Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy
John Gourley and Erick Howk of Portugal. The Man
Portugal. The Man On "Feel It Still," 'Woodstock,' Music With A Mission
Members of the Alaska-based psychedelic pop band get deep on their new album and the music that most inspires them
Portugal. The Man are having a good year.
Their eighth studio album, Woodstock, dropped early this past summer, and the album's lead single, "Feel It Still," rocketed to No. 1 at Alternative and AAA radio, becoming the group's first chart-topping single in either programming format.
With production aid from Mike D of Beastie Boys fame, the band has continued their current trend of heading into the studio with top-tier talent at the helm. (Their last LP, Evil Friends, was co-produced by Danger Mouse)
Lead vocalist and guitarist John Gourley and guitarist Erick Howk of Portugal. The Man sat down with the Recording Academy to discuss the intent behind their new album, the influence that Woodstock has on modern music, and how co-producer Asa Taccone helped them coax "Feel It Still" out of the ether.
Let's talk about "Feel It Still." Top 10 hit, No. 1 at Alternative radio. Can you share a little bit of the story, inspiration or the intent behind the song?
Gourley: "Feel It Still" came around pretty much as organically as you can put a song together. I believe we were working on "Live In The Moment" with John Hill. We were working on mixing at the end of the day, and I think I had just stepped out while they were doing that. I'd stepped out and I just picked up this bass, and I started plucking this bassline. Asa Taccone from Electric Guest happened to be in this room, and he heard me playing this bassline. It's a strange thing with other artists, because they're not always the most outgoing and open to collaboration. I'm really glad Asa heard what was happening and he just caught it and it was all just him recognizing that there's something in this groove. It was basically 45 minutes at the end of the day, which is the most frustrating thing to tell anybody, but I really just sat there and started playing that bassline. Asa said, "Hey, do you have a bridge?" I said, "Yeah, it's music, man." And he was like, "Well, write a bridge."
So I used three different chords and he handed me a microphone and just had me riff off the top of my head. The "rebel just for kicks" lyric, I had actually had that for a little while. I'd tried it a few times and it just never felt right. Sitting down working on that track, there's something about it that reminded me of that '60s era, and I think it was probably the Hofner bass. It was all very natural. The funniest thing is how I got the bridge on the song. That "Is it coming? Is it coming?" That was actually Asa. I couldn't write a bridge at that moment. The first verse and the second verse and all the choruses, that all came from the first 45 minutes.
It's a modern song — lyrically, it's modern. It's got the right sub [bass], it's got the right feel to it, and there's just something that happens when you hear that, and you connect all these pieces from the '60s and the bass tone and the simplicity of the way we recorded it.
Let's talk about the album title: Woodstock. You guys have commented that the title comes from this idea about the persistent mission of music. Can you expand a bit on that statement and what you feel is the mission of music?
Howk: I think just having an album called Woodstock, it's a bold move; it's a pretty ballsy move. It's not just named after the little town in upstate New York, and we took a huge inspiration from the festival. Woodstock was a reactionary moment that was coming out of an America that was pretty bleak. A Richard Nixon presidency, McCarthyism, xenophobia, fear-based politics, and it was pure reactionary. It was was proof that a large crowd can change history so much more than one president can or one bill being put into place. It was mob rules and it was rad.
Obviously, we weren't alive. I did not go to Woodstock. I think I was probably 12 or 13 years old, learning how to play guitar, like really getting into rock and roll, right when the 25th anniversary of Woodstock came around. So they remastered the film and suddenly it's on public television, basically on a 24-hour loop. Like, I'm trying to figure out a G and a C chord and there's Jimi Hendrix and Santana and CCR just wailing, and specifically that Richie Havens moment — we've all talked about this. We all kinda separately in our own families, and in our own living rooms around the TV, had a very connected experience just watching him do his "Motherless Child" performance. And basically, he's killing time until the next act. He's just filling space, opening the festival, but he's going for it and he's sawing the guitar in half and his technique was so interesting. He's got the thumb hanging over, just these massive hands, sawing the guitar in half. And you can practically see the blood coming out of his throat on to the microphone. It was the first real passionate performance I think I'd ever seen.
I'd seen punk. I'd seen, you know, metal dance and stuff. Nothing compares to that. There's nothing harder and heavier.
Another comment you've made in the past is that your intention is to make music that helps people "feel like they're not alone." I'm interested in what music makes you guys feel like you're not alone, that you're not lost in the world? Your influences?
