A Conversation With Fountains Of Wayne

The great Fountains Of Wayne just issued their fifth album in a career that dates back 15 years. Sky Full Of Holes (Yep Roc) was recorded by the band—vocalist/guitarist Chris Collingwood, multi-instrumentalist Adam Schlesinger, guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young—in New York City at the studio Schlesinger co-owns, and it may be the quartet’s best effort to date. Fountains Of Wayne is currently on tour, but Collingwood and Schlesinger will also be guest editing all week. We recently caught up with the dynamic duo via email.

MAGNET: You guys have been pretty consistent with taking four years between albums. How much of that time is spent working on the records? How is the way you approach making an album now different from when you were starting out?
Schlesinger: If you add up the time we’re actually in the studio working on the album, it’s probably only a few months. The rest of the time we’re either writing or we’re busy doing other things in life. Or we’re fighting. We made our first record in a week, so I suppose you could say we’ve slowed down the process a bit.
Collingwood: I think if you approach every album the same way, you’re going to end up with the same album over and over again. In one way, it’s lucky that our albums are that far apart; enough time has passed that there’s bound to be some big changes in life experience and outlook. The first record was done in about a week, and at the time we were very conscious of keeping the pace. We didn’t slow down to fix shit or ponder arrangements too much, and there was only one electric guitar, one amp and one pedal, an MXR Phase 100. Back then, we were tracking to two-inch tape, and that shit is expensive, so we didn’t waste it with multiple takes. When I put it on now, I remember feeling energized by a new thing, and I think it comes across how excited we were. Since then, we’ve been trying to incorporate different instruments, arrangements and styles, really just an effort to mix up the ingredients while keeping the core elements. We still want the focus to be on the songwriting.

How has your collaborative process of writing changed over the years?
Schlesinger: Chris and I never really collaborate. There were a few songs we wrote together in college, and I think two on our first album where we actually sat down with nothing and wrote something from scratch. But beyond that, our collaboration is pretty much limited to making a suggestion or two about the other guy’s song that’s already basically done.
Collingwood: We don’t write collaboratively. We did a couple times on the first record, and I guess I like the way those came out, but I don’t know how to write a song with someone else. I’ve tried, and I think collaborations always end up sacrificing the things that make each writer unique. I mean, if you’re going for “The Street Where You Live,” then I guess it’s cool, but I’m more interested in songs that say something about the writer.

As musicians who have been doing this a long time, what do you think of the current state of the music industry? Do you think a band such as FOW is better or worse off than you were, say, 10 years ago?
Schlesinger: I think there’s less of a get-rich-quick mentality in the music biz today, because that’s a generally unrealistic goal now. It used to be that you could have one fluke song and sell five million albums. Now you actually have to want to do this because you maybe just like doing it. For us, things feel about the same though. We’ve pretty much always been off in our own corner, except for a few weird, brief months in 2003.
Collingwood: People ask me all the time what advice I would give to someone who wants to be in the music industry. I never know what to say. I know that when someone’s really great at something, it doesn’t go unnoticed. But it’s also true that there’s a lot of awful crap that makes millions. So if you’re a kid and you make awful crap, should I tell you to stop? Beats me. One thing different from 10 years ago is that bands like us don’t get on the radio anymore. That’s liberating in a way; no one’s going to throw a million dollars at us and then drop us when it doesn’t go top 40. It frees us up to try ideas that are both more ambitious and less of a financial commitment. Whether that makes us better or worse off is a good question. Surely the environment that created “Stacy’s Mom” doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t care about that, honestly; I feel much more successful when something personal connects with an audience, even if it’s fewer people.

At this point in your career, what bands do you consider to be your peers?
Schlesinger: It’s weird. A lot of bands that started out at the same time we did are gone. I think the fact that we take so long between records is one of the reasons we’ve lasted this long, otherwise we probably would have hung it up too. But we have some friends who we’ve known since the beginning, guys like Evan Dando and Mike Viola, who are still doing it, too, and you can’t really imagine them not playing music.
Collingwood: I can’t believe no one’s ever asked me that. It’s a bit of a trick, isn’t it? I mean if we compare ourselves to people we like, it’s saying we’re as good as them. So I’m going to say Cannibal Corpse and Hootie.

