Stemming from a road trip director AJ Rojas took that spanned over a dozen states, the music video for Portugal. The Man‘s “Modern Jesus” is purposely treated to alternate between hi-def and lo-fi, as is paralleling the fascination which can be found in middle America’s often gritty underbelly. A cast of memorable characters appear to leave indelible marks upon one’s brain in “Modern Jesus”: a grandpa dancing in a farm-like setting; bloody youth wrestling one another atop barbed wire; overweight and wheelchair-bound individuals repping the same taser-owning crew; the list goes on. This fascinating sociological portrait seems to serve as a reminder real life is often more interesting than fiction — and that embarking on a creative journey without a plan can often lead to brilliantly unraveling realities.

In the featured interview, Portugal. The Man’s bassist and back-up vocalist Zach Carothers speaks to his love for music videos, on working with friends, and on occasionally skirting record label rules to follow your own creative impulses.

“I have wanted to work with AG since our friend, Michael Ragen, introduced me to his work with Earl Sweatshirt a few years ago. He has an eye for the things that happen below surface, in bedrooms, in the streets and in our schools and captures it without prejudice. AG has a vision and it doesn’t matter if you think the video could use more of John running because, in the end, he knows what he wants and always makes the right decision. A true artist.” – John Gourley, Vocalist of Portugal. The Man

 


I read that you guys were introduced to AG Rojas’ work through the Earl Sweatshirt stuff, and I read a little bit about how John [Gourley] was talking about really liking the way that AG Rojas finds the artistic moments in the mundane.

Definitely.

 

Has working with him changed your day-to-day view on things, or did you guys already see in a similar way?

I think we did see in a similar way. Every person we meet — especially somebody as talented as AG — definitely changes our view on things. Before we did the video, we’d been wanting to work with him for quite some time. He is a good friend of our buddy Michael Ragan who shot and/or directed almost all of our videos in the last five years or so, and he’s a big fan of AG’s, and so were we, but he kind of turned us onto him…

First of all, we are big fans of film and music videos in general, because they’re very close to us. I grew up in Wasilla, Alaska, which is where I am now… and there just wasn’t a lot to do. I remember that as a kid, I never watched cartoons; I never watched TV shows or anything like that… I was pretty much the only kid I knew who had a TV… Since I was about four years old, all I was just watching was music videos, and taping them on VHS tapes, and it’s just kinda been a big deal for me. I love the way that they’ve evolved from what they are, and AG is just one of those amazing people that can do that.

 

Portugal. The Man – “Modern Jesus” Music Video (Directed by AG Rojas)

 

It’s so weird to me that MTV and stuff like that don’t show music videos anymore, because I think they’re totally amazing these days.

I know. It drives me crazy. I guess with the internet, you don’t really need it, but still — I wish they’d go back to it, because I miss it, a lot.

 

Clearly, we should just make a TV station and do that.

Obviously.

 

Piece of cake.

Let’s do it.

 

Sounds good. So — how much mutual exchange of ideas was there? How much creative license did you guys give them, or how much discussion was there about what to film?

We gave him a lot of leeway. [For] a lot of the footage from that video that was taken — we weren’t even there. We knew about his road trip, and that was his doing, and we loved that idea. We talked to him about letting us use some of the stuff for our video. And we got to watch over some of the edits and John flew down for a couple days to do his parts in it.

There’s just certain people we just trust a lot, and AG is definitely one of those guys. It’s not like that with everybody; we like to have our hands in everything we do, and we pay attention to a lot of details — but somebody like that, that we hang out with… a lot of it is just hanging out and talking to them… we know that they’re on the same page. Same with Mike Ragan; I completely trust that dude…

Pretty much, in general, we get a first edit back from anyone in general who is a close friend of ours, and it’s almost done. They know us; we know them. They know what we’re going for. This was totally their project — this road trip that they did. This was their project, and we just wanted to kind of put some music to it.

 

Can you tell me a little bit about the road trip? What was their concept and all that?

I think it was fifteen or sixteen states, and they just went out on the road in-between jobs and just pretty much shot as much crazy shit as they could find. And they got themselves into some pretty sketchy situations. They always tend to… but we heard about this, and they were telling us about some of the footage, and that’s pretty much where the idea started. We wanted to work with them on it.

