Something Else From Wasilla: Indie Rock The indie rock band Portugal the Man, originally from Wasilla, Alaska, just released a new album, The Satanic Satanist. NPR's Liane Hansen spoke with two of the band's founding members, John Gourley and Zach Carothers.
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Something Else From Wasilla: Indie Rock

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Something Else From Wasilla: Indie Rock

Something Else From Wasilla: Indie Rock

The indie rock band Portugal the Man, originally from Wasilla, Alaska, just released a new album, The Satanic Satanist. NPR's Liane Hansen spoke with two of the band's founding members, John Gourley and Zach Carothers.

DAVID GREENE, host:

The indie rock band Portugal The Man is actually not from Portugal, but they are strongly influenced by a sense of place. Just listen to this and see if you can guess where the band members are from:

(Soundbite of song, The Woods)

PORTUGAL THE MAN: (Singing) When I lived in the woods, when I lived in woods, when I lived in woods, everything was all right, everything, everything was all right.

GREENE: That track you're hearing is called "The Woods," and you'd be right to hear a Motown influence, but you'd need to head much farther north and west to reach the band's hometown. Portugal The Man is from Wasilla, Alaska. Yep, that Wasilla, where Sarah Palin served on the city council and as mayor before becoming Alaskas governor and then running for vice president.

Liane Hansen spoke with Portugal The Man about their new CD.

(Soundbite of song, The Woods)

PORTUGAL THE MAN: (Singing) Baby, give me all your love

LIANE HANSEN: The band's new album is called "The Satanic Satanist." And two founding members of Portugal The Man join us now - John Gourley and Zach Carothers. Welcome, both of you.

Mr. JOHN GOURLEY (Portugal The Man): Hey.

Mr. ZACH CAROTHERS (Portugal The Man): Hello.

HANSEN: Tell us, what was it like to start a band in Wasilla. Were you also called Portugal The Man when you were starting out?

Mr. CAROTHERS: Well, this band was.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Okay.

Mr. CAROTHERS: John and I had been in a band previously together with three other guys from Alaska, as well - from Wasilla. John had been talking about starting Portugal as kind of a side project. And as soon as our old band broke up, he asked if I wanted to join Portugal full time. And we didn't even play any shows in Wasilla because there's, as you can imagine, the music scene in Wasilla, Alaska isn't exactly thriving.

HANSEN: Were there a couple of bars? Is that it?

Mr. CAROTHERS: Yeah, there's a couple of bars. There's a pretty good bluegrass scene, I guess, but I don't think we'd fit in too well with them. So, we moved down to Portland and we've just been working hard on it ever since.

HANSEN: Listening to the song "Work," is that something from the day when you both had to have day jobs to support yourselves as musicians?

Ms. GOURLEY: Yeah, yeah. That song is so much about my family and what they do.

(Soundbite of song, Work)

PORTUGAL THE MAN: (Singing) If you work all day, keep the rhythm through the night, work all night, keep the rhythm through the day. Tear that soul, you'll be burning up bright. Got no soul, that's fine all right.

Ms. GOURLEY: My dad builds houses and for the earlier portion of my life anyway, we moved around quite a bit. It took us to some just really amazing places. I mean, I got to go to school in schoolhouses that were just one room with two other kids in my grade. And my dad was just always about work and, you know, doing what he had to do to support us and to support the communities, as well, that we were going to.

(Soundbite of song, Work)

PORTUGAL THE MAN: (Singing) We'll pick it up and we'll pack it and we'll put it in a bag, sack it up like cinnamon, we will get it real fast, but still there's nothing left for you. We'll pick it up and pack it up and put it in a bag, sack it up like cinnamon, we get it real fast, and still there's nothing left to do.

HANSEN: Alaska has to, and the Alaskan way of life, has to infuse your music and influence you. I thought a little bit about Alaska, listening to the tune "Sun," and imagining you get a lot of gigs in the summer because the sun shines all the time.

(Soundbite of song, Sun)

PORTUGAL THE MAN: (Singing) Slip on down from that sun, to climb down to earth, and down to things like time. 'Cause we are all, we are all just lovers, born of earth and light like all these others

Mr. GOURLEY: The Alaskan summers are one of the most amazing things you can see. It's obnoxious if you play in a band and you stay up until four in the morning, because there is no rest during the summers. But it's amazing being able to climb up a mountain at midnight, you know, and come back down at three in the morning. And you just feel energized. It's something that really breathes a lot of life into Alaska. And I guess the winters take away as much as the summers give.

