A Conversation With Portland’s Own Portugal. The Man About Their Beloved Trail Blazers

PORTLAND — Portugal. The Man have come a long way since their early days in rural Alaska. The Grammy-winning recording artists have called Portland home for almost 15 years now, and since relocating to the Pacific Northwest, they’ve come to embrace the principle doctrines of PDX culture, from food carts, to craft beer, to an art scene that remains firmly and proudly on the fringe, to perhaps most important, a clannish devotion to the Blazers that borders on outright zealotry.

By their own account, the wilds of America’s northernmost territory weren’t exactly a hotbed for hoops fanaticism, so they turned to their own locally-sourced product, drummer and Portland native Jason Sechrist, to help cultivate their Blazers-mania. The result was a baptism into long-suffering fandom for a team that, at times, seems doomed to a fate of perpetual NBA also-rans, yet still capable of the type of inebriate joy that came with their Western Conference Finals run last season.

Through it all, their passion for the Blazers has grown exponentially. That, along with their growing success and popularity in the music industry, has given them a unique opportunity to become a part franchise lore. In celebration of the team’s 50th anniversary this season, the organization will release a vinyl record that will feature, among other things, Portugal. The Man’s cover of the iconic Blazers theme song.

We caught up with Sechrist and bassist Zach Carothers at Bare Bones Cafe in Portland last week to reminisce about their favorite Blazers memories, what it was like to share a stage with Damian Lillard, and much more.

Tell us about how you got involved with this project, covering the Blazers’ theme song for their 50th anniversary record.

Zach Carothers: Honestly, we’ve just been kind of trying to buddy up with them forever, purely just being fans. That’s the fun thing about music and what we do is that we just try to do cool sh*t and we try to do stuff that we like. We’ve done enough stuff that we had to do, and now we’re at the point in our career where we can choose and try to go after things that we just really love. And the Blazers have just been a huge thing for us for a long time. Jason grew up here and so he’s been a fan for like…

Jason Sechrist: Yeah, that theme tune, the intro? I’ve always known of it, since I was participating and being a fan, so basically from ’89, ’90, when I started paying attention to it. It’s pretty awesome that basically all these opportunities fell into our lap to a degree. You can’t really say no when it’s something so cool, like the Blazers.

How do you see that relationship with the team evolving in the future? Do you see doing more things with them?

ZC: Oh, for sure, yeah. We’re always coming up with ideas, and we’re friends with a bunch of people on their team now. We go to a lot of games. We rep them all over the world. It’s just a cool thing, you know? It’s something that just kind of brings the city together. For me, art is just all about connection, and so in a city as big as this, but also as small as this, you can really embrace the community. And so that’s us, that’s the Blazers, that’s beer, that’s food carts. We’re just really trying to get that all together. We just really rep this city of ours.

What was the process itself like, recording your own version of the theme song while trying to stay true to the spirit of it? How did you approach it from a musical standpoint?

JS: I think we wanted to go about it with a slight sense of reinvention, but we wanted to definitely keep things very recognizable with that tune. Honestly, it came together like butter really. It was pretty easy and awesome. I dug that. I wish we could have spent 10 more seconds on it, I guess you could say, but that’s always the way it is. It’s always like, “Hey, can you do it today or tomorrow?”And you’re like, “Well, okay.” It was fun in itself.

ZC: Coming in at the crunch, at the last minute.

JS: Yeah, totally.

What were the circumstances with that?

ZC: Yeah, it was probably a little bit of both ends. I’m sure we were heading out on tour the next week, but it was a really rad studio here, the late Sandy Bodecker of Nike SB, his house has got just the most amazing studio. Chris Funk of The Decemberists kind of runs it. That’s just another whole thing of really encompassing the whole city and that whole vibe. We tracked it there.

ZC: We’ve been performing live with the Blazers dancers. Dame coming out at Edgefield, throwing t-shirts. That was rad.

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I wanted to ask you about that. You had an opportunity to share the stage with the Blazers dancers and with Dame. What was that feeling like, just being in that moment with both them and with the fans, who have so much love love the Blazers?

JS: Yeah. That’s what you get. This town has kind of always been a one-sport town. I know that we have the soccer bit going on, but in my opinion, the Blazers run this town. We connect so well. We can talk shop, in terms of talking travel, other cities, getting around on that nature. We can all reflect with that. Pretty cool.

ZC: It was just a hell of a party. That felt really good. That was the first time we really got to do everything we wanted at a show.

JS: It’s weird to be like, “Hey, I watch you play basketball and rock. I hope you watch me, and we rock for you, to a degree, if that matters.”

ZC: It’s pretty cool. I’ve said this before, but being on stage, Dame came up and tapped me on the shoulder and said something in my ear and looked at me like it was a serious thing. But I have in-ear monitors that are turned on, so I have no idea what he said to me. It was pretty good. I was like, “That was a rad opportunity.” I had no idea what was said.

