Out of the Shadows, Into the Light: An Interview with Jody Porter

When you’re a musician who has spent the past 20 years existing safely within the circle of various bands, stepping out on your own brings no small amount of pressure. Jody Porter, guitarist for the power-pop group Fountains of Wayne, is feeling that pressure with the release of his debut solo album, Close to the Sun.

No longer able to hide within his former indie bands such as the Belltower, the Astrojet, or the previously mentioned Fountains of Wayne, Porter is adjusting to being front and center by focusing on what comes most naturally to him: making great music.

By bridging the psychedelic approach of the Belltower with the relentless crunch of his guitar work in Fountains of Wayne, Jody has tapped into a broad spectrum of influences for a record that — both sonically and lyrically — transports listeners just a little bit closer to the sun’s rays.

PopMatters spoke with Jody about differentiating his solo music from his other groups, being insulted by some British journalists with an unfavorable label, and the surprising direction of the next Fountains of Wayne release.

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The lyrical approach of Fountains of Wayne’s material is storytelling. For this record your lyrics cover twilight, stars and the galaxy. Did you find more freedom with this approach to lyric writing?

It’s more of broad spectrum. It’s an ethereal palate to work off of than being tied down to telling a story. For me to be a folk lyricist is not my bag. I write from a stream of consciousness.

In an interview Chris Collingwood [Fountains of Wayne, lead singer], stated that it’s an American thing where you believe the singer is conveying their own personal pain. So are your songs drawn from personal experiences or primarily your imagination?

Fountains of Wayne are great at writing stories about people they don’t know and it becomes interesting and sheds that side of life. I thought I’d be less lyrically inclined to write about things I don’t know about. So I pulled from my personal experiences. Seventy-five percent is my point of view and there is some of the stuff that may be about someone I know.

The album has some atmospheric elements along with some heavy guitar driven touches. It truly creates for some dramatic layers within the music.

I lived in London in the early ’90s when I was with the Belltower, and most of Britain at that time was more sonically psychedelic and layered. So that was a big influence at the time. I’ve always liked the British Invasion stuff. Britain was a whole different world musically. It was like the grass was always greener and we adapted more to the British culture and sound. I always had more British influence as a songwriter than say, Soundgarden, who sound more American.

Did you mind it when certain British journalists began to label your music with the Belltower as part of the shoegaze genre?

That’s an interesting term because it didn’t mean anything. Most journalists used it to talk about rural British bands with cardigans and no energy who looked at their shoes out of nervousness and hid behind a wall of sound. So it was not complimentary but now American bands use it and it takes on a different meaning about the sound. We came out of a scene similar to that so there are elements of that in Fountains of Wayne and in my record now. You can hear it when we go into a psychotropic guitar sound that some confuse with the synthesizer.

I read that you used to be a control freak.

Yeah, back in Britain it was a smaller country and I wanted to keep some credibility to the point that touring and making records became a chore. You have to keep fun in it and everything else comes into place. That way I don’t get caught up in the meaning of it. My work ethic wasn’t where a major label wanted it to be. The band split because of pressure and I wasn’t comfortable doing things I didn’t want to. You write your own book when it comes to that stuff. It does make it a lot more enjoyable when you’re not pressed to overwork. With Nirvana it became a point where [Kurt Cobain] lost control and it’s very depressing. Younger kids at that age need people on your side who can empathize ‘cause it is your art and you want it marketed properly. I’m more laid back now from experience but it’s still emotionally wrecking to be on the front line.

I’ve heard a few different things about the direction of the next Fountains of Wayne album so please let us know what we can actually expect.

We are 95% finished with the record now so I am looking to have something out by late summer. There is no title yet. It’s a little bit more introspective and not as loud of a record as the last two. I think that came from the fact that we started last year doing acoustic based tours because we didn’t have a record out. We wanted to get back out on tour and did it stripped down. Overall it’s not as brash or guitar heavy.