In this song, Portugal. The Man lead singer John Gourley is a "rebel just for kicks" because he's now a family man, with a daughter, Francis, born in 2011. "It's hard to be a punk when you're thinking about your baby daughter at home," he said in a Songfacts interview
. "The verses are all about my baby daughter, but I'm out here being this rebel, messing around with people and trying to make a positive impact."
His punk days may be over, but the spirit is still there: he can "feel it still."
Many bands pay their dues, but few do it in Alaska, where Portugal. The Man formed in 2004. For years, they spent most of their waking hours touring and recording; they released an album every year from 2006-2011, along with various EPs and singles, all while playing hundreds of shows. They grew a loyal following, but didn't have anything close to a mainstream hit until "Feel It Still" broke loose in 2017.
The song was everywhere, making playlists on a variety of formats. Most listeners had never heard the group before, so it was heavily Shazamed.
The band has always kept a low profile, and that didn't change when they landed a hit. By this time, they were living in Portland, Oregon, where unorthodox is the norm. Instead of getting a makeover and maximizing their viral moment, they kept moving forward like the always had, with a look and sound far left of center. They even sold T-shirts on their website that read: "I liked Portugal. The Man before they sold out."
The vocal melody on this track kicks it like it's 1961, interpolating the Marvelettes hit "Please Mr. Postman
":Ooh woo, I'm a rebel just for kicks, now...
Oh yes, wait a minute Mister Postman...
"That 'Please Mr. Postman' melody is every bit of the way we grew up," John Gourley said in his Songfacts interview. "I grew up with dog-mushing parents – which I know is a bizarre thing for anybody outside of Alaska. And even within Alaska, it's such a small community within the state. So I grew up around really long drives. We were off the grid our whole lives until I left. Like, an hour drive to town. Sometimes a two-hour drive to town. That's four hours, both ways. So we would just listen to oldies radio, and 'Please Mr. Postman' is a staple.
I always wanted to sing something to that melody. It's a totally different song, and that to me is what music is about. What songwriting is about is paying homage and creating something new. It's no longer 'Please Mr. Postman.' Now, it's 'Feel It Still.'"
If this was the first Portugal. The Man song you heard, you may have thought it was a girl singing it, but that's John Gourley's natural range. Soul groups like The Delfonics and The Stylistics sang up there, as did The Bee Gees, but you don't hear many rock acts in that range - especially ones from Alaska!
Gourley embraced his falsetto after watching the Woodstock
movie and seeing Joe Cocker's performance of "With A Little Help From My Friends
." The backing vocals are way up high, and when the camera cuts to them, we see they are guys. "It was very liberating for me to see that I can sing there," Gourley told Songfacts. "I can sing like Gene Pitney and Frankie Valli, and that's cool."
"Feel It Still" was an international hit, especially popular in Europe, where it charted hit in most contries. In America, it went to #1 on these Billboard charts:
Adult Alternative Songs
Adult Top 40
Hot Rock & Alternative Songs
Mainstream Top 40
On Alternative Airplay, it logged its 20th week at the summit on December 9, 2017, becoming the longest-running #1 in the chart's history, overtaking Muse's "Madness
," which ruled for 19 weeks in 2012 and 2013.
The writing credits on this song go to the six band members along with their producers, Asa Taccone and John Hill, and the writers of "Please Mr. Postman," because it uses the vocal melody.
John Gourley cobbled together the song in just 45 minutes. He recalled to Time
"'Feel It Still' was not even a song we were working on that day. We were working on mixing 'Live In The Moment
' in one room at the studio, and I needed to take a break and give my ears a rest. So I stepped into this side room, and I just started playing that bass line. And luckily Asa [Taccone] from Electric Guest was in that room working on something else. It's a weird thing for other artists to be in the studio with you. But I'm so happy he was there. He heard that bass line, and he just took his headphones off and said to me, 'Yo J, can I record that real quick?' I was caught off guard, so I said 'Yeah, sure, let's see what you got.' And he handed me a microphone and said 'Hey man, do you have any lyrics?' I had this 'rebel just for kicks' line in my head for a while.
