EACH member of Portugal. The Man is inscribed with the mark of the lord. It’s a tradition that dates back to a particularly loose night at Frankie’s in Sydney on the final night of the final Big Day Out tour in 2014.
The Alaskan-born, Portland-based rock band had thrown an unofficial after-party for headliners The Arcade Fire, shouting the entire bar a round of whiskey shots, when “one of the Australians” partying with them that night declared: “The lords of Portland are in town.”
That in-joke became an ink-joke, with all six members and long-time crew now bearing PTM’s gang insignia somewhere on their body. But the first person outside the band to get “lorded” was a plucky photographer from Wollongong named Maclay Heriot.
Maclay, who was partying with the band that fateful night at Frankie’s, struck up a friendship with PTM backstage on that same Big Day Out tour. The connection was instant, and he soon found himself living out his Almost Famous dreams on their tour bus.
He snapped the band on stage at Lollapalooza that year, and was invited to Rick Rubin’s Shangri La Studios in Malibu, where they were recording their game-changing album Woodstock with none other than
That album features the Grammy-winning
The venues may be bigger, but they’re still the same “shit talkers” from small-town Alaska, and they’re still bringing their old buddy Maclay on the road. On a short stopover between Coachellas in Santa Fe, New Mexico, PTM bassist Zach Carothers and Maclay discuss their ongoing bromance and the interweaving ways in which their art informs and inspires the other.
“Maclay is close enough to us that we don’t want to hide anything,” Zach says. “If someone gets in a fist fight, Maclay takes the picture. If someone’s crying, Maclay takes the picture. If someone is bleeding: ‘Take the picture Maclay! He knows us, and he knows that we want him to do that … He’s part of the family.”
How was the Coachella experience for you?
Zach: This is the most chill experience we’ve had. It probably wasn’t chill at all [laughs] but most Coachella experiences are pretty crazy. It was rad. We played a real big boy set at 7pm on the main stage. We had 20 extra musicians on the stage and the lights and everything were just massive.
Maclay: I had never been on a stage that big before. It was just huge. That dusk slot, as Zach said, was pretty massive.
Obviously it’s been a massive year for the band, and I kinda knew things were a bit crazy when I was on a cruise ship a few weeks ago and the cover band were playing ‘Feel It Still’. What’s been the most surreal place you’ve heard that song?
Zach: I think a friend, who is a kindergarten teacher, sent me a video of some girls playing hopscotch in the playground and they were all singing ‘Feel It Still’. That was the moment where I was kinda like, “Holy shit!” That’s a pretty big deal…
My daughter does jazz dance classes and she does a dance to it. So it’s crossed over with kids here too.
Zach: [Laughs] Honestly it’s been crazy. There’s been so many random things. We were on the Today Show, a popular morning show here, and [host] Kathy-Lee said it was her song of the summer. And then Lars Ulrich, the drummer of Metallica, on his podcast, said it was his song of the summer. That was before everything took off and I kinda realised that we really touched either end of the spectrum on that one. We cast the net pretty wide, and if we could just get people in the middle to listen, we’ve got a good song on our hands. And they did.
Maclay: For me it was when I started hearing it on the radio, and in shops. It just became unavoidable.
Maclay, what was it like as someone that’s been involved with the band for a long time to watch this happen from afar?
Maclay: It’s been a pretty wild experience. When I first met the guys at the very last Big Day Out, I had a few opportunities to come over and do a proper tour. They really broke me in and showed me the way.
Zach: We broke him down. [Laughs] He used to be a really beautiful man. We ruined him. [Laughs]
Maclay: I was going back and forth each year to the States, having time in the studio in Portland, watching them write, in the studio … To see the hard work they put in and their constant dedication to their craft – to see that pay off is pretty inspiring to be honest. The hard work is all coming back with that song.
Has it changed them?
Maclay: I don’t think it’s changed them. They’re still so humble … It’s the same LOLs, you know. [Laughter] It’s constant stirring. The camaraderie, the banter – it’s what gets everyone through, and picks everyone up.
