Sunday, January 7, 2007

Interviews:: Ron Fountenberry of the Softlightes

Yesterday I had the chance to talk with Softlightes frontman, Ron Fountenberry. Ron's had an interesting career, and seems to have found a home with the good people of Modular. His unique style of electro pop is something I've always enjoyed, and the new album - Say No To Being Cool, Say Yes To Being Happy is great.

HH:: After a couple of fantastic releases you and Kristian decided to switch gears and form a new full time band with a fairly set lineup. What prompted the change?
RF:: It was more or less out of necessity. I mean, the Moses Leroy work was essentially a solo project, and the first actual label release did well, but it was becoming apparent that the label wasn't doing much with it. It was just really obvious that it wasn't going like it should, and eventually it went under. So I started thinking about future prospects, like an escape clause. I was plotting this for a year or so.

The thing with the music industry is that once you are established it's hard for people to erase any preconceptions. Since the sales for We Become the Soft Lightes were so poor, we just decided renaming was something we needed to do. I mean, it's not like we are all that different now. I still write the songs, and they are more or less the same style. It's not like we went from what we were to playing punk rock. It's more just like the growth is just a natural result of getting older and becoming a better song writer.

HH:: Yeah, the transition is very smooth. A lot of the material sounds similar to the Moses Leroy. It's interesting you mention that you are still writing the songs. Whenever I listen to your work, I'm always surprised how positive the messages are. It's no secret to anyone who listens to your music that one of the major focuses of your work is simply feeling happy (or at least trying
to). Not many artists (let alone musicians) use positive messages as a source of inspiration How much of your own personal outlook is expressed in your music?
RF:: A lot of people say that. It's weird I guess. I'm not sure. I had a rougher childhood than most people, so I think it would be hard to express that. I think that a lot of the angst people write about is usually pretty fabricated. But I think when you really listen, you will see that the record itself, just like the last Moses Leroy record actually has some depressing stuff on it, it's usually just against a back drop of pop music. I love pop music. I like the sounds. I guess maybe we are more indie-pop, but pop music is more upbeat. It's probably because you never have the words in front of you when you listen, but I mean, if you look at Heart of Sound, it's actually a really depressing song. It's actually about feeling like an outsider. It's about being pushed away by very specific people. It's actually a very specific feeling, about feeling disenfranchised.

HH:: That's interesting, because without a doubt I'm always left with a feeling of happiness when I'm finished with one of your records.
RF:: That's great. I want people to feel that way. I just like writing.

HH:: I guess it's one of the tough things about the style of music you play. It's tough to picture music with poppy electronica as anything but happy. But with your writing, I often wonder for an artist who use electronics, samples and drum machines, if the the process of creating the music is a the more enjoyable part or is it playing the music live?
RF:: Well, I definitely think of myself as a writer, and maybe a story teller. I love the gratification of performing when people are there, but it comes back to the trouble with the label. A few years ago, no one knew if you had a record out, unless the label put the money into promotion. It wasn't like it is today. You can't go onto myspace and tell your 10,000 friends you are playing a show. It was hgard to rely on word of mouth. So it was tough to play on that tour for We Become the Soft Lightes. The crowd is the one thing you can't control. You can control the recoding and writing, whether it's in a studio, a basement, even a closet. And you can always keep working at it. Making it perfect. It's like cooking. You can keep going until you make it tasty. You just keep trying.

HH:: I guess it goes without saying you are happy to be on Modular? How did that all happen?
RF:: Oh man. It's one of those crazy stories, who you know and right place right time stories, so I'll try to keep it brief. But when we first started, Cody Chestnutt and his crew.. crew, maybe his posse? I don't know what to call it, but anyway, we became friends and they came to a couple of shows we were playing. I guess it had to do with the fact we were both black, and playing music in a way that wasn't that common. Lots of instruments, but we were in the same position. But after the tour, they went down to Australia, and they were playing the CDs on the bus. The tour manager loved it, and wanted to know who we were. He borrowed the CD, and actually never gave it back. Then later, he played it for Pav and he kind of reached out to us. I had never really heard of Modular. I was a fan of a lot of the people on the label, like Cut Copy and the Avalanches. So I knew it would be a good label. Anyway, Pav started talking about putting the record out in Australia. But I was looking on Itunes, and saw Cut Copy, so I knew they had distribution, so we kind of decided to get it out to the whole world. But they are great. I love all the bands on the label. It's cheesy, but it's like a family. It's great. We had signed a deal with Bar None records. I was kind of desperate and they are a great label so it seemed like a good idea, but Modular just felt right. I mean, you must know a lot of the bands. What do you think of Modular?

HH:: They definitely have the golden touch. I mean, all their bands are doing great. I interview the drummer from Wolfmother a year ago, and if you had told me then that a small label from Australia promoting a band of three young dudes playing old Sabbath and Zeppelin riffs and they'd be playing sold out shows all over the world, I would have never believed it. But anyone I've ever talked to whose involved with Modular never has anything but great things to say about them. Which is weird, because usually every artist has a horror story involving their label. I think that's why so many people are using mysapce and trying it themselves now.
RF:: Yeah. We are happy, but I can see why people are trying it on their own. You're almost better off. The music industry is tough right now. It's sad, but labels don't have the cash to throw around. Or the effort at times. I can see why bands are just like, "why did you sign me?"

HH:: OK. One last question, then I'll let you get back to enjoying your Sunday. You are pretty open about loving video games and comic books. These aren't the influences of most pop stars. SO I was wondering what else influences your songs?
RF:: Mostly those things. We;;, I mean, I guess song writing wise, not video games. I'd never sit down ad write a song about Tekken or something, but anyone who knows me would probably call me a geek. But so is Kristian. I like Star Wars, but man, he loves Star Wars. He's got all the paraphenala. I think that takes something inside a person. I've always been drawn to the fantastical elements of comics, but also growing up there was so much on the radio. It's not like that as much anymore. In the 80's, so much new stuff was coming out. You could hear Blondie and Devo, then RUN-DMC and Winger. It was amazing. There were no boundaries and that really influences me. I guess that's why I can create an album, or try to at least, that goes from a song I created totally on my laptop to a song purely on my acoustic and not lose the continuity. There so much out there. Like one of my favorite things to do is to walk into Borders and flip through the design magazines. I also spend a lot of time on myspace. I think it's cool to just flip through and read people's profiles. I wish there were more things like that.

HH:: Cool. Well that' probably a great place to stop. Thanks for taking the time to chat on a Sunday.
RF:: Hey, not problem. I appreciate the support. Anytime you want to ask more questions, just let me know.

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Posted at 8:00 PM by ack :: 0 comments

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