At Every Speed: An Interview With Jody Porter

An exclusive chat with the Fountains of Wayne guitar hero

Jody Porter (Image: Facebook)

In early July, I got my first ever Facebook messenger phone call.

“Sorry for the unconventional way of getting in touch with you,” said the unfamiliar voice of Jody Porter, who was never the mouthpiece for Fountains of Wayne, but always cut a striking image on stage.

He apologized for not getting back to my request to speak to him for the Welcome Interstate Managers anniversary piece we published in June. “But I’m putting out an EP later this month, and I’d love to talk about that if you want.”

This was news to me, and now EP1 joins the undersung canon of Jody Porter solo releases, each its own distinct cathedral of ringing guitars, fabulous melodies, and allusive lyrics. It’ll feed your power pop fix for sure.

You might mistake Porter for soft-spoken, looking at his career as the consummate stone-faced sideman. But when you get him going, it feels a little like talking to rock ‘n’ roll itself. We covered far more ground than is included here in our wide-ranging conversation; Porter is a lot of fun to listen to, and good lines fly off him like sawdust. Below, we discuss his new music, his old band and a few other things.


So it’s called “EP1”?

There was no need to dwell on the title. I’m still trying to sell my COVID record, [Waterways], which came out in 2020. I still think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, [but] it’s about as indie as you can get.


How did this little record come about?

I reconnected with Gordon Raphael, [who] produced the Strokes’ first record. And he co-produced two of the songs with me while the Strokes were making [Is This It]. We’re there during the day, warming up the studio for them to come in in the twilight hours. And that’s how NYC Y2K happened. [But] I didn’t even remember what songs we cut there. So it’s kind of like a revisitation; “oh wow, we did that?”

I have a whole album [in the can], too, but I think that can wait a bit.


You’ll wait to see what the EP does.

Well I don’t know if I’ll wait to see what it does; I’m on vacation. Some people will listen; some will close their ears.

Jody Porter EP 1, self-released 2023

Are you targeting a certain kind of listener? It’s all very much in that power-pop vein.

No. I’ve never shot a gun; I don’t target anything. Look, the way I see it, it’s like a weed. Like a weed in the yard that’s the hardest one to get to – if you do yardwork, God forbid that you do. But you don’t know how much it’ll grow, so maybe leave it alone, and see if people catch on to it.

[Songs] come to me either because I’m depressed, or bored, and in the mood to make music. And there has to be a studio sitting in front of me. And that’s all I’ve ever really needed.


I’m always interested in what working musicians think of the current status of the industry.

As far as the business side goes, it’s nice not to have a bunch of people trying to dig into my pocket for some money I know I’ll never get anyway. I learned my lesson in England on that. They got us known, they got us the big record deal – I was one of the few that really wanted to stay on an independent label. But we certainly got scrutinized, and that was the music biz for me. And I was like, “this is not fun.” It’s sort of like going to the dog groomer, only you’re a human being.

I’m on the other side of the page, too, because I have enjoyed Spotify. A friend of mine called Joni Mitchell, who quit it, was in a position to do that. For me, it’s like a poster – hey, I’m out here making music! With her situation, [and] Neil Young, they’re in a position to make a stand. For me, it’s sort of like, listen to me, wherever you can find me, please. I’m drowning over here! [laughs]

But at the end of the day, which is the worst streaming platform? They’re all bad, aren’t they? There’s not a good one, unless somebody comes up with it. How about vinyl? I put out the last record on vinyl if you want that – it’s got the lyrics and everything.


How did COVID affect your work?

I hate to play live; it’s a pain in the ass, I don’t move my own equipment. So it was sort of a blessing not to have to go out and tour. There’s no road to go on in the first place, man. If we’re talking Fountains of Wayne, we knew how to do that, and went through the management’s intuition. And you get the gist that people will hear you on the radio and buy a ticket to come out and see the group play. But with this stuff, it’s a very secular kind of situation insomuch as my fanbase is gonna like the thing I started – which I guess is considered “shoegaze.” Fountains of Wayne weren’t shoegaze. Except for “Supercollider.”


That was kind of a conscious homage to shoegaze, wasn’t it?

No, that was Chris trying to do me. He admitted this, so.


