Photos by Maclay Heriot
Talking to a band about their latest release alway conjures up a sense of triumph, relief, fear, resolution, defiance.
But John from Portugal. The Man talks it through a little differently. He’s currently in the middle of a nationwide tour of the US and is allowed 15 minutes to chat, so we cut straight to the chase to learn more about the production of their latest belter Woodstock.
When asked about the process of digesting feedback during each recording, he’s quick to say that it’s complicated. The band were fortunate enough to have some tracks recorded and produced by modern music’s mega hitters—but with dramatically different recording styles. Like Mike D from The Beastie Boys who, whenever there was hesitation about whether or not a track was hitting the mark, would reassure the guys with a proclamation of, “Just fuck shit up, fuck everything up!” And while hearing that from one of your hero’s is gold, it doesn’t always work for everyone. From the complete opposite end of the ring, in a different gym at the other end of the next town, was Bryan aka Danger Mouse suggesting more or less, “Nothing works, it’s all shit, keep working at it.”
As far as pinpointing goals for this album, John answers, “Oh hell no, it was super open, no goals. Man, we were having endless smoothies at Shangri-La with Rick Rubin for some of the time, no-one wants that to end!”
Throughout the recording process, they would eventually circle back to a producer they’d worked with on their 2011 offering, On the Mountain in the Cloud. John Hill’s contradictory approach was to challenge everything John presented, something that he came to relish. All the love, the hate, the conflict; it’s the kind of battle that John admits he needed to bring his best creative side out. John says this element of battle is ever present within the band as well.
He explains that the final choice of songs on the album was, “Down to a bag of tools and building a house, an analogy by my Dad. He made me think about things in a straightforward simple way; what will make this album the best?” It was after this conversation, that the band would go on to write six new songs, all of which feature on Woodstock.
John and his Dad also spent a lot of time chatting about the importance of protest songs, and the impact of documentary The Power of Song, by Pete Seegar. “Each album has had at least one protest song, a song we are aware that will ruffle some opinions. Shake things up,” says John.
Somehow, the band has managed to find their voice somewhere between all these different worlds. And this is really apparent on the album. It’s a crafted side show of carefully curated songs, all mastered perfectly. And through it all, I can’t help but think of how polar the vibes are from track to track. It’s you at 8am in the morning visiting your grandparents, it’s you at 3am after no sleep from 40 hours at a club, it’s you holding a remote control freaking out about the world at 9pm, it’s you taking the trash out on a vacation as the sun rises. We are made of all sorts of version of ourselves and this album reflects that.
And no band rocks the artistic boundaries more than PTM… Enjoy.