Zack Carothers Is Portugal. The Man’s “Modern Jesus”

Portugal. The Man | Photo by Danger Mouse

Portugal. The Man | Photo by Danger Mouse

It’s tough to pin-down Portugal. The Man. The alt-rock band is based out of Portland, features members from Alaska, and they’ve toured relentlessly since forming in 2004. Sonically, they incorporate influences from dozens of genres such as blues, southern rock, folk and dance, and you can hear them throughout the band’s seven-album discography. The band, and its music, can be thought of as a mishmash, in the best possible sense of the word.

They’ll hit Las Vegas 7 p.m. Sept. 23 as a part of FLOOD Magazine’s FLOODfest at Foxtail Pool. We caught up with bassist Zach Carothers to chat about new music, performing at Life Is Beautiful 2013 and hanging out with Imagine Dragons.

You just surprised students at Portland’s Ron Russell Middle School with a performance and $35,000 worth of instruments. How was that experience?

It was a lot of fun! We did it through a partnership with StubHub and Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, whom we’ve worked with in the past. It was the first time we get to see the gear donated, and the kids were so pumped. I was so impressed with how huge their music program is, and how many people are involved. It’s nice to see so many kids are into music these days.

Throughout your career, you’ve worked with big-name producers such as Grammy award-winning John Hill and Danger Mouse. Tell me about the differences among them.

Every [producer] is totally different. It’s really funny initially getting into it, figuring out who they are and getting over the learning curve. There’s sort of a grace period in getting to know each other, but it always ends up amazing. John Hill is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, and we got along right away. [When we worked with him] we were a completely different band, and all in a bad place mentally. We developed a great relationship with him and the album (In the Mountain in the Cloud) turned out great. He’s one of our close friends now.

Ryan Burton (Danger Mouse) is so incredibly smart, and he’s got incredible taste. He’s really great with band dynamics, and he makes sure that everybody gets the best out of everybody. He works with vibes a lot, and tries to steer the music in the right direction. He’s not afraid to physically get on a guitar or keyboard. We kinda like that, actually; switching up instruments is one of our favorite things. It’s awesome when Kyle (O’Quin, keyboard player)—who is classically trained—hops on bass and creates a hook. We all switch around; on a song on our last album (Evil Friends), all three of us played on a track. I played a verse, Kyle played the chorus … we have no shame in doing that stuff.

A while back, you guys hinted at new material with Mike D of the Beastie Boys as a producer. What came of that?

We recorded a bunch of music with him, and we’re still working on it. Mike D is just awesome; it was an unbelievable experience. John [Gourley, singer/guitarist] actually became friends and developed a bond over the Beastie Boys and listening to their records. Lots of long nights!

When can we expect to hear new music?

Very soon. We’re still finalizing a few things. We’ve written around 50 songs just this year, but everything is at about 90 percent completion. I swear we just think too hard about them. Most of them are so close to being done, but we’re not happy with them yet. But you’ll hear them soon!

What can we expect at FLOODfest at Foxtail Pool, Sept. 23?

We’re gonna put on our party shoes. Expect a lot of whiskey, and a lot of fun.

PTM played the first Life Is Beautiful festival in 2013. How was that experience?

That was unreal, and a good surprise for us, actually. First-year festivals are usually a shitshow; this one was very organized. The food was amazing, the art was beautiful and it just had a cool vibe. It was definitely the best first-year festival I’ve ever experience because it was really collected and super fun.

Do you prefer playing to a huge crowd at a festival, or a more intimate show in a venue?

It all really depends; both are different animals. With festivals, there’s a giant crowd, which is fun, but most of the time, they’re not there for you, or you have to deliver a sampler platter of music to give people a taste. With venues, those are great because it’s your lights, your production and your songs. People are there for you, and it’s more intimate.

What’s your favorite part of the city, and what do you like doing here when you’re not working?

Our keyboard player likes to gamble, and we really enjoy watching him. And we eat a lot; we’re always trying something new. We’ve met a lot of celebrity chefs over social media and they point us in the right direction.

When it comes to Vegas, we never have a lot of time because it’s so close to L.A. We do a lot of work there, and we usually hit Vegas as a stop on tour. I’d like to spend more time there eventually. I like the old side and Downtown because it gives off kind of a ’70s, Fear and Loathing vibe.

Any good Vegas stories?

Most of them happened at Life Is Beautiful. We ran into a ton of our friends during Beck’s set, and we all bonded when he played “Devils Haircut.” We were just drinking and having a good time.

Then we went out and ran around with a bunch of people with bands, like Imagine Dragons. We actually didn’t know we were hanging out with them; we just kind of became friends that weekend. It’s funny how we didn’t talk about that until later. After hanging out for four hours, we were like, ‘Wait, woah—you play in that band?” They were just a few local boys who showed us around and took us to some cool parties. It was nice.