Thursday, June 28, 2007


The Softlightes escape their bedroom to headline Life During Wartime/UR Chicago's dance party Friday at Metro

words: Olivia Ware
photograph: Kane Skenner

The Softlightes' debut album, Say No to Being Cool -- Say Yes to Being Happy, is an experiment in every sense of the word. With no studio and no label deal, lead singer and guitarist Ron Fountenberry wrote the songs on the record from his bedroom, armed with nothing but a laptop and an open mind. Their music is inspired by everything from country to heavy metal, but don't try to classify it -- Fountenberry doesn't believe in genres. Suffice it to say that the Softlightes -- Fountenberry, bassist Kristian Dunn, drummer Tim Fogarty and pianists Andrew Van Baal and Jeff Hibshman -- are, in Fountenberry's words, "artsy, but accessible." Here, Fountenberry chats with UR Chicago before coming to town Friday at the Metro.

You've been a musician for years, but this is your first album with the Softlightes. Can you tell me how the band came together?
I was in another band that put out a couple of records, and that sort of evolved into this. It was the Incredible Moses Leroy, and we put out two albums. Around the second record, I wasn't happy with some of the structures we were having to deal with, and that sort of hatched the idea for this band. It's based on similar concepts -- we don't have any musical boundaries. There are definitely pop, heavy electronic and folk elements. It's just whatever comes out.

How are the Softlightes different from Moses?
Musically, they're not super different. Being older, I like to think my writing has matured, but as far as the approach, it's the same. I don't understand genres. Music is music. It's just about being creative and trying to bring something new into the world.

You write songs in your bedroom -- what about that space makes it your creative headquarters?
Yeah, pretty much everything that's written is written in there. My equipment is in the bedroom, so it's the easiest place to access everything. It's not that it necessarily inspires me; it's more functional. I put my guitar down in there, so I pick it up in there. I don't want to disturb other people. This record was recorded mostly in my bedroom. I don't think we'll do that next time, but it worked for this one.

What was the recording process like?
When Moses finished, it took two years to get another deal. In that time I was writing and recording, in my bedroom and in my bass player's garage. We didn't have the financial backing we needed. It's really great in the sense that you can spend as much time as you want. There was never a clock to say, "This is going to cost us X amount of dollars." Most of the record is from my laptop, singing in the closet with my bed propped up, trying to make things sound better. It's pretty ghetto, but it worked out pretty well.

Who would you say your main musical influences are? Has your sound been compared to any of your peers?
Our band doesn't stick to one genre of music. Super Furry Animals is my all-time favorite band, but I listen to everything: country, pop, hip-hop, classical. If it has something in it that I like, I'll listen to it. On my iPod I have Garth Brooks, Metallica, Super Furry Animals -- I love whatever. There's more people like that than not. Since I listen to so much, it's inevitable that our sound has been influenced by them. We get compared to the Postal Service, but my biggest influence is Super Furry Animals. Most people don't know who that is, so they reach for other things. Really, I don't think we sound like any band, even Super Furry Animals. They make a lot less sense than the songs we sing.

How do you feel about the Postal Service comparison?
I don't hate it. It's better than being compared to the new American Idol winner.

The videos you've put out are very artsy, like. "Heart Made of Sound" and "The Robots In My Bedroom Were Playing Arena Rock."
Can you tell me a bit about what the band wanted to get across and how the ideas came about for those?
The video for "Heart Made of Sound" has all the words represented visually. That was the director's idea. He wanted to bring the words to life with everyday objects and represent the musical interlude parts where there is no singing with images as well. I thought it was brilliant. I still believe in the power of music videos, even though they don't get played on MTV. A music video, at its best, is an awesome way to convey where a band is coming from, from an aesthetic point of view. It's artsy, but still accessible and kind of childlike. We're in a band, and it's fun. We're not wearing black eyeliner and wanting to cut our wrists. You watch the video, and it makes you happy. I did the "Robots" video myself. I had that idea, and I filmed it, and it was projected during our show, and everyone really liked it. We saved the money of making another video. It was a joke that turned into a real video. That's me drawing on a mini-TV camera.

So you are left-handed?

They say left-handed people are more creative.
That's what they say. I hope it's true.

The Softlightes play Life During Wartime and UR Chicago's dance party at the Metro (3730 N. Clark, 773/549-0203) June 29 with Hollywood Holt, Million Dollar Mano, La Scala, Mother Hubbard and Mister Wolf