Interview: Portugal. The Man’s Small-Town Roots

With a solid long-term following, growing exposure, a stand-alone style, and thirteen years under their belt, Alaskan-born band Portugal. The Man continues to crank it out with their newest album entitled Woodstock. As Gloomin + Doomin allegedly never made it all the way through production last year, Woodstock is a work with overarching anticipation from fans new and old of the timeless band.

We caught up with Eric Howk as he and the rest of the band travelled to a brewery in Pawtucket Rhode Island after performing an acoustic session, for some travel tips and backstory on their newest album, out today.

CC: Snapchat or IG?
Eric: I like the interactivity of Instagram more, its permanence makes me happy. I also like it just for traveling and being able to look back on it. You know when you’re like “Yeah I think I was at this place a year and a half ago,” and then you can just look it up and sure enough, there it is. Snapchat disappears forever.

CC: Google Maps or WAZE?
Eric: I’m still on Google Maps, but I am pretty old school. I’m kind of an old guy. But yeah, I love Google Maps. I also just figured out that you can search for things on your route when you’re driving somewhere, and that kind of blew my mind.

CC: How do you travel? ie. tour bus, van, plane etc., you’re in a sprinter van right now right?
Eric: Yeah, usually if we have a home base, we will just Uber to and from there, but when we are going from city to city back-to-back we usually go by bus. Which is nice because there is usually some nice scenery in between places. Like sometimes I’ll just go up and sit by the bus driver for a little bit to look out the window.

CC: Is the sprinter van you’re in now pretty decked out? One of my friends is making theirs into a little home with a bed and everything.
Eric: (Laughs) Oh no, it’s super basic. It’s just a rental. Yeah, it’s not ours. If it was ours it would be full of garbage and it would smell terrible.

CC: Who is the tour bus DJ in the band?
Eric: It depends who is the most drunk I think. And that can change wildly and very quickly. Honestly though most of the time it ends up being kind of a collaborative thing. Like someone will play something and the next person will get excited about that and be like, “check this out,” and that goes on and on.

CC: What is your favorite non-US city to play?
Eric: I would say the festival we did last year in Portugal called Paredes de Coura was pretty incredible. That’s also the name of the town where the festival is. It’s not really a city, it’s hard to find on a map. It’s kind of hidden in a forest deep in the mountains. Geographically it kind of looks like Humboldt County in California. There are all these giant trees and sweeping hills. The festival itself is surrounded by this beautiful lake. And yeah, of course we were also repping Portugal in Portugal.

CC: What international venue has the best green room?
Eric: You know, I don’t think we are even there yet. Most of the places we play internationally end up being smaller clubs. Especially in Germany the places we were playing had 200 or 300 people. I wouldn’t say they had the most decked out green rooms in the world, BUT they do give you a lot of beer and snack trays and fresh vegetables, so that’s a definite plus (laughs). It’s pretty hard to pick one out of all of them. The place we played in Hamburg had a green room that also served as a coat check for the crowd. That was entertaining.

CC: If you could have a day off in any city, which city would you choose?
Eric: We actually got to have the day off in Pittsburgh recently, and I know that sounds like an outsider choice and wouldn’t be the most tropical destination to choose, but it’s actually so full of museums and culture and cool architecture and good food. We just loved it there, I would love to have a day off there right now.

CC: Tinder or Bumble?
Eric: I think one of our crew guys has been really into Bumble, I don’t think a lot of us have had much personal experience with that, but I think the consensus amongst the crew would be that Bumble was the way to go.

CC: What apps do you use to record on the road?
Eric: Honestly so much of the time, we will try to get ambitious and get out the generic stuff… and we do have a couple of laptops that have Pro Tools, but so many ideas come up so quick that just the voice memo on Iphone ends up getting used. I have thousands of voice memos, and most of them are just me humming nonsense. And I go back to listen to them weeks later completely out of context. Nine times out of ten it’s just utter nonsense. There will be like someone screaming in the background or music playing or something and you can’t even hear it BUT that one time out of ten is a pretty good idea. It’s easy, it’s on my home screen. I just pull it out and go, “lalalalala.”

CC: How much of your new album was written on the road?
Eric: Specifically on the road? I think John probably wrote quite a few lyrics while we were out here, but so much of the actual recording of the record was done all over the place. Like parts of it were recorded in Portland, and Seattle, and L.A., and New York, so the record itself is already pretty well-traveled. We weren’t exactly touring during that time, just traveling around to record in various places. So I guess in a way all of it was… but also in a way not that much of it was (laughs).

CC: Are there any cities that inspire you musically?
Eric: You know, I think that is part of the reason it has such a mood to it. I live in Seattle and the rest of the band is pretty much based out of Portland, and we have the same clouds hanging over us for most of the year. I think there is something undeniably inspiring about that. And also coming from the opposite of a city, three of us are from small towns in Alaska out in the middle of the woods surrounded by mountains. There is something hugely impacting about being that close to nature.

CC: Is the album title “Woodstock” reference to a city or a vibe?
It’s a little bit longer of a story than just that. I guess the short answer would be a vibe. Its more to do with Johns dad, who just recently received a package from a buddy he had loaned a toolbox to a number of years ago, and that friend of his gave him back his original ticket stub to Woodstock. Just in a little envelope. Friday. 8 bucks. So that was a huge part of it. And we are sort of seeing similarities in what was happening in the American psyche in 1969 to what’s happening now. Just kind of keeping your eyes open and you know trying to counteract fear in a political movement with optimism.

Portland Travel Tips:

CC: Best cup of Coffee in Portland.
Eric: Stumptown on Division Street

CC: Best doughnut in Portland.
Eric: I mean Voodoo Doughnuts is kind of the classic. You have to go with that. They are certainly the most inventive and creative. It’s all undeniably awesome and bad for you.

CC: Best thing to come out of Portland besides PTM.
Eric: Portlandia. It’s just way too accurate.

CC: Favorite local beer.
Eric: Rogue Brewery always does pretty amazing things.

photo by: all images courtesy of Portugal. The Man