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Melody Maker June 15 1991
THE BELLTOWER
CHIMES OF FREEDOM
Their debut EP, 'Exploration Day', was an MM Single Of The Week.
Their gigs are drawing increasing numbers of wide-eyed devotees. Their
future is the stars. STEVE SUTHERLAND meets THE BELLTOWER.

Pics: TOM SHEEHAN (Note: These are in the Gallery)


Jody Porter spent his 19th birthday drinking Jack with Keef. A friend of a
friend hauled him down to the studio where the gnarled old Stone was
recording his solo LP and the wide-eyed, hollow-cheeked Jody was allowed to
mess with Keef's Telecaster. The neck was so wide Jody couldn't get his hand around it.
" It was the first guitar l never wanted and it was Keef's!"
What does that say?
" Kill your heroes."
Jody Porter spent his 20th birthday in Quiz Show Hell. Born in Charleston,
South Carolina, he'd lived most of his young life in Macon, Georgia, where his pa hung out with The Allman Brothers and wrote screenplays. But the scene was too sleepy-slow in the South for a would-be guitarslinger, and Jody moved where the action was, to LA.
" You'd see Bob Barker from 'The Price Is Right' walking down the street like your worst nightmare," he says now, still visibly shaken. "Everybody's real medallionesque out there. It's a little tacky."
Jody wasn't into metal. The boy moved on.
Jody Porter spent his 21st birthday in shock. Resident in NYC, the willowy
Jody had formed a band with a slender, cat-eyed beauty called Britta
Phillips and they'd played the clubs getting pretty much nowhere as biker
rock, Living Colour musorock and big production values dictated the terms of
the trend.
The loving couple who liked to spit at each other when they fought had just
hooked up with Detroit drummer Nino Dmtryszyn when Jody heard another friend
of a friend had been knifed in the throat in a coke deal. "Okay, the guy had
problems," Jody told pals, "but he didn't deserve to die."
Within days, Jody was going home when he saw a pimp chasing some guy down
his street, waving a gun. Jody made it inside, locked the door and got
scared to go out. The way he saw it, America was on the fast track to
damnation. He'd seen gross racism in the South and now he was embroiled in a
" crack / AIDS Armageddon" in the North.
" It's gonna kill everyone," he told Britta. "It's gonna kill us. It's like a
scary movie. We gotta get out."
Jody Porter spent his 22nd birthday in ecstasy. He was on stage with his
band, The Belltower, in Paris. His eyes were closed, the feedback was
mounting and he could hear Dave from Levitation whooping down front. He
hadn't slept for 24 hours and he wasn't about to sleep for days. Partytime!
Jody had located his band to Britain almost a year earlier and, within
weeks, it had all fallen together. They had an agent, a manager, a record
company and a new bass player from Brighton called Mark Browning. The press
had been kind, the gigs were going great and their first EP, "Exploration
Day", was Melody Maker's Single Of The Week. By a mixture of good luck and
better judgement, The Belltower were happening.
" Everything's more open-minded over here," says Jody over a breakfast double
Jack. "You can just go off where you want, you don't have to stick to the
straight format and people will relate to that.
" I read something the other day that more or less said it. I can't remember
what paper it was in but it said English audiences are more in tune with
what they like. I think that's true because you don't have the big corporate
things like MTV coming over here, making you know all the words to songs you
didn't even wanna know in the first place. So people are less infiltrated
with crap - they can make up their own minds what they like.
" Consequently, I'm less inhibited writing here. The songs I've been writing
recently are a lot more spacious, a bit more heady, whereas before I was
just trying to come up with something raw that would appeal to myself
because everything was so glossy in the States. Here you can pretty much do
what the f*** you want."
Jody's wearing an old "President Ouayle" tee-shirt, Edvard Munch's The
Scream screaming from his chest. Jody's shins are bruised to f***. Britta'd
got in a rage this morning and kicked the shit out of him. He cuddles her
now as she sips her pint of IPA, her black jeans splashed with pink paint
from the house they're decorating by way of rent in New Cross.
I've just asked Britta, who writes the songs Jody doesn't, what "Outshine
The Sun", the damn-near perfect pop single that starts the EP, is about. She
's stalling like mad.
" What was I writing about? Oh? Hahaha..."
" What would Bob Dylan say to that?" asks Jody, helpfully.
" lt was a personal thing. I don't think I was aware what it was about until
after I heard it, y'know? It's a sort of... uh... I don't wanna get really
specific about this. It's like an envy song, y'know? People are saying it's
really positive, but when I wrote it it was more like. I don't want to say
