It’s strange to think that the winding roads of life can lead to an evening at the Ventura Theater with Portugal. The Man. Yet effectively, that’s what’s happening next week. Paths intersect. Circumstance and time coincide and it is hoped that the experience is, on some level, vaguely life-altering. Your time and Portugal. The Man’s are for this brief moment fated to be mated, a bit like the fortuitously circuitous life of frontman and founder John Gourley. He spent time building houses in Alaska with his dad before settling in Oregon. The new album Evil Friends was aided and abetted in New York by producer Danger Mouse and bassist Zach Carothers, guitarist/percussionist Noah Gersh, keyboardist Kyle O’Quin and drummer Kane Ritchotte, the current lineup.
But time travels least of all in straight lines, and neither does the hazy psychedelia of Evil Friends, shuddering outward in lush patterns of mysticism and forbearance, summoning a sound both supernal and supernatural in scope. It’s hard to believe that those are just guitars and drums and that keening wail, and yet Portugal. The Man does its damnedest to transcend expectations. There’s been a long time to do that. It’s up to you to determine what to do with the pieces left in its wake.
Carothers spoke recently about life as a valued cog in the creative machine that is Portugal. The Man and how skilled he’s become at handling his ego as an artist over time. “It’s not been a problem,” he laughs, “When it comes to those kinds of things, we’re all very much grounded. We feel very lucky that we get to do this for a living, we work extremely hard, we never take days off. We deal with things with our songs and our records while we’re recording them.”
So how do they stay centered? “We live pretty much the same life that we’ve always had. We all live together in the same house. We don’t get a lot of alone time. We travel together, we work together . . . it’s not hard to stay centered.”
Is the band critical now, upon reflection, about the previous Portugal. The Man albums? At this he is surprisingly candid. “Of course. We’re critical of absolutely everything we do. It’s important. The band is pretty much all we do. We definitely take notice of every little detail we have, especially our singer-songwriter John Gourley. We’re trying to do the best things we can. That’s all you can do.”
Are there previous albums that they’ve changed their minds about, critically speaking? It’s an underrated temptation for an artist to go over past creations and re-evaluate the work, and some don’t fare too well, upon re-examination. “We generally think that the last thing we did is the best thing we did,” he reveals. “We’re always trying to push ourselves to evolve. Every record we make, we try to make a better one. I’m still very proud of everything we’ve done. We record so often that every time we make a record, it’s kind of a snapshot of our lives at that moment.”
Photo albums and camaraderie aside, what’s the furthest out of his comfort zone that he’s ever gone with the band? “We get out of our comfort zones quite often,” Carothers chuckles. “We’re not used to this [level of attention] in general. Even though we’ve been doing this for a long time, traveling around the world and seeing things that we’ve never seen before is pretty amazing. We’re constantly in situations where it’s a little weird for us. We just flew to Japan for our first concert and that was insane. That was the very first time there were people waiting at the airport to take pictures of us and have us sign CDs. I never thought something like that would ever happen! It’s pretty nuts. We get thrown out of our comfort zones quite often, but that’s where we like to live. It’s a good way to better yourself,” he says.
So is that more about excitement or is it more about fear? “A little bit of both,” Carothers admits, after a lengthy pause. “You have to have a level of confidence, but it’s definitely about being uneasy. Not being comfortable with the situation you’re in. That’s what generally drives us at all times.”
Portugal. The Man will appear with Crystal Fingers on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Ventura Theater.