The past year in the life of Portugal. The Man, according to its lead singer, has been a mess. The dour history of the recent past for the indie band -- cofounded by Alaskans Zach Carothers and lead singer John Gourley -- has been chaotic and creative, but above all busy.
The band received huge responses critically with its 2011 album "In the Mountain in the Cloud," plus it cracked both Billboard's top 50 and the top 10 Tastemakers chart (top-selling albums at independent record shops). The major-label debut made such a splash that Atlantic Records offered the band more time to make its next album, which will be out in 2013.
Gourley described the new songs as being different from previous records, but he was sparse with details. That includes the name of the producer, whom Gourley said he is very excited to be working with. That led Play to ask jokingly if the band was working with Neil Diamond?
"I think that would be a good record. I mean, he's a songwriter," quipped Gourley. "He wouldn't be doing the set design or the costume design, so I think there would be less to worry about."
Mystery producers aside, the album represents a culmination of changes. For one, the group shed a couple of members: Ryan Neighbors left to start the band Hustle and Drone and was replaced by Kyle O'Quin, and drummer Jason Sechrist left earlier in a clandestine fashion that bass player Zach Carothers described in an interview with Boston University's The Daily Free Press.
"He's more of a mysterious type; he wants to keep quiet," Carothers said.
Most importantly to Gourley, this will be the first year Portugal didn't release something new since the band's first album in 2006. The writing and recording process has been forced into fits and starts as the band has constantly been called away to tour. This is also the first time Gourley was unable to make time to come back to Alaska to write an album. Being back in Alaska and around his family has been an inspiration for him in the past.
"For the longest time, when I came home, it wouldn't matter if I got home at 2 in the morning or 3 in the morning -- my brother would come into my room at 5:30 a.m. and say, 'All right, let's go to work,'" explained Gourley. "He'd drag me out: 'I don't care where you've (been), if you were just in Europe. You're coming to work today.'" And his brother, Carl, would proceed to make the lead singer help in the family house-building business.
Gourley said it's a little strange to think of songwriting as a real job. It's hard for his family to think of it that way -- or it was. He acknowledged that until he started writing songs, he didn't realize it could be his job, which is something he wished he knew in high school. He dropped out, and that remains a regret he wants to talk to teens about. He mentioned a lack of arts programs in Alaska; had they been around, he believes, he would have finished school.
In the past, Gourley has compared his songwriting ethic to that of the family trade. But after a few years of touring, the responsibilities of being in a full-time band and the birth of his daughter, Franny, he isn't as sure the rote workaday label applies. And as his songwriting work ethic is still strong, he has been torn with the process of making the past two albums, preferring the short, condensed periods of writing and recording of the band's earlier albums.
"From this point on I don't need two years -- I don't need a year and a half," Gourley explained. "I could head in with the band and make a record in a month with this band the way it is."
Gourley's confidence in the band was obvious as he described new drummer Kane Ritchotte, a just-turned-21 phenom. He was brought in around May after a series of other drummers didn't work out, including one who didn't work out in the middle of a show.
When asked about the incident, Gourley was unfailingly gracious, saying the drummer, who remained nameless, was a great drummer and a great person, and speculated that extensive touring had gotten to him.
Gourley has come to grips with the fact that they aren't releasing anything this year, but he said it still bugs him. Even on the band's most recent tour through Mexico, he said, there were times he wished they were putting something out.
"I had a moment of panic. I thought, 'Oh my god, I gotta get something done,'" the singer offered. "I sat down and started writing, but after a while I said, 'It doesn't really matter.'"
The last time Play spoke with Gourley, he stated there had been several offers from sponsors to support a tour. Since then, Portugal. The Man toured with Jagermeister's support and Gourley said the band probably won't be doing much more of that. While he saw no problem with the idea of a company sponsoring a tour and getting art out there, he admitted without elaborating that sometimes things don't work out the way you would think.
Gourley did mention that he would love to tour for an Alaska company or for the state itself, noting the tax incentives the state offers to filmmakers who film here.
"I love Alaska more than anything," the front man opined. "Why are you putting money into a Drew Barrymore movie that nobody is going to watch?"