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Exclusive: 'Portugal. The Man' Talks Danger Mouse, RZA And Weird Al Yankovic

Genre-bending, groove group ‘Portugal. The Man’ dropped their latest album Evil Friends this week (June 6) via Atlantic Records after much anticipation. VIBE sat down with its bassist Zach Carothers before their New York show at Irving Plaza to rap about new music, which the five-piece group had produced by legendary Danger Mouse, some juicy details on being stranded in a Mississippi flood and a collab with Weird Al Yankovic.

VIBE: Who came up with the name Portugal. The Man?
ZACH CAROTHERS: The singer John. It's sort of an alter ego, like David Bowie created Ziggy Star Dust or the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. But we’re more than one guy, so we figured a country is one name that represents one group of people with one voice in the world. In the old band that John and I were in, a lot of our songs we're sort of made up stories and Portugal was a character. [Our current band] was intended to be John’s [Gourley] solo side project, but when our old band broke up John was like 'You wanna just do Portugal with me?’ and I was like ‘Yeah.’

Why the "period" in the name?
In hindsight, as far as Google-searching, that probably wasn't the best idea. It was intended to state that it was a man’s name - not the country.

What's the best part about performing in New York?
Oh man, this is just the best place to play shows. Every time we come here it’s like the biggest show we ever played. It's kind of crazy. We grew up in Alaska, and we didn't have our heads in the clouds - we've always been pretty grounded. We never thought we would be able to do any of this stuff. We played Terminal 5 last year during EDC, and we were annoyed and scared thinking it was going to be half full, but it ended up selling out!

What's been your craziest moment on tour?
We were driving from Florida to Tempe, Arizona for tour, and our transmission went out at about 6 o’clock on a Friday night in Jackson, Mississippi, and we were not in a good part of town. We ended up spending four days parked at a gas station during a flood. We had to become friends with the girls who worked there. I think they're the reason we didn't get beat up, or jumped.

What have been some key genres or artists that have influenced your music so far?
Obviously the Beatles, which I’m sure every band says. They just did so much for progressive rock n’ roll. What they did just can't be beaten, but we'll try. The people we grew up with like Led Zeppelin really impacted our music. Hip-hop as well, like the Beastie Boys - I LOVE the Beastie Boys. I think they just never fucked up, and have always just been on cutting edge of cool. That got me into stuff like Wu Tang Klan, and that became the general idea: we wanted to make music that would be like the Beatles mixed with the Wu Tang Klan. People like Kanye and Drake and Kendrick Lamar. They rap about stuff like 'Hey this is just me, I fucked up’ and I really respect that. We definitely have a lot of influence from modern hip-hop for sure.

What would you say has been your most proudest moment in your career?
Actually, last time I was in New York we flew out to play a song for Weird Al Yankovic. I've done a lot of cool shit, but that one in particular where we played background for him, I just couldn't stop smiling. He's someone I grew up listening to.

Do you have a favorite track from Portugal. The Band?
We have a new album called Evil Friends produced by Danger Mouse - another check off the list of something else crazy I did. There's a song on that album called “Holy Roller (Hallelujah)” that is my new favorite song on the record. It won't be a hit, but it's just real raw and had potential. Everyone wanted to scrap it, but we just hammered it out in the studio on the last week of production so it meant a lot to me.

How'd you link with Danger Mouse?
He was on our list of people we wanted to work with, and the CEO of Atlantic Records sort of set us up on a blind date. We were three weeks in production of our new album, and we got a call that John went out to New York to meet up with Brian [Burton, Danger Mouse]. He offered to do a song with us; not something we’re going to say 'no' to. So we scraped everything and started new. It was amazing working with him. He's very unique as a producer and an artist, and has the right ear for everything. He pushed us to do better and understood the band dynamic very well.

Is there any rapper you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Yeah for sure. We would love to work with RZA - he did a remix to one of our songs last year and he kept my bass line, which made me feel awesome. I would love to do a song for a Tarantino film that he was doing a score for. I'm very interested in dabbling in the rap world, working with those big rappers like Kanye and Kendrick. That would be so cool.

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Candyman stars Yayha Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, and more. In 1992, the original film was released and instantly became a mainstay within the canon of horror films.

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Inductee Bill Withers speaks onstage during the 30th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Public Hall on April 18, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.
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Nile Rodgers, Lenny Kravitz And More React To Bill Withers' Death

Bill Withers, an acclaimed vocalist known for songs like "Lean On Me," "Lovely Day," and "Grandma's Hands," passed away from heart complications on Monday (March 30). He was 81.

With a legendary pen that wrote three Grammy Awards, an NAACP Image Award, and an ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award into his trophy case, Withers’ melodies served as the soundtrack for many listeners across generational lines. The Songwriters Hall Of Fame inductee was later bestowed with the title of a soul legend by the masses given his striking lyrics.

Here, those who were touched by his music share their reactions on social media.

