Portugal. The Man’s Zachary Carothers on Releasing Oregon City Sessions

“We're just trying not to be too precious with things anymore … Rock and roll is not perfect. If you want perfect music, don't listen to Portugal. The Man.”

By Gabriel Granillo February 25, 2021

(from left to right) Zoe Manville, John Gourley, Jason Sechrist, Zachary Carothers, and Eric Hawk of Portugal. The Man. 

The year was 2008. Two years into their life as a band (long before they sold out with Grammy-winning singles and collabs with Weird Al), Portugal. The Man had released three full-lengths, one EP, and a handful of singles. In between a US tour and recording a new album, The Satanic Satanist, PTM took a detour to Oregon City. There they recorded rough live performances of songs from past releases, including Church Mouth and Waiter: "You Vultures!". Some clips had found their way onto YouTube or Soundcloud, but they mostly remained tucked away in the band's archive ... until now.

On Friday, February 26, Portugal. The Man will livestream the entire Oregon City Sessions for free on YouTube and Twitch, and if you're a PTM Coin holder (the band's new crypto currency-based fan club) you can join them on the PTM Discord channel for "Backstage Hangout" co-viewing and Q&A. The band will also release the Oregon City Sessions on vinyl and CD in June. 

Portland Monthly spoke with bassist Zachary Carothers about recording the Oregon City Session back in 2008, how Portugal. The Man has changed since then, and why they're releasing the long-coveted recording now.

Portland Monthly: The Oregon City Sessions was recorded at the tail end of a tour right before recording The Satanic Satanist. What were those conversations like about recording something like the Oregon City Sessions, and how did it all come about?

Zachary Carothers: Everything that we do when it comes to recordings or videos or writing a song, we're always just trying to take a snapshot of a moment. That's what all of our albums have ever been and anything that we've done. What's funny about it is that when it comes to stuff like this, a lot of times we'll record a show, and then in the time that it takes to get things mixed and mastered and finalized, we're always just like playing different things or onto a new thing. It's always like, ‘Man, that's the old us,’ and so we never put anything out. So this is kind of a big deal, more than just shouting out back to some old stuff, it's kind of us letting go of some special moments. We're just trying not to be too precious with things anymore. I don't know why we were about [Oregon City Sessions] or so many other things, when you just gotta let that stuff go, and it is what it is, you know. Rock and roll is not perfect. If you want perfect music, don't listen to Portugal. The Man.  

It was a really fun time. We were very dirty. As Ryan [Neighbors in a video] put it, we all looked like a bunch of “wet dogs,” and we were all pretty much like living in a van. We weren't houseless but none of us had our own apartments or anything like that. We always had a roof over our head, whether it be a van or a friend's couch or a living room. We were just about to head home for for the holidays back to Alaska, so this was kind of our last thing of the year that we were doing. We were all tired and hungry, but very happy to go home and sleep comfortably and get some good home-cooked meals by our moms.

Where in Oregon City did you record these sessions and what drew you to the place?

Our buddy Jake Portrait brought it up, I believe he spent some time [there]. He's in Unknown Mortal Orchestra—and just a little fun fact, he recorded the very first Portugal. The Man demo ever, way back in like 2004. He just found this spot, and it looked super cool, out in the middle of nowhere in Oregon, all surrounded by woods, which is the stuff that we feel comfortable with. And a lot of the b-roll was taken back home in Alaska or hanging around down here [in Portland].

We were trying to capture some of our shows and how we played at the time but in a more isolated element and environment. We want to see what it looked like without all the sweat and booze and head banging and stuff, and see what kind of energy came across.

Each album [Portugal. The Man makes] is never really the same as the one that preceded it, and I imagine a lot of that comes from where you guys are in terms of your own personal interests and how you want to put yourself out there as creative people. When you guys think back on this period, on recording these sessions, do you remember what was at the forefront of your mind as a band? What stands out to you when you think back to this era?

I think we were just kind of trying to figure out how to make songs. Even though we'd already put out a few records, we had no idea what we were doing. We still don't. Like, every time we make a record, we just learn more and more, it's like another year at school or something. But we were kind of just to the point where we were just starting to figure things out, and it was very eye opening for us. We were getting to travel a ton and we were just really young and just learning as much as we could. I don't think we had processed a lot of what we had learned or picked up, but it's kind of fun to see that just sitting there, still soaking in it, and not really knowing yet.

Yeah, we like to change genres a lot. We like it because—you don’t really know who you want to be or what you want to say yet, and you don't have to decide. You can always be something different. That's what people do, man. We evolve, and we change all the time. And instead of kind of sticking to your guns and doing that old thing we just accept that. And, like a lot of things, you find out where you're right and where you’re wrong and that's how you move forward, I think.

Zachary Carothers (left) and John Gourley of Portugal. The Man 

Did you have any strong goals at that time and were they any different from how you guys activate yourselves now? Do you sense a change in the attitude of where you guys see yourselves or where you want to be?

Yeah, we were totally like dogs chasing cars at the time. We just did anything and everything because we were just hungry for the experience. And after a while that got incredibly tiring, playing like 300 shows a year and coming back through and not really putting a lot of reason behind the things that we did. Honestly we were just out there having fun. And that's what I think is so special, because since then, we've had a blast, but it's definitely turned into more thoughtful things, and we know so much more now, so there is so much more strategy involved in things. And this just takes us back to a time where we just played a basement for beer or for no reason whatsoever. I miss that kind of stuff and just having fun with music and not taking yourself so goddamn seriously all the time. We never want to do that. Sometimes it sounds like we do, but we really try not to. 

I think, in our coronavirus reality, we're all—and especially working, touring musicians—craving live performance and the creativity and vitality that comes from watching someone perform live. I wonder if that had anything to do with why you guys are releasing this now.

Absolutely. For one, nothing clears your mind like no options, and we can't really play shows right now. But we've always wanted to keep on putting out things. And in this time it's just harder to figure out what to do. We’ve done a few live streams for some causes and things, but I think we're just digging back in the pantry … We were looking for something specifically cool to put out that is old that is for our fans that have been there forever. And the whole Discord server and all fan club with [PTM Coin], it is all for those people that invested in us early on, the people that let us sleep on our on their floors back in 2007. And a lot of the kids that I know by name that are still, to this day, like the first 10 people in line that show up at like two in the afternoon … So, we're just kind of getting back to our old school fans and back to our roots.

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