John Porcellino is the Denver music scene's latest renaissance man. He's best known as the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Felt Pilotes, a jangly local pop band whose other members, like Porcellino, hail from DeKalb, Illinois. But he also runs his own independent record company (Spit and a Half), issues his own catalogue and is an accomplished artist who pens a cartoon of his own creation, called "King Cat."
"The first `King Cat' was done in May 1989," Porcellino says, "but I'd been doing other fanzines for a long time. Spit and a Half is my label, plus it's the name I put on the different things I do. I started it in high school, and I tried to get more focused with it when I moved out here."
That was August 1992, seven months after the formation of the Pilotes: Porcellino, bassist Doug Mioducki, drummer Don Ogilvie and guitarist Steve Jacobek. Since then, the group's members have moonlighted in a variety of other acts, including Circus Maximus, T.A.C. and Bryce Hammer, and Jacobek is about to begin hosting a cable-access TV show that he promises will be "funny only to us and our immediate friends." Still, their first priority remains the Pilotes, which has managed to release a cassette (Spring Cleaning) and two seven-inch vinyl EPs (Never Satisfied and Moving Day) in spite of studio experiences that have taught the players some of the foibles of the music business.
"We first tried to record [Moving Day] at a studio through a friend that promised us cheap prices," Jacobek says by way of an example. "The [people there] turned out to be white trash."
"We spent four days and fifty bucks, and we got bass, guitar and drums done," Porcellino elaborates. "Then when we tried to move on, the rest of the equipment was busted. So we went to [the studio] where everybody else normally went. It was a little more expensive, but we got it done in three hours."
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Fortunately, these expenditures have been worthwhile. The various Pilotes recordings are filled with the kind of mellow but hazy acousticism appropriate to a band whose name literally came to Porcellino in a dream. This sound is a perfect fit for Porcellino's lyrics, which on the three songs on the "Never Satisfied" single focus on broken hearts and unrequited love in a manner that recalls Matthew Sweet. One of those cuts, "Hey Jane," is so personal a number, Ogilvie says, that "John's the only one who knows what it's about."
"Most of my songs are apologies," Porcellino mumbles.
Mioducki jokes, "He has a lot to apolo-
Moving Day's trio of tracks is equally bittersweet. "Kathy's House," for example, concerns Porcellino's former girlfriend, an artist who produced the cover art for the Pilotes' two EPs. When asked why he concentrates on such depressing fare, Porcellino shrugs. "It comes out that way," he says. "I think that I see a lot of melancholy things in the world." He adds, "The two records are conceptual, but all our songs aren't like that. Like `Sixteen Feet Tall'--that song is about..."
"John's ego," Jacobek interjects, smiling.
"...memories I had as a kid."
This introspective material hasn't hurt the band with reviewers from the U.S., Australia and Japan, who have given the Pilotes favorable notices. Nor has the group come to rue the decision to release some of its music on vinyl. "It's cheap and it sounds good," Porcellino says. "Seven inches are cool because it's a way of putting something out that isn't a whole album but still seems like a distinct unit and has conceptual linkage. We want to do a CD, too, so it's not like we have a vinyl fetish."
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Despite these plans, the Pilotes say they have little interest in fame and fortune. "I don't like the attitude that rock stars and some people that want to be rock stars have," Porcellino says.
"They make too much money," Mioducki concurs.
"We want to have a more genuine attitude about the music."
This approach is clearly audible throughout "June My Dear," a new song the Pilotes are slated to issue on a split single shared with another popular Denver act, the Apples. Also, the group will continue performing at live gigs whose exuberance belies some of Porcellino's downbeat material. "Right now most of the stuff we're recording is sad," Ogilvie notes, "but I think the shows are different. Not the way we play the songs, necessarily, but our shows overall are more up."
So is Porcellino--at least when he's talking about his adopted hometown. "I think we could do what we do anywhere," he concludes, "but I am happy to be in Denver. It's fun to be playing here."
And this is a man who could use some fun.
To receive a Spit and a Half catalogue, send a stamp to Spit and a Half, P.O. Box 18510, Denver,