BBMA Nominee Portugal. The Man on Repping for Rock and Ignoring 'Bitter' Haters

Photo: Courtesy of Atlantic Records, Design: Ery Burns
Portugal. The Man

After forming in 2004, the Alaska-bred, Portland, Ore.-based band Portugal. The Man released seven albums of eccentric indie rock without touching the Billboard Hot 100. So when their eighth album’s groovy lead single, “Feel It Still,” took over pop radio in 2017 (eventually peaking at No. 4 on the Hot 100), it was a bit of a shock to frontman John Gourley and bassist Zach Carothers. “Nobody has any clue what’s going on,” says Gourley with a laugh. But the band is quite in tune with where rock’s headed -- and now has three Billboard Music Award nominations (for top rock album, rock song and rock artist alongside the likes of Tom Petty, Imagine Dragons and Linkin Park).

Still Feeling It

GOURLEY: We weren’t attempting to write that song -- it just happened organically, and when it went down, we knew we had something. Everyone wanted to work on it. It’s the pace, the tone of that ’60s Hofner bassline, how it references [the melody from] “Please Mr. Postman.” There’s some nostalgia, but it’s also fresh and new.

CAROTHERS: We want to reference where we came from, but in a way that also shows where we’re going in the future. We don’t want to be throwback.

Loyal To Live

GOURLEY: We have friends in hip-hop and friends in rock. Now, everybody in hip-hop is wearing throwback metal T-shirts, and they want to be recognized by the rock scene. And the rock artists want to be recognized by the hip-hop artists and reference hip-hop. But for us, playing live instruments is just what we do. There’s no point in us throwing a trap beat on something because that’s hip right now.

Mainstream Moment

GOURLEY: I’ve seen [alternative artists] get old and bitter. We’ll see them on Twitter -- they think we’re being too mainstream. But we grew up around some pretty wild shit in Alaska; the last thing that scares me is someone on Twitter. It’s silly to me to not be positive about rock advancing and growing. Really, we just want rock’n’roll to be mainstream.

This article originally appeared in the May 19 Issue of Billboard.

Billboard Music Awards 2018