not all the time, but there was a thing about a guy who was a big drug trafficker from Portugal.
Kyle O’Quin: Yeah, so like “99 kilos shipping in from Portugal period the man was arrested for…”
Josh: You have infinite explanations for the name that you can use to mess with people.
John: I’ll just tell them, “fuck off, man.” I’ll start them off with that. Total rock star move. That’ll be taken out of context.
Josh: Let’s talk about these videos you’ve been putting out for the new record. First off, that video for “Evil Friends” was just this ominous thing that juxtaposed these sinister flashes with some more fun – you guys are snowmobiling around, running around in the snow – and then the other day you just unleashed this video for “Yellow Purple Red & Blue” which is just this creepy, uncomfortable whirlwind of mad shit going on.
Jack brings the creepy…
Jack: I personally loved it. I got done watching that thing and I immediately ran out of my house across the lawn to my neighbor’s house to peek in their window just to make sure their seventeen year old daughter wasn’t doing anything stupid and weird like that.
John: Fuck man. That’s what it’s meant to do. That is probably the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been.
Josh: It translated well.
John: I’m friends with the guys that made that. It’s the same guy that’s shot the last three years of videos for us. With different directors. We had That Go direct the video, and we’re friends but we don’t hang all the time. When I was sitting on that bed, he told that girl, “Hey Dee, why don’t you just pile all over him, take some selfies, do what you want.” I’ve never felt so uncomfortable. That was really intense for me. And the whole time she’s posting the pictures to Facebook and to Instagram and she’s like “Um, that wasn’t acting.” She wasn’t acting, she was dancing, hanging out, having fun.
Josh: It worked out better than planned then, huh?
John: Oh, definitely.
Jack: I can see how that could get awkward. So are those the two video you’re going to do for the album or are there gonna be more coming?
John: We’ve done some other stuff already that we’re probably not supposed to talk about because it’s not approved yet but AG Rojas shot a video for us as well. I think that should probably be out soon.
Jack: You said you’ve got your friends that are making all these videos with you guys. Some of them seem like they are that type to go, “Hey guys, it’s been fun, it’s 11:00 at night, let’s grab the video camera, turn it on and lets go put some of this together.” How formal studio production is that?”
John: Some of it is. “Purple Yellow Red & Blue,” that video was a production for sure. There was a full crew up there. “Evil Friends” was Mike Ragen Who is normally a [Director of photography], he doesn’t normally direct videos, he just flew up to Alaska and we went out and shot that video. It just kind of depends. Some of our treatments, if we’re shooting them with Mike, just the two of us, it’s “He rides on a dog sled and loses the dog team.” That’s it, that’s the treatment.
Josh: So that’s like the “Sleep Forever” video that you guys did.
John: Yeah, so treatments are really loose when we go and do things on our own. But with other directors, we kind of have to be on top of it. AG was really easy. They were just great getting us where we should be.
Josh: You’ve got the videos down, but you always have really intense artwork for the albums, for the cover art and the packaging. From what I gather John, it’s you and Zach [Carothers, Bass] who kind of collaborate on the artwork. How does that usually come about?
John: Zach is not an artist.
Josh: Oh, he doesn’t contribute photos or anything like that?
John: No, he does. We also have a guy named Austin Sellers who puts everything together. Zach and I just kinda hang out.
Josh: So are we going to get another elaborate packaging setup like we got with The Satanic Satanist?
John: I think so. I think I see a piece of it sitting right in front of me. But I don’t know, probably. This thing right here.
Josh: I can’t see it too well, but I’ll just assume that it’s awesome.
John: Kyle can hold it up. There’s like different pieces. That’s on wood. This hasn’t been approved yet so we don’t know for sure. But it looks cool. They’re having me draw a lot of stuff right now.
Jack: That portrait you see on Josh’s image that shows up, that was a woodcut.
Kyle: That looks awesome.
Josh: Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on with my camera. I’m here, I promise.
John: Interesting, your lips don’t move. Just staring at me.
Josh: I’m a very intense black and white figure.
Jack: His video did work before, I think it’s just frightened right now.
Josh: Yeah, we totally ran tests and I think I transferred my nervousness onto my camera.
Jack: Anyway, you guys have been playing a lot of shows and you just posted all your new dates which I’m super excited about because now I don’t have to pay a scalper like triple prices to get a ticket for Red Rocks. So, what are your favorite types of places? You got your arena stadiums: all controlled, indoor, 60,000 people, all the energy; you got your outdoor venues, like you played Coachella recently; and then you got your little tiny intimate venues, like I saw you guys played the Ogden theatre up in Denver last year or so. What’s your preferred venue for playing?
