One of the most cutting-edge alt/rock bands making music today is unquestionably Portugal. The Man - proven once more when Alternative Press included the group's last album, Censored Colors, on its list of "10 Essential Albums of 2008" and named front man John Baldwin Gourley 2008's "Best Vocalist." The band, with atypical behavior the norm, recorded their soon-to-be-released fourth full-length album, The Satanic Satanist (out July 21 via the band's own Approaching AIRBallons imprint) in what was a very different way for them.
Rather than wait until they arrived in the recording studio to think about new material, the band - Gourley, Zachary Scott Carothers/bass, Ryan Neighbors/keyboards, and the drummer for the album, Garrett Lunceford - gave pre-production a shot, writing and rehearsing new songs long before they pressed "record." And, if that wasn't enough, the band further stepped outside of their comfort zone of recording near home and working only with long-time friends by enlisting the production team of Paul Q. Kolderie, whose previous clients include both the Pixies and Radiohead, Adam Taylor (the Lemonheads, The Dresden Dolls) and Cornershop sitarist/keyboardist Anthony Saffery, and flying to their Boston Camp Town Studios to record.
"I was terrified," Gourley confesses with a laugh. "We've only worked with friends, you know? It's always been people we knew really well. And this time around, we were working with Paul, Anthony and Adam who have all been involved in very successful projects. So we wanted to do what they would have expected us to do rather than just throw something out there. And actually, it felt so much better doing it that way."
That said, The Satanic Satanist is still unmistakably Portugal. The Man, as the group has returned to working with loops and samples once more, certainly the most they have since their 2006 debut, Waiter: "You Vultures!."
"We played all the songs live to begin with," Gourley recalls, "then went back and tweaked them. But I've always loved loops and samples. I think they have such a cool vibe and such a specific sound that you can only get from sampling. You can't get those sounds from real drums. We just hadn't had the chance because we'd been touring so much and I guess Church Mouth [Portugal. The Man's sophomore effort] needed to be that stripped-down record coming off of Waiter, when we realized that we couldn't do the samples live. And recording Censored Colors was done with Kay Kay [and his Weathered Underground], so it didn't make sense to be messing with loops when we had so many real instruments lying around the place."
An album chockfull of standouts, The Satanic Satanist's lead-off track, "People Say," finds Gourley speaking out against the human cost of war, "Lovers in Love" sees the band working the groove like Isaac Hayes or Curtis Mayfield in their blaxploitation days, while "Work All Day" could pass for ?uestlove slowing down the beat to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)."
For keyboardist Neighbors, as much of a departure as this album represents, it still feels like it's part of a continuum with everything they've done.
"The songs all just kind of work together," he says. "They all have that Portugal sound even though the ideas themselves can be drastically different. It's all still Portuguese."
With the release of The Satanic Satanist approaching, Gourley is looking forward to joining his band mates on the road, which will include the band's first-time major festival appearance when they play Bonnaroo in June, with others to be announced soon.
"We could have eight hours a day of practice in a practice space and I don't think it compares to the 45-minutes to an hour and a half we get a night out on tour."