“It comes up all the time,” John Gourley says via telephone when I ask him to explain the name of his band. They call themselves “Portugal. The Man.” “It’s pretty off the wall, but at the time when we were coming up with a band name it made perfect sense to us.” Gourley says they wanted to give the band a “larger-person feel, like Ziggy Stardust or Sgt. Pepper.” I feel sheepish. At first I actually thought that “Portugal. The Man” was a dude, much the way my parents thought Jethro Tull or Pink Floyd were the names of actual persons and not entire bands.
Gourley is 27 and grew up in Alaska. “We had rabbit ears for our television antenna,” he says. “We lived out in the middle of nowhere — the most random places — because of my father’s work. We spent a lot of time in the car on long drives, just to get anywhere. We listened to oldies rock on the car radio, and the most-played group on oldies rock radio is the Beatles.” Hence one of Gourley’s influences. “It’s kind of a cop-out because everybody listens to the Beatles, but I love every album.” He says Abbey Road is his favorite.
Portugal’s sound is experimental avant-pop rock with a smattering of soul. “When I was in high school and first starting to drive by myself, I listened to Wu Tang in the car, and I recognized their soul and R&B roots. They took the best and chopped it up and made music that transcended all that.”
Gourley says he finally left Alaska when he turned 21. That’s when he began touring with his band. “Up until then,” he says, “I was too shy to play music.”
RX Bandits headline.
PORTUGAL. THE MAN, Soma, Saturday, August 30, 8 p.m. 619-226-7662. $7 advance; $13 door.