The Alaska indie band uses every censored color
in the rainbow.
BY RANDY HARWARD
Usually we hear about magical new bands from some Podunk
town in the South. Portugal. the Man is from the wilds of Alaska. Wasilla, to
be precise. To paraphrase the sage Sean “Diddy” Combs’s infamous Diddy Blog 16
(the original version that he’s since tried to cover up): I didn’t even know they had music up there. Secessionist fanatics,
sure-but a unique, socially-conscious rock band? Especially after all the crazy
Alaskans we’ve seen on TV since Sarah Palin was nominated? Seems more likely
that we’d spot a rainbow caribou from a Lucky Charms-powered helicopter.
“Fair enough,” says P.tM nucleus John Baldwin Gourley. “To
be honest, even living there, I wouldn’t assume there would be people playing
music in Alaska.” He says his home state is a “pretty fantastic place” with
tight communities and families, but “it is also full of some very confusingly
uneducated politicians in the area of ethics and world knowledge.”
P.tM made news recently after Gourley posted a passionate
screed opposing Palin’s candidacy to PortugaltheMan.net. “God, I am glad she
didn’t slither into that position,” he says, of her failed V.P. run, relieved,
but still lamenting Alaska’s
disproportionate ratio of ignorant, moneyed, power-mad McCain-Palin/Ted Stevens
supporters to the down-to-Earth “true Alaskans.” Prior to this, however,
Portugal. The Man was building hype based on their 2007 album Church Mouth.
The record was a sleeper hit due in part to the band’s past
association with emo label Fearless Records and current affiliation with
hardcore/screamo boutique Equal Vision. Having existed in this world, so alien
to the indie rock world P.tM may come to dominate, no one saw them coming.
Gourley doesn’t hear the hype, but acknowledges the band’s ‘tweener status. “We
have been very lucky in walking that thin line. Shit, we have Latino gangster
fans in the west. It’s pretty hilarious.”
Gourley’s modesty and hype-blindness is a stark counterpoint
to the band’s vast, dramatic, all-inclusive sound. Like P.tM’s name, their
music is as big as it is small, meek as it is grandiose, solitary as it is
communal. On their newly-minted third LP Censored
Colors (out now on P.tM’s own label Approaching AIRballoons via Equal
Vision), the four-piece band-Gourley, bassist Zachary Scott Carothers, drummer
Jason Sechrist, keyboardist Ryan Neighbors-quilts together patches of delta
blues, folk, soul, gospel and rocks indie, progressive, classic and glam. It’s
Teflon for music: Just when you think you’ve got a label, you realize it won’t
“[P.tM] is more of an alter ego, like Ziggy Stardust or Sgt.
Pepper,” Gourley says. “The band is everything but what it set out to be… What
I mean by that is, we have a really great time with words and with sounds.
Lyrically, the album is about love and respect and community and work.
“The world, both musically and not, has had some very
amazing moments that seem to have been forgotten. This is such a huge moment in
the world, especially now, and I feel like there should be more people in the
streets shouting ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!'”
So now that the Palin bubble has burst, Obama has won, how
does Gourley feel?
“I don’t think my gun-toting brothers in Alaska are very
happy with me over that Palin blog. Probably less happy now that Obama took it.
I just hope he runs with it. But hell, this is America. Of course I’m scared. I
would be better off in Sierra Leone.”