HANSEN: What do you think, Zach?

Mr. CAROTHERS: Oh, I agree with John totally. It's just so much fun growing up there and having light 24 hours a day. You know, it's dusk, like, the sun isn't shining brightly where we live but Fourth of July is not that impressive though. People, like, shooting fireworks off at noon and everybody's, like, oh, cool.

Mr. GOURLEY: Thousands of dollars just shot into the sky and I have no idea what happened.

Mr. CAROTHERS: Yeah, and then New Year's, it looks really good, but it's usually about 20 or 30 below zero. So not something you want to stand outside and watch.

HANSEN: Yeah. John, you blogged on your band's Web site and you've written about an experience you had as a boy. You were hunting moose with your father. Did this inspire the song "Guns and Dogs?"

Mr. GOURLEY: Yeah. You know what? I guess somewhat it did. It was a pretty cool experience.

(Soundbite of song, Guns and Dogs)

PORTUGAL THE MAN: (Singing) We took a trip down in '87, we were looking for a place where we don't fear heaven. We got, got some guns, got some dogs, just like them dogs, yeah, the guns just get bigger.

Mr. GOURLEY: My dad just out of nowhere - he's the craziest guy - he just decided that he wanted to run the Iditarod, which is 1,000-mile dogsled race in Alaska. He just picked up, got a bunch of dogs, took us out to a place near Trapper Creek called Icy Lake, that quite literally is just an icy lake. I mean, you can't even get out there in the summer.

But he took us out there, built a cabin and we just raised these dogs and trained these dogs for mushing and lived out in the woods. So, he had a lot of things to teach us in taking us out there. And I think I took a lot of it for granted at the time. You know, I would watch "Sesame Street" and see neighborhoods and kids with other kids to play with, and I just didn't have that. You know, we were on a lake. We just didn't have that stuff.

HANSEN: Zach, growing up and, you know, hearing your first music that would influence you as a teenager, what was it like in Alaska? You know, I think John actually wrote that you often wouldn't get any new music until months after it was released. Did that shape your experience?

Mr. CAROTHERS: Oh yeah, definitely, and it was probably more like years, maybe decades after when we were growing up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOURLEY: We were so not cool.

Mr. CAROTHERS: Yeah.

HANSEN: Is this why I'm hearing Beegee harmonies on your CD now?

Mr. CAROTHERS: Yeah, maybe, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAROTHERS: We're going back to the stuff that we thought just came out, you know.

Mr. GOURLEY: This new band, The Beatles, you got to check it out.

Mr. CAROTHERS: Yeah.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. CAROTHERS: No. When I started, you know, in middle school or something like that, I started researching my own music a little bit as best as I could, you know, before the Internet. But as far as the whole underground music scene, we just had no idea it even existed. I guess the basic rule growing up was if it was cool in California, wait about eight or nine years then it's cool in Alaska.

And now with better communication

Mr. GOURLEY: The Internet.

Mr. CAROTHERS: the Internet

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. CAROTHERS: technology, it's a little bit easier to find things.

HANSEN: Well, how about we end with a song - it's a little retro to me; it sounds like John Lennon - it's called "Let You Down." And particularly the end. I mean, you've got that reverb sounding like tears.

(Soundbite of song, Let You Down)

PORTUGAL THE MAN: (Singing) And know that it's all right

Mr. GOURLEY: It was just Ryan and I. It was just our keyboard player and I sitting in a room just looking at each other. And it is a downer song, but Ryan is such a fun guy and such a funny guy, it really brought a different life into the song and what it was.

(Soundbite of song, Let You Down)

Mr. GOURLEY: (Singing) And I only let you down

Music is something that you really have to want to do it and there has to be a reason behind it. And I think we've done a pretty good job at keeping that true.

HANSEN: John Gourley and Zach Carothers are two founding members of Portugal The Man. Their latest recording is "The Satanic Satanist" and both of them joined us from our studios in New York. Thank you so much.

Mr. GOURLEY: Thank you.

Mr. CAROTHERS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, Let You Down)

Mr. GOURLEY: (Singing) Let you down.

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