The topic of endangered tigers is a complicated one to build an indie-pop song around. But psych-rock outfit Portugal. The Man was up for the challenge, and have teamed with the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park Conversation Biology Institute and ad agency DDB for “Sumatran Tiger,” a song inspired by the endangered subspecies of tigers that inhabit the Indonesian island of Sumatra.
Like the animal, the song is “endangered” itself, released on Earth Day (April 22) to 400 influencers from all walks of life (politicians, wildlife conservationalists, artists, journalists, etc.) on 400 vinyl albums, numbered after the remaining tigers estimated to still roam Sumatra. The vinyl albums themselves are “endangered,” designed to actually degrade and “disappear” over repeated listens. In order to reproduce the song, listeners with a USB-enabled record player are asked to upload the song or record it with their iPhone to keep the music alive.
Portugal. The Man frontman John Gourley says the weighty concept instantly appealed to the band, which hails from Wasilla, Alaska, where endangered animals and grizzly bears are often neighbors. “Growing up, I would see friends’ families where that dad had just gone out hunting and bring home a bear, and I’d say, ‘I’ve never even seen one and you’re so stoked that you just killed one? Couldn’t you go out and take a picture?’” Gourley says. “It’s really offensive, and the reasons these things and animals just disappear can all be prevented.”
"Sumatran Tiger” is the remnants of a song originally intended for Portugal’s 2011 album “In The Mountain In The Cloud,” with new production from John Hill (Shakira, Phantogram). Says Gourley, "The song is very broad, and I think that’s where it came fromy. "This is about tigers, but it’s kind of about everything – grizzly bears back home, the bobcats in the wild, everything. It kind of just worked out really well. It was really exciting for us to finally put this track out.”
Pamela Baker-Masson, associate director of communications at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, hopes the vinyl campaign will help people take action against wildlife trafficking to help preserve the endangered tigers. “We could have chosen one of many animals, but the number of this particular species left in the wild was particularly dire,” Baker-Masson says. “We didn’t want to have a campaign that would feel so hopeless and overwhelming, but would still demand of a person to stand up and do something.”
Portugal. The Man is about to embark on a few West Coast tour dates opening for The National before playing a few more select dates throughout the summer in continued support of their 2013 album “Evil Friends.” In between gigs, Gourley adds, “we’re recording a ton of new music this year. Working on an EP, another album. We have like three different projects kind of started. I’m sure we’ll finish one of ‘em.”