Saturday, September 17, 2011


One of the most interesting and brilliant bands to come from the American indie music scene is years in Portland, Oregon via Wasilla, Alaska art rock outfit, Portugal. The Man. If you have followed this site for sometime you know the amount of praise we have given the band through the years. Their ever evolving and unique sound makes it hard for journalists to really pinpoint what genre they belong in, however, from a fan standpoint they are simply outstanding. Portugal. The Man have managed to release a record every year since 2006 and have managed to constantly outdo themselves and keep getting better. The band's latest, In the Mountain, In the Cloud is their Atlantic Records debut and easily one of the years best albums. Aside from making great records, the band are also one of the best live acts in the business right now, transforming their sound on stage and creating such art that it just leaves jaws dropping after each song. In our second interview with the band (We interviewed singer John Baldwin-Gourley in 2009, you can listen to that HERE) we spoke with keyboardist Ryan Neighbors about the bands new album, style, touring an signing to a major label. Take a look at our interview with Ryan below.

How does “In the Mountain In the Cloud” differ from other Portugal. The Man releases?

I think it is a much more focused release. In the past we have finished records in a month or less, in one studio. "In the Mountain In the Cloud" took about nine months to record, in 6 different studios. We started songs and rewrote them later, took breaks for touring, and honestly stressed out more than any other record. Our past records were finished so quickly, we never had time to rewrite songs, or even add songs at the end. The last song on the record, "Sleep Forever", is the very last song we wrote. It never would have happened if we didn't stress out and take almost a year to finish it. Another thing I really like about the new record is the string arrangements. Phil Petersen played cello and it brings out some great moments in many of the songs. He also played on "Censored Colors", which is what made that record my previous favorite.

You have been on the road non-stop since 2006, put out an album a year since then and yet still find time to get better and better each record. How do you explain your madness?

It's pure madness. We generally tour for 8 to 9 months out of the year and then at the end of each year we start writing the new record. It really doesn't seem that difficult. Maybe that is just because we have always done it the same way. It is much easier if you stick to a schedule and just know the way you do things. With each year we are all listening to different music than the previous year, picking up new things we like, gaining new experience. This all adds to the diversity of each record. I would find it hard to make two records that sound the same. I think it would start to bore me, honestly.

With your insane schedule, do you ever find time for yourself?

Although we keep very busy, there is always time to take a walk when you are on tour. I usually have headphones on in the van, I am still surrounded by seven other people, but it feels like alone time. When we are home we all live together, but everyone kind of does their own thing at home. I like to shoot hoops. Basketball has been my favorite sport forever, so when I have spare time and the weather is good, that's what I try to spend my free time doing.

While releasing an album a year, what gives you inspiration to create?

There are so many good bands and artists out there. So much stuff to derive influence and inspiration from. I think we just try to keep our tastes fresh and look for stuff that makes us feel something. It can come from a book, a movie, a friend. I am not exactly sure how it happens, but it does. John has the gift of writing songs at a rapid pace. He is constantly pumping them out and usually when there is an acoustic guitar around, he is working on something. It gives the rest of us opportunities to create when there are constantly new songs on the table.

“In the Mountain In the Cloud” is your first major label record. When you signed to Atlantic John defended the band’s decision on the band’s site. Why did he feel necessary to defend a decision that could only help your career?

We just wanted our fans to know that we would still continue to make the best music we could. I know for a lot of people, when their favorite band signs to a major label, it feels like the end of the band. We have had some people following the band since day one and it is important for us to let them know that we are still the same band. We will still hang out after shows and treat everyone as we always have. We appreciate what we have so much and the opportunity we have been given, and we never could have done it without those people who have always believed in us.

How does it feel to be a part of Atlantic? Do you feel a responsibility and pressure to live up to the legacy of an Atlantic artist?

It feels so good. We have joined a roster of incredible artists. Led Zeppelin! Aretha Franklin! That is crazy to think about. It is great to be a part of the Atlantic family and we are going to do our best to live up to the Atlantic standard. We try not to feel the pressure too hard, we don't want it to affect us too much. But we are definitely trying to make the best records we can possibly make, and continue to improve with every release.

What about Atlantic made you ultimately sign with them and not anyone else?

Everyone at Atlantic is just really cool. They all love music and we seemed to share the same goal of making the best music we can and having it heard by as many people as possible. They wanted to sign the band because they like what we have already done, not because they thought they could turn us into something better. It just felt right, there were no bad feelings at all. It was a long process and it took as a while to decide but when we did, we knew we had made the right decision. So far everything with Atlantic has been great.

Now being with a major, will we still be getting a new album a year?

