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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Alaska, the last frontier.

Sure, it sounds like a Star Trek show, but it's actually the state's nickname.

John Baldwin Gourley, singer and guitarist for the band Portugal. The Man, knows firsthand the idiosyncrasies of the second-to-last annexed state.

Although he and the two other permanent members of the band now take up residence in Portland, Ore., Alaska will always have an influence on them.

Gourley grew up all around Alaska, at one point living in a remote cabin in the wilderness with his Iditarod-competing parents.

He recalls the innate smallness of the towns and the fervent divide between conservative and liberal populations, which greatly influenced his music, especially on the band's latest album, "Church Mouth."

The idea for the album title came when Gourley and bassist Zach Carothers, also an Alaskan, were watching a news program denouncing gay marriage.

"It was the most backward and retarded thing I'd ever heard," he said. "I called one of the guys a church mouth, and Zach and I just laughed about it really hard and decided we'd name the album that."

"Church Mouth" gave Gourley the opportunity to get his thoughts out about organized religion, something that haunted him in his youth.

"There's a lot of really heavy, heavy religion," he said. "I was scared growing up, like completely terrified, because of everything I was told."

But not all of Gourley's experiences in his home state were bad.

If it weren't for the band and the constant touring, he would still be there, he said.

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"It's where our families are. It's where we go for Christmas," he said. "It's where we go whenever we're given any amount of time to go back."

For now, Portland is the base of operations for Portugal. The Man, but Gourley isn't comfortable calling it home.

Not having the connection with Portland has had benefits for the band, though. Portugal. The Man isn't associated with any scene or movement, which has allowed more travel, Gourley said.

The band's Alaskan roots and textured yet accessible indie-rock sound allows them to play shows with experimental bands like Man Man and then turn around and play with other bands more suited to all-ages shows, he said.

Such is the case tonight, when Portugal. The Man will support the mellow folk and country stylings of Rocky Votolato at Common Grounds.

Votolato, a Texas native, is touring in support of his new album, "The Brag and the Cuss," which features full-band instrumentation, a departure from his earlier, sparse recordings.

The lyrics are filled with imagery of the old West - trains, smoke and alcohol.

Votolato worked the imagery into his songs to have something from his past that is informing, he said in a telephone interview.

As for the heavy references to alcohol, Votolato said that was mostly unintentional.

"It's more of an existential kind of thing, a kind of focus on death," he said. "And you know, alcohol just kind of goes along with that a lot."

Portugal. The Man and Votolato have been touring together for two weeks.

The differences in the two bands' styles were awkward for the first couple of days, Gourley said.

"I felt like we're the loudest f***ing band of all time," he said. "But the dynamics of the bands works pretty well. Nobody's f***ing bored by the end of the set."

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