What is it about Portugal The Man that makes them stand out, that separates them from every other rock band?

Is it due to an unconventional upbringing in the magical and menacing tundra of the Land of the Northern Lights? Maybe it has something to do with their visceral live shows, their effortless ability to create concert experiences that differ wildly from night to night. Or perhaps it’s due to the bond they actively forge with their ever-growing fan base evidenced by their showing up to in-store signings, radio stations or interviews with personalized paintings for their supporters.

In other words, Portugal The Man isn’t a band, it’s a movement—and a force this strong could only be born out of a place as icy and isolated as Wasila, Alaska. While those of us who grew up in the Continental United States were raised on Saturday Morning Cartoons and sugary cereal, PTM front man John Gourley’s upbringing was unorthodox. He spent a good deal of his youth exploring nature in one of the few virtually untouched territories left in the world. “Alaska is the prettiest place I’ve ever been,” explains Gourley, whose striking enigmatic vision makes its mark on all of the Portugal The Man’s CD packaging, merch designs, videos, photos and posters. “I think that environment has had a huge impact on our music.”

Although Alaska is a decidedly conservative state, Gourley grew up as the child of two hippie parents, also one of the few husband-and-wife teams who ran the Iditarod, Alaska’s annual dogsled race. John and his family lived in a remote cabin that needed a generator to provide electricity and had no phone. Thankfully, the generator provided enough juice to power the family’s record player, and instead of getting caught up in mainstream hip-hop which permeated his hometown, he was raised on his parents’ very limited record collection, poring over albums by the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Zombies, and Motown artists at a young age and being encouraged to explore his own inner creativity, which eventually lead to his joining Anatomy Of The Ghost with bassist Zach Carothers in 2002. When that band broke up in 2004, Portugal The Man rose out of the ashes.

“We climbed up those banks from our place in the shade, built us a fire but never knew what we made .”

Taken from “Oh Lord”

“These days, it seems like there are either bands that don’t care about the way they look or they care way too much about how they look and lose track of the music,” Gourley explains about Portugal The Man’s unique aesthetic, which relies less on fancy press shots and more on abstract imagery which Gourley dreams up after carefully analyzing the band’s music. “If you can write a song you should be able to try to visualize it,” he adds—and anyone who has seen the band’s inventive video for “AKA M80 The Wolf,” will certainly concur.

A huge departure from 2004’s drum-machine and sequencer-heavy Waiter: You Vultures!, Church Mouth is an organic rock record that transcends genres by managing to reference seemingly disparate acts such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the White Stripes, the Mars Volta and Santana without sounding dated or derivative of any particular act. In other words, it paints a picture without spelling anything out. As the title might suggest, the album also ambiguously centers on political and religious themes (see lines like “Oh, I’ll dance on the cross from ‘Sugar Cinnamon’”). However, the stylistic and ideological hallmarks of the album are less important then the feeling you get listening to Church Mouth.

“We feel like this record is a better representation of who we are now,” explains Carothers, attributing the band’s recent evolution to the amount of touring they’ve logged in the past few years. “Also, our first-ever tour of Europe last year made quite an impression on us and that certainly affected the way we write music. When we went into the studio, we barely had any material,” he elaborates about the unorthodox writing approach that went into Church Mouth, which was produced by the band’s self-described fourth member, Casey Bates. “We’re never totally sure what it’ll sound like, but that’s more fun for us because we just get to come up with ideas off the top of our heads and just kind of wing it,” he adds. “It keeps us on our toes as musicians.”

“It never ever rains if you never cry and you never have to mourn if you never ever die.”

Taken from “Sleeping Sleepers Sleep”

From the funky-soul-prog feel of “Sugar Cinnamon” (think an updated version of the MC5 but with effects pedals) to psychedelic groove of “Oh Lord” to more melody-driven yet equally intense rockers like “Shade” and “Children,” to the powerful gospel refrain of “Dawn,” Church Mouth is a versatile disc that spans rock’s history without resorting to self-indulgent genre exercises. “We tried to keep any small harmless mistakes in the recording,” explains the trio’s drummer Jason Sechrist. “Little things like that are what makes a song sound live and whole, instead of a bunch of tracks on ProTools,” he continues. “We want to bring most of the stuff on the album to the live shows this time around—and I think we are ready to pull it off.”

Although the band has already shared the stage with Throwing Muses, Grizzly Bear, mewithoutYou, Circa Survive, Fear Before The March Of Flames and Fall Of Troy, with Church Mouth, Portugal The Man has transcended the restrictions of scenes and eras to create music that’s unparalleled in its ambition and uniqueness

“When the band started,” explained Gourley, “it was much more beat-based, we wanted to be a Beatles meets Wu-Tang. But things evolved, we added a drummer and learned how to play live and we found a place where we were comfortable musically. That was a rhythm based rock band that maintained the ideals of Soul and Hip-Hop, or at least our interpretation of them. For the most part our songs are written the perspective of the bass groove.”

With Church Mouth, the band has come one step closer to fully realizing that goal. However, ultimately music is meant to be listened to and not analyzed, so sit back, relax and let Portugal The Man take you on a voyage through the landscape of their collective consciousness. Like the sprawling, ice-filled landscapes of the Alaskan outback where Gourley strummed his first acoustic guitar, we promise it’ll take your breath away.

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