Portugal. The Man are riding a huge wave of momentum as a result of their song Feel It Still becoming their breakthrough hit.
The Alaskan five-piece has been slowly and steadily building a following for over a decade, and now eight albums in, Portugal. The Man have more buzz surrounding them than ever before.
Feel It Still has so far peaked at Number 42 on the Official Singles Chart and is on the cusp of bursting through the UK mainstream after eight weeks in the Top 100. This week saw the song crack the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 America thanks in part to its use on several major TV adverts - not too shabby for "just a bunch of weathered dudes from Alaska," as guitarist Eric Howk told us when we phoned him up for a chat.
Ahead of their sold-out show at Heaven in London tomorrow night (September 27), we spoke to Eric about Feel It Still's exposure on TV adverts, and getting accustomed to life on the pop charts.
Hi Eric! You guys are on a crazy schedule right now. Where are Portugal. The Man at the moment?
“We just had a whole bunch of crazy flights and were in beautiful Oceanside, California, but we’ve been flying the wrong way around the world and now I’m in a hotel in beautiful Lyon. I want to pronounce it lion but it’s actually lee-ohn.”
The band has been together since 2004; did you think Feel It Still would be the song that would go global?
“I should be telling you yes [laughs]. We knew it was different and we knew it was catchy. We showed it to friends and fellow musicians and they were digging it, but to predict the places that it would take us and the places that we hear it, of course not.
"We've ran out of superlatives when hearing about moving up a chart that we never thought we would hit, or it’s on a hip-hop playlist between Chance The Rapper and Jay Z. It boggles my brain. The short answer is yes. Of course we knew all along!”
It's been featured on adverts for things like the iPad Pro, which is massive in terms of exposure. How did that happen?
“It’s really funny you mentioned the iPad Pro because over in the States, the big thing everyone talks about is the Vitamin Water commercial with Aaron Paul, the guy who was Jesse Pinkman [a character in Breaking Bad], it’s just crazy. I hope I get a free iPad out of it.
“All of that came in a flood. We went after a handful of those opportunities and it turned out they all said yes to us! In terms of opportunity, we just wanted to reach as many places as best we could.
“As a result of all of this, now when we’re going into radio stations, they’re actually glad to have us. [laughs] The stations are as excited as the fans now and they’re treating us better. They’re like, ‘who needs coffee?’ or ‘can we set out some sandwiches for you?’ Still not super glamorous but it’s lovely.”
Do you have a favourite song that you discovered through a commercial?
“This is not commercials, but so much of my early music discovery – of course, we didn’t have Shazam when I grew up – was through old skateboarding VHS tapes passed around me and my friends. Sometimes, when the right song works for the right scene, I think it’s super rad.”
Not all bands chase chart success; was this kind of success always the goal for the band?
“There are certain charts we feel right at home at, but then there are surreal moments. We got Number 1 for alternative in terms of airplay here in the States, and that felt real. We’ve been working hard in this world for so long so Number 1 Alternative, alright!
“But then we see we’re on the Billboard Hot 100 in the Top 10, that just feels like a place that we absolutely do not belong. [laughs] Being next to the likes of Demi Lovato and Ariana Grande is fantastic – we’re just a bunch of weathered dudes from Alaska. We’ve got our foot in the door now, we’re not going to walk out quietly.”
Let’s talk songwriting. Feel It Still features an interpolation of Please Mr. Postman by The Marvelettes. How did that all come about?
“That whole thing is just something we wanted to work out for a long time. John [the band’s lead vocalist] and I tried to work out a direct Beatles cover of that song, it is such an amazing melody. It’s a combination of that and John having the lyrics around in his head.
“We were then working on something completely different and John walked out of the recording session and he just stepped into this side room and started thumping on the bassline and recorded it right away. Basically, that song was 60 minutes or less in the studio. That song was pretty much done in the time it takes to order a pizza and get it delivered.”
You guys are not the only ones with that tactic in the charts right now. Taylor Swift’s Look What You Made Me Do interpolates the melody from Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy...
“We didn’t sample the melody as such, more that we just ripped it off and told them about it. And they said ‘well, we’re gonna need some money’ so we said ‘sure, there you go’. [laughs] It’s all fine. This isn’t 1986 and we’re not Vanilla Ice.
“I don’t know if I would compare us directly to Taylor Swift but I would say that making references and talking about where you’re coming from, throwing little easter eggs in there, that can be used to great effect. I would hope now that kids are googling Please Mr. Postman and The Marvelettes and the next generation can hear it.”
Portugal. The Man's Feel It Still and their eight studio album Woodstock are both available now. They play London's Heaven on September 27.