Bio“Musically, we don't know what the end destination is, and I like it that way. Whatever we've created, it wasn't by accident, but it certainly wasn't on purpose. For me that makes music honest,” says Ron Fountenberry, the principle songwriter and unofficial captain of the good ship that is the Softlightes.
It’s fitting that Fountenberry references bedrooms when he speaks of the Softlightes’ incandescent and joyfully experimental music—it’s there that he tinkers endlessly with a dizzying array of instruments in search of the perfect melody; a way to channel an equal appreciation for Alvie Singer, Ready Made Magazine, Ali G, Boba Fett, Playstation and Larry David… a way to be real and make someone happy through song.
But what’s more important to our chat right now are the products of the Softlightes’ collective imagination and recording sessions: the dazzling pop songs that are collected on their shimmering debut album for Modular Recordings, Say No To Being Cool - Say Yes To Being Happy.
Without digging too far back, the Softlightes story begins (roughly) in 2003, when Fountenberry and bassist Kristian Dunn’s previous project, the electro pop group The Incredible Moses Leroy, had caught the ear of one Mr. Cody Chesnutt. Or was it the other way around?
“I remember seeing a four star review of Cody’s album in Rolling Stone and thinking to myself ‘It’s not that often that a black artist who isn’t doing a straight r&b thing gets that kind of attention,’” remembers Fountenberry.
Meanwhile, up the California coast in Los Angeles, Moses’ first album Electric Pocket Radio (E.P.R.) was becoming very popular at the rising star’s house. From there came a string of connections between Moses’ and Cody’s management. Before long, Cody took the band on tour with him for a string of sold-out club shows. “He and his management were always promoting us to other musicians and people in the industry,” says Dunn appreciatively. One of those people happened to be Modular Recordings impresario Steve Pavlovic. He immediately took a shining to the radiant pop that Moses were creating after hearing a copy of E.P.R. passed to him by Cody’s Australian tour manager.
After releasing two buzz-garnering albums and working with acclaimed producers and musicians such as Joey Waronker (Beck) and Keith Cleverlsly (the Flaming Lips, Spiritualized), Moses disbanded and Fountenberry and Dunn and started up the “idea of the Softlightes” in the fall of 2004.
“Professionally it felt as though it was time to move on, or maybe throw in the towel completely. We really didn’t have a lot of options. I just figured if we were going to try, I wanted to be happy and make music that was close to my heart, even if that meant sounding silly to some people,” says Fountenberry. “Since it felt as though it might be our last chance, we decided to go for broke... something like that Eminem song or Rocky! We just tried to create a lush and beautifully balanced pop record, like the old days, even if we didn’t’ have a record deal or access to a studio.”
Over the late summer and fall of 2005, drummer Tim Fogarty (“besides being great drummer, he had a cool electronic drumset, so we knew we had to have him in our band ”) and pianist Andrew Van Baal entered the fray and the four embarked on endless sessions at Dunn’s Los Angeles home studio—better known to most as his garage. As the songs with the full band took shape, Dunn would send CDs to Fountenberry in San Diego, where the singer would tinker endlessly with melodies, harmonies and arrangements before calling Dunn to request changes (and more changes and more changes.)
What resulted was a new home grown masterpiece. From the breezy sun-soaked opener “The Ballad Of Theodore and June” to the glitchy electronica of “Girl Kills Bear,” the thundering “The Robots In My Room Were Playing Arena Rock,” to the utterly infectious “The Microwave Song,” Say No To Being Cool Say Yes To Being Happy is a celebration of the sounds that would be blasting on your radio in a more perfect time.
“The thing I kept asking was ‘what would happen if…,’” says Fountenberry of the experimental climate that recording at home allowed for. “What if I used a vocoder here or replaced synths into this guitar part? What if I sampled the sound of my neighbor upstairs walking really hard and made a beat out of it? You just can’t work like that when you are on the clock.” Dunn adds, “We’d all try to think about what a regular rock musician would do and then do the opposite.”
Now that all the what ifs have been answered, the noise is about to begin. Please bask in the warm glow of the Softlightes with us.