Portugal. The Man, the Wasilla grown, Portland brewed band has been around the world since they left the state almost 15 years ago. This weekend, they are returning to play two concerts at the Alaska Airlines Center with Grammy in hand.
“I’m excited to see some old friends because it all kind of started up there for us,” founding member and bass player, Zachary Carothers said. “We’ve taken it everywhere and it’s been so cool wherever we are to hear the stories of that area and see the artwork or the traditional clothing to hear the songs and the dances. To be a part of that has been really, truly amazing. It’s been the coolest year because we got to do that so much and I’m really excited to bringing our show back up to Alaska.”
Carothers hasn’t been to Alaska since he visited his family and friends over the holidays. He said that he flies up once a year for that but hasn’t been able to spend very much time up here, just brief stints.
“It’s very strange, we haven’t got to slow down in a very long time,” Carothers said.
He said that he regularly brings friends up to show him where he grew up with him whenever he comes up but it’s been a while since he’s been here in late October.
“I don’t really know what to do with them as much. I’m like, ‘it’s kind of a rough time of the year, you can’t go fishing, you can’t go skiing. It’s good drinking weather though,” he laughed.
Portugal. The Man began as Anatomy of Ghost back in 2001, playing alongside other young, small town bands at churches and other venues. Carothers, John Gourley, Joe Simon, Dewey Halpaus, and Nick Simon, were the founding members. They changed their name and eventually left the state in 2004 to Portland, pursuing music and chasing novelty.
The band has released 9 albums thus far. Their newest album ‘Woodstock’ features ‘Feel it Still’, the song that earned them their first Grammy Award earlier this year. Carothers said they will be recording their upcoming album, planning to release it next year.
“We’ve obviously had a big year and were exiting to make new music,” he said. “We won’t rush it but we don’t like waiting very long.”
The band has evolved over time, thanks to constant exposure to new and inventive artists around Portland and on the road. Carothers said that looking back, each album was a learning experience for the band, “like school.”
“We didn’t know we could do this for a living or how long it would last. We just wanted to see the world and play music,” Carothers said.
Carothers said that the band is currently using their platform to spread awareness for suicide and mental illness, particularly for ingenious and displaced peoples.
It began up here in Shishmaref with some friends of the lead singer, Gourley, according to Carothers. After some talk and thought, they all became friends and started to raise awareness about that particular community and eventually started doing the same while on tour.
“We kind of started doing some things, raising awareness for that specific community and as we’ve travelled the world, we’ve seen the extent of colonization and the mistreatment of hurt nation’s people on the other side of the world- say in Australia, with the aboriginals down there. Just seeing how the stories are almost exactly the same on the other side of the world,” he said.
Carothers said the band engages in “land acknowledgments” before each show to invite ingenious or displaced people to get up on stage and share their story, however it may come out.
“We’ve got a platform and we’ve got an audience so we would just like to donate a little but if time and it’s been so amazing. That’s such a great opportunity for us and the audience. It’s completely different every night, sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes it’s lectures, sometimes it’s a beautiful statement, sometimes it’s beautiful/traditional dancing or singing,” Carothers said.
He said that growing up in a small town there wasn’t very much outside influence and even the local indigenous people’s stories seemed like they needed more help being told.
“When I was growing up, I thought the Alaska Native art was very, very cool and I was drawn to it,” Carothers said. “They don’t often have voice, we want people to just remember and respect the land we’re all on is not really ours.”
Carothers said he and the band have talked about moving back to Alaska but they seem to agree that they still have a lot more land to cover before they make that call.
“There’s just something about Alaska and Alaskans that’s really amazing… They’re tough people,” he said.
Carothers said that he misses the people and even missed the cold as well as the strong sense of independence juxtaposed with a strong sense of community.
“If everything goes as planned I do plan on dying up there,” he laughed.
Carothers said that he has at least two go-to destinations to show people where he grew up and the places that still hold nostalgic and cathartic energy.
“I gotta go to Hatcher Pass and I gotta’ to Girdwood — every time,” he said.
Carothers said that in high school, he, Gourley and their friends would try to go up Hatcher Pass as much as they could, all the year round. He recalled the early days of when he and Gourley would play music around campfires and talk about their dreams and original visions of where they wanted the music to take them. He said that places like Hatcher Pass were where their plans cemented and their aspirations were affirmed. He is eager to return to those places during his short time up here.
“Everything just melts away,” Carothers said.
The original concept Gourley cooked up was supposed to be a cross between the Wu Tang Clan and The Beatles, according to Carothers. He said that listening to the Wu Tang Clan in particular was a pivotal moment that opened up their minds to other sounds, the soulful and experimental tracks that would often splice in an old movie quote or vintage melody. He said it felt familiar yet all new at the same time.
“I saw the past, present and future,” Carothers said.
Portugal. the Man is set to perform this Friday, and Saturday at Alaska Airlines Center 7 p.m. Tickets are sold out. The Alaska State Legislature recently passed a proclamation honoring Portugal. the Man for their Grammy win and will present it to the band on Friday night.