Eight years after an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, guitarist Eric Howk found his Zen by joining and touring with indie-rock act Portugal. The Man. The restorative power of the Portland, Ore.-based quintet, whose co-founders are lead singer John Gourley and bassist Zach Carothers — two of Howk’s grade-school friends — was just what Howk needed. In 2007, while on tour with now-defunct Seattle power-pop outfit the Lashes, Howk fell into a 12-foot-deep pit at a construction site near a friend’s house, breaking multiple vertebrae and severing his spine.
Unwilling to be a burden to his bandmates when he joined Portugal. The Man in 2015, Howk would follow the tour bus around the country in a Dodge Charger, which he learned to drive using cruise control and a support cane. (The tour bus lacked a wheelchair lift.) Describing himself as a “control freak with a truck driver’s disposition” in a recent phone interview, Howk says that plan mostly worked.
“We’re trying to knock out 45 shows in 50 days, and these tours are routed for a bus, and so trying to chase it down is difficult,” Howk, 35, says, reached by phone during a tour stop in Charleston, S.C. “I hit a breaking point. I got on the bus. This is only the third time I’ve been on a tour bus in 10 years.”
On Monday, April 10, Portugal. The Man’s tour bus will visit the Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale for a show that will lean heavily on the band’s forthcoming album, “Woodstock” (due out June 16). Howk and company have so far released two singles: “Noise Pollution,” a psychedelic rock-pop excursion punched with synths and drum loops, and “Feel It Still,” a blend of psych-pop anchored by horns and a funky bassline.
“Woodstock,” produced by Mike D of the Beastie Boys, is a strong evolution for Portugal. The Man, whose songs, distinguished by lo-fi electronica, atmospheric guitar-pop and Gourley’s falsetto vocal range, have appeared in TV shows “The Walking Dead” and “Silicon Valley.” After releasing their first seven albums within eight years, Howk says the band scrapped nearly 40 Mike D-produced songs in the fall of 2014. Two years later, the band still hadn’t finished the album. But then, the band paid a visit to Gourley’s father’s home in Wasila, Alaska.
“We’re hanging out with John’s dad, and he asked [John] what the holdup on the album was,” Howk recalls. “And his dad told us the story of recently getting a toolbox back from his buddy that he loaned to him in the late ’70s. Inside was a little baggie, and inside that was John’s dad’s $8 ticket stub to the original Woodstock. That story mattered. It reverberated to us, and we approached music with a new awareness.”
The resulting album, also produced with Danger Mouse and John Hill (Florence and the Machine, MIA), came together within months. Like Woodstock and its anti-Vietnam protest music, “Woodstock” songs tackle current events: “Noise Pollution,” filled with references to mass shootings, gun control and the 2015 Charlie Hebdo mass shooting, rebukes the rise of fake news. Beneath the catchy, computerized chill of “Feel It Still,” meanwhile, is a commentary on Black Lives Matter and the lack of available clean water.
“With ‘Feel It Still,’ we wanted to point out the hypocrisy of taking political stances, because we’re not setting out to forward a political agenda. We just believe in basic equality and civil rights,” Howk says.
For Howk, “Woodstock” — and the story Gourley’s father’s told them — has reinvigorated the band.
“I love doing this so much,” Howk says. “My personal comfort zone is low on the list of priorities. As a side effect, incidentally, if I see someone in the audience who has a wheelchair, or meet someone who has a cousin or mother in a wheelchair, I’ll talk to them after the show and commiserate.”
Portugal. The Man will perform 8 p.m. Monday, April 10, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, in Fort Lauderdale. The band will also appear 3:45 p.m. Monday for a free meet and greet at Radio-Active Records, 845 N. Federal Highway, in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are sold out via Ticketmaster, but may be had on third-party websites. Call 954-564-1074 or go to CultureRoom.net.
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