Jazz Aspen Labor Day Experience: Portugal. The Man
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
Who: Portugal. The Man
Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience, Snowmass Town Park
When: Friday, Aug. 30, 6 p.m.
How much: $119.95 and up
More info: The set will be followed by Weezer at 8 p.m.
Not long after “Feel It Still” became a record-breaking hit and a mainstream breakthrough for the stalwart indie band Portugal. The Man, the group started selling T-shirts reading “I liked Portugal. The Man before they sold out.”
This self-own piece of merch nods to the fact that the band — long a favorite of the Top 40-averse — was now, somehow, everybody’s favorite. Of course, this wasn’t the plan for the Alaska-born, Portland, Oregon-based band: from the annoyingly placed period in their name to the mercurial genre-hopping sound, nothing about them was pining for pop stardom and its riches since their 2006 debut.
“Feel It Still” last year broke the record as the longest-reigning No. 1 song on Billboard’s Alternative chart, staying on top for 20 weeks. The band will headline the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience on Friday evening.
The upbeat, danceable and infectious pop of “Feel It Still” emerged from scraps of previously abandoned songs as the group was recording its 2017 album “Woodstock.” A lyric the band had tried to work with — “I’m a rebel just for kicks” — had gone through many permutations over the years, including a session with the Beastie Boys’ Mike D producing, before landing in the chorus of this destined-for-greatness single
After several permutations over three years, they brought the idea to Asa Taccone, singer for Electric Guest, who pushed the song over the finish line and co-produced it with John Hill.
“We were just hanging out and it was coming along and then that lyric came back from a few years ago,” synth player Kyle O’Quin said during a tour stop in Aspen before the release of “Woodstock.” “We always have some core ideas and we never know when or how it’s going to come out.”
The band has released an innovative, interactive video for the song, linking to social justice organizations and allowing the viewer to find “tools for resistance.” The video includes clickable Easter eggs that provide a direct phone number to the White House, explanations of the rights of protesters, donation sites for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, protest poster designs and stencil kits for protest graffiti.
“We feel strongly about our opinions on things, but we don’t like to overtly push our politics — just like I don’t like it when people push religion on me,” O’Quin said. “I think the stuff in our new video is cool because it’s not in your face and it just lets you find ways to help people if you’re interested.”
That video has garnered some 250 million YouTube views to date, and Portugal. The Man has used its new global platform. Earlier this month, the band joined up with the snowsports climate change activist organization Protect Our Winters for a benefit concert and film screening in Jackson.
The “Woodstock” album itself — tracks of dark pop frequently infused with hip-hop — was a response to the cultural chaos and political upheaval of the early Trump era. The band actually scrapped an entire new album and recorded the “Woodstock” tracks to directly address this fraught moment.
“I think this record is the best record we’ve done,” O’Quin said of “Woodstock.” “I think it’s got the best message, the best lyrics. We’re really proud of it. And it’s definitely inspired by the shit that’s been going on in the world. It’s pretty heavy.”
The scrapped album was titled “Gloomin + Doomin.” They planned to release it until lead singer and guitarist John Gourley took a trip home to Wasila, Alaska, that changed the band’s plans. Gourley saw his father’s original ticket stub from Woodstock in 1969, talked to his dad about that watershed festival and the impact of music on the social movements of the time. Looking at an America tearing itself apart again, he rethought the kind of music he wanted Portugal. The Man to make right now.
“That was kind of the inspiration for it,” O’Quin said. “It seemed like a time when music, in the culture, couldn’t be more prevalent and important.”
The band has trashed whole albums before, he said. Before the artistic triumph of 2013’s Danger Mouse-produced “Evil Friends,” they discarded another full record.
“Sometimes we have to write 15 good songs to get the five right ones,” he said.