GROWING UP IN WASILLA, ALASKA WAS A UNIQUE experience that shaped Zach Carothers of Portugal. The Man. “We were so isolated that it was hard to discover hip, new bands,” he explains. “Luckily, my parents listened to great music by Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and Led Zeppelin.” After a few years living practically next door to then-mayor Sarah Palin, P.TM relocated to Portland, Oregon. The group’s new CD, The Satanic Satanist, inventively folds psychedelic and R&B influences into its distinctive take on indie rock.
What is your basic approach as a bass player, and how does that relate to your band’s new album?
I love to experiment with pedals to create unique bass sounds, but I didn’t use any on this recording. We were working with simple, Motown-style song structures, and I was playing to a lot of looped beats, so it felt good to keep tame and tasteful. I like to play simple pocket grooves that allow room for the other guys to go crazy, but I try to find spots to pop out here and there. Flea has a knack for that; he’ll play something smooth, simple, and tasteful, and then play a fill that shows his vast ability.
What songs on Satanist do you feel best demonstrate the cooler aspects of your playing?
“Guns and Dogs” is the most technically involved, and it’s a challenge to keep that pocket solid. The hip-hop groove of “The Woods” is fun; when I overdubbed the chorus line, I was trying to picture what a horn section might play. I switch between plectrum and fingerstyle playing. That song is a perfect example— I play with a pick and mute with my palm during the verses to achieve a staccato sound that makes the groove pop. I play fingerstyle on the chorus, which yields a muddier tone.
How do you do that onstage?
I tuck the pick up in my pinkie or ring finger if I have to sing. Otherwise, I’ll keep the pick in my mouth. We do a lot of jamming live. The songs always come out differently, and we like that fresh feel. It’s hard to find practice time on the road, so we use those improvisational sections keep on our toes musically. I can get a little more crazy with my playing then, because it’s not taking away from any guitar hook or vocal line the audience might want to hear.
HEAR HIM ON
Portugal. The Man, The Satanic Satanist [Equal Vision, 2009]
Bass 1981 Fender Precision Bass Special
Rig Fender Bassman 300 Pro head, Fender 810 Pro 8x10 cab
Effects Boss OC-3 Super Octave, Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive, Tech 21/SansAmp Bass Driver Programmable DI, Line 6 FM4 Filter Modeler
Strings & picks DR Strings Hi- Beams; Dunlop Tortex Standard .73mm (yellow)
Studio gear 1971 Fender Precision Bass, vintage Ampeg and Acoustic heads, vintage Ampeg 1x12 cabinet