By Al Kaufman
Fountains of Wayne is not your typical success story. The New York-based band came up with the name after driving by a yard art store in Wayne, N.J., then quickly signed with Atlantic Records in 1996. They were subsequently dropped after their first two albums did not sell up to Atlantic’s expectations. After a hiatus, they regrouped and used their own money to put together Welcome Interstate Travelers on S-Curve Records. It spawned the monster hit, “Stacy’s Mom,” which was aided by the video that starred Rachel Hunter in various states of undress. It’s a snarky little tune about an oversexed boy in lust with his girlfriend’s mom. The album earned the band two Grammy nominations in 2003, including (inexplicably), Best New Artist. While subsequent albums have not garnered the same success, the band continues to pen sharp, smart pop songs, including their most recent album, Sky Full of Holes, which offers a more Americana feel. It includes great story songs like “Richie and Ruben,” and sweet ballads, such as “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart.”
Adam Schlesinger is the songwriter (with Chris Collingwood) and bassist for Fountains of Wayne. In addition to his work with the band, he writes and plays bass for Ivy and Tinted Windows, (a sort of supergroup consisting of Schlesinger, ex-Smashing Pumpkin James Iha, ex-Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos, and Hanson’s Taylor Hanson) co-owns the record label Scratchie Records (with Iha and another ex-Pumpkin D’arcy Wretzky) and the recording studio Stratosphere Sound (with Iha and Ivy mate Andy Chase). He penned the disgustingly catchy title track to the Tom Hanks movie That Thing You Do, and, with David Javerbaum, wrote the Steven Colbert and Elvis Costello Christmas carol duet, “There Are Much Worse Things to Believe In,” which was shown on Colbert’s Christmas special. He’s written tons of music for movies and TV, has produced everyone from Verve Pipe to Fastball to They Might Be Giants, and rumor has it that he occasionally sleeps. Atlanta Music Guide caught up with Schlesinger during Fountains of Wayne’s latest tour that comes to Atlanta on Friday, February 10, at The Loft at Center Stage.
It was almost four years between your last album, Traffic and Weather, and Sky Full of Holes. What did you do during that time?
When Fountains of Wayne wasn’t touring, I worked on a bunch of other projects – TV stuff, a Broadway show, and a bunch of other people’s records. I put out a record with Tinted Windows. And I worked on the new Ivy record, All Hours, which also just came out.
Sky Full of Holes has a rootsier, gentler sound than your past albums. Is this the Fountains of Wayne have grown up album?
Actually, this record is probably the closest to what we sounded like when Chris and I first started making music together, when we were around 20 years old.
Is it a conscious decision about how much snark and how much sweetness appears on each album?
I don’t think we consider ourselves to be snarky at all. We certainly don’t set out with that as a goal. There’s humor in a lot of our songs, but ideally there’s a wide range of emotions too.
You had the major label signing, only to find success later after getting dropped. What do you think about the current state of the record industry and where is it going?
I don’t have any idea where the business is going. It seems like the days of exclusive major label rule is pretty much over. But there’s also way too much music being released these days – sometimes I think you should have to pass a test first, like driving a car.
You’ve had more than your share of songs performed on TV shows and commercials and in movies. Is this pretty much a necessity now for a band to survive?
I don’t know if it’s a necessity but it’s certainly helpful, especially if your music doesn’t get played on the radio a lot.
After a hit like “Stacy’s Mom,” is it hard to get thoughts out of your head such as “How can I re-create that success?” or do you go the other way and think, “That was a novelty hit. I hope we are remembered for more than that”?
We certainly would like to be known for more than that song, because we’ve written hundreds of other songs too. But we don’t worry too much about hit singles in general – we just try to write songs we like.