Portugal The Man might have won the Grammy for their 2017 hit song “Feel It Still.” But they’d still rather be out on their Alpacka pack rafts than walking the red carpet in front of a bunch of Hollywood primadonnas.
Yep…when they’re not fronting the stage from Red Rocks to Birmingham, they’d all rather be boating rivers. Now living on the Sandy River in Troutdale, Ore., the band — consisting of John Gourley, Zach Carothers, Kyle O’Quin, Jason Sechrist, Eric Howk and Zoe Manville — gets outside as much as it can, often in pack rafts with fly rods in tow, thanks to frontmen Gourley, Carothers and Howk growing up in Wasilla, Alaska.
On the heels of their new album Steal My Sunshine/Novocaine for the Soul, Paddling Life caught up with Carothers for his take on everything from pack rafting to their new PTM Foundation supporting everything from indigenous rights to protecting the Great Outdoors.
Portugal the Man’s Zach Carothers: His Own Words
“John and I live right on the Sandy River, which is great. I can float from his house to mine in about 45 minutes. Usually, we do it in our Alpacka pack rafts, but I’m looking to pick up something to row also. A lot of people come over to visit in the summer so we sort of play river guides, organizing trips for our friends.
I’m a huge fan of Alpacka. I have two, and John has four. My Ranger can fit me and my dog. And its cargo fly, which lets you store your gear inside, is amazing. Being from Alaska, we’d heard of them and reached out to buy a couple. I was like, ‘This is a fucking boat? How is that possible? It’s the size of a one-man tent.’ They’ve opened up a whole new world. I grew up around rivers my whole life and float in my pack raft all the time; mostly I use it for fishing.
We’ve been trying to get Eric back outside more. He fell on a construction site in 2007 and is paraplegic. We’ve taken him fishing and camping in driftboats, but Alpacka just built him his own custom pack raft, which is wider and easier to get in and out of. Getting him back into nature is super important for him and us.
I grew up in Alaska and I love going back up there and going to all the rivers I went to all the time as a kid because I’m a way better fisherman now.
We’re Alaskans, so when you want something done right you do it yourself. So, we started our new PTM Foundation to support anything that hits close to home for us — including indigenous rights, mental health and environmental issues, disability and human rights concerns and more. It also helps connect youth back to our and waters and land. We’d wanted to do it for a long time, but we’re artists and not super organized. We launched it right when COVID started, which taught us how to think outside the box with regards to fundraising, since we weren’t doing any shows to support it.
I grew up doing things all Alaskans do, like fishing, hiking and backpacking, which gives you a unique perspective on the environment. But we lost a lot of that and we missed it. We became city kids for a bit and it was wrong and we realized it. So, we’re making an effort to get back outside a lot more now — fly fishing, running rivers and things. It’s so much fun and a whole new way to be. Our souls are a 1,000 percent better now.
We got kind of used to being home during the pandemic; we hadn’t been home that much since we were teenagers. And it opened up a new world because we began exploring areas outdoors near our home. We’re kinds of burned out on cities; instead of going to restaurants and museums, we’ll rent a car and find someone to take us into the mountains and show us around.
We played the Alaskan State Fair this year and afterwards we went fishing on Lake Iliamna near Kokhanok, which was awesome. The sockeye run was incredible. We floated three days down the Gibraltar River in our pack rafts; flying over it looked like the 405 Highway in LA on a Monday morning, just so packed with salmon. At one fork of the river, we were supposed to go right but there was a big grizzly bear there so we went left. But it had a big strainer across the river. So, it was grizzly on the right or a tree on the left. We chose left, but we hit the strainer and it snapped my Winston rod.
We always try to sneak in references to the outdoors in our songs. It’s not blatant and it’s hard to find specifically, but it’s there. It’s important to us. I try to go outside and stand by a river every day.
Concert Info: portugaltheman