 

Portugal. The Man – “Modern Jesus” Lyrics

Come on in
Take a seat next to me
You know we got
We got what you need
We may be liars preaching to choirs
But we can
We can sell your dreams

You don’t need sympathy
They got a pill for everything
Just take that dark cloud
Ring it out to wash it down, but

Don’t pray for us
We don’t need no modern Jesus
To roll with us
The only rule we need is never
Giving up
The only faith we have is faith in us

We’re the ones who start little fires
Yet they burn out
But when they’re on the rise
They can’t help but shine

And when the wave approaches
Take our ashes to the ocean
Who cares if hell awaits?
We’re having drinks at heaven’s gate

Don’t pray for us
We don’t need no modern Jesus
To roll with us
The only rule we need is never
Giving up
The only faith we have is faith in us

We know that we’re helpless
At least we always assume
But we don’t need to prove nothing to you
Let’s keep the cool
You don’t need to feel blue
Cause we won’t sell you nothing
You can’t use

Don’t pray for us
We don’t need no modern Jesus
To roll with us
The only rule we need is never
Giving up
The only faith we have is faith in us

 

Portugal. The Man – “Modern Jesus” Music Video – YouTube Interpretations

“I liked this video more than the previous two evil friends releases. Has some poetry to it,and no creepy eyes (well, just the one shot.) Ah, America….” – regpaper

“This was great. Extremely symbolic.” – HPROtheJEDI

“Can I ask where the name of the band come from? I’m Portuguese and a band with a name like this make me curious if they’re from Portugal or what’s their relation with Portugal. Thanks!” – Mathieu Gomes-Marques

“Why their called “Portugal. The man”? Their not even from Portugal, and we aren’t that many…. But well, i like seeing our country’s name in an american band, and by the way we aren’t spanish…” – Fabio Campos

“Portugal. went Ham in 50 states, every hour, and used 0 nude footage.” – dylan a.m

“The best encapsulation of America through an original eye perhaps ever. Congrats. My envy knows no bounds.” – Butch Newton

“great song and great video! The only thing that bugs me about this video is the black kid in the church, who is not taking off his hat. haha Not that i care, as I am an atheist, just makes the video less authentic.” – NaturalBornChilla666
>> “that doesnt make any sense, but okay” – jigyoda

“”The only faith we have is faith in us…” What a multi-sided statement that forces us to honestly wonder if there is anything that can change the ways of society as a whole. If a modern Jesus came, we would mock him and his message.” – wjxc46er

“This video… there’s something about it I can’t quite put my finger on it. The kid in the church, the old man and the guy with the banjo, the confederate flag, the legless guy, gun-nut type people shooting their assault rifles.. Even if PTM wasn’t thinking of an objective meaning with this video, it sure was provocative” – TalkingJewCat

“love the song and Portugal. The Man but the music video is mad lazy and lame; it’s like 70-80% found footage crap” – RedEyedZealot
>> “It was shot in 20 days, 15 states, and used 0 stock footage.” – Catherine Leonard

That’s pretty cool, because I feel like a lot of the people who are in the video kind of match really well with what I think the song means… kind of about disenfranchised people and self-survival, kind of thing.

Yeah, for sure… The song’s about a lot of different things, actually — but what I really like about the video [is that] I’m a big fan of letting people take what they want from the lyrics. Just reading comments on YouTube and reading what people think the song’s about; I really like that they are, you know, opposing opinions. I love that. To one person, it means something completely different than it does to another, and those are always my favorite kind of lyrics.

I grew up listening to a lot of Nirvana when I started getting old enough to play a guitar — Nirvana was the main reason I picked up a guitar in the first place — and if I could talk to Kurt Cobain today, out of the millions of questions that I’d want to ask him, none of them would be about what his lyrics meant because they mean something personal to me, which may mean something different to my little brother, something different to my friends… But that was my personal investment, and I really liked how all of the imagery that [AG Rojas] put along with that song. It can be taken in the same way. Everyone in the video is saying something different, and I love that kind of stuff. I think that makes it a very personal investment to the band you listen to.

 

Yeah, for sure. Did you guys manage to meet any of the people that were in the videos?

We didn’t, no. I was actually — I’m good friends with AG and Mike, but to be honest, I wasn’t even there when John flew down for a couple days to film that video… That was a few days before Coachella, and we were up in L.A. practicing because we hadn’t practiced in a while; we’d just gotten out of the studio… We had a ton of work to do, and we all split off on our own, and it was like, “John, you go do this. We’re going to stay here and practice music and kind of get good at playing, and there are a million other things to deal with.”

 

Did any of the people in the video make any sort of particularly deep impact on you? Did you connect with them in some way?

I connected with a lot of them, simply because of where I grew up, I think. Alaska is the kind of place that really breeds — a lot of people really move to the middle of nowhere to get away from things. There’s a lot of really eccentric people; I’ve met a lot of strange people over the years that I’ve lived here… It [also] reminds us of some of our first tours, you know? Crazy guys kind of walking into our hotel room with knife scars at four in the morning and telling us stories about prison. We’re lucky enough to have this job where we can travel, and something like that felt very real to us. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of them. On our next tour, whenever we’re coming through anywhere near where any of those guys are, we’re obviously going to… I’d like to meet them, and I hope we get a chance to.

 

Do you know what their general reactions were towards being filmed? Was it always an easy thing to get people on film?

