IT'S NO LONGER necessary to point out the punctuational malady of Portugal. The Man's name. The buzz of the band's obscure geographic roots has more or less been muted, following their move to Portland from Wasilla, Alaska, years ago. And when I catch up with bassist Zach Carothers, he's just arriving in Los Angeles to play an in-studio session at KROQ—one of the country's biggest rock radio stations—before heading to play Conan the night after.
It's safe to say Portugal. The Man, despite their mysterious beginnings, isn't a secret anymore.
But even with all their successes, Portugal. The Man's seventh studio album, Evil Friends, is designed to be their most accessible release to date. That journey began with an at-first reluctant Brian Burton (also known as Danger Mouse) taking on production duties for the album, working in collaboration with the band after cementing himself as one of the most inventive artists of the last decade—as if it needs mentioning, Burton's résumé includes Gnarls Barkley, The Grey Album, and Broken Bells, among others. (By the time of Evil Friends' final mixing stage, Burton was flying out to tie up loose ends on U2's new record. Soooo, yeah.)
"He really knew how to get through to us better than any other producer really does or has," says Carothers. "He knows what it's like. We're trying to write successful music; we're trying to make music that people will listen to, but always trying to keep true to the substance and keeping our artistic intent intact. He's been really good about that. Nobody would argue that he's not cool as fuck. He helped write 'Crazy.'"
Evil Friends benefits hugely from a hard-line partnership between Burton and vocalist/guitarist/songwriter John Gourley. Songs like "Creep in a T-Shirt" are laid out with a dark melody, meandering keyboard noises, and boldly bright orchestration, sounding like both a sinister new wave dance number and a lighter version of Gourley's oft-anthemic songsmanship. "Hip Hop Kids" represents P.TM's most straight-ahead alt-rock song, devoid of the soulful jam contingent of some of their best work, and moving forward into less expansive, though no less appealing, terrain.
That the album's personal, somewhat revealing lyrics are cut with moveable beats and thick waves of sonic meatiness is fortunate, considering the course they could have plotted had they steered the ship themselves. The band's personnel changes over the last year and a half include a split between drummer Jason Sechrist and keyboardist Ryan Neighbors (the latter formed Hustle and Drone). This left Gourley, Carothers, and their new additions—keyboardist Kyle O'Quin, guitarist/percussionist Noah Gersh, and drummer Kane Ritchotte—in a position to reinvent themselves even further.
"We never wanna make the same record twice," says Carothers. "So many bands these days are very scared of that word: mainstream. Scared of 'accessible' and 'radio.' But I wanna help make the mainstream cooler. I would love to be able to turn on any random radio station in any city in the country and hear good music. Nobody's David Bowie but David Bowie. How many hits did that guy have, and nobody ever questioned his artistic intent?
"We have no idea where the band's going," Carothers continues, "but this record is who we are now, and this is the band that we are today."