Do you think your outside projects and that fact you live in different cities makes it easier for you guys to keep FOW going long term? During your hiatus period around a decade ago, was there ever doubt that the band would get back together?
Schlesinger: That “hiatus” period is something that someone invented on Wikipedia. Every gap between albums was a hiatus. And every time around, Chris isn’t sure if he wants to even do it anymore, and I usually go keep myself busy doing other stuff. But all that time and space has definitely helped keep us from imploding.
Collingwood: I think “hiatus” was a word someone used on Wikipedia, and since then, it’s taken on the air of an official thing. We just took some time getting our shit together for Welcome Interstate Managers. And I don’t really have other projects. I have plenty of other stuff I like to do, but I think I would go crazy if I had to juggle 13 different other bands and constantly be on the phone and deal with deadlines and everything else that entails. I hate talking on the phone.

Speaking of side projects, Adam, you have an Ivy album coming out while FOW is still gonna be touring in support of Sky Full Of Holes. How are you gonna juggle the two? What do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Schlesinger: I’m not sure exactly how the schedules will work out, but it always has in the past, so I’m kinda just crossing my fingers. Ivy will definitely play some shows, but I don’t think there’s gonna be heavy touring right away, so that may help somewhat. Meanwhile, FOW has some runs in the U.S. and Europe planned, but they’re relatively short. We’re not gonna just disappear for nine months.

Chris, what’s the status of your alt-country band Gay Potatoes?
Collingwood: We had a gig on New Year’s Eve where we officially deactivated the name, with a ceremonial slicing of a potato. It wasn’t my idea, but it was pretty damn funny. Every member of the band has his own thing: Philip Price is in the Winterpills, Henning Ohlenbusch has a band called School For The Dead, and Brian Marchese has a fine outfit called Sitting Next To Brian. I’ve been trying to involve these guys in some recording at my studio, hopefully more so when the touring slows down.

The Kinks are on my list of the top two or three bands of all-time, and you guys covered “Better Things,” one of my favorite songs by them. Which of you chose to do that track?
I don’t remember who chose “Better Things,” but I know we both liked it. In fact, Give The People What They Want was the first Kinks album I really got into.
I think I first heard that song when I borrowed some records from Adam in college. I confess I was a late comer to the Kinks because when I was a kid I only knew “Lola,” which the bad kids played in the parking lot at the pool. I was like, “I get it—enough already,” which was probably what a lot of people said about “Stacy’s Mom.”

How long did it take to get comfortable with the fact the words “Stacy’s Mom” will appear in the first sentence of both of your obituaries?
Schlesinger: I think the headline of my obit is gonna be “That Thing He Did.”
Collingwood: I’m planning on dying in an unusual enough way that they won’t mention “Stacy’s Mom” until the second or third sentence.

Adam, you have been nominated for an Oscar, Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Golden Globe. Chris, you haven’t. Discuss.
Schlesinger: I like working on other stuff when we’re not busy. Chris likes gardening and golfing.
Collingwood: I enter a lot of song contests, but I haven’t won anything yet. I’m sure if I keep at it, I’ll get the recognition I deserve.

Speaking of Emmy and Golden Globe nominees (like Adam, but not Chris), you mention Will Ferrell movies in “A Road Song.” Do you guys have a favorite? Mine is Stranger Than Fiction.
Schlesinger: I like Talladega Nights, but only when Jody recites all the lines from it.
Collingwood: I do like Stranger Than Fiction. It shows that he’s actually an actor. Although my favorite bit by him is a short he did with Craig Robinson for Funny Or Die called Bat Fight. It’s a tour de force. He wears a wig and sunglasses, and Robinson beats the shit out of him with a baseball bat.

The Fountains Of Wayne store you guys took your name from closed two years ago and is now an Electronics Expo. Do you think Electronics Expo would be a good band name?
Schlesinger: Yes. So would MAGNET Magazine.
Collingwood: Better than Cannibal Corpse, worse than Better Than Ezra.

One of the photos on your website shows a table in what looks to be your practice space or studio. The only drinks visible are ginger ale and non-alcoholic beer. Where are you keeping the good stuff?
Schlesinger: It’s in our livers.
Collingwood: You mean the chamomile? Out by the cappuccino machine, in the lobby.

—Eric T. Miller

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