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All rights reserved. Posted:
January 9, 2004.
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences released their 2004 Grammy
nominations, Fountains of Wayne were one of the acts nominated as Best New
have surprised the members of the band, who were under the impression that
they'd been playing together for well over a decade. They believed
that the two songwriters for the band, lead singer Chris Collingwood and
bassist/guitarist Adam Schlesinger had met and formed the band in college.
They thought they had released their self-titled debut album way back in
1996, even getting a bit of an MTV hit with the song "Radiation Vibe."
They believed that that multi-Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks was such a fan
that he tapped Schlesinger to write the title track to his directorial
debut, the 60s pop-rock tribute That Thing You Do! They had
also heard that they released a second album in 1999, the critically adored
but publicly over-looked Utopia Parkway.
But who are
they to question NARAS? Best new artist it is...
One thing is
for sure, though. In the past year Fountains of Wayne have vaulted
from being critics' favorites to actual hit musicians. They are
no longer one of those bands about whom music scribes say, "you gotta hear
them." They are now a band that people are actually hearing for
themselves. For this they have to thank "Stacy's Mom," their
delightfully retro-sounding single. Maybe it was the pseudo-Cars power
chords. Maybe it was the funny and slightly deluded lyrics about a
young boy who falls for his girlfriend's hot divorcee mother, and actually
believes it is mutual. Maybe it was even the terrific video that pays
tribute to the famous pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
And it doesn't hurt that supermodel Rachel Hunter appears in the video in
thing is, their latest album Welcome Interstate Managers has fifteen
more examples of the band's terrific tunes and quirky short story lyrics.
Pretty much any of these songs could be huge hits, at least in a better
world where songcraft is more important than beats. The music covers
all sorts of bases, from the thumping power pop irony of "Bright Future In
Sales" to the lovely gentle melancholia of "Hackensack."
There are gorgeous Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies on "Halley's Waitress" and
straight-up pedal steel country on "Hung Up on You." The band also
masters psychedelic groove on "Supercollider," alt Brit-pop on "Little Red
Light" and sweet acoustic folk on "Valley Winter Song."
band has become the latest musical ambassadors of New Jersey. Jersey
is a state that is
proud of its native sons like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi who put the
(often depressingly hard) life of the area to music. The group name
is taken from a lawn ornament store in the town of Wayne,
N.J., which has gotten even more buzz because it has since been used several
times as a location on The Sopranos. Schlesinger grew up in the
Garden State in Montclair. Collingwood grew up across the river in
Sellersville, a suburb of Philadelphia. The band is rounded out by
guitarist Jody Porter and former Posies drummer Brian Young, both of whom have been with
the band since soon after the debut album was recorded.
Chris Collingwood sat down with us to talk about how the band has gotten
How did you first get into
Into playing? I wanted to be a rock musician since I was a
little kid. I had a kind of conservative upbringing, so it was always kind
of in the background. Just sort of raised to get good grades and I went to
a private school, boarding school and that sort of shit. So, it wasnt
really until I got into college that I had the freedom to start a band. I
didnt even play the guitar until I was in tenth grade.
How did you hook up
with Adam and get the band together?
We went to school together. We happened to sort live down
the hall from each other. We went to a place called Williams College, which
was a really small school. When we went there, there was only about 2,000
students. Pretty much every musician on campus knew every other musician.
At one point or another, everybody played with somebody in
some sort of band or theater production. We all knew who the
other musicians were.
your debut album came out in 1996, the single
Radiation Vibe became a pretty big MTV hit. Did you
think you'd finally made it, you were going to be a rock star?
I might have thought so if wed sold any
records or had any real success. To be honest, since Id never been through
something like that before, I had a bigger impression of what was going on
then than I do now. Because it was so new to me and everything and I
thought it was going to take off. Now, Im just so cautious at every turn,
you know? Even though the most recent single is the most success weve ever
had, Im not even holding out for the continued success of the
album. It would be great if it built on that, but Im so pessimistic
of the time.
After the response to
Radiation Vibe and Adams success with the theme from
That Thing You Do!, when
came out it got
great reviews but never got much in the way of sales or airplay. Were you
wondering what you had to do to get an audience about then?
Well, you know, it was a really bad time for radio.
Just all the Pearl Jam clones and the rap metal guys. There really wasnt
any pop music on the radio. Now, I think its probably just because of
what the hell are their names?
whats the name of that production team, they just did Liz Phairs record?
I think theres guitar pop on the radio
again. Even if Im not a huge fan of that particular thing, back when
Utopia came out, there wasnt
any guitar pop on the radio. So, I dont know
it was weird, looking at the
top ten a couple of weeks ago and its like us and
50 Cent and
Britney. None of it kind of added up.
It took about four
years between Utopia Parkway
and the new album. Why did it take so long?