No; in fact, a lot of times, it’s hard. I know the guys almost got stunned with stun guns. That kind of crazy crew with the stun guns — they tried to go after Mike a little bit, but he got away. It all depends. Some people are excited about it; some people aren’t at all… but personalities, like Mike and AG — they always make people feel very comfortable in front of the camera… I know because I’ve been working with those guys, and I’m not comfortable in front of a camera. [But] when they’re just kind of rolling and you’re supposed to be natural, they have kind of a certain presence about them that makes everyone feel really comfortable. I can see how they can get so many good takes out of people.

 

We interviewed John during The Satanic Satanist phase, and I still get a lot of people coming to our site right now, Googling, “Is Portugal. The Man satanic?” and it’s so good. I know that back then, that title was kind of a tongue-in-cheek thing… so I’m wondering… there’s still a lot of religious references on the current record. What kind of attitude brings in those references this time around? {{ READ INTERVIEW }}

A lot of it’s the same thing we’ve always felt. Especially with The Satanic Satanist; it was all about contrast. Once again — we never like to completely say what our beliefs are, especially speaking as a band — but we’re just interested in it, you know? None of us are Satanists. I’m personally not religious; I don’t have any religious beliefs, but I love the idea of it. I love learning about it. I love knowing people’s reasons for believing or not believing… and it’s something we’re surrounded by constantly, and it depends. It’s interesting to see how some people take it — how some people take it to extremes. It’s caused so much shit over the span of human existence that it’s something that we all obviously think about, will write about, because it’s an important issue, I guess, no matter which way you look at it.

 

I was wondering if you guys — cause you guys are kind of super huge right now — have you received any sort of backlash related to using these kinds of themes?

Eh, not a lot. You always get something; I mean you can’t do anything anymore without somebody talking shit on it… There have been a couple of people who have disagreed with something we’ve said. A kid wrote to us not too long ago. He had all of our CDs; all of our vinyl; t-shirts. He had been collecting for like, eight years, and he just threw it all away. And I… I don’t know what to say to somebody that writes me up… like, “Good for you for sticking to your convictions!” but I mean… I don’t know… how much music I would listen to if I had to agree with everything that every artist I liked said. I’d probably throw away all of my music, because there’s probably a lot of terrible people out there, but it’s different, you know? I respect people for their opinions, and we’re going to write what we write, because that’s the one selfish thing we do. We love our fans; we go out on tour for them, and I stand outside and talk to everyone and write people back on Twitter and Facebook and e-mail… but the one thing we do selfishly is write music. And so, it’s just what’s going to happen. We can’t help it. It’d be pointless to go out and try to tickle every person individually; it just doesn’t happen. Somebody’s going to get mad at what we do.

 

Do you guys have any other videos in the works right now?

Not at the moment. I think we’re going to be doing some more this summer, I believe. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get on something fairly soon, just because we have a little break before tour. I’m sure we’ll come up with something else pretty quickly — but nothing serious in the works right now.

 

Portugal. The Man – “Evil Friends” Music Video (Directed by Mike Ragan)

 

It seems super fun to be able to make so many videos.

Oh yeah, it’s my favorite thing. And I really like getting more involved. I didn’t get to with “Modern Jesus” — or “Purple Yellow”, for that matter — but they were both kind of filmed around the same weekend, where John flew out when I was dealing with things back at home, trying to get ready for tour. But the “Evil Friends” video we did up in Alaska with Mike Ragan. It was really fun; we didn’t tell our label we were doing it. We figured that every time we do, there’s way too many cooks in the kitchen. They’re talking about ideas, and just the insurance we would’ve had to get to do that video officially… John was just hauling ass on a snow machine in pitch black because we were shooting it in night vision… there’s no way! We would have had to have paramedics on the scene; we would have had to have so much stuff. We didn’t think it was a big deal! Let’s just get some beer, and I’ll call up some of my friends, and we’ll buy a bunch of ski masks, and we’ll just go out into the woods and see what happens. It was a lot more fun. That’s how a lot of our treatments start, especially working with somebody like Mike. We just get along so well, we kind of don’t totally have a plan. We just kind of go up and have a vague idea of where we’re going or what we’re doing — but we don’t really know until we get out there. It’s just, “I think this will be a fun idea. This will be a cool idea. Let’s throw it all together!” and it’s a really good time.

 

I’d say that’s kind of where all the best art comes from anyway — just kind of doing it.

Yeah, yeah. For sure. If you plan too much — and that’s the thing about “Modern Jesus”; they just went out, and they found what they could find. They didn’t have a plan; they didn’t have a treatment for the footage they were gonna get. Just get whatever you can, and then, look at that! You already have an idea that’s completely organic, completely natural. You didn’t plan anything out; it’s just there. I like that. It’s real.

 

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