It’s almost better not knowing what it was, right?

JS: I know, right!

It’s this mystery that will live on…

JS: One of two things happened. He was probably like, A, “You guys are lucky I showed up to this,” or B, “This is awesome! I dig it. Thanks for having me out.”

It was meaningful either way.

ZC: But it was really cool and just a feeling of living in abundance. Like, “Man, everything I like is on stage.” I had my family off to the corner. We all did. I see Blazers, the dancers, and this crowd, the whole show. That was a feeling like I was complete.

Do you see yourselves doing any collaborations with Dame, musically? Have you talked to him about that?

ZC: Oh, yeah. He’s a fairly busy guy. Yes, we have bothered him about that, and we’ll continue to bother him. Dame, call me back. Hell, yeah. We want to do a collab for sure. Either us doing music for him, or obviously, him putting some bars on our stuff. But 100 percent, we’ll make it work somehow… after the championship.

Dame has been trading diss tracks with Shaq recently, in a mostly light-hearted way. Where do you see him, if you had to put him in the pantheon of basketball-playing rappers?

ZC: Oh, he’s up there, man. Yeah. We recently went through this. We follow a fairly decent amount of NBA players, and there’s a few, but I think Dame’s pretty good.

JS: It seems like Dame’s going for more content-oriented stuff. I feel like when it was Shaq’s bit back then, I think it was a step or two shy from being cheesy or just showing up to be a cheeseball. It didn’t seem like it had too much content.

ZC: Which is the thing. That’s kind of what Shaq does. He’s goddamn hilarious.

JS: He’s funny. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a monstrous beast of a man.

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Jason, you obviously grew up here, but I wanted to ask both of you to try and chart the genesis of your Blazers fandom. Can you pinpoint a moment that you really fell in love with the team? Or do you just have a favorite memory from watching them over the years?

JS: The moment when I realized that I was a fan and that I was into it was when I was a young guy, nine or ten years old. I just remember they were in the Finals against the Pistons [ed. note: they lost that series 4-1]. That was such an era to see. I don’t know how this is possible, but you can be eight or nine years old or 69 years old, you’re still going to fall in love with the five players on the court. You’re going to get to know them. I got to know Clyde, Cliff, Terry, Buck, Duck, all those guys. Those guys were incredible. Kersey, all those guys. They were all just … what a team!

Different eras, yeah. I know the thing always evolves, and gets tighter, and gets more muscular, and gets more quick, but the point of the f*cking game is you’re still going to get the ball in the hole, and score, and beat the other team. I don’t care how tough and muscular you are or how many tats you got, how badass you are, what’s you’re pay grade, la-di-da. You still got to take it to the top. You got to win the awards. Win the Grammy of your sport, which is the title. I know that everyone’s dying for it here, but every town is dying for it. It’s a hard fight, for sure. They got a hard fight, and every season’s going to be tough as hell, but I’m really excited about this year. I know that LA teams are going to be … who knows what’s next for the L.A. teams? Anything’s possible. Hopefully, they just kind of implode on themselves. Beat each other up to a degree.

ZC: We moved here late. I moved down here in about 2000. I never really paid attention to basketball up in Alaska. It was all hockey for me. I think it just happened. Once we met Jason and then Ryan Neighbors, we basically had a band lineup for a while that was just very heavy into the Blazers. I think it was 2007, watching Brandon Roy against Houston, I think it was against the Rockets, and we were out one night at the Slammer Tavern, and we were watching the game, and he made that shot. Beer went f*cking everywhere. Ceiling tiles were exploding. Dude, the whole place, it was just explosion. We went out all night, and the city was just electric. That was when I was like, “Well, sh*t! This is awesome!”

Being from Alaska, we’ve always liked sports, but we’ve never had our own team. We would always go for the Mariners or something because Seattle’s closer. But being in a city that had that, I just never really realized that. It’s only grown from there. But that was the moment.

I know you guys are busy, but do you get to make it out to games very often?

ZC: We make it to every game we’re home for. I would like to travel and do more out on the road. It sounds kind of fun, walking into the lion’s den all decked out in Blazers gear. Walking into the Staples Center or something would be pretty fun. I’d have a good time with that.

JS: That would be a stress sandwich for me.

ZC: For sure. But it’d be pretty fun.

Blazers fans owe it to them. They show up here all the time decked out in Lakers gear.

ZC: They do. Those are always pretty fun interactions. I like that. We get playful. We travel around, and people talk sh*t at a lot of shows. Last year when we had a show in Denver, we were playing there relatively soon after [the Western Conference Semifinals]. Yeah, we were just talking all sorts of sh*t, standing out in the hallway. It was pretty funny. Then we show up there, and oh, of course, we got to mention something. We’re into it. Like we said, we got friends there that usually get us really good seats. We just bought, not really season tickets since we’re not here all that much. We sent them our schedule as it is now, and we bought a block of seats for this year, every one that we’re in town for. That feels pretty good.

