Portugal. The Man and Danger Mouse Forego 'Bag of Tricks' on New Album
After touring extensively for its 2011 album, "In the Mountain in the Cloud," produced by John Hill, Portland, Ore., band Portugal. The Man hoped to take total control of its next release. The group decamped to Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas, in February 2012, aiming to craft an entirely insular record for its eighth studio LP.
"We were just going to make the record ourselves," frontman John Gourley says, seated at a picnic table in Los Angeles' Griffith Park a few days after the band's sunset performance at Coachella. "We were set on this. Two weeks in, after everybody is saying we can do this ourselves, [Atlantic Records Group chairman/CEO] Craig Kallman calls me and goes, 'Danger Mouse wants to meet up with you.' It was one of those moments where it was like, 'Are you kidding me?' And I'm not stupid. I'm not going to pass up that opportunity."
Gourley immediately flew to New York, where he and the producer agreed they wanted to collaborate on a new album. The band used the Sonic Ranch session as a foundation and spent the second half of last year in Los Angeles with Danger Mouse, recording "Evil Friends" (June 4, Atlantic) at various studios between tour dates. For Gourley, Danger Mouse was most effective when he challenged the musicians to do better, offering to delete entire sessions so they could start anew the next day. And while one can hear the producer's influence on the disc's surging rock songs, there wasn't necessarily a formula he applied based on past successes with bands like the Black Keys.
"There's no bag of tricks," Gourley says. "He doesn't have his go-to things. We used instruments that he's never used on records before. But it seems obvious to people when they hear the music that he worked on it... It's his taste. He's very good at focusing what you're doing. If anything the band has just gotten better at taking what we do onstage and bringing it into the studio. And I'm very thankful that someone was sitting there saying 'no.'"
Atlantic, which has so far unveiled two tracks off the album, the title track and "Purple Yellow Red and Blue," considers the Danger Mouse connection a benefit, but isn't banking on it as a marketing tool. For the label, which signed the act to its first major-label deal after its 2010 album, "American Ghetto," one of the group's biggest assets is its visual aesthetic. Portugal. The Man has already released videos for two tracks and has a third, for "Modern Jesus," on the way; it will debut Evil Friends at an interactive event in Los Angeles on May 29. In partnership with Tumblr and street artist INSA, the group will preview the album at a gallery show and stream the disc online for fans.
"They've always had super-inventive visuals," Atlantic GM David Saslow says. "When you meet with a guy like [John] and he has this many ideas, you really fall in and let him lead. We try to do everything we can to facilitate his vision."
The label is pushing "Purple Yellow Red and Blue" to alternative radio, which Saslow calls "a real target for us," but the group's primary focus will be its live show. The band will perform at New York's Governors Ball the week of the album's release, leading into a U.S. underplay tour that includes Bonnaroo. The current touring lineup has shifted-keyboardist Ryan Neighbors and drummer Jason Sechrist amicably parted ways with the band last year-but Gourley feels the group has never been stronger.
"People will want to relate [the new album's title] to Ryan and Jason leaving, but it was really more about going back home and seeing old friends," Gourley says. "I had a pretty rough group of friends-I didn't realize it until I came down to Portland [from hometown Wasilla, Alaska]. I touched upon it in American Ghetto, but I never really came out and said some of the things I was thinking about it. It's [an emotionally] heavier record for sure, but it's not like it's off base for us."