"To be perfectly honest, we wrote the album, did pre-production and then everything fell apart," singer/songwriter/guitarist John Gourley told MTV News. "And I think it was the fact that this had all fallen apart that it actually came together so well in the end. I think we spent seven months, eight months on the album, and it was just going into the studio, messing everything up, leaving the studio, crying about it for a month on tour, then trying again."
The recording of In the Mountain, which hit stores on Tuesday, was rife with intra-band tensions, battles with producer John Hill and a fair amount of boozy flare-ups. All of these were new experiences for the band, who — as you may know by now — first formed in Sarah Palin's old stomping grounds of Wasilla, Alaska, and spent the first years of their existence making music in relative anonymity. All of that changed when they signed with Atlantic Records and began mulling the prospects of making a major-label record.
"We were definitely feeling it at the time," bassist Zachary Carothers sighed. "We signed to Atlantic Records and this was going to be our first release on the label, so we didn't want to let anybody down. Not us or anyone. And, of course, we wanted them to like it too."
Which is where the perils Portugal faced differ slightly from those of innumerable bands that make the jump to a major: They weren't being told what they couldn't do, they were being asked what they could. And that prospect paralyzed them more than anything.
"We had this meeting with Atlantic ... and we were talking about songs — the reason we play music, why we love music, our favorite writers — this big meeting about songs," Gourley said, "And as I left that meeting, they said to me, 'Hey John, you know what? Just forget all that stuff. Just make the record you want to make.' And, I don't know why, but that was the most difficult part."
But after some months, the record began to take shape. And, if anything, it really was the album that Portugal. The Man had always longed to make: a crawling, sprawling thing, brimming with big ideas and even bigger ambitions. From the sun-dappled psych of "Got It All (This Can't Be Living Now)" to the slow-burning churn of "Sleep Forever," it's unquestionably one of the year's most compelling listens, a decidedly major album in just about every conceivable way.
And even if they have signed with the big boys, Portugal are still finding ways to keep things manageably micro: Take, for example, their epic mini-movie for "Sleep Forever," which, though it's filled with epic shots of the Alaskan wilderness, was actually little more than a home movie. It just looks like it cost a million bucks.
"We just went out behind my parent's house in Willow, Alaska, and got some footage from a plane as well," Gourley explained. "It was all fairly inexpensive, because we just lived at home and went out every day for a week and a half and made our own food ... and the dogs were already there — my parents mush dogs, ran the Iditarod and everything."
Tell us what you think of Portugal. The Man's video for "Sleep Forever" in the comments!