AUDIO: Fountains of Wayne “Supercollider”

Coming from the more contemporary-sounding Belltower into Fountains of Wayne, especially working with a guy like Adam Schlesinger, was there a mutual consciousness of going for a “retro” vibe?

Always. Always. What we loved is what we liked. And you’ve gotta remember, Adam was basically a hired gun in my band, the Belltower, and I saw so much more potential in the dude than the rest of the band, who were just like, “oh, we need a bass player, so we can go promote this piece of shit we just made.” He had different aspirations, and on one of these EP songs, he actually wrote the bass part. [sings it]


His passing still stings. I saw the Jersey 4 Jersey performance you guys gave of “Hackensack,” in tribute.

That was a real hardship to do, because everybody was tucked into their lairs, and I didn’t have a tripod. I’m talking to Chris and – how do we do this? It wasn’t done all at once; it was done as a recording. So when you saw us on that show, it was phoning it in to some degree. You can see dirty laundry in the back of mine. They had candles and stuff lit on the other screens. Adam would’ve expected it out of me.


Tell me about meeting Adam.

He came into my basement, where we had a rehearsal room set up – it was just like, meeting another dude. I remember there being one guy called Rocko, and I remember thinking, I don’t think I can have a guy called Rocko in the band. And then Adam Schlesinger shows up, and he was just good. He wasn’t just a bass player. And he was so soft-spoken that he couldn’t even do a couple of frills or riffs on the keyboard, which, God knows the guy could play the piano like Liberace if he wanted. Without all the bling – he could’ve gotten some of that off of me if he had wanted.


How did you get folded into Fountains of Wayne?

It’s just such a weird story – around the time the Belltower were doing a tour, which was just nothing good, just a bunch of bullshit. But a couple of people had come out from Boston to check out the show, and I remember thinking, “Who is this asshole?” And that was Chris. We’re friends now, but at the time I was like, this guy’s got an edge to him that seems like something I deserve more than he does. And then I was out there having to do a damn gig! It felt like I was being judged by one of my peers that I didn’t even put on the guest list. [laughs] I love the guy to death, and he loves the Pittsburgh Pirates, so we’re gonna see if we can get together in the next couple of weeks.


He’s such a great writer.

He’s good, right? If I could write “Amity Gardens”…


You and Brian weren’t yet around for the first album.

Thankfully not! How much I wanna diss it depends on how much you like it. It was a demo tape. It wasn’t meant to be the debut of the group, but it became that. It’s tight enough for me, I don’t dislike it, but…

Anyway, as far as the quartet coming together… Brian came through a mutual publicist friend, and he literally joined the band before the video for “Radiation Vibe” was filmed. I knew him better than the rest of the band, through “personal matters”… none of which have to do with the sexual variety… we’ll call it the partying variety. So he was kind of the new guy on campus. The next day, we shot the video. There was nothing sordid about it until the following day. She was wearing a leather miniskirt…


VIDEO: Fountains of Wayne “Radiation Vibe”

You’re still in regular touch with Chris?

Yes. He’s not gonna make a record without me again, I don’t think. You learn your lesson once. None of us had any interest [in Look Park], and he wanted to make a new start. I could go into great detail about the piss-poor tennis match that was going on between those two boys [Adam & Chris]. But we made those records together, and they’re gonna last forever. We did our job, you know what I mean?

Adam and I especially were really eager to put the thing back together. Not just for our career, but because we had a lot more to say. I’ve heard Chris recently say that Sky Full of Holes was his favorite. It’s not my favorite, it was one of the hardest records we ever had to make. But you know, he said it was a very difficult record for him to make because of Adam’s production [specificities].


Was he very pushy in the studio?

Not really! I worked with him great! Though he may have had some respect for me, because I gave him his start. But I’m a guitar player, so nobody’s gonna ride me. Unfortunately, Chris is a singer, so when you bring a song in, you hear it exactly the way you wanna hear it. And the vocalist has to really be in touch with how that works. Honestly, I think that’s where the tension was whilst recording Sky Full of Holes. Now I read Chris really likes that record. I like Traffic and Weather a little better…

[My main issue] was walking all the way from the Lower East Side to Chelsea where we were recording, in the middle of winter. And it’s coz I don’t like to take taxis, I think that’s a ripoff, and nobody likes the subway, it’s got urine in it. Sometimes it was my urine.

