11 Nov 2017

Portugal The Man: "I'm 36, slightly overweight, I have no idea why I'm top of the charts."

From RNZ Music, 2:40 pm on 11 November 2017

Two 'rock' acts are in the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in twelve years. One of those acts is Portugal The Man. The band's bassist Zach Carothers joins us to discuss whether rock can survive and what it takes to make a perfect pop song.

Portugal. The Man

Portugal. The Man Photo: Supplied

Not only has it been one of the most Shazamed songs of 2017, but Portugal The Man's 'Feel It Still' recently made it to number four on the Billboard Hot 100. It's the first time in twelve years there have been two ‘rock’ acts in the top ten. The other is Imagin Dragons with their track 'Believer'.

Portugal The Man’s bass player Zach Carothers is surprised as anyone at the runaway success of ‘Feel It Still’.

“I know why it’s a good song, but I don’t know, I have no explanation why we’re up there on the charts with Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. I’m 36 years old, I’m a bit overweight, I’m fro Alasfrom I don’t know what I’m doing at the top of the pop charts. But it’s funny, and I’m going to roll with it for sure.”

“We never thought it would grow to the size that it is. We never thought it would cross over into the mainstream charts. It’s been absolutely wild and I honestly don’t think we’ll know what it’s done (to our band) for another six months or so.

Portugal The Man have been bubbling away on the fringes of mainstream success for several years now. Their new album was produced by Mike D (Beastie Boys) amoung others, which the band credit with broadening their sound into something akin to "a modern-day music festival’.

“We like hip hop and honestly rock and roll has been so staid lately it’s weak man. It used to be the stuff that was scary. It was the devil’s music when it first came out and then there was punk rock.

"And now it’s turned to hip hop. It’s Kanye and Kendrick Lamar that are saying the shit that needs to be said and they’re the people that are pushing the envelope and so I wanna blend those two I wanna bring back some of that edge.”

As well as bringing back that edge, first and foremost the band want to make great songs, an artform that is often harder than it seems.

“We’re just constantly trying to narrow down and streamline our songs. We are pop kids. We’ve been trying to make tighter shorter more direct songs, but it’s hard. A lot of people think it’s easy. I’ve been in a bunch of prog rock bands and people in those bands always say it’s easy to write a pop song: 'I could write a three minute pop song no problem,' ummm, no you can’t.

“It’s way harder than writing an eight minute rock epic. Think about telling a story about the most intense detailed and personal story of your life and then telling it in two minutes and thirty seconds. It’s hard as hell to narrow it down but still tell it with prose and beauty and art and try to make a cohesive idea come out in that amount of time it’s really hard to do and that’s what we keep trying to do.

“I always reference ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ it’s so simple it’s just over two minutes pretty much one chord, one melody, amazing lyrics and it’s so short but it takes me so many places. It literally gives me Goosebumps every time I even say the name of the song.”