That is still our goal. We just want to release the best record we can every time. If it takes longer than a year, that is okay, as long as we are completely happy with it. John still writes songs quickly and we still plan on starting another record at the end of the year. We will just see where it goes, but yes, the goal is still an album a year, just as long as it is good. We would never want to rush something out just because of our past release pattern.

With “In the Mountain,” you did an amazing pre-order bundle for fans featuring hand made art and lithographs, do you feel that Portugal. The Man is best as full on multimedia experience and are more than just music?

I believe so. John has always done the bands art so there is a definite continuity with it. The art is Portugal. The Man, as is the music. The visuals for the record can paint a different picture with the music. I feel like it is a missed experience when I have had a burned CD and then seen the album art a year later. How different would the music have been if I had known what the band intended for me to visualize as I listened to it? It also seems to make people happy. When you can see that extra effort was put in to make the package special, you will treasure it more.

In relation to that, you released the short film, “Sleep Forever” do you feel that adds to the full aura of the band as well?

Definitely. It gives everyone a taste of where the band came from. John and Zach are from Alaska, as many people know. The bulk of the video was filmed in John's backyard. I think knowing the roots of a band can add to your personal experience with the music. We really enjoy making music videos, we had four from "Satanic Satanist" alone. "Sleep Forever" was the first short film we made, it being two songs back to back and ambient gaps as well. We are all really happy with the way it turned out. It actually pairs with the entire record really well.

Who came up with the concept of “Sleep Forever?”

John and Mike Ragen came up with the concept for the video. Mike shot and directed it. He also made the "Guns and Dogs" and "People Say" videos. We really like working with him. He has some fantastic ideas and has also been a good friend for quite some time. He and John share many of the same thoughts on how to make a good video that still has the oddball aspects. Nothing too straight.

Also, we see many bands and artists’ scoring films these days, would that be something you would like to do down the line?

I think that would be so cool. It's something we have discussed before, the opportunity just hasn't come about yet. At this point we are putting out records so frequently that we would have to make some time for a film score. I am a huge fan of instrumental music, I have always loved Godspeed and Mogwai and other bands that can tell a story without lyrics. I really hope we can attempt it at some point.

With all of the records you have done, which has meant the most to you and why?

"In the Mountain, In the Cloud" means the most to me. It took the most time and I think it is our best work to date. We put a lot of thought and stress and sleepless nights into this one, so it would be hard for it to not mean a lot to me. I still listen to it often and am not yet tired of it. Prior to the new one, "Censored Colors" meant the most to me. Probably because it was my first record I did with the band. During the recording I would wonder, "How did I get here. I hardly know what I am even doing." So that was quite an experience on its own.

Your live shows have been notorious for being a full sonic experience for the audience and everyone leaves inspired. What is it like for you on stage night after night performing and entertaining?

It's kind of a blast. I just get lost in the fog and lasers. I don't generally focus on the crowd and just try to stay connected with the guys on stage. We make a lot of eye contact with each other, especially for the more jammy parts of our set. Every once in a while I have to remind myself to look up at the dudes, I can get lost in keyboard land from time to time. But there really is nothing like playing a great show for a crowd of people providing their full attention and love. It feels great.

Recently you sold out and headlined Webster Hall which was your biggest headline gig to date, what was that like for you?

It was kind of surreal. I remember opening up for Minus The Bear at Webster three years ago and thinking, "This place is massive." Now to sell it out ourselves is just crazy. Usually before a big show I try not to let it get into my head. Just treat it like any other show, play the songs I have played a thousand times before. Usually that works for me because our stage is so dark anyway. But yes, selling out Webster Hall was one of the coolest moments we have shared as a band.

Aside from playing club gigs you do a ton of major festivals each year, what do you like better – the mass of the festivals or the intimacy of the clubs?

Both gigs are great. I love the festival setting because I love watching other bands and hanging out for a full weekend. The festival vibes are just really cool too. Every single person is there to have as much fun as they can for three days. It is a great atmosphere and it is great exposure for our band when passersby come and give it a listen. The intimate club gigs are great too. It is completely our show. We get to use all of our lights, sound check, and play for people who are there to see us. I really enjoy both equally, although festivals are much more stressful, usually jam packed with interviews and running around all over the place. It is good to do both.

What has been the experience in Portugal. The Man thus far?

Well, I have been with the band for four years now, recorded four records, and done many tours. So far it has been unlike anything else I could see myself doing. It is always what I wanted to do, well since the seventh grade. It is great to travel, we get to go to Europe a couple times a year and see things I never would've seen otherwise. We meet great people on a daily basis and have made so many friends through touring with different bands. Overall, we get to make music and share it with people, that is how we make a living. It is a dream not to be taken for granted.