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.