Obviously the touring experience has changed quite a bit from the early days?
Zach: Not a tonne. We’re still doing the same thing, just playing a little bigger places now. It’s been a gradual increase. The opportunities that we’re getting, the people that are asking to work with us, that’s definitely stepped up. As far as the shows, it’s always been growing steadily since the beginning, and this [‘Feel It Still’] just gave us a really big push. It’s not crazy because a lot of people still don’t know who we are – everybody knows the song, pretty much in the world. They think it’s a new singer chick, or a Pharrell song. [Laughs] They don’t know who Portugal. The Man is, but they know the song.
That’s a pretty good position to be in: to have success without the notoriety.
Zach: Yeah, it’s not too bad … Things are a lot crazier than they were, but we’re alright.
Maclay: I come over to the States and the guys play pretty big rooms. In the States they’ve got a solid following over here that’s grown from a long time touring, and them earning that. Back home in Australia when people ask what I’ve been up to and I tell them I’ve been on tour with Portugal. The Man, they’ve either never heard of the band before, or they’re the most loyal fan that’s been with them from the beginning. But it’s funny walking around now and people really noticing the guys.
Take me back to the first meeting at the Big Day Out. What made you connect?
Zach: Oh man, we’re birds of a feather. We’re completely cut from the same cloth. But honestly we find that with a lot of Australians. We’ve made a lot of friends down there … Alaskans really get along with Australians. Things get a little punchy, we like to drink some beers, we respect each other and a lot of shit talking goes on. I’m big into photography myself and he [Maclay] had a lot of rad analog shit with him, so we became friends right away. It was pretty damn fast actually.
Maclay: There were so many similarities. The guys have taken me up to Alaska a few times, and it’s not that dissimilar to growing up in Australia, where you’re not in it as much. They have a different perspective to people that have maybe grown up in a big city. You grow up outside, which makes you want to see stuff, and experience stuff … They were just like, “You’ve never been on a proper tour on a bus? We’ll take you to the States and show you how it’s done.” That offer, that generosity to even throw that out – I just sort of jumped at that, and the rest is history.
"He does the same shit we do. He doesn’t get to be home, or with his girl, or see his family. That’s why he’s one of us. He does what we do. He sacrifices the same stuff and that’s what’s makes him different than everyone."
And that was the first time you had toured with a band [as a photographer]?
Maclay: After Big Day Out in 2014, I came over out to the States and did Lollapalooza. I hit the guys up when I got over here and they were like, “Do you want to come out to the studio?” They didn’t mention to me what was going on. I just knew they were recording stuff. I ended up in Rick Rubin’s studio in Malibu [Shangri La] and they were recording with Mike D from The Beastie Boys. And I was like, “What the hell am I doing here?” Being from Sydney, or from Wollongong, those opportunities don’t really arise unless you’re invited in. And from there they were like, “What are you doing the next few months man?” And I was like, “Nothing.” [Laughs] And they were like, “Alright. You’re coming with us.” I got dragged on the bus.
Zach: Kidnapped. [Laughs]
Maclay: Kidnapped. And the first show was in the States was at Red Rocks. A sold-out Red Rocks show in Colorado. It went from there.
I love the photos of Byron in 2016 when you did that Corona tour?
Zach: We had so much fun. We went hang-gliding. I went surfing for the first time. We did the most psychotic rope song.
Maclay: I jumped out of a plane in Wollongong.
Zach: We got crazy on that trip. It was fun.
Zach, would you consider Maclay the seventh member of the band?
Zach: One hundred percent. We hate touring without Maclay. I don’t even want to go if he doesn’t go, if he’s got other things to do. But, yeah, he’s in it. He’s the guy that goes everywhere we go. He’s stayed at my house, he knows my mother. She’s cooked him food.
Maclay: Washed my underwear. [Laughs]
Zach: My mom’s done his laundry. He’s one of us for sure.
