Portugal. the Man and Danger Mouse's Not-So-"Evil" Friendship
When word started getting around about Portugal. the Man's next record, singer John Gourley put it out there that they'd be working with Brian Joseph Burton, aka Danger Mouse--of Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz and The Grey Album fame--and that the band was toying with the idea of writing "their" Dark Side of the Moon. I couldn't help myself: I pictured these guys getting completely stoned and holing up in the studio projecting The Wizard of Oz on one of the walls while blasting the Pink Floyd classic and dashing off to the booth and boards as soon as the credits rolled with the intent to reinvent sound as we know it, so I asked Gourley, verbatim, if that's what happened.
Portugal. the Man perform tonight at Irving Plaza.
"You know, we didn't do that, and I'm kind of bummed we didn't!" he laughs. "The Dark Side of the Moon thing was something we talked about so early on. I've always said I'll never make a concept record, because I've always kind of felt like I should. We ended up having too much fun writing songs and we got onto a different thread. This record is there because of that. Dark Side of the Moon is Dark Side of the Moon. What the fuck were we thinking? We can't touch that!"
Dorothy and her ruby slippers may not sync up to Evil Friends in the slightest, but that hardly tarnishes the universal appeal of the record on the whole. Danger Mouse's magic touch is ever present in the pulsating heartbeat of Evil Friends, with each and every song holding us tight in its clutches despite the sonic departures the record takes on a track-by-track basis. One second we're enjoying a dance track that's seemingly designed for meditative head-bobbing and mindless movement; the next we're taken aback by snarling lyrics ("Atomic Man"'s "After you hell should be easy") with fuzzy garage touches. Gourley takes us through the creation of Evil Friends, the foundation of their new relationship with Danger Mouse and what exactly he and Dewey Cox (yup) have in common.
I just listened through Evil Friends in its entirety, and I'm struck by the breadth of genres touched on here--danceable beats, lo-fi rock riffs, electronic deluges, the works. How important is it to you to keep your music in an indefinable place when it comes to genre?
Back when we named the band Portugal. the Man, wanted it to have this alter-ego, like Sergeant Pepper or Ziggy Stardust, one without genre ties. People try to bill us as a rock band, which I don't mind at all. It's not about labels; it's about expression, just doing whatever the fuck you want. That's what the Beatles did; that's what Bowie did. The Beatles weren't a rock band and Bowie wasn't just some glam rocker, either. There are some elements of soul and R&B in all of that. If you take a step back and look at bands I'm a fan of, if you look like something like Jett or Kings of Leon or Wolfmother for that matter, how do you follow-up rock records? I don't really see how people do that. If you have success with one record, how do you top it? You can't write the same song over and over again and stick with one thing. Kanye doesn't do that. I think people who feel comfortable without being tied down or self-conscious about making records are who make great artists.
What was it like working with Danger Mouse for the first time?
There were definitely moments where we first stepped in and I didn't know what to expect--you can't really know what to expect when you're working with somebody like that. It's a lot like when we worked with Paul Kolderie (The Pixies, Radiohead) on The Satanic Satanist: you just kind of step in and hope for the best and you start throwing things out there and pray that everybody's going to be cool with trying things out and rolling with it. We worked really well with all of these producers ... but we just really loved how [Brian] worked. It was collaborative. When he'd have an idea, he'd just stand up and say it, like, "Fuck yeah, get up and play that!" There's nothing worse than someone saying "No, I feel like this needs something different--" without giving an example of what "different" is. In the past, every time someone says that, I just go, "You play it." Brian says "No" really easily and it's a total taste thing; there's nothing asshole about it or condescending about it. He's pretty much like, "Hey man, I like your stuff and I know you can do better because I've heard it." That's the weirdest, most uplifting thing someone can say: "I've heard you do that before and I know you can do better." He doesn't need to jump on everything if there's no point; he's totally cool with not messing with a song if it's there.