Portugal. The Man: 'You fight like brothers. You love each other like brothers.'
Before starting our Portugal. The Man interview backstage at Madrid’s Mad Cool Festival, we took a minute to lament the fact that the band was set to clash with one of the biggest headliners.
“We’re playing right during Queens of the Stone Age,” pointed out bassist Zach Carothers. “So that fucking sucks.”
Guitarist Eric Howk didn’t see it as such a big deal: “We’ll just have to be louder than them,” he joked of the notoriously boisterous band, who would later go on to perform a set in which lead singer Josh Homme threatened security and smashed some stage lights. “No problem.”
The Alaskan rockers were indeed in the company of some of the greatest bands of all time including Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, Arctic Monkeys, Jack White - a stellar lineup for such a young festival.
“This place has got some good vibes,” said Zach as he sipped a beer by the pool in an exclusive area overlooking the main stage. “It’s really nice when you get inside, because when you get off the bus, it’s just like Fury Road back there.
“It’s hot. There’s gravel everywhere. There’s forklifts driving around. It’s crazy!
“If you try to get back to the bus you could get hit five or six times. Then you walk in here and it’s like a polo field!”
The band have a special affinity with the Iberian Peninsula, particularly Portugal (The Country), where they had performed at NOS Alive just the night before.
“We do extra well there,” said Zach. “Before we went over there we weren’t sure if they were going to like us. Turns out they do.
“Honestly, it was pretty fucking crazy. It was probably the best crowd we’ve ever had at a festival. It was nuts! It was just an unbelievably, great, great show. Got in a fist fight with our singer…”
“Oh it happens. It’s fine,” Zach assured us. “I don’t know. It was the best show ever and we just got into a thing.”
A closer look at the musician revealed an elbow injury sustained in the ruckus with frontman John Baldwin Gourley, who Zach has played music with since they met in high school.
“Boys will be boys,” said Eric, suggesting it wasn’t the first time the pair have gone at it backstage. “There’s a lot to unpack there, but it’s gonna take years of therapy. We probably couldn’t scratch the surface in this interview.”
Wow. Sounds like Portugal. The Man are the United States’ answer to our own Gallagher brothers...
“Oh, they’re our role models!” beamed Zach, as if we’d just paid him the sweetest compliment. “We’re not actually brothers. We’ve just been friends for way too long, so those things just kind of happen, you know?
“You fight like brothers. You love each other like brothers.”
Ah, OK. So they probably just woke up this morning and acted like nothing ever happened.
“Er... No. Not yet. It’ll be fine by tonight though,” Zach confessed, belying a key difference between Portugal. The Man and their Oasis idols, who famously split after Noel and Liam got physical at a gig.
So when things take a turn and the show must go on, what does a Grammy Award-winning band do to get into the festival spirit?
“It’s normally just drinking whiskey before we go on stage and just figuring out what we’re playing. We’ll play ‘Cowboys From Hell’ (Pantera song) on an iPhone or something.
“When we go out on stage, we start off our set with Metallica’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’. Like an instrumental version.
“But I’ve realised it’s not as much for the audience as it is for us. It’s the, ‘Hey, I’m really tired. Got into a fight. Not totally in the mood’, or whatever’s going on in your day. You go out and you play Metallica and it’s like the jumping jacks before the big game.”
But Eric revealed the track probably has a deeper meaning to the band, and probably serves to reignite that brotherly love Zach mentioned earlier.
He said, “That’s the song we learned in Zach’s mom’s basement like 20 years ago.”
Despite having a few go-to rituals to get pumped before walking out on stage, the band seemed confident about getting the crowd going in Madrid.
“For some reason, the Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries just party harder,” Zach said.
“People tell us that music’s just a big part of their culture, but I feel like music’s a big part of every culture. But for some reason, man, this place hits it pretty hard and it’s an amazing feeling.”
Eric agreed, “Yeah, I think the festival crowds are pretty good. It’s just fun over here. A good time.”
A hard-rocking crowd they were, but two days of Mad Cool had certainly taken its toll on some festival-goers as they stumbled through the gates for more of the same on the Saturday. Portugal. The Man, however, seem to take the whole thing in their stride.
“We just live that,” said Zach. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years. We just kind of keep on going, man.”
Eric joked, “Yeah. Abandon all hope!”
“Exactly,” Zach continued. “Rock bottom is very stable ground. You get tired and you get old, but you just stay tired and old, man. I mean, there’s hydration and showers and whatnot, but it’s best to just accept your fate.”
Fisticuffs between bandmates aside, Portugal. The Man’s fate seems like a bright one after their 2017 hit ‘Feel It Still’ skyrocketed their fame (it hit number 3 in the UK), putting them shoulder to shoulder with a who’s who of rock stars the band made it clear they were pretty excited to share a bill with.
But there’s one big star of 2018 missing from Portugal. The Man’s dream lineup - someone they’d really hate to find themselves playing at the same time as.
“Oh man, that fucking Cardi B song ‘Be Careful’? That shit’s goddamn good, dude!” Zach waxed lyrically. “Her flow in that... (we lose him temporarily as he sings the track). It’s super cool! Plus it’s got that Lauren Hill reference. That’s some beat, man!”
“We got to play after her a couple of times," Eric said. “She is the real deal!”
Zach added, “She is hilarious and awesome. She’s just fun. Oh, and congrats on the baby, Cardi B! We’re label mates, so, you know…”
Portugal. The Man play London’s Kentish town tonight (July 27).
Stay tuned to LineUp for more exclusive interviews with the hottest live performers. Featured photo credit: Maclay Heriot.