who it was about or anything like that, that would be too embarrassing. It's
just about someone coming away and, y'know, overtaking you, outshining you,
y'know? That sort of thing... haha."
Beautifully explained.
" We need Bono here," says Jody. "He'd tell us what it's about man. It must
be related to God in some fashion. Or the universe."
" I think the songs take a very negative emotion and make them feel very
blissful, very high," says Britta. 'l don't think any of the songs are like
'Hey Happy Day!' but I think you can get a blissful feeling from expressing
any emotion. You can feel hatred, but if it's expressed, you can actually
feel great expressing it."
" That's what music does," says Jody, "magnifies life. It makes you able to
cope and feel things."
'When you get on stage you're not yourself any more. It just comes through
the air, through the music, the vibe of the place, whatever," says Britta.
" It's different all the time.
" I think I feel most focused and the most like myself when we're performing
or recording rather than in everyday life because there's no boundaries
there. And you can't carry it over. After the show you're back into
yourself."
" Making music is magical," says Mark. "There's something so strong with four
people playing together creating something..."
" It's a drug," says Britta, "an addictive drug..."
" If I'm really immersed in what I'm doing, I don't really remember from when
I go on till when I come off," says Mark.
" It's guitar meditation," says Jody, and he smiles. "Feedback..."
Jody's real pleased that l like the "Exploration Day" EP but he thinks it's
a crock of shit. It was done almost a year ago with Levitation's Terry
Bickers sympathetically producing but, even though they ditched their plans
right there in the studio and went for the moment, the EP doesn't sound
spontaneous enough now.
The next EP, he says, will be more in keeping with where The Belltower are
at. They'll record it soon with The Who's sound engineer at the controls
because they want it to approximate as closely as possible their live
sound - a sound which, incidentally, is baffling as many people as it's
delighting.
Although The Belltower make sense in the current climate, they don't quite
fit snugly into the honeyfeedback scene. They've been compared to
Television, The Pixies, Jefferson Airplane and Patti Smith -all and none of
which make sense. I'd chuck in Throwing Muses and Green On Red (Jody's like
Chuck Prophet's half-brother; a consummate, skinny, dry, tasteful, cocky
guitarist), but none of this rings true with Britta.
'It's funny being compared to other bands because a lot of the bands people
say we sound like, we've never even heard or haven't heard enough to be
influenced by. I suppose the good thing is everyone says something
different. I don't know what we sound like. I'm too close to it."
" I went out in the audience the other day and listened," says Jody. "I had
about a 20 foot lead, so I said, 'Hey man, I'm feeling my oats, I'm gonna
walk out 20 feet. It sounded pretty good but, fortunately, it didn't sound
like any of those bands we've been compared to.
" All we want to do is something that hasn't been done before and I think
we're refining it every day that we're a band. lt's basically just trying
not to do the same thing as we've done before. Have influences, that's cool.
But don't repeat 'em. There's only a few albums that I really get into but
I'd never wanna make those albums again."
" You hear people say guitar, bass and drums are nothing new but that's not
the point. The same instruments are being used but it's all coming from
inside you," says Britta. "You've got a sound inside your head that's
constantly changing and you're sort of going for that ultimate noise sound
music that connects with people. Our ambitions are just to make really great
music that we like to listen to and can be proud of rather than going for
being 'Top Of The Pops' major pop stars."
Jody has this theory that The Belltower are good in proportion to how much
sleep they get. Less sleep, less good.
" We're up all night sometimes, just staring at walls and stuff. It's not
very healthy is it? We're only doing this because there's nothing else we
can do. Mind you, I'd like to be a tube driver. You'd see a lot of the world
that way wouldn't you?"
You'd see people diving off the platform.
" I wouldn't blame 'em for that. I feel like doing it myself sometimes.

Don't
you feel you need some relief? I do. I try to kick off every day but I just
can't make it?"
Jody's staring into his sixth double. It could be the Jack talking.
How does he try to top himself?
" I wrack myself emotionally."
I should ask him how he squares quitting New York in fear of his life with
daily trying to shuffle off his mortal coil, but he's been irresistibly
drawn to the soccer video game and, what with the World Cup coming up in the
USA, it seems churlish to interrupt him. The more participating Yanks the
merrier.
The "Exploration Day" EP is available now on Ultimate.

Thanks very much to Keg!