I knew it was our Abbey Road. It took me – if I don’t mind patting myself on the ass – putting it back together. I was in the middle of going to an episode of The Price is Right, believe it or not, in Hollywood. And there was argument going on between this and that, the legal eagles… and I’m in there to see our pal Drew Carey. By the time I get out of this taping, there’s like 40 or 60 voicemails about some bullshit. It’s like when you’re breaking up with a girlfriend, but you don’t actually do it, you just blame everyone. Have you done this before, my friend? It took you about three weeks to do it, didn’t it?

It took about six months to get it ready to show the world. Chris wasn’t there anymore, so there was a little less friction. Not to say that he shouldn’t have been there. But I just remember going into Sterling Sound to get the records mastered several times, just me and Schlesinger, and Mr. Collingwood would accept the fact that our ears were primed enough to judge whether it was a good-sounding thing or not. Which it always was, because he was a part of it.


I’m kind of obsessed with songwriting partnerships. Two guys, or girls, whose close friendship is elevated by the creative element.

It started out as an Adam Schlesinger thing. But once Chris was in, it was very apparent who wrote what – never a cowrite between those two, even on that first record. In some ways it’s like Simon & Garfunkel, but in a lot of other ways it’s like the Knack. For them to have come off trying to be Burt Bacharach or something, that’s a bullshit press story. It was a rock ‘n’ roll band, and we recorded it like that.

You’d be surprised how some of the songs were presented to us versus how they were recorded, it’s a very different animal. Think about a song like “Hey Julie” – that’s probably the closest one that was actually finished closest to the original vision. Let’s try a “Me & Julio” thing, and we were like, “OK I guess…” We hadn’t even picked it up in the rehearsal room. Fountains of Wayne’s MO was to go to a preproduction studio in New York called Euphoria, and work out our songs, just so we were vaguely familiar with them. But they came in as campire songs. Parts changed, solos were added…



What was your favorite Fountains of Wayne album to make?

Well, I work best out of desperation, so I’d have to say Traffic & Weather. Not to say that the lack of Chris being there was a pleasure. But I had to fill in a lot of blanks, you know. So that’s got the most guitar, and that record has “This Better Be Good,” which is probably the best solo I ever comped, the best thing I ever contributed to those records. Adam and I came out of there hi-fiving over that one.


Talk to me about how Chris always chafed against the “humor” quotient in the band’s material.

It’s not just him, though, it’s all of us. It would have to be. There’s so much trying to turn each other on to inside jokes, especially on Utopia Parkway. For me, it’s like, I still wanna write about the sun, the moon and the stars. The poetic, the psychedelic. Like “Supercollider” [laughs], which I didn’t write.


Was there ever a question of you contributing songs to Fountains of Wayne?

I mean, I wrote parts, I wrote some backing vocals. But you’re gonna laugh at what the contributions were. On “Strapped for Cash,” I gave ‘em the “bop shoo op, buh-bop bop shoo-op.”


That time between Utopia Parkway and Welcome Interstate Managers is fascinating to me. It seems like it was a real make-or-break time for the band.

Nah, nobody thought it was a make or break… nobody even knew if we wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll.


What would you have done instead?

Uh… played rock ‘n’ roll. Somewhere else.


It’s just an interesting moment. At the end of the decade, all those guitar bands that everybody was banking on, it’s not the same, nobody thinks a band like Pavement is the next big thing.

Pavement wasn’t a guitar band; they didn’t even know how to play the damn guitar. [Unintelligibly compares them unfavorably to Guided by Voices]


Well I’m glad I have that on record. Thinking on it, I guess there was that Strokes/Hives moment in ’00.

We expected, we needed a band like that. They definitely filled in a blank. The little bastards asked me where to go shopping for their clothes. But who cares about fashion, you know? The older you get, the less you care about that. Their music was all their own, and they were great at what they did.


You have a great solo discography. Do you want to say anything about your solo canon?

OK. You ready?


It is what it is.


Ryan Maffei

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Ryan Maffei

Ryan Maffei is a freelance writer, musician and actor in the Dallas area. He was a member of the lost punk group Hot Lil Hands and the lost pop group the Pozniaks. He loves the Go-Betweens and was lucky enough to write liner notes for their box sets.

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