Portugal. The Man released "Evil Friends," its seventh studio album, about a year ago and is already back in the studio. The band is also currently on an international tour with Grouplove, and a show at LouFest 2014 on September 7 will be its fourth stop in St. Louis in as many years.
During a rare day off between shows and in Des Moines and Kansas City, Gourely and I talked on the phone about travelling, the band's inspirations and of course, collaborating with Danger Mouse.
Brian Benton: It's funny to me that we've had such a hard time getting setting this up because the first thing I wanted to talk to you about was how it seems like you are one of the busiest, hardest-working bands out there. I'm always reading about new projects and new collaborations that you're taking on.
John Gourley: Oh yeah, we're definitely the hardest working band in music (laughs). No, the way we all look at it is that if you love what you do, of course you're going to constantly do it. My dad loves to build houses; he's been a carpenter his whole life, and he builds on weekends because he loves his work. It's all just fun. We just got out of the studio; we went in for a week with Mike D [of the Beastie Boys] and we just wanted to hear what would happen, and we ended up writing three songs.
And it's not just music that you're doing, it's visual art [Gourley did the album artwork for "Evil Friends"], working with charity organizations -- there's just such a long list of projects you seem to be working on at a time.
With anything creative, you just have to be constantly working and constantly trying to progress. If you don't keep practicing you lose it. And it's the same with Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan or anyone like that; they keep practicing and that's why they're the best.
Absolutely. Would you say your inspiration for all these things, music or visual art or music videos, comes from the same places or do you take from different places for the different mediums?
It's all one in the same. I feel like every creative field is just taking the experiences that you have and putting it out there. I mean, we're so lucky to travel as much as we do. That's the biggest plus of playing music. I mean it. We're always so frustrated to see bands that sit on their tour bus all day long, or sit in their green room all day long. I'd rather reach out to the city and see who's willing to open their doors and see what's great about a city and support that local economy.
A lot of your songs seem to have political ties, "People Say" being the one that comes to mind right away. Where do you see music and politics coming together and what's the importance of writing those types of themes into the songs you're writing?
I think it comes down to experiences. We have so many opportunities to meet people in other parts of our country and in other parts of the world and it just finds it's way in. So many people get upset about bands talking about things like politics, but bands get exposed to so much culture. Politics finds it's way in because it comes from our experiences and our beliefs.
I've seen you referred to as a "conceptual band," but I sometimes feel like it's just the opposite. A lot of times it feels like the themes in your songs are tackled pretty head on. Your lyrics get right to the point.
Yeah. We just kind of go into the studio and let things happen. Pretty much we go into the studio and just feel it out. There's always something to write about, and there's always a sound to make; it just comes down to if it works. We just go with the flow. We're touring so much and recording so much that there's no time to work out a perfect plan. When there's a spark you kind of have to go with it. You can't overthink it. You should never overthink art.
How much of what you write or record do you end up being happy with or releasing, and how much do you finish and realize has to go in a different direction?
Oh man, I hate so much of it. You can't love everything. But that's why you have a producer in the studio with you. That's why Danger Mouse came into the studio with us, to guide it a little bit. One thing that we do a lot is when something's not working just delete it. Just erase it. The reason we've made so much music is because we don't always know what we're doing. We just set out to keep recording and see what works and what doesn't, and at the end of the day we see well over three-quarters of what we start on fall flat, but you deal with it and get better.
I told myself I didn't want to ask about what it was like to work with Danger Mouse because it seems like that's the first thing you're asked about in all your interviews, but of course he has to come up.
(Laughs). I feel that, man. But no, he is a great producer. He is just a dude with great taste and I understand why people want to know what he does, but there's no secret to it. He's just good at picking who he works with, and he's amazing at what he does.
Have you started thinking about what you're plan is for when you're in St. Louis this time around? I guess you probably have less free time when you're playing a festival?
Yeah, that's the weird thing. First, festivals are the rare opportunity we get to actually see other bands and see what other people are doing, and then everything is already there, as well. All the best food from that city is right there, around you.
Any good St. Louis stories from past times being here?
You know what, for some reason we go to more house parties in St. Louis than anywhere else. I've just been to so many houses in St. Louis. That seems like all we end up doing. Just going out and meeting people. But no, there's definitely a certain vibe to St. Louis that we like. How's St. Louis been? Pretty cool?
St. Louis is good. We're excited for you guys to come visit. We're excited for LouFest.
Hell yeah. We're stoked!
LouFest 2014 takes place in Forest Park in St. Louis September 6-7. KDHX is a media partner of LouFest.