A lot of bands come through imogene + willie, whether it’s to shop for jeans or to play a few tunes in our big backyard. We love and appreciate them all, of course, but we hold a special place in our hearts (and on the store iPod) for Portugal. The Man.
Sure, we love Portugal. The Man’s music – it’s hard not to appreciate their atmospheric rock and roll – but it’s the guys making it who have made us the mega-fans we are, the fact that they have worn our clothes in public and on photo shoots more times than any of us can count notwithstanding.
PTM is in perpetual motion. The band is based in Portland, Oregon, but they travel. A lot. So we considered it a coup to pin down their super-stylish founder and front man John Gourley on the third night or the band’s five-week tour. (The guys will play the Cannery Ballroom here in Nashville on Thursday, April 26; earlier that day, the band – the rest of Gourley’s crew includes Zach Carothers, Kyle O’Quinn and Noah Gersh – will be hanging out at our store. Stay tuned for more details.)
While the rest of the PTM gang was loading in, the Alaska native took a few minutes to talk to i+w about movies, haircuts, Samuel L. Jackson, and natural cool – something that, despite his protestations, John Gourley has in spades.
John: We’re in Las Vegas. Reno was last night, and Boise the night before and after that, I guess it was El Paso. We were there pretty much the whole month of March.
I+W: Did you record in El Paso?
John: It’s actually Tornillo. There’s a really amazing studio there called Sonic Ranch. We made part of our last album there, and we ended up writing a bunch of new music this time. It was a pretty cool trip.
I+W: What’s it like in Tornillo – or, rather, what’s the shopping like in Tornillo?
John: (Laughs) I wouldn’t say there’s much. We got some chili mangos and that was about it. When you get out there, there’s nothing around for four square miles. You just kind of get closed off from everything.
I+W: I can imagine that it was nice to be out in the middle of the desert, with no one around, right before you head out on tour, when you’ll be surrounded by people constantly.
John: It’s actually terrifying when you come back (from the solitude of Tornillo). (Laughs) We had gone into town a few times to pick up a things for the studio or to the grocery stores, but I don’t think we were all prepared for leaving there this time. It felt like we actually had to take time to adjust back into the real world.
I+W: And you’re even from a small town. Alaska, right?
John: I’m from a bunch of small towns. I moved around quite a bit growing up. Alaska was a pretty great place (to grow up). I actually really, really love it there. It’s so funny: growing up there, we had TV and we watched Sesame Street and all those things, but I definitely had those feelings that maybe my family was just away from it. I knew we were still in America and that we were a part of the culture and everything, but we really weren’t. It’s was just kind of us sitting out there, pretending that we are.
John: Yeah, Wasilla is where I went to high school and middle school. I was there for a while.
I+W: During your formative years.
John: Yeah, exactly. My dad built hotels, and we used to go where he was building. Small towns. When I was eight or nine, there was this point where there were only two other kids in my grade. I think there were like 30 or 40 kids in the whole school. But, because we were in a hotel, we had cable TV for the first time.
Around this time, my uncle sent me his huge, huge movie collection. I think that’s when I really got into music and fashion and things like that. It all seems very relative to me. I think the fashion stuff I love came from sci-fi movies: I love the costumes and the cool that comes along with them. I guess that’s when music and art and everything came together for me. I remember my dad watching Pulp Fiction. We’d hang out and watch old Westerns and war movies. There was something so new and so fresh about them, without them even being new.
I+W: Speaking of sci-fi… Let’s talk about some of your haircuts. Looking back through pictures of you, it’s so interesting to see how your hair has changed over the years. Some of the cuts are so awesome!
John: (Laughs) I always look back at photos and laugh and just make fun of everything. Like, “What were you thinking wearing that cardigan sweater? It’s too hot to be wearing all those layers. And your hair is just ridiculous and frizzed out!” Three years ago, I grew out my hair simply because it didn’t look good. I remembered digging through my dad’s record collection and seeing the Beatles with short hair and then with long hair. So I said (to the band), “We should have that period in the band where I just, like, grow out my hair.” I decided to do it. It’s fun for us now.
I+W: There is a photo I saw online where you have on a sweater that made me think of Flash Gordon. It’s purple, black and green with this graphic pattern on the sleeve. Do you know what I’m talking about?
John: I don’t. I’ve got piles and piles of clothes that I picked up on tour. We go to thrift stores all the time, and it’s like $1 for a sweater sometimes. You buy this stuff and it just goes into a closet. There have been some points when I’d just grab whatever and put it on, just to see if it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. (Laughs) I can admit that.
I+W: It takes a big man to admit that. What do you wear on tour? Do your choices have any rhyme or reason?
John: Yeah, I guess so. Some people have this really, really natural cool. That’s not me. There are not many people that have it. It just doesn’t really exist outside of the handful – like Pete Doherty and Julian Casablancas. It’s always the punk bands that can somehow just throw on that extra large, torn up Garfield “I Hate Mondays” T-shirt and make it look cool. Keith Richards is one of those guys, too.
Do you know Unknown Mortal Orchestra? They went out on tour with us a while back. There’s a guy named Ruban in the band that has this tattoo of an eyeball on his neck, but he dresses almost completely normal. He has that natural cool. He wears things a little bit different than everyone else. Even at Urban Outfitters, if he gets the same outfit as the kid working behind the counter and wears it the same way, somehow it’s just not the same.
I wish I had natural cool, but I don’t think I’d know what to do with it if I did. (Laughs) With me just, if I like something I get it.
I+W: I think you’ve got pretty great style!
John: It’s just fun. (My outfits) are always related to something – a movie or a show or a picture or whatever it is.
John: There’s obviously a lot of style in that movie. That’s what Quentin Tarantino does. It’s just his thing. It’s so specific, yet so broad; it’s new, but it’s old. He has really influenced my music as well, just through his approach to film and filmmaking. It’s showing those reference points and paying homage to things he loves, but also really delivers it.
Like Samuel L. Jackson in that movie: he was so over the top, but everything he did was just cool. It didn’t matter that he was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
I+W: (Laughs) I’d forgotten about that scene with him in the boxers!
John: Yeah! See, that’s that natural cool. Style, to me is just different for each person. I can look at so many wild things that I would never ever even think to wear and say, “That looks really amazing. I can’t wear it, but that looks really good.” For me, it’s not really about specifics as much as it is just, “That worked.” That’s just the way it came together, this time.
For tour dates, music, videos, and more information about Portugal. The Man, visit www.portugaltheman.com, www.facebook.com/portugaltheman or follow them on Twitter @PortugalTheMan. Buy tickets to the Cannery Ballroom show here.