The basic answer is that when we got dropped
from Atlantic, its my fault that it took so long, because I
wasnt sure I wanted to keep doing it. At the end of four years of the hardest work Id ever done in my life, more
traveling and being away from my wife the whole time, I had nothing to show
for it. I got back home and I had nothing. I was broke, I was demoralized,
I was exhausted. I think I just needed a year to recharge my
Ive heard that
beyond your work in the band, you also do computer programming. Do you
think that if not for the music you would be living the 9 to 5 office park
I did. I did go in that direction. Thats
kind of what I did until our first record came
out. I think that a lot of our music is informed by the fact that both Adam
and myself spent so much time in cubicles. Actually, I used to work at
American Express in New York City.
I was a programmer there. So
basically, what happened was I had this friend named Joe Rey
that I worked with. He set up an independent consulting thing. So, as soon
as we got dropped from Atlantic, I just came home and I worked from my
How did you get
hooked up with S-Curve Records?
Adam had a long relationship with Steve Greenberg. I think
hed done some projects with Steve, who runs S-Curve. By some weird
coincidence, our A&R guy from Atlantic became head of A&R at S-Curve as
well. So, Steve Yegelwel, the guy we had worked with quite a lot,
he just went to Greenberg and said this band is unsigned. Ive worked with
them, can we do this? He already knew Adam, so, yeah it was pretty easy,
Stacys Mom turned
out to be the bands biggest radio hit yet. At this point, how surprised
were you that it really took off?
I was really surprised. I think once we made
the video, because we didnt really get a whole lot of radio airplay until
the video kind of got big. Once there was the video, I was a little bit
more thinking it was going to happen.
I love the video for
it, too. Who came up with the idea of doing a
Fast Times take off, and who said
lets get Rachel Hunter?
That was Chris Applebaum. Hes the director.
He, actually we worked with him a couple of times before. Weve known him
for years. The last time we had a chance to make a video he wasnt as
enormous as he is now. Now he does videos with, like, you know, Britney
Spears, whos that "So Yesterday" girl?
Hilary Duff. So, hes like total A-List now.
I guess his production company has a little bit of sway when it
comes to getting the celebrities in the video. Hes amazing. I think he
made a really, really great video. Hes incredible to work with.
The important thing,
I think, is that while some of the things the characters in your songs say
are sort of sad or deluded, but they dont necessarily feel that way and the
band does not look down on them. Like, say, tell
the truth, what do you think the kid would do if Stacys mom said, okay,
lets do it? A lot of music writers then to refer to it as sort of nerd
chic, but I think its simpler than that. Do you
feel you understand, relate to and even respect the dreams of your
God its hard to put it into words, but
neither Adam nor I have an ego in the sense of songwriting. We have an ego
in the sense of dashing up against each other quite a lot, but its never
disdain for the characters in the songs. I mean, its an uniquely
American thing that youre supposed to believe that the singer
the song is
feeling his personal pain, and conveying that to you in the song, like Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain or something. Thats certainly a legitimate way to
approach it, but theres also the Paul Simon/Randy Newman way to look at it,
which is that these are characters in a story. One of the
reasons I love Nabokov is that I love the unreliable narrator.
Did you ever read
Lolita is the only Nabakov Ive
Well, you get about ten pages into it and you
realize this guy, the narrator, is completely out of his mind and is
harassing the hell out of his neighbors. Its perfect, because its a
narrative that has a second dimension to it. Its not just telling a story,
its telling a second story.
Sort of like
A Confederacy of Dunces,
I cant believe you said that. I just bought
that book for a friend of mine yesterday. Greatest book of all time.
Philadelphia, too, so I can really appreciate how
well you guys capture life in Jersey
How come you dont have the accent?
Its funny, many
people tell me I do. I dont hear it, but when Im away from home in places
like California people often say I do
No, you dont have it. I dont have it
I was in Hawaii and I was asking people, excuse me, youíre from Philly,
right? Itís the flat O that bothers me. When weíre in Philly,
and I can say this, because Iím from thereÖ all my band mates are like
Ive known way too
many guys like the one in Bright Future In Sales. How much of your
writing comes from life experience, and how much is more fictional?
Some of them are just out and out like
straight out of real life. Theres
a song on the first record called "Joe Rey"
about a friend of mine. Thereís another one on the first record called
Thatís my wife. Thereís one on the new record called
"Valley Winter Song"
which is pretty much about my life. Others are just kind of composites
of different things, either phrases we pick up from people or people kind of
loosely based on a character, but then you take some piece of a different
person you know and throw it in there. I think probably Raymond Carver
would probably tell you the same thing, the story is built around something,
maybe starts with a character and you throw in some other aspects of a
different character, maybe. I mean, there really is no original
thought, is there? I mean, everything comes from somewhere.
I just love
Hackensack. It is a lovely tune and probably has as sad words as anything
on the album. Is that based on anyone in particular?
actually one of Adams songs. Its funny, I just got the news today, were
actually being honored by the New Jersey State Assembly.
(Laughs) They want us to, I
guess go down to one of the assembly sessions. They want us to play a song
while were there. So I was just thinking like the
"Hackensack" thing would
probably be a good idea. Usually, a rule of thumb is if one of our
songs has a New Jersey reference, or is about high school, thats one of
One great thing about
your songs is that youll often take on sort of sad or pathetic lyrics, but
the music is still sort of upbeat and happy. Sometimes youll go in the
opposite direction, too, like Fire Island which is a lovely pop ballad
about kids trying to get out of having a babysitter so that they can have a
party. How do you feel that kind of contradiction between the musical tone
and lyrical content can add to a songs impact?
dont know. You know, thats another one of Adams. This is going to be
one of those interviews (laughs).
