Portugal. The Man reinvented

By |
Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

John Gourley seems embarrassed when he's told that some refer to him as "the coolest rock star ever."

The frontman and founder of Portugal. The Man and his bandmates may be riding high with the band's Danger Mouse-produced release "Evil Friends," but you're not going to hear any rock star boasting out of him. Gourley is the epitome of the DIY-solid-work-ethic kind of guy. One reason is certainly his Wasilla, Alaska, upbringing by his homesteading, Iditarod loving parents that's seemingly reflected in his entire persona.

"I was really torn apart," said Gourley of the dilemma he faced when he and the band had gathered to record their album and he received word that Danger Mouse wanted to meet with him. "It's nothing against Danger Mouse. It was just that we were there to make a record and it was one of those moment when you are torn between a crazy opportunity you just wouldn't be given in Alaska and doing the work you had planned."

The band has been a study in independence since its beginnings almost a decade ago. And that's always been the band's formula for success. Consider the critically acclaimed 2009 album "The Satanic Satanist" that grabbed Atlantic Records' attention. The album that resulted in the band's major label signing was pure Gourley. He wrote the songs as a reflection of his young life growing up in Alaska.

Onstage
Portugal. The Man with Skaters
» Where: 9:30 Club, 815 V St., NW Washington
» When: 7 p.m. Saturday
» Info: Sold out, though tickets may still be available through resellers; 800-955-5566; 930.com

In the end, though, the call from Danger Mouse was just too good to resist. After flying from Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas, where the band had started recording, to New York, the long-anticipated meeting took place. That meet-and-greet turned into a friendship and, of course, collaboration.

In listening to the new album, it's clear that Danger Mouse brought a degree of balance to the Man's trademark positive songs. Think of John Lennon and Paul McCartney balancing each other's sonic attitudes, and you have the idea.

That's certainly reflected in the title track. While the song has an up-tempo, '70s-psychedelic vibe, as do many songs from the band, it has a hint more, well, danger. That's reflected in the lyrics that eschew friendship and even in some of the hard-charging percussion.

Early reviews give thumbs up to the music born of the collaboration. And DIY Gourley seems the most enthusiastic of anyone.

"He makes good albums. He's not about gimmicks or sound boards or any specific key boards," said Gourley, putting to rest rumors of a dictatorial Danger Mouse. "And people who come to work with us sometimes think we don't want to collaborate. That's not true. Even as the band changes, it's always collaborative. I love music. I love working to record the best songs we can every time. [Danger Mouse] helped us do that. When he said 'No,' it was because he knew our work. He knew we could do better. That's what we needed to hear."

View article comments Leave a comment
Author:

Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner