Portugal. The Man: The Stoners of the Band
Written by on June 14, 2022
Portugal. The Man has been enjoying a robust return to live music. On the heels of a welcome back tour with Alt-J, the band has continued to play live shows and will continue to do so through the fall, all while supporting their latest record release.
Jason Sechrist, the band’s esteemed drummer, and Kyle O’Quin, the group’s keyboardist, hopped on a call with High Times earlier this spring to chat more about their passion for cannabis, their musical trajectories, and the creative inner workings behind the Grammy award-winning band’s upcoming new album.
High Times: Starting from childhood, did you guys always know you wanted to be musicians?
Jason Sechrist: Music seemed to be everything to me. It was just kind of this thing. I would take pencils and pens and bang them on books and pots and pans when I was six years old. Fast forward to the ‘90s, and I got my own drum kit, and [then things continued on from there].
Kyle O’Quin: I started playing classical music at age six. I remember I learned how to read music when I learned how to read English. I’ve never understood not being able to read music. It’s like being bilingual.
High Times: So music was a “way of life” for you both.
Jason Sechrist: My parents did a good job of raising us on pretty good tunes. I listened to David Bowie, Yes, Pink Floyd—all the “greats” of that era. But when it came to pot, I wasn’t a stoner until a little ways back.
I dabbled in it in the teenage years, but for some reason, man, where I was growing up and the people I was hanging out with… It was always a bad trip for me.
High Times: In that getting high would send you to a weird, dark place?
Jason Sechrist: Everytime there’d be a chance to smoke it would be like, alright, let’s skip school, go to the back of this creepy park, and smoke out of a bone pipe or something.
Kyle O’Quin: I have a hilarious memory from when the movie Idle Hands came out, to give you an idea of the era. I’d made a pipe out of an inhaler, but then realized it was plastic, so it didn’t work out too well.
High Times: You incorporated the plastic fumes into your high.
Kyle O’Quin: These lungs have seen worse.
High Times: Would you say early on in life, weed felt like this “forbidden fruit,” or did you have a different perspective around it?
Jason Sechrist: For me, it took several times up to bat. Everytime I did it it was a forbidden fruit kind of high that didn’t seem to click well. It took so many tries and every time I was like, “Fuck, this is a disaster, this is a nightmare, it’s not for me.” And I felt so bummed out about it because so many of my trusted buddies and fellow musicians would be like, “Oh, I’m having a great time on this stuff.” So I was like, “How do I tap into this?”
The changing moment came around 21/22 when I was kicking it with a good pal of mine and he put on the Side B vinyl of The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You. He reached for one of those two-dollar metal pipes—and all of a sudden—the music spoke, everything fell into place, and I was like, “Dude, this is it.” I felt a sense of relaxation as the music sank in, a sense of calm, safety, and security. I was like, “Oh man. I’m on this team forever.” From that day forward, [weed] has been very important.
Kyle O’Quin: We totally live the high life. We love what we do for a living, but to say it’s not stressful would be a lie. At the end of a show, me and Jason’s favorite part is walking off stage and getting stoned.
Jason Sechrist: There are plenty of times you wish you could be stoned dealing with an issue or being in a punishing circumstance but you still have to live life and be functional and get through things and be a professional to certain degrees and then reward yourself.
Kyle O’Quin: At different times, too. I got in trouble in high school and had to go to some drug class where they taught me about it. In your normal vision, peripherally, say you can pay attention to like 14 things. Weed kind of puts blinders on so you’re really focused on like 6. That’s why you might be driving like, “I’m going exactly the speed limit,” but you’re not paying attention to something else.
To equate it to music, when I’m home, I want those blinders on. When I’m sitting at my piano playing classical or in the studio just looking at a synth making weird noises, it’s totally appropriate. But when we play live, we’re playing off each other, so it doesn’t seem like having blinders on is the best way to play live music sometimes when you’re improvising.
High Times: Does weed impact your creative process then in terms of creating new music? Not necessarily performing it live.
Kyle O’Quin: It’s a very fine-line conversation. At the end of the day, I don’t really promote that people need drugs to be creative and I don’t think that’s the source of my creativity. But I will say, if we’re down in the basement all day, recording, not smoking weed, and we call it for the night, I’ll go upstairs and get stoned and be like, “I wanna go back down and pull that out for a couple of hours.” It gives me a little extra boost sometimes to put in a little extra work. It’s just extra credit.
