Ron Fountenberry once led a mild-mannered, shy and unassuming life as a substitute schoolteacher. However, with his new album Electric Pocket Radio, he becomes The Incredible Moses Leroy–a dynamic, powerful songwriter able to craft scintillating rock anthems, Casio-pop quirk and introspective love songs in a single stroke.
“The whole Moses thing kind of fits because I don’t really view it as me,” explains Fountenberry. “Ron Fountenberry and Moses just seem like two different people. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression–I’m not trying to say I’m incredible. When I named the band, I was just thinking about my great-grandfather because that was his name.”
Fountenberry’s great-grandfather Moses Leroy was pretty incredible, a Texas union leader and civil rights activist born at the turn of the 20th century who fought against segregation and the poll tax in Houston. But the road to becoming The Incredible Moses Leroy began just outside San Francisco, California in Belmont, where his mother raised Fountenberry, an only child. He spent a lot of time alone daydreaming, watching television and listening to the radio before he developed an interest in sports like baseball, soccer and tennis. “I loved American Bandstand,” he remembers, “and Soul Train and Solid Gold.”
When Fountenberry was six, a friend gave him “a ton” of comic books, which made an impression years later. “The comic book thing was not as powerful as television,” he grins. “I mean, television is like my best friend; if I could date television I probably would. But everyone wants to be a superhero, or at least I did. So it made sense–Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spiderman…The Incredible Moses Leroy.”
Fountenberry would not pick up his first instrument, the guitar, until his pivotal college days at UC-San Diego. “I was definitely labeled as being the shy, quiet type in Belmont, but since I didn’t know anybody and nobody knew me in San Diego, it was my first chance at reinventing myself,” Fountenberry says. “No one had any expectations of me and that was really good. I came out of my shell a little bit.”
A roommate had an acoustic guitar, and Fountenberry, who had grown up constantly singing (“I guess I was training myself, but I didn’t know it”), was soon begging his mother to get him a guitar for Christmas. He played that guitar for about three years.
“I became addicted but it was really hard for me,” he says. “I wasn’t naturally adept or talented. But I think what I lacked in playing technique, and still do, I made up for by singing and listening to melodies.”
A series of stints in a few mid-’90s, grunge-influenced San Diego groups didn’t lead Fountenberry to what he was looking for, but did build his confidence and determination. He continued to write his own music on the sly, learned as much as he could about the music industry, and finally recorded his self-released, 18-track debut, 1998’s Bedroom Love Songs.
With encouragement and support from newfound friends like Mike Halloran (former music director of the influential 91X modern rock station), Fountenberry was headed in the right direction. Label interest began to ensue and strangers in San Diego started asking, “Hey, aren’t you that guy…?”
After signing with Ultimatum Music in 1999, things really fell into place. Fountenberry was off to record Electric Pocket Radio with Keith Cleversley (producer of Flaming Lips, Spiritualized) at his Playground Studios in Chicago. Other sessions took place in Los Angeles with Joey Waronker (drummer for Beck, Elliot Smith) and Wally Gagel (engineer/mixer for Folk Implosion, Eels) who re-mixed the LP’s hidden track, “She Can’t Get Any Sleep.”
“Those guys are cool,” the self-effacing Fountenberry says. “And it makes me feel kinda neat that they would even want to hang out with me.” But a listen to Electric Pocket Radio proves one thing, if Fountenberry is not careful, he’s going to wind up being reluctantly cool, indeed.
The CD opens with a very cool, obscure cover of “Beep Beep Love” from ’70s Dutch new-wavers Gruppo Sportivo. To follow, “Fuzzy” sports a hint of the easy listening grooves Fountenberry grew up appreciating in his mother’s vinyl collection. The song includes a sample from The Sandpipers, but lyrically and melodically, it’s all Incredible Moses Leroy. The instrumental title track, “Electric Pocket Radio,” contains excerpts from The Cortina Method of Speaking French, an old French-instructional ’45 found in Fountenberry’s vinyl library. He explains, “‘Beep Beep Love’ is actually the first cover I’ve ever done, and ‘Fuzzy’ contains the only musical sample. On a 16-track record, I don’t feel too bad to have 14 songs be all my own work.”
From the aptly titled “Anthem” and the driving abandon of “Best Friend” to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds-meets-Roni Size Reprazent style of “Our One Millionth Customer” and the playful minimalism of “1983,” Fountenberry delivers an expansive and adventurous debut that qualifies as cool in any book.
And he’s done it all by following his instincts and his heart, daydreaming a little from time to time, and listening to the advice of a family friend who had passed away.
“It’s just something he told me,” Fountenberry explains, “about basically making the biggest noise in the world that you can. He said to just make a great, lovely noise–no matter where it comes from, make a really lovely noise and don’t be afraid of loving people and have them love you back.”
So simple, and so incredible.
“Make a great lovely noise/No matter where it came/Have no fear of love…”
–“1983” by The Incredible Moses Leroy