Portugal. The Man Guitarist Eric Howk Discusses The Band’s New Album, ‘Woodstock’

Photo by Maclay Heroit

It’s been quite a year for Portland rockers Portugal. The Man.

Having spent the better part of three years working feverishly on a new album, the band abruptly decided to change direction and scrap everything after front man John Gourley paid a visit to his father in Alaska. The encounter led to the discovery of an original Woodstock music festival ticket and the realization that a pattern of events from that era was eerily similar to what’s going in the world today.

Led by the hugely successful “Feel It Still,” the band’s latest album—Woodstock—addresses those concerns and more. It’s also opened the door to cross-over appeal and a monster touring schedule, which will see them in places like Europe, the Dominican Republic and beyond.

I recently spoke with guitarist Eric Howk about the success of the Woodstockalbum, songwriting, gear and more in this new interview.

The band had been working on a new album for quite a while when they decided to scrap everything and start over. Having said that, how has the reaction been to Woodstock?

That happened right around the time I started touring with the band full time. When I came in, it was around the same time all of those other songs the band had written were going out. Ultimately, it was the right call. It’s a record with meaning and gravity and the songs are the best of the bunch. It was a good decision.

What prompted the sudden change in direction?

John Gourley’s father is a gruff, unsentimental Alaskan dude and one night when they were hanging out, John’s dad showed him an original ticket from Woodstock he thought he’d lost for forty years. That coalesced with the current American political climate that none of the previous songs addressed.

In a lot of ways, Woodstock was a reactionary event that came out of fear-based, xenophobic, Richard Nixon/McCarthyism, politically-driven America. It’s eerily similar to where we’re at now. It all panned out, so Woodstock it was.

What’s the band’s writing process?

The majority of the time it starts with a groove, but it’s really all about the feel and finding something in the pocket. Other times, there might be a lyric kicking around and you’ll try to find a way to shove that in. If we knew how the process works that would be great. “Feel it Still” came together in less than an hour while some of the other songs took seven or eight months.

You mentioned “Feel It Still”. Can you tell us how it came about?

We had been working on a completely different song when we took a break and John went in and started messing around with that bass line. It had a real Sixties, spy movie feel to it. Everyone thought it sounded cool so we threw a mic on the bass amp and recorded it. Pretty much an hour later all of the lyrics and everything else that you hear came together.

Read the rest of my
Interview with Eric Howk Here!

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