Between the giggly banter and nonchalant profanities coming from the other end of the phone, I feel as though I’m catching up with an old friend. But I’m talking to John Gourley, lead singer for Portugal. The Man, and he’s joking about ill-fated fashion endeavors leading to horror and mockery from friends. This could be relatable, except that when it happens to me, it’s with shorts from Salvation Army, and Gourley is referencing his fitting for the Grammy Awards.
Portugal. The Man earned their first Grammy nomination this year for their runaway hit “Feel It Still” off their eighth studio album Woodstock. Even with that many albums under their belt, the band had not considered the possibility of a Grammy nomination. “Who would’ve thought?” Gourley snorts. “But, I feel so lucky. I get to sing this song for the rest of my life and it’s the biggest thing we’ve ever written,” he adds, taking a more serious tone.
While it took the band three years to put out Woodstock – the longest they’ve taken with any album – Gourley promises they’ve always put in the same effort. “I cannot handle comfort and that easy feeling of thinking something is fine. There needs to be some effort. You owe it to the people who listen to the music and you owe it to yourself to do better,” he says, an expectation he explains that was instilled in him by his dad. “He’d suggest I could do something better and it would be so frustrating but at the end of they day, yeah, you can always do better,” Gourley says.
With their biggest commercial success “Feel It Still,” Gourley knew the band had created something different. He says the process was natural and organic from the start, followed by a lot of edits in the studio in order to surpass the “that’s fine” accolade. “I like having fun in the studio but I always feel like there needs to be a little bit of pain for your art,” he says.
With the help of Mike D from the Beastie Boys and Asa Taccone of Electric Guest, Portugal. The Man created a magical piece of music with layers of cultural buoyancy laced throughout. Although Gourley admits that the integration of The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” melody helped the track gain initial success, the inclusion was far from calculated.
“I’ve always loved that melody,” he explains. “I grew up in Alaska and we lived hours away from any cities. On our two-hour trips to go get groceries we’d sing along with these songs and [including the melody] just had this really natural feeling to it,” he says. Incorporating the iconic Motown melody is an effort to bridge the divide between generations, even if a subtle effort. “I love the idea of sharing something that I grew up with and my parents grew up with and being able to connect with another generation,” he says. “Music is how you bridge gaps,” he adds. “We’re all the same. We’re all idiots.”
It’s this light-hearted and inclusive attitude that makes “Feel It Still” one of the most-played songs in pop music right now. As the singer of an unexpected pop hit, Gourley celebrates mainstream pop stars of past generations like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and today’s superstars like Rihanna. “Picking a melody, sticking with it and delivering it with honesty is one of the most difficult things to do in pop music,” he says. Where some musicians may consider themselves to be “too cool” to write pure pop music, Gourley relishes in his newfound commercial success. “We’re so proud. Do I think we’ll ever write another one? No… but it would be silly of me not to try to write another big song that I feel happy to sing,” he decides.
Whether or not they take home the Grammy this Sunday, Portugal. The Man will continue creating music they love and performing it for fans this summer at Boston Calling, Firefly Music Festival and others.