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Portugal. The Man and Blackbird Team Up on Rousing New Song ‘Backup’

Members from the Alaskan bands talk to us about their recent collaboration

David Britto Sep 10, 2021

Alaskan-bred rock bands Portugal. The Man (left) and Blackbird. Photos: Maclay Heriot (PTM); Roberto A. Jackson

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Alaska-bred and Arizona-based rock outfit Blackbird – comprising vocalist-flutist Cody Blackbird, vocalist-percussionist Caleb Blackbird and drummer Justin Hyland – recently teamed up with fellow Alaskan band Portugal. The Man on their soaring new track entitled “Backup.”

With Portugal. The Man’s guitarist Eric Howk adding a splendid solo to the song, the band’s bassist Zach Carothers talks to us about the collaboration while Blackbird’s Cody fills us in on how the song came together in this interview with Rolling Stone India.

When did work on the song “Backup” begin? Talk to me about the songwriting process.

Cody: Backup originated back in February 2020. As many of our songs did at the time, an instrumental song heavy on the native flute. We regularly perform at an indigenous-owned marketplace in Scottsdale, Arizona called The Native Art Market and ‘Backup’ was a song we really just improvised on the spot at a show there one time. We hit the road on tour that late February and COVID hit a couple of weeks later canceling the rest of the tour and sending us home. Like everyone else we were pretty shocked at what was going on in the world and the rest of the song started to come together.

How did the collaborations with fiddle player Sage Cornelius and Portugal. The Man come about?

Cody: Portugal. The Man has always been extremely supportive, we sent John [Gourley, vocalist] and Zach [Carothers, bassist] the song just to show them some new material and got a message back asking if we wanted them to lay anything down on it, Eric [Howk, guitarist] ended up sending back a shredding solo! Shortly after that, we decided we definitely wanted to add some fiddle and hit up native fiddle player extraordinaire Sage Cornelius to ask him to be on the track, extremely talented and amazing to work with.

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How did Blackbird and Portugal. The Man get acquainted?

Carothers: Oh, we’ve been friends for a while now. Not totally sure how we first connected, but we all got shitty together at one of his [Cody’s] shows in Portland and pretty much became lifelong friends. The next day I had a brutal hangover that turned into the flu. Rough goddamn day.

What can you tell me about the song itself?

Cody: ‘Backup’ is a feel-good song with a message that we sprinkled with some of our favorite genres of music. Keeping with the same ‘alter-native rock’ style including the native flute throughout the song was definitely a goal. We added a lot of elements and friends on this one. As a band the pandemic really allowed us to sit back and focus on writing and recording and take our time to make this song and others what we wanted them to be. The backup part of the song came from the six feet social distancing recommendations, but it took on a whole new metaphor lyrically as we wrote the verses, we’re talking about how people in 2021 are still fighting to break through glass ceilings created long ago. Truth and reconciliation is long overdue for indigenous peoples of the world and for all marginalized people in the world! Get with the program or backup.

What was it like jumping in on a fellow Alaskan band’s song and what do you feel Portugal. The Man brought to the track?

Carothers: Always feels great to collaborate with a fellow Alaskan. What Cody and his fellas are doing is so huge for contemporary indigenous culture and we’re always honored to be invited to help elevate the cause. Cody’s band is never lacking energy, so it was fun to just turn our boy Eric loose. The song was there. We just added some sprinkles. 

What was the recording process like?

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Cody: We recorded and re-recorded several times as the song took on many variations before arriving at the final version. We brought on our good friend and collaborator Jalen Ledet as co-producer who brought so many brilliant ideas for this working with him remotely in our home studio in Arizona and him at his in Colorado. Mario Nobilio and Ed Koban recorded bass and guitar remotely from Buffalo, New York. Once we had a good Idea on the final direction of the song Eric sent over the guitar solo. This pandemic has really changed the way we’re able to record and collaborate but thankfully we’re all set up to be able to make it work well. The recording process was tedious and took a while but always a fun time! Kind of like putting together that furniture you ordered from IKEA, the end result is what you enjoy the most. 

What’s next for Blackbird and Portugal. The Man and Blackbird?

Carothers: We’ve been recording a new album for a couple of years. During the pandemic, we got to stay quiet and calm for a while. We haven’t spent this much time in one spot since we were kids. Currently, we’re finishing up the recordings and sharpening our claws for tour. I forgot how to play music [laughs].

Cody: In mid-September, we will be releasing the music video for ‘Backup.’ We are really looking forward to hitting the road again soon, but until then we have some singles we will be releasing. Every couple of weeks for the next few months we will be dropping a single from what we’ve been working on over the last year or so. In January we will be releasing an EP and hopefully be seeing y’alls smiling faces out there in 2022. 

Stream “Backup” on Spotify below and on other platforms.

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