Weird karma

Portugal.The.Man’s founding bassist Zach Carothers on life in the band


Zach Carothers was a few minutes late for our phone chat a couple of weeks ago, uncharacteristic of a guy who is usually punctual to a fault fulfilling his role as Portugal.The.Man’s unofficial spokesman. Carothers is an affable bloke, always at ease with press types and, despite the band’s burgeoning fortunes over the last half-dozen years, still resistant to the inevitable rote tedium of checking in with every newspaper in the free world.

“I’ve been driving around trying to find the parking lot for this rehearsal space,” he says with a laugh. “It’s down this weird alley in North Hollywood. It’s crazy. And I realized I was supposed to call you, so I just told our keyboard player to figure it out.”

Burgeoning fortunes, indeed, but maybe not yet at “the limo driver will handle it” phase. Fair enough.

One of those day-in-the-life moments of the Portland-based band, who have a Red Rocks date coming up and a series of subsequent festival appearances on tap for the season… but no big, five-gig-per-week headliner tour. The band’s last full-length, Evil Friends, dropped about a year and a half ago, and they followed the thing up with the requisite tour of universe (including a luminous standing room only gig at the Boulder Theater), but Carothers says they’re taking a quick hit approach this season — weekend gigs here and there while they’re working out their next record with Mike D behind the board at his Malibu studio.

“We never really know what it’s going to be until it’s done,” Carothers says. “We don’t know if it’s going to be a full-length; we have a bunch of projects going on at the moment. It’s nice to not have that pressure on what it’s going be, we’re just having fun with him in the most amazing studio.

“John [Gourley, PTM guitarist and lead singer] and I kind of met over the Beastie Boys, we used to listen to the Beastie Boys around campfires and stuff like that.

“It’s really weird all the crazy coincidences that have come through with this band. Like, my very first show ever in my life was Primus in ’94 in Alaska, and we ended up opening up for them and now we’re buddies with those guys. Then hangin’ out with Mike D at his house in Malibu. And, like, last year, we filmed the video for ‘Evil Friends’ at the very same party spot where John and I first met and started talking about music. Brought a bunch of our old friends out there. It was pretty nuts.”

PTM got some headline news at South By Southwest earlier this year for teaming up with Stub Hub, Dr. Marten’s and Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to musical education — to get instruments into the hands of school kids. Even for a band known for their charitable side projects (they released a special limited edition vinyl last year titled “Endangered Song” to benefit Sumatran tiger conservation), Carothers says this one was a no brainer… even if PTM may have gotten a little more credit in the press than Carothers thinks they should have.

“A lot of the press kind of credits us. I mean, so many artists have worked with [Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation], but I’ve seen a couple headlines that say ‘Portugal.The.Man helps raise a million dollars for this thing,’ which sounds really cool, but no, we got a lot of help. It wasn’t just us. … We just really liked how simple it was. Play a few shows — we’d be doing that anyway. Donate the money, sounds rad.”

The band swings by for a Red Rocks show, and we couldn’t help but ask if a set on the venerable stage outside Morrison compares to Lollapalooza Chile, where the band played a few months ago. Lollapalooza Chile?

“Dude, that was pretty crazy,” Carothers laughed. “I’ll keep it straight; going to Chile is definitely cooler than going to Denver. But venue-wise, no place really compares to Red Rocks. The feeling you get when you’re there is just insane. This will be our third time.

“And compared to Chile, it’s not as sketchy. [When I was in Santiago], I walked out to meet some friends at a bar somewhere around midnight, it was about three quarters of a mile back to my hotel, and it was really late, like 4:30 in the morning, and I had a camera around my neck. Some old vintage camera, not worth a lot of money.

“And my friends go, ‘You’re not walking right? Absolutely not’. And they were like, ‘You may not die, you may not even get beat up, but 100 percent you will not get back to your hotel with that camera.’ 

“So I took a cab. The cab driver looked at me, and looked at the camera, and said, ‘Oh yeah, your friends were right.’”

ON THE BILL: Cage the Elephant and Portugal.The.Man with The Mowgli´s. Doors: 6 p.m. Show: 7 p.m. Monday, June 1, Red Rocks Ampitheater, tickets are $36.50 – $40 plus applicable service charges. All ages.