High Times: It’s like a creative coffee in a way.
Kyle O’Quin: They call that the Seattle Speedball.
Jason Sechrist: On the creative side of it, sure, I do enjoy weed. But there’s a story about performance that’s disaster-based.
Kyle O’Quin: Let me just preface that this was a long time ago. 2007.
Jason Sechrist: It was called “The Baltimore Experience.” We were in Baltimore playing a gig called the Ottobar and Kyle and I were kicking it in the van. It was around 5pm, still light out, and we’re just roasting a joint because this is in the era where you’ve got no money and you’re killing time. So we’re smoking and someone comes up to the van and they’re like, “Hey, are you guys ready to play? You’re on in about fifteen minutes.” I was like, “What? Fifteen minutes?” I thought we had a couple of hours to kill but didn’t pay attention to the schedule. So I said, “Okay, cool. Let’s just do this. I don’t like to play this high, but I guess we can go for it.”
We play this gig and the gig was going swimmingly. It was so amazing. We were feeling it, I was feeling it. I felt like Jon Bon, it felt incredible. I was like, “Hell, yeah. This is it.” And then we get to the last song, our most challenging number at the time. It’s got some progressive counts in it and a lot of starting, stopping, tempo changes and all of that nonsense.
Here comes time for this musical break and we crash out of this part and then slowly but surely, everyone starts to look back at the drum kit. At me. And I’m like, “Uh, where are we?” And the guys go, “You know, right here [makes musical note sounds]. And I’m like, “But what do I do? I know you know what you’re going to do, but I don’t know what I’m going to do.” I’d completely lost all music as far as what I was supposed to do as a drummer. And then they reminded me and I was like, “Oh yeah, yeah. That’s right. That part.” The whole time the crowd’s staring at us while we’re trying to figure this shit out after rocking out.
I get ready to count my part back in and I go, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” clicking my sticks past four.
Kyle O’Quin: We come in after four and we’re just like, “What the heck?”
Jason Sechrist: So everyone stops again and the guys are shaking their heads at this point, and basically I butcher this part. I played the last 30 seconds to a minute with my head down.
Everyone got through it and laughed, but I remember the singer John [Gourley] was like, “Damn, dude. No more smoking weed while we’re playing.”
High Times: Just weed shaming you after the show.
Kyle O’Quin: And we’re still paying the price today.
Jason Sechrist: We did try it a few times at a few particular gigs, but every time you lose all sense of confidence in terms of your ability to prove yourself. If someone’s like “We played the song way too fast” or “We played the song way too slow,” if you’re high—and they know you’re high—it’s almost like you can’t say “You’re wrong.”
We realized we weren’t going to be the band [that performs high], and I will say you can always see the ones that do. When bands do the “we smoke weed before the gig and play it” whether it’s at the tavern/bar level or arenas, everyone has to be all-in. The entire group has to be stoners. You can’t have one or two potheads and then three people that are sober up there, because then you’ll have that dynamic that gets really weird.
When I was getting into weed and unearthing everything so-to-speak, I remember having this almost stupid intention to be like, “I have to do everything better in this world that I’ve literally been doing my whole life.” Grab the dirt, feel the sand, toes in water, what’s a bug? Almost re-live your childhood. Be like, “I have to re-do all the things in my life that I’ve been doing, I have to do them high now just to see if they’re wonderful.
Kyle O’Quin: If you’ve taken lessons, you can look at a sunset and go, “I can appreciate this more than somebody who never has.” I don’t know how to explain it. There’s a whole world of weed and appreciation of things that gives you a little bit of a different perspective than somebody who doesn’t smoke.
High Times: In terms of perspective, what’s the inspiration behind your upcoming album?
Kyle O’Quin: I feel like we’re playing better than ever and am super excited about our album coming out in June. Our song “What, Me Worry?”… We’re all 90s kids. We grew up on Beevis and Butthead, Mad TV—they were a huge influence on all of us, and, especially in these times right now, we’re just trying to bring positive vibes to the world. We’re getting a little bit tired of all the negativity. People want to smile. If you’re not having a good time [as performers], how are other people supposed to have a good time?
