“Feel It Still,” with its inescapable “Please Mr. Postman” melody and falsetto hook, has become an atom bomb hit for Alaska-grown rock band Portugal. The Man.
While closely tied to their current hometown of Portland, the band’s DNA is in the back roads of Knik-Goose Bay and the halls of Wasilla High. Today, they capped a star-making year with a Grammy nomination for best pop duo/group performance.
I’m an unabashed fan – go listen to “In the Mountain in the Cloud” from start to finish and you will be too – and couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to talk to Portugal lead singer/guitarist John Gourley tonight about their breakout year.
Here are excerpts from the impromptu Skype interview, edited for length and clarity.
KTUU: In Alaska, there’s a lot of turnover. There’s probably a lot of kids here listing to your music and don’t really know your history here ...
JOHN GOURLEY: My mom and dad, John and Jennifer Gourley, both dog sled mushers. They ran the Iditarod together. We grew up with a generator. Out Knik Road, when it was Knik Road, not Knik Goose-Bay.
I remember in the winter my mom out there, fixing that generator. Our diesel generator when it would break down. And dealing with the cold and the beluga whales in the Cook Inlet that would come up every year.
I guess we kind of overcame a lot coming from Alaska, but at the same time we have so much inspiration up there, that it’s hard to not be excited about everything we get to see when we’re out there. We get to travel the world. We were in Paris just a week ago, and I would have never thought that growing up. I would have never expected that.>
They say success has a lot of fathers and so I know everyone wants to claim you guys, but I’ve always felt Alaska was part of your DNA. …
Oh 100 percent. It’s such a huge part of us. We’ve been in Portland for awhile now. But it’s still, when I go back to Wasilla, that’s like where I write music. When I’m out in Willow, that’s when I write music.
And so many of these songs have come together, whether it’s directly written in Alaska, its written about our times in Alaska. And F’eel it Still’ is no different. We lived out in Trapper Creek and I remember those two-hour drives to get groceries and we’d listen to Mister Postman on the radio, and that’s kind of what we were paying homage to when we wrote that song.
… Listening to 97.3, KOOL FM, driving into town.
Have you talked to your mom today?
Yeah I talked to my mom! Those are the calls I made.
I kind of expected the Grammy nomination (given the success of the song.) Did you?
I can’t say that we expected. I mean, it’s just one of those things. It’s the Grammys. There’s so many politics involved. You can say, ‘This song was everywhere,’ but you just kind of never know.
It was a pretty crazy thing to wake up this morning and have a 100 unread text messages just sitting there when I got up. I totally forgot that the Grammy announcement was today. I looked at my phone and said, ‘Well, that’s broken. I’m not going to touch that for the rest of the day.”
Did you allow yourself to think about the Grammys over the years, did it seem in the realm of possibility?
I feel like there’s some things that you can kind of will to happen. Every time we make a record, we just feel like lets make the best music we can. That’s really all you can do at the end of the day. Make the best music you can, and hope that it translates to a bigger audience. And this is just one of those songs that for whatever reason it’s worked in that way.
It’s been really cool man. I love seeing kids dance to the song. And like, just the amount of times its been shared. Different people covering it. Different people dancing to it. That’s all I want to see is people having fun with the music.
Thanks for talking with us!
… I want to give a shoutout to all the villages and all the Native Alaskans and everyone who has inspired us along the way.