All the songs are credited to both of you.
New Jersey, right? It's interesting.
Theres so many different ways of approaching the
melody versus words. At least from my
perspective, I never start with the words and then write the music, or start
with the music and then write the words. It always comes out at once.
I think that for whatever reason, theres usually a marriage of the melody
and the words in my head. I dont think Adam usually works that way.
He has things that sort of sit on his plate for a while. Then he
slowly uses these different ideas in different musical motifs. We
dont really work together, or the same way, anymore. I think its
probably just by nature of the fact that we arrange everything together and
we produce it together that it still sounds like the same band.
So many bands these
days feel that its a sell out to have a tune.
Do you think pop songcraft is making sort of a comeback now?
definitely. I was trying to think of that girls name, that production
the other one with the piano
theres another one. (laughs) It does sound like theres songs on
the radio now. Regardless of the quality of it, which I wont even address,
but at least theyre songs. Its not Fred Durst saying
"I did it all for
the nookie" and stuff. So thats good. Its funny, we just got off a tour
with Matchbox 20, and I frankly didnt know much of their music before the
tour, but by the end, you realize why that band has such popular appeal.
Those songs are so hummable. I suppose if I had been a teenager, I would
have been really into that.
I remember when I was
in college, one of my writing professors said that if you feel inspiration,
you should lie down and wait for it to go away. I always thought that was a
bad attitude. Do you feel inspiration drives your songwriting and playing?
dont understand that at all. What does that mean?
He was one of these
guys who believed writing was more a job than a calling
okay, treat it like homework.
You know, Adam and I
approach that differently as well. Adam tries to sit down and write every
day. As a result, hes got a huge catalogue of stuff every time we go to
make an album, and we whittle it down. In general, we like to keep it about
50-50 on the album. Unfortunately, whats happened
like the first album
was mostly mine. The second album was 50-50. This album its more like me
40 him 60. Im going downhill. But, he tends to write a ton of stuff. Not
just for us, but for his other band (Schlesinger also
plays bass for Ivy) and for other songwriters and stuff. Im a
little bit slower. So, in my case, I get an idea in my head and I really
cant work on something else until that is finished. As a result I work a
lot slower. Its just a different way to approach it, I guess.
What bands inspired
you to take up music?
apart from the obvious ones? Like, usually I do the Beatles disclaimer,
because thats just too obvious. Beatles. Beach Boys. When I was probably
twelve I really, really got into Tom Petty, you know "Refugee," the whole
Damn the Torpedoes record.
Yeah, I saw him in
concert at the (Philadelphia) Spectrum in 81 and
it was the best show I ever saw. I hadnt been a huge fan before that
Theyre such an
amazing live band. You know, Ive seen them live on video, but never in
real life. He was amazing to me. I can just remember sitting, my parents
had a little beanbag chair when I was growing up, and the whole family
except for me was sitting around and watching, I dont know, Happy Days or
whatever. Theyd keep yelling at me because I had the headphones on and
they were too loud and they couldnt hear the TV. I was not a normal kid.
I didnt grow up watching TV or anything. I just grew up listening to
Beatles records and Tom Petty. And also, its funny, like, people ask me
what Im listening to now and I really have a hard time answering that
question. It really, I think I bought like two records in the past year. I
have a really good friend at Warners Special Products who sends me these AM
radio compilations of the 70s and thats kind of like what I play in my CD
I love that
stuff too. Ive actually done a little work for
Warners myself, mostly writing liner notes for projects that
ended up not coming out because of licensing problems.
None of them have came out, except for of
all people Christopher Cross, but Chris decided that he wanted a friend
and former band mate to write the liner notes after Id
done them. So they paid me for the liner notes, but didnt use them.
Oh well, what can you do?
I just heard your
Philly accent, just now
there you go.
I always thought
it must be tough to corral licensing on all those songs. No, its a little
bit different now, because there are like two record labels. But if youre
going back and trying to put that shit together for the 70s, its like, back
when there were actually record labels, its a little different.
In the end, how would you like people to see your music?
Oh, God. Thats
a hard question. I just hope that people can like dig a little deeper than
the single. I hope that this record is not over after
Have you decided whats going to be the next
We do have a
second single, yeah. We actually made a video for it last week, two weeks
ago. "Mexican Wine."
Thats a great song.
I could see that getting some airplay.
so. The video shoot was crazy. We were out in LA on a yacht off of
Malibu. Girls in bikinis. (laughs)
Helicopter shots of the beach. Some mariachi band.
Sounds like living
It was fun. We
had a really good time. Im sure itll come out great. Chris
Are there any misconceptions you'd like to clear up?
where do I begin with that one? Well, a lot of
people think the band plays That Thing You Do! Thats a misconception. I
dont know. Yeah, theres too many to list. (laughs) If you hear
any rumors about me and a goat, theyre just not true.
to know. I was going to lead with that story.
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