Gourley: I hear The Beatles, and I'm like, "Well, no one's gonna do that." (laughs)
Howk: I used to tour … I'd drive all night by myself, and any time I would get tired, I had this routine down: When I was just at the point where I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore, I'd chug a Red Bull. I'd pull over. I'd set a timer for 35 minutes, and I'd put on Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. I'd turn the heater up in my car and kick the seat back, and fall asleep for 35 minutes. I'd wake up right at the last moment. And there's something so comforting and beautiful about that record, I just feel like I'm in my living room with my family. It's beautiful. Like, "Wouldn't it be nice if I wasn't alone on the side of a road right now?" (laughs)
Universal language: Why humans need music
Learn why music is truly a common language that is key to human development and evolution
There's no doubt music finds a way into nearly every moment of our daily lives, whether it's marking milestones such as a first dance at a wedding, the soundtrack to our favorite movie or singing in the shower for fun. In fact, it's hard to imagine times when we are more than an ear-length away from hearing another song.
But why does music mean so much to us? A powerful form of communication that transcends all barriers — music is our common language, but why?
A composer and educator with a lifelong fascination for music, Adam Ockelford has traced our connection with music back to infants and caregivers. Infants are unable to follow words, but they are developmentally primed to trace patterns in sound, such as through the songs a caretaker sings to them. Therefore, understanding music is intuitive for humans, even at a very young age, and it encourages healthy development.
In addition, there may be another evolutionary purpose for music. Music provides a sense of sameness between humans — if you can copy the sounds someone else makes, you must be an ally. This synergy plays a role in human survival because it evokes empathy and understanding, a lesson we still learn from music in today's culture.
"Music is central to the notion of what it is to be human, and spans cultures, continents and centuries," writes Ockelford. "My music, your music, our music can bind us together as families, as tribes and as societies in a way that nothing else can."
Portugal. The Man To Aida Cuevas: Backstage At The 2018 GRAMMYs
Also see James Fauntleroy, Reba McIntire, Latroit, and more after they stepped off the GRAMMY stage
What do artists do the moment they walk off the GRAMMY stage from presenting, accepting an award or performing? Now, you can find out.
Also see Best Pop Duo/Group Performance GRAMMY winners Portugal. The Man posing with their first career GRAMMY Award, Best Roots Gospel Album GRAMMY winner Reba McIntire right after she walked offstage, Best R&B Song GRAMMY winner James Fauntleroy, Best Remixed Recording GRAMMY winner Latroit, and many more, with these photos from backstage during the 60th GRAMMY Awards.
Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show
Dark punk legends to play first show with Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only since last year's Riot Fest reunion
There's big news today for punk-rock fans aware that the Misfits made much more than just T-shirts.
The massively influential punk band announced a special show touted as the "only 2017 performance in this world… or any world" and billed as "The Original Misfits" in Los Angeles at the Forum on Dec. 30.
This will be the first Misfits show featuring original singer Glenn Danzig and original bassist Jerry Only with long-time guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein since the band reunited for a pair of Riot Fest appearances in Chicago and Denver in 2016. Last year's Riot Fest gigs, which featured drummer Dave Lombardo, marked the first time in 33 years the original Misfits members played together.
"OK Los Angeles, you've waited almost 35 years for this, here's your chance to see the "Original Misfits" in this Exclusive L.A. only performance." said Glenn Danzig. "No Tour, No BS, just one night of dark metal-punk hardcore brutality that will go down in the history books. See you there."
Tickets for this "one night only" show go on sale Friday, August 25.
Photo: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images
Lady Gaga Steps In To Support Youth Impacted By Hurricanes
GRAMMY winner pledges support for those impacted by hurricanes this year through Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program
On Oct. 10 Lady Gaga announced she is devoting her $1 million donation in support of those impacted by the recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the earthquakes in Mexico, to a specific cause — the mental and emotional well being of children and youth.
Gaga announced on her Born This Way Foundation website she will support Save the Children’s Journey of Hope program, which uses a variety of tools to help young people deal with trauma in the wake of natural disasters.
"Through a curriculum that includes cooperative play, discussion, art, meditation, and mindfulness practices, young people learn to recognize and understand their emotions and develop healthy coping skills," Gaga wrote. "Tens of thousands of youth have benefited from the program since it’s development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Save the Children is working to bring it to hundreds of thousands more in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico."
The announcement came on World Mental Health Day, and the Fame Monster has invited all of us to step up and consider making a contribution to the Journey of Hope program to support to mental and emotional needs of children.
"Mental health is just as vital to our wellbeing as physical health. That’s true for each of us, everyday, but it’s especially important for those coping with disaster and recovering from trauma," wrote Lady Gaga. "We must do everything within our power to support the full, vibrant recovery of these communities, from meeting their immediate needs to helping them to rebuild sustainably."