Portugal. The Man talks rebranding and streams new album ‘Evil Friends’

As a side project for the now-long defunct Anatomy of a Ghost, Portugal. The Man came from humble beginnings. Deeply immersed in the “scene,” the band toured extensively with early-aught screamo favorites like Chiodos and The Fall of Troy, and disseminated music via indies like Fearless Records and Equal Vision Records. They grew their fanbase organically, citing a DIY approach for much of their early success, and also their general aesthetic. Even their lively stage show, which now includes fucking lazers, for years was illuminated by a road-weathered batch of halogen lamps from Home Depot.

In deep contrast to their peers however, PTM’s sound showcased timeless elements reminiscent of classic rock, indie, and occasionally punk. Longevity seemed to be a spoil of the war that most of their friends’ bands wouldn’t enjoy, regardless of the talent they possessed. And PTM wanted out of the box.

Now, roughly six years later, the guys are days away from releasing their seventh full-length album, produced by Danger Mouse, on Atlantic Records. And from my vantage point, it definitely looks like they got out. Rebranding is a difficult task for anyone, any brand, any band. And I wanted to pick the brain of PTM’s Zach Carothers on just how they did it.

DT: What kind of strategy went into separating PTM from the swoopcuts and white belts of the screamy-emo and neon of that scene? Was the transition difficult?

Zach: This is what we always wanted to do; this is what we were going for. We just didn’t know how to do it. We were in that scene, you know, that’s where AOAG was. And the night Anatomy broke up, John and I started Portugal. John had been talking about doing it as a solo project on the side, but then Anatomy broke up and he was like, “Hey, do you just wanna start Portugal with me?” I told him, “Yeah, let’s move out to Alaska and write some stuff.” We didn’t waste much time getting [PTM] together, but we knew where we were. We were stuck in that scene for a long time, and we knew we wanted to grow beyond that because you can only do so much in that scene. It took a lot of work to get out of there; it took a long time for anyone out of that scene to pay us any attention at all. But we were just like, “Fuck it, we’re gonna do it anyway.” We just kept touring, doing it, striving to be better.

DT: So you didn’t have a concerted plan to get out of that scene, you just kept doing your thing until you broke out naturally?

Zach: Sort of, we did have to switch up some of the people we worked with. We had to try to get managers, booking agents that were out of that scene. You know, we had the same booking agent as Chiodos, and we had to keep playing the same venues because an promoter would offer more money to our booking agent for Portugal just so they could get first bid on the next Chiodos tour or something like that. And, nothing against Chiodos. Those guys are great, we lived with them for a month on our first tour actually, but we were just trying to break out of that scene. There’s certain venues that are associated with that, and for like a year and a half we pissed off a lot of people because we would only do bars. We decided we’d just play really small shows at really cool bars for about a year. It was tough to get out of there, you can’t force anybody cool to pay attention to you. All you can do is your best. We definitely tried to come up with ideas, but it was all a little wishy-washy. You can’t plan much of it; you can only try.

DT: And what kind of daily grind went into finding a booking agent or manager outside of that scene? How do you pierce that wall?

Zach: I don’t know, we called around and we were just honest with people. We knew where we wanted to go, so we’d meet with managers and we’d tell them what we wanted. It was really funny, a lot of managers we met with were super “Hollywood,” and this is when we were dirt-poor and they were taking us out to super nice dinners. They were telling us how we were going to be on TV for our next record, and this and that and it all sounded so great. And then we met up with our [current] manager, Rich Holtzman, and first of all -he wouldn’t meet us, we had to go to his office . We went in there and we started talking to him and it was hilarious, he basically didn’t answer any of our questions. We were like, “We want to tour with bands we like and listen to, and not so much the scene anymore.” And he was like, “What do you want me to do? Get a booking agent.” It was really funny; he was kind of a dick to us. And afterward, we sat back and thought about it and we were like, “You know what? We kinda like the guy that was a dick to us. ” He told us we had to work our asses off, and he was right. We’ve been with him ever since.