The Fantastic One: An Interview with Ron Fountenberry, Alias
The Incredible Moses Leroy
“I prefer to be called by my birth name, which is Ron,” says the artist otherwise known as The Incredible Moses Leroy via phone from a recent tour stop. Under his seemingly ostentatious stage name, Ron Fountenberry is responsible for one of the year’s most eclectic and interesting albums in Electric Pocket Radio, a genre-hopping cornucopia of ideas and sounds that spans the dial from ’80s-flavored pop, rock, and new wave to ’60s easy listening, chamber music, jazz, and breakbeat. Radio‘s eclectic nature has led at least one reviewer to term him “a pop music archivist,” and more than one to compare him with Beck (a comparison that seems mostly based on the fact that both artists are so diverse as to defy categorization). In short, while his nom de rock is intended as tongue-in-cheek, one listen to Radio makes it obvious that Fountenberry earns his alter ego’s superlatives.
I caught up with Fountenberry during a hectic pre-show soundcheck to discuss his stage name, fashion, and music biz politics.
I understand you were stuck in Europe for awhile because of the events of September 11. What was that like?
Well, I mean, it’s horrible, obviously, but I felt pretty safe over there, so that was nice. We were kind of viewing everything through a fish bowl, being over there and seeing all the coverage and not really knowing exactly what was going on. But it’s good to be back home, I guess.
Did you feel safe flying back?
Oh, yeah, of course. This is probably the safest time to fly ever in the history of aviation. I mean, there’s so much security and everyone’s so paranoid… yeah, I feel really safe.
I know you took the “Incredible” part of your stage name because you were a comics fan. Are you still into comics?
Yeah, I mean, I don’t buy them on a regular basis, but I appreciate comics, I think they’re cool.
Did you have particular favorites?
Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil… those were probably my favorites.
I know the “Moses Leroy” part of your stage name comes from your grandfather. Can you tell me about him, and why you took his name?
I just thought it was a cool name, to be perfectly honest. It sounded old school, and he was an important person in Houston, so that’s kind of where it came from.
What does your family think of your taking his name as a stage name?
They think it’s cool. They have no objections.
You’ve been described as a “pop music archivist.” What does that job description entail?
[Long pause] Well, that’s someone else’s description, so I can’t really say what they were thinking. I know what I think of us as a band, and I think that we’re just kind of an indie rock, upbeat kind of “alternative” band, or whatever. We’re quirky pop music — not “pop” in the Britney Spears sense, but pop in the… I don’t know, even David Bowie was pop to some degree, you know? More in that realm.
I hear a lot of ’80s influence in your music. Was that era a big influence on your music?
Well, it’s pretty much the era of my entire life, of who I am. I mean, I was born in 1972; I don’t think I was really aware of what was going on in the world until probably somewhere around ’79, so everything — junior high, high school, all of that stuff took place in the ’80s, and those were pretty formative years.
Yeah, we’re about the same age, so I get you.
Are you into a lot of the bands that are coming up right now that kind of have that same aesthetic, like Barcelona and Ladytron?
No, not really. I don’t really like a lot of bands that are out right now. I like The Strokes, I think they’re cool, but aside from that, I can’t think of any band… well, I like Pavement, but they’re not around any more. I like The Beta Band. Most of the bands I like aren’t from here — I mean, The Strokes are from New York, but I really… well, I guess their influences are pretty much from here, but they’re not as obvious as some of the other bands that are coming up right now.
Well, who do you consider your big influences, then? I know it’s a cliché question, but it seems valid at this point.
Right. [Long pause] I mean, my influences are everything from Hall & Oates to Michael Jackson to Lou Reed or Parliament. I just like music, and if something… if the song is good, it’s good; I don’t really care what the source is.
You’re often compared to Beck in the press. Do you think that’s apt?
In some ways, because he experiments with lots of different things, and I guess I do, too. In other ways, not really, because I think the music itself is kind of different.
Yeah, I get the feeling that you get compared to him because you’re both hard to categorize.
You had a pretty impressive group of producers on your new record [production credits go to Flaming Lips producer Keith Cleversley, ex-Beck drummer Joey Waronker, and Folk Implosion engineer Wally Gagel]. How did you manage to hook up with the various people you worked with?
I just gave them my original CD that I made on my own and said “do you wanna hang out?” and they said “sure.” [Laughs] That’s pretty much how it happened, it was really that simple.
Do you think there were any pros or cons to working with a bunch of different producers instead of just one person?
No, because to be honest, no one really “produced” the record, it was a very collaborative effort. I mean, if anyone really “produced” the album, it would be myself, but contractually — when you enter into an agreement like that, you have to sign a contract that says “you will say this person produced your record,” but none of them really had a big impact on the music. In fact, there’s not any point in listening to the record that I hear anyone’s influence exerted except for my own. I’m a pretty strong-willed person.
Yeah, well, I did know you had a self-released and self-produced album before this one, and I also have the EP that you put out last year…
That EP sucks.
You don’t like it? I like a couple songs on it a lot, I like “The 4-A” a lot, but the new album is a lot different, and I actually like the new album better, too.
Well, thank you.
No problem. Actually, I had the album on right before the interview, and my sixteen-month-old daughter was dancing around the house to it…
Your record company seems big on the fact that you’ve got an endorsement deal going with The Gap, and that they’ve been playing your music in Abercrombie & Fitch stores. Do you think there’s something about your music that makes people want to buy clothes?
I don’t know, it’s weird, because most of the magazines that we’ve found ourselves prominently talked about in have been fashion magazines. I don’t know if that’s because of me, or because… it’s a really interesting thing that’s kind of happened on its own. I don’t know why it’s become such a fashion kind of thing, but that’s cool, because I love fashion — I mean, it’s a big part of my life. Just today we went shopping, shopped quite a bit for vintage and thrift store type stuff, that kind of… I don’t know what the word is, but that’s one of the things we’re big on, clothes.
We talked a little bit about the album that you self-released. Do you have any plans to reissue that now that you have a label?
No, not really. I just want to keep it low key. I still have some copies, and if people want to buy them from me, or whatever, then they can, or if I want to give it away, but in general, I’d like to keep that as a thing of the past, and if someone else has a copy and wants to do something with it, that’s cool, too. I don’t really care.
What else do you have going on right now, and what’s coming up?
We’re just on tour right now, and we’re gonna go back to California, hopefully soon, and maybe make a new video and just kind of see where we can progress, and see what we can do to expand on what we’ve built with this record. Maybe make a new record, or keep working this one — I’m not really sure — and just kind of take it from there.
The Incredible Moses Leroy is currently on tour in support of Electric Pocket Radio. For more information, visit http://www.mosesleroy.com.