Portugal. The Man

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The Alaska-born, Portland-based Portugal. The Man has carved out a unique niche on the pop landscape, balancing their artfully left of center, neo-psychedelic indie rock with hooky dance, R&B, hip-hop, and electronic traditions. Debuting in 2006, they delivered a series of independent albums throughout the late 2000s, touring hard and eventually signing a deal with Atlantic for 2010′s Billboard 200-charting In the Mountain in the Cold. The band’s diligence paid off during their major-label tenure, with each subsequent album gaining them a wider fan base and increased acclaim. On 2013′s Evil Friends, they forged a collaboration with producer Danger Mouse, who helped out on the group’s politically driven eighth album, 2017′s Woodstock, which yielded the Grammy-winning hit single “Feel It Still.” Following an extended hiatus, they returned in 2023 with Chris Black Changed My Life (which was dedicated to the group’s friend, filmmaker Chris Black, who died in 2019) and again found them blending psych-pop with R&B, dance, and hip-hop sounds.
Formed in Wasilla, Alaska, Portugal. The Man grew out of the ashes of Anatomy of a Ghost, a post-hardcore band whose vocalist and guitarist — John Gourley and Zach Carothers, respectively — opted to continue working together. Regarding the group’s obscure name, Gourley once explained it as an attempt to create a demi-mythic entity bigger than the individual members. Rounding out the lineup was keyboardist/singer Wes Hubbard, himself a veteran of other Alaskan groups, and the trio eventually relocated to Portland. Their initial existence in the Pacific Northwest was the typical hardscrabble life of a band with few resources, but drummer Jason Sechrist (formerly of Konmai Defense System) joined to form a more stable lineup. The group’s profile received a boost from the Internet (the musicians made heavy use of MySpace and PureVolume for promotional purposes), and Portugal. The Man released an EP in 2005 before issuing their debut album, Waiter: You Vultures!, in early 2006.
In 2007, the band (whose lineup had once again reverted to three members, as Hubbard had left and was replaced by touring keyboardist Ryan Neighbors) issued Church Mouth, whose aggressive sound bore traces of Led Zeppelin and Jane's Addiction. The bandmates then opted to finance their third record themselves, drawing upon a wealth of guest musicians — including trombonists, trumpeters, and violinists — to create the eclectic Censored Colors. In 2009, the group released The Satanic Satanist, which became their first record to chart on the Billboard 200. They quickly followed it in 2010 with the mellower and more electronic American Ghetto, and the band signed with Atlantic Records later that year.
Guitarist Noah Gersh joined the lineup for Portugal. The Man’s 2011 summer tour, and the group recorded their major-label debut album, In the Mountain in the Cloud, in late 2011. Produced by John Hill and mixed by Andy Wallace, it was released in July 2012, hitting number 42 on the Billboard 200 and 11 on the Top Alternative Albums chart. Around that time, Sleep Forever, a 13-minute short directed by Michael Ragen and shot entirely in Gourley’s hometown, premiered on the Independent Film Channel. It would be the last recording for members Sechrist and Neighbors, who were replaced by drummer Kane Ritchotte and keyboardist Kyle O'Quin.
Portugal. The Man enlisted Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) as producer for 2013′s Evil Friends, which was released in June. Marked by a synthy, electronic-tinged blend of psych-pop (as heard on the title-track and singles like “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” and “Modern Jesus”), peaked at 28 on the Billboard 200 and 9 on the Top Alternative Albums chart.
They re-entered the studio in 2014 with the Beastie Boys’ Mike D for their eighth studio album. However, some of the recordings were eventually scrapped after Gourley unearthed his father’s ticket to the original 1969 Woodstock Festival and decided to move the sessions in a different direction. Drawing inspiration from that ticket, the band emerged in 2017 with Woodstock. Along with Mike D, the album again featured production from Danger Mouse, as well as Stint, Asa Taccone, and others. Led by the single “Feel It Still,” it was the group’s attempt to “say something that mattered” in a context of sociopolitical unrest. A critical and commercial success, the album returned Portugal. The Man to the Top 40 of the Billboard 200, while “Feel It Still” earned them a Grammy Award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.
Returning in 2020, the group turned in a pair of unlikely tracks: first, a cover of “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie for the children’s compilation At Home with the Kids in August, followed later that year by “Who’s Gonna Stop Me,” a collaboration with Weird Al Yankovic that honored Indigenous Peoples’ Day. A live studio recording from 2008 emerged in 2021, originally taking place after the tour for their third album and before the recording of their fourth; released as Oregon City Sessions, it captured the live energy they had built up from playing stages worldwide.
2023 saw the release of the group’s ninth studio album, the Jeff Bhasker-produced Chris Black Changed My Life. The record was named for the group’s late friend, filmmaker Chris Black, who toured with them in 2016 as a kind of unofficial hype man, and who died tragically in 2019 just as his career was unfolding. As with Woodstock, the album found the group blending psych-pop undertones with hooky R&B, dance, and hip-hop sounds. Featured on the album were guest appearances by Black Thought, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Edgar Winter, among others. ~ Matt Collar & Ned Raggett