“In a second here, I’m going to set the phone down,” warns Zachary Carothers, gripping a golf club for the first time in a dozen years.
He’s getting ready to take his swing.
“I’m probably going to hit a bunch of houses to my right,” the Portugal. The Man bassist says while hitting the links on the Oregon coast during a late-summer afternoon. “I remember having a mean slice.”
He’s going to go for it anyway.
That’s just the way these dudes do it, in song and recreation alike, following their whimsy as freely as a balloon riding a breeze to who knows where.
As such, Portugal. The Man often sounds like a half-dozen different bands compressed into one, like layers of sediment compacted into a gemstone.
The band’s latest disc, the fantastic “Evil Friends,” exemplifies as much.
Take the album closer “Smile,” for instance.
The song begins with some whistling that seems as if it’s coming from a far-off place, tendrils of acoustic guitar and soft, vulnerable singing, as if frontman John Gourley was trying not to wake someone dozing off next to him in the vocal booth.
By tune’s end, it’s all peals of rocket-blast guitar and octopus-armed drumming before ending abruptly, as if the power was suddenly cut to the band’s amps.
In between, there are horns and strings and piano and what feels like three distinct movements within the confines of a five-minute song.
This is how “Evil Friends” unfolds, in multiple directions at once.
It’s poppy and psychedelic, pretty and jarring, hopeful and dire.
The record, the band’s seventh, was tracked by Danger Mouse (Brian Burton), the celebrated producer-musician whose credits range from Gorillaz to The Black Keys, and who helped Portugal. The Man create their most immediate yet textured album.
The group was self-producing an album in El Paso, Texas, when they learned that Burton was available, shelving all their work up to that point save for two songs.
“We definitely knew that we wanted to make something fresh, that we wanted to go in a new direction,” Carothers says of the decision to start anew with Burton. “We really, really tried to focus on the songwriting. We took a lot more time than we normally do with it. It was a pretty amazing experience.”
Carothers equates the band’s songwriting process to raising a child.
“At some point, the song just has a life of its own and you’re really just holding the reins and try to steer it in the direction it goes,” he says. “Often times, we’ll have an idea, and right off the bat it ends up completely different than we thought. We always have ideas going into it, but a lot of those ideas get shattered right away.”
Basically, everything is up for grabs at all times — right down to who plays what.
“Everybody plays everything in the studio,” Carothers says. “I play bass, but if somebody has an idea and picks up a bass, I don’t care at all. It’s all about whatever is best for the song. We’ll come up with an idea, and it’s, ‘Who’s closest to that instrument right now? Hop on it. Let’s see what happens.’ ”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.