Portugal. The Man Talks To Apple Music About Their New Album, Growing Up In Alaska, Their Musical Progression And more

Article Contributed by Apple | Published on Saturday, March 11, 2023

Portugal. The Man’s John Gourley joins Hanuman Welch on ALT CTRL Radio on Apple Music 1 to discuss their new album ‘Chris Black Changed My Life,’ New Single “Dummy,” growing up in Alaska and the band’s musical progression since their debut album.

Portugal. The Man’s John Gourley Talks to Apple Music About Their New Album ‘Chris Black Changed My life’…

I think there's one thing you hear in the studio every time, if you listen to Rick Rubin, or Jeff Bhasker who we've been working with, people like that, Benny Blanco, you never go into the studio going, "Hey, let's write a hit." I mean, that's just not really how it works.

You can recognize when something brilliant happens in the studio, and you could go, "Wow, that's really special." But I think we just kind of went in with this idea that we were going to make this... I don't know, we wanted to make something punk, and loose, and kind of crazy. And working with Jeff Bhasker, who's this synth wizard, we were going to do something just way out there. And during that process, we lost a very dear friend of ours, Chris Black, who the new album is named after, it's called 'Chris Black Changed My Life'. And I think in that moment priorities kind of shifted, and pandemic hit, all of these things happened. Sitting down I just thought about him a lot and family. And I mean, we were forced to be in these little pods.

We wanted to explode out of it. I mean, that's exactly what we were feeling. I think when we were working on music, a lot of this came down to I think this cooped up feeling that everybody else was feeling was very... It was cathartic for me, it reminded me of home, and the isolation of growing up in Alaska in these cabins. And I think in sitting down to write this album just about family, and everything Chris has done for me, it was just really looking at the music that I really loved growing up. I really love just Motown, Elvis, I love these fifties and sixties songs where people really structurally... And time, it was three-minute songs. That's been my obsession, I love a three-minute song.

Portugal. The Man’s John Gourley Talks to Apple Music About How Their New Single “Dummy” Is An Ode To The Cure

Yeah. I've said it a bunch, but that song to me was just this ode to The Cure. I mean, this is really, really early on, this is pre-pandemic. We were in the studio with Paul Williams, who is just a masterclass songwriter, icon, legend, Paul Williams, Rainbow Connection, Carpenters, he's written so many amazing songs. We were sitting down with him and we were working on something, and it was just a different song at the time. And our drummer comes in, and he's like, "Hey, I got a bassline for this." And he keeps telling me he has a bassline, he just starts doing this thing in my ear. And he's trying to whisper this bassline to me, and I'm just like, "Jesus Christ, this is ridiculous. That's how the bass sounds in your head?"

So I was like, "Why don't you go in there and record that real quick, and I'll figure it out on bass?" And the whole time I just kind of knew that is something really special coming from this... I mean, he is a goth kid. I mean, that is the world he lives in. And I just always kind of felt like it needed this playfulness, yet the weight of this kind of cartoonish reality we're living in right now, everything is so exaggerated. So that's what the verses were to me, it's Looney Tunes, it's the piano hanging over your head, it's the anvil falling. And you can hear it, but it's going to smash you. So just cut loose, it's "Boys Don't Cry", go dance.

Portugal. The Man’s John Gourley Talks to Apple Music About Growing Up In Alaska

Well, my parents were dog sled mushers. So growing up with a dog sled mushing, Iditarod running, Yukon Quests running family, you grow up around dogs, and these packs are very essential to their being. And I mean that passion for things, like that passion for racing, that passion for running, that passion for being out together in these packs, I think that has seeped into my being. So building those families and keeping it all together is really, really important to me. I mean, we work with Rich Holtzman, we've had the same manager forever, we've had the same lawyer forever. These people that are in our lives, they're a part of this family.

Portugal. The Man’s John Gourley Talks to Apple Music About Their Musical Progression Since Their Debut Album…

First albums from bands, you see everything they grew up with. You go out on tour and you have this experience, and yeah, that was really fun, I liked the heavier bluesier stuff, that's kind of where my guitar playing falls. So we made 'Church Mouth', we made this bluesy record. I learned how to play chords on our third album, so 'Censored Colors' is me learning how to play chords going, "Oh, that's a seven." I still barely know what that means.

But the growth of this band has just been documented. That is our college, our college was going through and just learning how to play everything, and then we signed to Atlantic, and here's all of those albums in one. And then you expand into Danger Mouse with Evil Friends, who very much lets you explore sonically, and structurally, and arrangements, and there's no rules to that. And I think coming off of that album, I had a lot of the ideas for 'Woodstock' bouncing around during that period. So I mean, "Feel It Still", we had that basic song kind of sitting in this bag of, I've shown it to a lot of people, and it wasn't until Asa Taccone heard that track... He heard me playing the bassline, we were just in a lounge together, in a studio lounge, and I was playing the baseline just completely stressed trying to figure out this album. And that's my safe place, is that baseline.

So I feel like it's all been this journey of just learning each time, and creating something new. This album, 'Chris Black Changed My Life', has been the most exciting for me, just working fully working with Asa Taccone on a lot of these songs. Working with Jeff Bhasker, who is just an absolute genius.