John Gourley talks about writing Oh Boy for the Red Bull Stratos film, Mission to the Edge of Space.
Portugal. The Man make the sort of wide-eyed indie pop that seems almost lab-created to soundtrack massive, poignant moments. Just listen to their recent (seventh) album, 'Evil Friends,' produced by Danger Mouse. It’s little wonder, then, they were asked to write a song, 'Oh Boy,' for the first-anniversary film about Red Bull Stratos, 'Mission to the Edge of Space.'
Ahead of the film’s online release on Rdio on Monday, October 14, we caught up with frontman John Gourley to talk about that jump and the place where no one can hear you scream.
'Oh Boy' is cinematic but with maybe a hint of terror – is that how you felt about Felix's jump?
That’s exactly where I tried to go, without trying to make myself sound like a sissy. That’s the way I’d feel in that position – so few people are built to do that sort of thing, it’s not for everyone.
Was it tough writing a song that, because of its theme, will draw comparisons with 'Rocket Man,' 'Space Oddity,' and the rest?
I’m a huge fan of Bowie, Pink Floyd, all of those, and I think that was an exciting part of it. We just shook down and let it flow, and watched the video [of the jump] over and over. You can see it again and again and it still gives you the same feeling. When we started writing the song, it took me back to looking up at the stars as a kid and listening to Bowie – my mum was a huge fan. Sometimes music is something that connects all those points in your life, so while it was scary to write a song about a big moment like that it also felt natural.
Were you interested in space as a kid?
I grew up in Alaska and my parents were dogsled mushers. We lived in this cabin near an icy lake, one of those places in Alaska that you think about when anyone mentions it. In the winter it’s dark for 14 hours a day and you would just look at the stars – the most you’ve ever seen, the craziest thing. It’s like in the song, those lines I put into 'Oh Boy,' you look up at them and just feel so small.
Have you taken your interest in space any further?
It always scared me! That’s where the connection with the jump is – feeling that small and looking out. I was always terrified. Like, what if there’s a solar flare and it wipes everything out? I think about stuff like that. I remember being a kid and my dad watching '2001: A Space Odyssey,' and I walked in and was just overawed. We had this library – my dad had this crazy collection of books – and space was always something I wanted to look at but I’d feel terrified the whole time.
Have you met Felix?
No, that’s the weird thing and the best thing about writing this song: writing as an outsider, someone who just saw it happen. Like, you’re really going to do that? To us he’s just a guy who wanted to go up there and do that.
What are your favorite space-related songs?
Pink Floyd’s 'Dark Side of the Moon' as a whole. It’s the most amazing piece of music and it really opened up my mind and made me think about everything. Brain Damage/Eclipse sums it all up. I’ve always been terrified of the eclipse and that sums up how we’re so small, but it gives me a good feeling too.
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