Just building off of that, they had such an incredible season last year. What was that experience like to see them make it further than they’ve been in almost 20 years?

JS: It’s at the top of the line. Once the stakes get to the serious stuff, you just have to put up or shut up. I don’t know. You’re always the underdogs here. I don’t like it, but it’s the way it is, I guess. Like I said, you just got to win games. With them, to go to Game 6 and 7, it’s a stressful, nail-biting situation, no matter what sport, no matter how you look at it. With basketball, when it’s neck and neck, down to the wire, no other sport is that intense. It’s so beautiful.

I totally agree with you.

JS: I grew up playing basketball. I loved it. At the same time that I became a fan, I was also playing in the streets and on the garage and everything. I played basic team ball for a couple of years until it didn’t work out anymore.

The NBA wasn’t in the cards?

JS: Well, right. You love the game, and you play it in all your free time. You know basic plays. You know how hard it is. You know things that are important, free throw percentages, field goal percentages.

You have that deeper appreciation.

JS: Yeah, the appreciation for the game. Basic plays, and then you can have that awareness when you watch it happen. When you see them do it, it’s just on such a magnified level of true grace. Then you’re literally going, “That’s why they’re pros. That’s why they’re here.”

It almost seems like a completely different game. I had that feeling when I first saw an NBA game close up, where I was like, “Oh, this is not the same game I grew up playing.”

JS: Power, strength, speed.

It’s on a different level.

ZC: It’s really on a different level.

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Do you guys get a chance to play much pickup ball?

ZC: A little bit, like when we’re in the studio and stuff, we do. It’s not a lot of full games or anything.

JS: It’s more about just getting your shot on. Kind of tossing the line in the water at least. If the timing’s right, spring, summer, perhaps we’ll play with friends. But at the same time, we’re not looking for f*cking broken ankles either. We’re not looking for reasons to fuck up because, with competition ball in the streets, it can get intense. You can get a f*cking elbow to the face. You can get bloodied up. You can twist your ankle up big time.

Did you guys ever do the Rigsketball thing when it was going? Speaking of dangerous…

ZC: No, we’re friends will all those guys, though.

JS: Those kids, I think I wanted to let Rigsketball be of a certain era of musicians, and let it be their thing. They’re not getting The Dandy Warhols to play f*cking basketball. The Decemberists aren’t playing ball. Red Fang’s not going to play basketball. Pink Martini’s not going to go play basketball with all these kids. It was their hub. It was their thing. In a way, I don’t want a bunch of bigger, popular bands coming in and trying to shake that up. It was good for their scene.

There was a lot of changes to the team over the summer. We lost some fan favorites, like Harkless, and Curry, and Leonard. Aminu. What do you guys think about the new guys that we brought on?

ZC: Dude, Whiteside’s pretty awesome. I went to the game last night, and dude, I like him. I don’t know him yet, but he’s real nice, he’s funny, he’s big, he’s tall, and-

He was killing it on the boards.

JS: He was great on the boards. I’m going to need to see a little bit more aggressiveness. I know it was Game 1. It’s cool if you can get us boards, but I tell you what, what Portland has always needed is a big center. We need a big guy that cannot be pushed around, not just the height. He’s great to even grab a board every once in a while. We need a body. We need that area to be competitive because if we got Dame, and CJ, and a couple of other guys running the small game, I think we need a couple of taller guys. But we can’t have these taller guys grab boards in exchange for a lesser three-point game. Denver killed us on threes last night. They had like 16 threes. [ed. note: the Nuggets made 18 threes to the Blazers’ seven]

I read somewhere, I don’t remember who it was, but one of you guys talked about riding around and listening to the games on the radio, which is something I used to do all the time, partly because we’ve had the best play-by-play man in the business in Brian Wheeler, who is unfortunately taking an indefinite leave because of health reasons.

JS: Yeah, basically, we would do that a lot on the road in the van and trailer days when we were going from town to town. Because the road can be the most cold, lonely, dreary place, where all you want is just a little bit of home. If you’re on an open stretch of highway, and it’s 10:00, 11:00, somewhere Eastern, you want to be like, “Oh, the game! Oh my God! That’s amazing!” Yeah, all of a sudden, you’d be like, “Oh my God! The game’s on! Find it.” Search through AM, pull it up. Great feeling.

You guys mentioned before that you’d like to maybe work on an original theme song for the Blazers. Are there any developments with that?

ZC: I would like to. We had talked about it. Yeah, that is definitely something, I can’t say we’re “actively” doing that, but 100 percent, we’re working towards that, for sure. We’ll do anything for the team.

JS: Generally, all the collabs are … they make it fun. We always want to have fun with it. It’s never like a cheeseball selling point. It doesn’t feel like that. We wouldn’t want to do it like that. To us, they’re the rock stars. We’re just kind of like. Whatever I can do to hang and party, awesome.