It’s been four years since Portugal. the Man released an album. But 2017 marks the year Portugal will present us with something new. This year, fans will be greeted with a more hip-hop influenced and heavier produced LP than what we’ve seen from Portugal in the previous years. After some speculation and rumors the album title has been revealed —Woodstock. The Portland band has released four singles from the album before its due date of June 16 — the day before their two Denver shows. Something noticeably different with this one is that there are multiple featured artists — Son Little, Mike D of Beastie Boys, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane, Final Destination 3) and once again, Danger Mouse (Brian Burton). The group, half-jokingly, claimed they wanted to create an album that captures the “avalanche of flaming biohazard material sliding down a mountain of used needles into a canyon full of rat feces” that is our current world.
We sat down with Kyle O’Quin, the keyboard component of Portugal. the Man (from 2012 to present) about what we should expect from the new album.
“We’re growing up so we have a lot more real things to say. And shit is fucked up right now — that’s probably what took us so long.” – O’Quin
303 Magazine: You’re about to release a new album — Woodstock. How are you feeling?
Kyle O’Quin: Super excited. I think this is the most excited we’ve ever been to release an album — and we have a lot of albums. It’s a good feeling. I don’t think everybody always has that feeling when they have an album come out. We’re fuckin’ stoked, dude.
303: Why is this the album you’re most excited about?
KO: It’s easily the best album we’ve made. Our mentality — we just want to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. That’s our only goal and we do it day by day. The lyrics are a lot more potent on this album. Not to say the other ones were not potent, but we’re growing up so we have a lot more real things to say. And shit is fucked up right now — that’s probably what took us so long. People ask us, “You know you did an album in a year, what took so long with this one — with four [years]?” The reality is that we recorded four albums in music. We did an album in a year we just never released it. We did a bunch of songs with Mike D, we did a bunch of songs with Danger Mouse, we went back in the studio with John Hill who produced In the Mountain, In the Clouds. There were just so many ideas that I feel like we took the best of everything. Like that Michael Jackson approach — you write 30 songs like on Thriller and pick the 10 best.
303: What was your inspiration behind the interactive music video for “Feel It Still?”
KO: The idea was we have a ton of Easter eggs in the video. I remember I was like, “This is crazy. You can do this shit?” You hit these things and it takes you to support the ACLU or support refugees. What I really liked about the concept is because it’s not in your face. I don’t like it when people push religion on me or push their politics or beliefs on me, and in that light, we want to share our beliefs without it being pushy. So with the Easter eggs, they have to find it if they’re interested and I like that. We’re saying make whatever decision you want.
303: What’s the story behind the album art?
KO: Josh Welch, who we know through the Flaming Lips, was on vacation with his family in Los Angeles driving to Disney Land, and he candidly took that photo out of his window as he was driving by — of the Rolls-Royce on fire. I remember being on his Instagram in 2013 or ’14 and being like, “Whoa, I can’t believe he took that just driving by.” Years later we just hit him up. The cliche — a picture says a thousand words — shit, cliches are cliches for a reason. Like, let’s burn this motherfucker down. Our name’s not on the front [of the album] because it doesn’t have to be. I was just reading about how most people overcame dictatorships is by not having someone represent the resistance — there’s not a leader per say. Whenever they’d get caught they’d say, “I’m one of 20,000 leaders.” It lets people know that other people aren’t afraid of speaking up.
303: You worked with Mike D from Beastie Boys on this album. How did that happen?
KO: We met through mutual friends. We were on tour and had a day off in New York. Everyone was like, “Hey, do you wanna go into the Beastie Boys studio?” and we were like, “Of course. What kind of fucking questions is that?” [laughs]. We went to the store [first] and had asked Mike if he needed anything and he asked for a pretzel. Me and Zach were in the store and didn’t know what kind of pretzel to get him. I was like, “Fuck, should I just get him all the pretzels? I don’t want to get him the wrong pretzel.” We were so starstruck. Not just because he’s in the Beastie Boys but because Zach and John literally met over the Beastie Boys. That is ingrained in why we’re even a band. What’s really cool about working with guys like Brian (Danger Mouse) and Mike is that both of them have played in bands before. They’re not just producers in studios making decisions, they’ve played everywhere you’ve played and more. There’s something refreshing about that. It’s not just some dude in Los Angeles that wears sunglasses inside [laughs]. … In New York, we went into his studio and he was like, “It’s your day off, you don’t want to record music, huh?” And we were like, “Set that shit up!” We recorded all day — it was awesome. We ended up connecting and stayed at his house for a month straight. It was the start of a lot of the recording, and it set the tone for this definitely being the most hip-hop and most different [LP]. You get the same vibe from Brian, even though he’s a rock guy. You have to make a Demon Dayz and a Gray Album. Danger Doom — ya know?
303: Seems like you’ve committed to Danger Mouse now having recorded two records with him now. Would you say that’s true?
KO: 100 percent. He and Mike are both incredibly smart guys. We’ve learned a lot from them. It was really fun starting with Mike because we love hip-hop music, even though I’d say we’re a rock band. I mean, it’s so hard to define a genre. But it sets the tone of, “We want to make something different.” It’s different than every album we’ve ever made in the best way possible.
303: What’s your favorite song on the new album and why?
KO: That’s a tough one. Probably “So Young.” It’s just fucking cool, man. It’s really minimal and to me, it’s a throwback. I really like the lyrics on it. Any band — their biggest song — is always their least favorite. My favorite song won’t be any kind of radio song, but “So Young,” it’s just so cool.
Portugal. the Man will be playing the Bluebird with Boogarins on June 17 and Red Rocks with Local Natives and Car Seat Headrest on June 18. Tickets are available here for the Red Rocks show, but the Bluebird bundle is sold-out.
This interview has been edited and condensed for formatting and length purposes.