How important are Maclay’s photos to the Portugal. The Man story?
Zach: It’s the whole story. You don’t have a story without that stuff. We’re obviously fans of photography and documenting, we’re lucky enough to have talented friends that do this. But Maclay just jumps all in and goes with us for months on end. He does the same shit we do. He doesn’t get to be home, or with his girl, or see his family. That’s why he’s one of us. He does what we do. He sacrifices the same stuff and that’s what’s makes him different than everyone.
Maclay: I really love that documentarian style of photography, building that relationship. Like Annie Leibovitz and Robert Frank. They just chill with bands for months. You can’t fake it. You can’t limit it. You have to go through the same stuff they’re going through to tell that honest story. You’re sort of living it as well. You have to respect being let into that world. It’s a pretty unique opportunity to be part of that … There are so many photos. We just don’t know what to do with them. Zach has taken nice photos of me. I don’t have many nice photos of myself.
Zach: Maclay is close enough to us that we don’t want to hide anything. If someone gets in a fist fight, Maclay takes the picture. If someone’s crying, Maclay takes the picture. If someone is bleeding. “Take the picture Maclay!” He knows us, and he knows that we want him to do that … He’s part of the family.
Is there a particular photo he’s taken that you love?
Zach: The stuff in Malibu. It’s such a beautiful portrayal of what we do. A lot of heads down, our faces in notebooks, us thinking, or staring into space. He gets a lot of the fun stuff too, but the darker moments are the most meaningful for sure. That wasn’t a dark moment in that studio [Shangri La] – we were just working really hard.
And Maclay is there a particular photo that stands out?
Maclay: There’s a couple. That first year that I came over and did Lollapalooza. I hadn’t seen the guys in a few months and I was still pretty green and young. I was making my way over to the main stage. They had already started because I was busy shooting something else. I just showed up … Everyone that was in the band then, that I captured, is in the band now – even if people have come and gone. It was a pivotal moment. It’s a time point, or a reference, for how far things have come. It was a similar experience to Coachella  but on a much grander scale. The studio stuff and stuff at home, when I was crashing at Zach and [keyboard player] Kyle [O’Quin’s] place in Portland. You kinda know when you get that shot that it’s more special than those “standing against a brick wall” kinda general press shots. Everyone that’s involved in that photo has their own experience of that time as well.
Zach, I kinda creeped on your Instagram and found a photo of Maclay getting a tattoo.
Zach: Oh yeah. Like I said he’s one of us.
What’s the story behind it?
Zach: Basically if you come into the fold, if you’re in the band or crew for long enough, then basically you’ve proved yourself in the worst way possible. If you’re one of us you get the ink, you get the mark of the lords. He was the first people not technically in the band to have one.
Maclay: I got slugged with it. [Laughs] The guy was pretty generous with the size of mine.
Maclay, what makes them good photo subjects?
Maclay: They have their own unique style and personalities. From the beginning it was something different than any other band I have worked with. There was just something there. Obviously the music connected with me, and I thought, “These guys are definitely going somewhere.” … I feel like photographers in my genre may only get this kind of opportunity with only a handful of bands. You only get four or five bands you truly connect with, and for me it’s these guys.
Zach, you’re a photographer as well, is there anything you’ve learnt from Maclay?
Zach: I try and rip off his style as much as I can. [Laughs]
Maclay: It goes both ways. We jam out on equipment. We borrow each other’s stuff.
Zach: We bounce ideas back and forth. It’s fun that we get to specifically go out and take pictures every day. It makes me do it more plain and simple … It makes us experience life better, especially at times when I’m tired and I just want to sit in a hotel room.
Did you have any questions for each other?
Zach: [Laughs] We pretty much know everything there is to know.
Maclay: Last year I spent a big chunk of time with the guys – there were three trips of Europe, multiple trips in the States, we were with each other every day for six months. When you’re living on top of people in a bus yeah – we have no questions for each other. [Laughs]