Jason Sechrist: We were 80s and 90s kids and a lot of the tangible world seems to be disappearing when you think about what social media has done to people. It’s made everyone a professor of nothing [laughs]. Everyone has a push-of-a-button of an opinion and it never used to be that way.
When you’re a kid, you used to be able to go, “What can I do to entertain myself? Well, I guess I’ll flip through what my parents or grandparents have as a magazine selection. Hey, what’s this? Mad Magazine? Cool. Fold the back page—whoa, look what it does.” We were feeling the youthful power behind why we’ve always done this music thing [for our upcoming album]. It turns out that what inspires you will continue to inspire you, even if it’s old.
High Times: Is it the nostalgia of what inspires you that continues to inspire you or is it the actual idea of flipping through your grandparents’ magazines or opening that mystery chest in the attic and seeing what’s inside?
Kyle O’Quin: It’s just always been there, like our musical DNA. When kids start playing music early, the things they attach to musically when they’re 8-10 stick with them.
You could write a senior thesis—not that any of us went to college—on the idea that you can play somebody a song and how it takes you back to a moment in time twenty years ago. There have been studies on people with Alzheimer’s where a song from their high school band is played and brought back all of these memories. To me, that is one of the most incredible aspects of music.
Me and Jason grew up working in restaurants and stuff. You know the term “lifer?” We just kind of knew when we were kids that we were going to play music the rest of our lives. There’s a great quote from Nadia Boulanger—the great music teacher who taught Quincy Jones, Leonard Bernstein, Elliot Carter, Aaron Copeland, Philip Glass—which goes, “Don’t play music unless you’d rather die than not do so,” and I don’t see music as an option, to be honest with you.
Jason Sechrist: You can apply this to painting, art, photography, or anything else. Why would some person want to go and just shoot 100,000 photos over the course of the next decade? You’ve got to teach yourself the process.
High Times: What helped you realize that music was your path and also provide you with the confidence to pursue it?
Jason Sechrist: I knew that music was everything and that it was the most powerful healing thing for me. It was all I could think about. It was “tap-tap-tap”—I couldn’t pay attention in school, school wasn’t for me, sports weren’t for me. I knew that eventually I’d have to work to get cash if I wanted to buy a CD or get some new music, so the path seemed like a very long, long road of enjoying music and listening to it in general. When it comes to your part of playing it—from young all the way to old—that power is literally in that one person’s decision. It’s up to you to hold the instrument in your hands and it’s up to you how long you want to hold that instrument in your hands before you want to put it down.
For me, I gravitated toward loving drumming and beating on things, all through life. Until it got to the point where it got more serious and it got more serious and people were like, “Hey man, you should be in a band. Come be our drummer.” And I was like, “Nah, I just like to play for myself.” Eventually, I got pulled into the live music world, and then, I had fun.
You realize how much fun you’re having, which is probably around the time when using marijuana helped amplify things and give me a more focused trajectory. You have to go through so many days and weeks and months and years of playing with different groups and different people to eventually—possibly—run into the right groups of people for you.
So, you always have to have your instrument in your hand. You always have to be willing to jam or play in the beginning, and you have to find like-minded friends with a like-minded focus, too.
Kyle O’Quin: That’s the hardest, most important part—finding a group of friends that are giving it their everything. Like, you’re sacrificing seeing your family to sleep in a van for years, and the hardest thing is finding that group of people. I feel so lucky that we found that early.
Jason Sechrist: Think about how much effort it takes just being a nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday person. Then think how much effort it takes to—[on top of that]—use your time off in your day to load an amp and cables into your car, go to somebody’s house, and literally use your free time [away from work] to just jam with them. That is the musical world. It’s eternal and everyone gets to play and play on some level.
Kyle O’Quin: We’re not a normal band where “this guy does this, this guy does that.” Everybody has a unique skill set outside of the instrument they play. Jason in our band has the best ears when it comes to tones and when it comes to listening to recordings. He’s the one who’s airing out the keyboard parts that I as a keyboard player don’t know. People assume that listening to music is easy. Being a classical musician, I’ve read books on it. It’s so hard to put on a piece of music, hear that first note, and give yourself to it. It’s incredibly hard. Jason is the best at it and I don’t think he’d be that guy if he wasn’t one of the genuine stoners in the band.
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