Author: Novak, Jessica
Date published: May 25, 2011
Journal code: SYNT
John Gourley, singer and guitarist of progressive rock band Portugal. The Man, is different than many young touring musicians. He was raised in Alaska (Wasilla, exactly, home of Sarah Palin) and dropped out of school when he was 15 to build houses with his father. He grew up on a steady diet of oldies rock including Sam Cooke and The Beatles, but Gourley also loved the cover band that featured his friend Zach Carothers (now his bassist and vocalist with PTM), with its repertoire of Nirvana, Slayer and Rage Against the Machine songs. He grew up with a piano, violin and guitar in his house, but never learned how to play them. And he didn't know that people slept past 8 a.m. until he was about 19 years old.
"Even when we're on tour I don't usually sleep past 9 a.m.," Gourley says. "I only did because I got mono. Usually, I'll wake up at 8 and the guys will be like, 'Get the fuck out of the room! Go somewhere else!' I've been trying to go with the flow a little bit more and sleep in, though."
Gourley should be wide awake when Portugal. The Man (yes, the period is deliberate, frustrating proofreaders everywhere) performs at the Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St., on Saturday, May 28, 8 p.m. Also on the bill: Telekinesis and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Tickets are $14, available at www. thewestcotttheater.com and The Sound Garden, 310 W. Jefferson St.
Although Gourley's rock'n'roll lifestyle might be different than the stereotype, his band's recent signing to Atlantic Records is a triumph. With acts like Ray Charles, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, The Rolling Stones and a little band named Led Zeppelin among others having passed through the Atlantic doors, the opportunity to join that list became an honor.
"When we first got the call we didn't want to do it," Gourley said. "It had nothing to do with Atlantic. It had to do with the fact that we were putting out records at our pace and it really makes me feel crazy to not work and when you're in a situation like that, it's a partnership. But Atlantic was one of the few labels that I would flip out to go to and now that I'm there - they're the coolest people-I feel really lucky that all this happened and it's working the way it is."
After Portugal. The Man played Bonnaroo 2009, they talked with Atlantic for about nine months until finally an agreement was reached. "That's a long time to talk about working together," Gourley recalled. "They were really, really patient with us and they didn't need to be."
As a result, Portugal. The Man will release their Atlantic debut album In The Mountain Cloud on July 19. The current tour will bring the band from Portland, Ore., to Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., and Lollapalooza in Chicago.
After their stateside tour, the boys will head overseas for more promotion. "I was so shy growing up. I never wanted to go to Europe," he said. "I was just so afraid of the outside world. It was something I never wanted to do and now I feel so grateful to have done it and still be doing it. I really hope everybody in the band appreciates it."
Gourley's earnest attitude is especially admirable considering what the band has been through during their five years of being together. They've released five albums, two EPs and performed nearly 1,000 shows - all while eating from a rice cooker daily.
"Every day we would buy a bag of rice and a dollar bag of vegetables from the store," he said. "That was dinner and lunch every day, if we could afford to do lunch. It was a hard lifestyle to keep up. It really does take commitment. We didn't have other jobs. All we did was play music. It's all I've done for the past nine years."
When Portugal. The Man visits Central New York, they'll even be getting a little taste of home: Both Gourley's parents are from Morrisville, but didn't meet until they found each other in Alaska. "My cousin will be coming to the show," he said. "I really love Central New York. It's one of the coolest spots in the country."
Crowds can expect "big highs and soft lows" from the show, something the group works on in the spirit of Pink Floyd, one of their favorite bands. "We're big Pink Floyd fans," Gourley said. "It's all about creating an experience, without sounding pretentious. It's about setting a mood, making something happen. Not just being there."