John: Damn dude, they’re all cool.
Kyle: Small and indoors, because they’re nice and personal.
John: They’re all fun. The small shows are more fun, but there’s something about playing those bigger stages, too. I mean, the small venues are just loud, I mean, fuck, we like to be loud, but it’s a whole different thing when you can actually hear what you’re doing and you have that amount of people come together. 60,000 people is probably not an exaggeration as far as our typical shows. Big fucking show. It’s just all different, I think it’s all cool. Festivals are hard, because you’re rushed onto the stage and you have to be prepared for everything.
Milena Quinteros: Are you playing on a lot of festivals this year?
John: Yeah, we’re playing a lot of festivals, we just played Coachella.
Milena: You’re not going to Primavera in Barcelona?
John: We’re going to Australia and Japan; you know I don’t think we have a lot of festivals in Europe this year, which is too bad.
Milena: I saw you in Paris in a small venue in 2011.
John: Oh, in that basement venue?
Milena: Yeah it was a small place.
John: That was fucking amazing. That was our first trip to Paris.
Milena: It was small, it was fabulous.
John: It was so funny, they said that rock bands normally don’t do especially well in Paris and, you know, “there’s not going to be that many people there” and it was packed. That was insane.
Josh: When you released the video for “Purple Yellow Red & Blue,” there was a little interview along with it and John, you had this quote that was great, you said, “At the end of the day we’ve worked really hard to keep ourselves free from any of the genre trappings. No one needs that.” I just love that outlook that you put in your music and I was wondering where you find the inspiration and energy to just keep making albums at such a rapid pace and still be able to come up with these great sonic landscapes that really alter from record to record.
John on music!
John: That’s always been important to me. I mean, I’m a really big music fan, I watch bands like Jet come out with the record that they did and it was massive and how do you follow that up with Kings of Leon? How do you follow that up? When you make a record like that, when you’re stuck being a rock band, there’s nowhere to go. You can only re-write the same songs so many times. I mean other people’s songs.
Josh: It seems like a lot of bands will just find their money sound and just keep repeating it. We can always count on you guys to change it up, it’s great.
John: I think it’s being aware of yourself – a lot of it is trying to be self-aware and know that music is just music. It’s not like people are listening to us because of that one song, we haven’t had that one song. You know? And for us it’s just kinda, “Alright then, here’s whatever we wanna do.” I’m fuckin’ rapping the next album.
Josh: Do it.
Jack: Talking about that, do you guys have any long sessions going? I don’t know how you record exactly, but it feels to me like you guys could probably play a jam band session for like thirty, forty minutes straight and enjoy that just as much or more, but you’re obviously capable of going in the studio then and refining that down and boiling it into a killer song and making an album out of it. I think It’s Complicated Being a Wizard maybe shows off that 26 minute song ability.
John: I made that fully as, I don’t know, it was kind of a joke. The guy who made our first record let me come and crash at his house for a couple weeks and use his studio and I went down there and I was kinda messing around, seeing how I could transition things. I was really just learning more than anything and he came downstairs at one point and just said, “What are you doing, man? That’s like seven minutes long, what are you gonna do? Are you actually going to do something with this?” I was like, “Oh it’s gonna be 23 minutes, it’s gonna be the Michael Jordan of EP’s.” I don’t know why I said that, but even with the tempo changes and everything, it ended up being exactly 23 minutes. Crazy.
Josh: That’s awesome. Before we run out of time, I’ve got one from my buddy Shaun in Casper, Wyoming. He said he would like you to know that he is not against booking you to play at his mom’s house and he is dead serious. So we can make that happen if you’re up for it.
John: I would love to play mom’s house.
Jack: Because we typically do album reviews, we kinda go out on a rating system.
Josh: Do you wanna do one for the video or something?
Jack: Yeah so I think we need to throw a rating down for the “Purple Yellow Red & Blue” video. So I’m definitely going to give you guys somewhere in the neck of 37 out of 13 Perverts Hanging Out of Your Neighbor’s Window.
Josh: Perfect. 37 out of 13. That’s a pretty solid rating, I can’t top that. I’ll give you guys a solid 35 out of 13 Perverts Hanging Out of Your Neighbor’s Window, that’s good.
Jack: Best rating ever from me.
Josh: Yeah, I think that’s a record.
Evil Friends is out June 4th, preorder it now!