One day I will play this song again because it IS a lovely day. For now, Rest In Peace dear man. Your music cheered my heart and soothed my soul. https://t.co/wdqebBRFkW

— Billy Dee Williams (@realbdw) April 3, 2020

Aw man, Bill Withers was really the greatest. Grandma’s Hands, Ain’t No Sunshine, Lean on Me, Use Me Up, Just The Two Of Us and obviously Lovely Day are some of the best songs of all time. My heart really hurts for him, it reminds me of playing records with at my grandma’s house

— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) April 3, 2020

 

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Rest well Bill Withers.

A post shared by Raekwon The Chef (@raekwon) on Apr 3, 2020 at 8:23am PDT

Bill Withers was part of the soundtrack to Saturday mornings when it was time to clean the house. I know my mom is crushed right now. 😔

So many positive childhood memories. #billwithers

— sheena. (@raneehs) April 3, 2020

The world lost a legend. Soul singer Bill Withers' song Grandma's Hands is one of my favorites and reminds me of my grandmother and so many other mother-figures in my life.

Let's all continue to live by his cherished lyrics during these times and lean on each other.

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 3, 2020

will miss bill withers’ sweet baritone. growing up, my family spent many a sunday morning getting ready for church listening to his music. his music is as familiar to me as buster brown shoes and bacon frying in a casket iron skillet. gah, we lost a good one!

— jaredmichaelowe (@jaredmichaelowe) April 3, 2020

 

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2020 has been awful to us. #RIP Bill Withers. I’m going to be listening to his music all day. If you are unaware of just how important Bill Withers is to hiphop, google “Who sampled Bill Withers.” If you are unaware of how important Bill Withers is to music and to our culture, watch the Still Bill documentary. Keep your loved ones in your heart, always.

A post shared by Talib Kweli (@talibkweli) on Apr 3, 2020 at 7:34am PDT

#LeanOnMe was the first song i sang in school choir. it introduced me to the heartbeat of my own grandparents. rest dear #billwithers and thank you for the gift of so much peace. https://t.co/YSQujz5hDj

— mobrowne (@mobrowne) April 3, 2020

My heart is demolished . 💔💔💔 I loved Bill Withers like a father. I promised Bill last time we spoke I would always look out for his son Todd-who has autism.🙏🏽

My deepest heartfelt condolences to his beautiful wife Marcia, Kori and of course Todd.

I HATE 2020. I swear 😞 pic.twitter.com/VKdH1Ou011

— Holly Robinson Peete (@hollyrpeete) April 3, 2020

Ellis Marsalis and now Bill Withers, all these libraries burning 💔

— Diana Armstrong (@SimbaFiasco_) April 3, 2020

REST IN LOVE Bill Withers 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/V4oPJDbPyZ

— Keary Colbert (@kearycolbert) April 3, 2020

Ain’t No Sunshine is forever one of my favorite songs. It has such a special place in me and my brother’s heart. Sleep in power, Bill Withers.

— dique a phantom thief (@voodewchild) April 3, 2020

RIP to this National Treasure .. Bill Withers 🙏🏾😪 pic.twitter.com/NoMj2fiM3T

— Kaelynn KK Harris (@kaelynnharris) April 3, 2020

Heaven gained another angel 😇 RIH Bill Withers 1938-2020 pic.twitter.com/qY6mqK4Rai

— Effortless Beauty ♊ (@ladybear83) April 3, 2020

Oh no my friend Bill Withers has died. One of the best songwriters and lovely humans ever. Fuck U 2020 U suck

— Diane Warren (@Diane_Warren) April 3, 2020

bill withers has one of those voices that moves me. i always felt like he was speaking from a place I could identify with my soul. we lost a legend today.

— bad n bruja (@geminisunvenus) April 3, 2020

#RIPBillWithers Class, class and more class. https://t.co/nmdufDEpFP

— Nile Rodgers (@nilerodgers) April 3, 2020

Ask any songwriter in the world and they will tell you Bill Withers was a genius whose life's work was a gift. Rest in peace. You are beloved.pic.twitter.com/3rbXxVs7jt

— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) April 3, 2020

“He’s the last African-American Everyman,” musician and band leader Questlove told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Bill Withers is the closest thing black people have to a Bruce Springsteen.”

— Daryle Lamont Jenkins (@DLamontJenkins) April 3, 2020

Bill Withers. RIP. Thanks for all the magic.

— Alchemist Type Beat (@Alchemist) April 3, 2020

R.I.P. Bill Withers 🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿🙏🏿 Super Legend

— juicy j (@therealjuicyj) April 3, 2020

Rest in power Bill Withers. Your voice, songs, and total expression gave us love, hope, and strength. My soul always has & always will be full of your music. Your humility displayed & depth of your power as you carried us all to a better place. You're still & always will be Bill. pic.twitter.com/mkpcSBfuZv

— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) April 3, 2020

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