Nothing About Portugal. The Man's "Feel It Still" Was Expected

Portugal. The Man in 2017
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Nothing About Portugal. The Man's "Feel It Still" Was Expected

It sounds like the set-up to the world's weirdest joke: two guys from Alaska borrow a Motown tune some 50 years after its release and score a huge, out-of-nowhere Top 10 hit. But that's exactly what happened to the group Portugal. The Man with their breakthrough hit "Feel It Still," which reached No. 4 in 2017. Here's a few facts you might not have known about the group and the song that made them go big.

They really did come out of nowhere. Though several of the members earned acclaim among emo fans under the name Anatomy of a Ghost, Portugal. The Man's line-up hailed from Wasila, Alaska. "I grew up with dog-mushing parents – which I know is a bizarre thing for anybody outside of Alaska," singer John Baldwin Gourley told Songfacts. "And even within Alaska, it's such a small community within the state. So I grew up around really long drives...Like, an hour drive to town. Sometimes a two-hour drive to town. That's four hours, both ways."

But those drives proved useful. Gourley and friends would listen to all kinds of music on the radio when driving, and he first heard "Please Mr. Postman," a 1961 chart-topper from Motown group The Marvelettes, on one of those drives. "I always wanted to sing something to that melody," Gourley admitted. "It's a totally different song, and that to me is what music is about."

A legendary concert inspired the vocals. Gourley was often embarrassed of having a high singing voice until watching footage from Woodstock. "Singing in a falsetto never really made sense until I...saw the back-up singers on Joe Cocker's 'With a Little Help from My Friends,' and it was guys singing the back-ups," he explained. "I was like, 'Oh my God. Men can sing like that, and it's totally cool.'"

The recording was a happy accident. While mixing an entirely different song, Gourley ducked into another room in a studio to clear his head and started playing the bass line to unwind. Asa Taccone, the song's co-producer, happened to hear it and convinced him to lay down a track. "I'm so happy he was there," Gourley told Time. "He heard that bass line, and he just took his headphones off and said to me, 'Yo J, can I record that real quick?' I was caught off guard, so I said 'Yeah, sure, let's see what you got.'" 45 minutes later, the track had come together.

Those lyrics are up for debate. Bassist Zach Carothers spoke to NME about "Feel It Still" and suggested there was a tenuous connection between the civil rights era and the music of 1986. "It's very subconscious in the beginning and as we fine tune things we learn a lot about ourselves and how our brains work," he said. "It's kinda crazy. Like a Rorschach Ink Blot Test." Gourley had another idea. "'Rebel just for kicks" is on the nose, clear: 'We're just messing around.' It's hard to be a punk when you're thinking about your baby daughter at home. The verses are all about my baby daughter, but I'm out here being this rebel, messing around with people and trying to make a positive impact."