I was trying to think of a bridge and [Taccone] picked up the mic and was in my face and started saying, 'Is it coming... is it coming...' and that's where it came from: it was just Asa in my face trying to get me to write a bridge. The whole thing was just 45 minutes at the end of the day."
This song accomplished the rare feat of appealing to both kids and their parents. The dance groove and inspirational lyric gave it cachet with the younger generation, and older folks (and the band's core fans) appreciated the live instruments and reference to 1986, acknowledging relevance of the music they grew up with.
The music video features a striking image of a Sikh man reading a burning newspaper version of the website Infowars, which is run by conspiracy theorist and radio show host Alex Jones. The band was unaware, at the time the visual was filmed, of Jones' fervent following.
"We got death threats. He did a five-minute segment on us on his show, two days before we started a tour in Boise, Idaho," guitarist Eric Howk told The Independent. "That is a gun-slinging, conservative red state. It's one of the reddest cities. You kept your eyes open a little bit more out there. But I'm not giving any power to some jagoff on the internet."
The man holding the paper is a friend of the band. "Somebody else was actually supposed to burn the paper," John Gourley told Songfacts. "It was just happenstance. That person was in the bathroom or eating lunch, and Juggy – our Sikh friend – was the closest person there, so he went and burned it."
"Looking back, everything that he rattled off about us was untrue," he added, referring to Alex Jones. "You see how easy it is for conspiracy theorists to do their thing, because it's shooting from the hip: There are no facts behind it. There is no basis for anything he is saying. There was no intent to imply that it would be a Muslim burning the paper, and even the fact that it is a Sikh burning the paper, it has nothing to do with it. It was a joke that he took very seriously."
The song was written and recorded in 2016 as candidates were jockeying for position in the US presidential election that was ultimately won by Donald Trump. This electioneering seeped into the song. Gourley, a Bernie Sanders supporter, told Billboard:
"I think the lyric reflects the way a lot of us feel. It came out of this George Carlin quote, which was something we had talked about quite a bit within our circle of friends. George Carlin would talk about politics and religion but in the same breath he'd also mention he doesn't vote, doesn't trust politicians or religion.
It comes down to the way our political parties work where it's basically football teams. If you're not on Team Trump, you're on Team Hillary and it's such a ridiculous way to look at politics and to look at the way we're voting. I'll talk s--t all day long but at the end of the day I don't want to vote for anybody. I don't feel strongly for either one of those people. So many of my friends were for Bernie all the way and said, 'If he doesn't get it, I'm not voting.' It's a ridiculous process. The fact at all that Bernie had to run as a Democrat is kind of what the song is about."
Asked by NME
about the lyrical inspiration behind the track, bassist Zach Carothers replied:
"Things often start off kinda like automatic writing. Words that sound good and feel right to us. It's very subconscious in the beginning and as we fine tune things we learn a lot about ourselves and how our brains work. It's kinda crazy. Like a Rorschach Ink Blot Test.
Generally inspired by a couple specific sea changes that mean a lot to us. 1966 - Civil rights movements, war protest and LSD testing. 1986 - first finding out about New York hip-hop. License To Ill
. 'Fight for Your Right to Party
.' Essentially a rebel just for kicks."
The director David Javier and choreographer Brian Friedman made two additional videos for this song featuring child dancers, including Maddie Ziegler, who starred in Sia's videos for "Chandelier
" and "Elastic Heart
." A number of other videos with dance troupes performing to the song also appeared, some of which got over a million views on YouTube.
"Feel It Still" won for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the Grammy Awards in 2018.
"Feel It Still" shows up in a lot of TV shows and movies. Among them:
9-1-1 ("Pinned" - 2020)
The Good Doctor ("Incomplete" - 2019)
The Village (Pilot - 2019)
All American ("Back in the Day" - 2019)
Suits ("Rocky 8" - 2019)
Love Island ("Unseen Bits 1" - 2018)
Riverdale ("Chapter Twenty-One: House of the Devil" - 2017)
MacGyver ("Roulette Wheel + Wire" - 2017)
Kevin (Probably) Saves the World (Pilot - 2017)
Grey's Anatomy ("Break Down the House" - 2017)
Siesta Key ("Kelsey's New Crew" - 2017)
Poms - 2019
Father of the Year - 2018
Love, Simon - 2018
Peter Rabbit - 2018