Adam Schlesinger Interview
"Traffic And Weather"
Why four years between records?
Well, we toured for a long time on the last record. So we were
out for over a year and then, you know, real life sort of got
in the way for a while. But we started to write during the break,
and we actually got into recording fairly quickly after that.
But it took awhile to get the record together. Then it takes awhile
to get into the release schedule. In short, I don't know why.
(chuckles) All those things added up to four years. We can't seem
to make it go any faster.
of the writing, your main themes of the "Everyman" as the archetypal
hero, this Joseph Campbell thing of an ordinary person challenged
to his limit, reaching a peak-culminating experience, overcoming
the "supreme ordeal", but in everyday settings, seems to permeate
Fountains of Wayne songs from your Utopian Parkway record through
I think it's something that's developed over time. When Chris
(Collingwood) and I first started writing songs when we were younger
we wrote about much more general things, but we found that the
more specific and, in a way, realistic details we put into our
songs the more people liked them. (laughs) That's what seemed
to be what we were doing that people responded to. When we first
started we were in more of a guitar-pop Crowded House kind of
mode, where the stuff was a little more ambiguous, but then we
just started having fun putting these details in and reflecting
on things we had actually seen in our own lives or maybe fictionalized
from our own lives and that grew into a style for the band.
you guys, or perhaps yourself, when you're writing, make a concerted
effort to put references into your songs for fun? I'm reminded
of this David Letterman quote about one of my favorite songwriters,
the late Warren Zevon, that only he could manage to jam "brucellosis"
into a song, but I say sticking references to Cosco and Leichtenstein
in the same song is just as impressive.
(laughs) I think it's just the fun of playing with language. It's
not premeditated. It's not like, "How can I fit these two words
into a song?" It's more that you're just free-associating when
you're writing. A lot of times I'm not even really sure where
the story's going. I'm just sitting there putting lines together
and letting the story write itself. And that's how you end up
with Cosco and Leichtenstein in the same song, which is pronounced
wrong on the record by the way; something I discovered after the
song was finished. (laughs)
I questioned my pronunciation of it, but I only remember Leichtenstein
because at one time, I'm not sure this is still true, but it was
the smallest nation on earth.
you keep notes on the road, or do you find other ways to put certain
observations into your songs?
really. It's more of a mental notepad. I'm pretty disorganized,
actually. I wish I were a little better at keeping track of ideas,
both musical and lyrical. A lot of stuff I'll just forget about
and then a year later say, "Shit, why didn't I work that out?"
But I'm mostly scattered.
you work from a chord progression or a melody or do you work off
try and change up my method so I don't get into ruts, but more
often than not I start with lyrics or at least a piece of lyric
and then start working on music. But there are a few cases where
I did it the opposite way just to see if I could. The song "Someone
To Love" was actually written to a track that I worked on humming
a melody that didn't have any lyrics. "Strapped For Cash" was
kind of the same thing. It started with a track and some chord
changes and I tried writing something on top of it.
noted on "Someone To Love", when listening to the record, I scribbled
"A 21st century 'Eleanor Rigby' for the tri-state area set, but
with a twist.
was kind of the idea. Pretty much spot-on. In fact, before I had
the chorus figured out I was sort of just singing the chorus from
"Eleanor Rigby" as a placeholder. (laughs) The twist to it, which
separates the song from the melancholia of "Eleanor Rigby", is
the two main characters, while being sympathetic to a point, they
eventually enact their myopia on one another at the end.
what I love about your stuff.
see it as being a near miss. I
came up with these main characters and was trying to come up with
what should happen to them. Should they meet? And then I thought
maybe they shouldn't meet, maybe they could almost meet. (laughs)
Therein lies the tragedy. (laughs) That reminds me of the lyrics
in "All Kinds of Time" from the last record, which is a phrase
used in the stable of commentary for NFL color analysts, but when
taken out of context is pure nonsense. What the hell is "all kinds
of time"? Yet you managed to stretch it to a metaphor and compose
a beautiful ballad out of it.
a lot of times that's what I'll do, sort of focus on a phrase
that you take for granted or that you don't really think too much
about and see if you can do something literal with it or stretch
it out or do something unexpected with it.
you dig what the NFL did with the song as a promo?
yeah. I loved that, man. That was actually something I was lobbying
for for a long time because that song was inspired by those NFL
Films, so in terms of a use for our song against pictures, that
was pretty much the perfect thing.
Do you have any particular literary heroes that influence your
a lot of writers I like, but I don't know how much they're directly
on my mind when I'm writing a song. But there's writers I like
that use a certain amount of humor but try and not stumble too
much into straight-out comedy.
about musical influences?
so many. I think we do the genre-hopping thing because we love
so many different kinds of music. There are certain songs where
we try and do a sixties thing. There's other songs where we'll
try and do an eighties thing or a new wave thing. Sometimes we'll
go for something that's more classic rock, seventies, FM sounding.
Between me and Chris, between all four of us actually, we know
way too much music and we love so much music.
you make a conscious effort to take a style and sort of Fountains
Of Wayne it up.
but I don't know if it's really like "Hey, let's take this style
and see what we can do with it." It's more like if I have some
lyrics I'll try and give it different musical beds. Depending
on how you couch it musically it completely changes the meaning
of the lyrics. You know?
mean you can take a lyric that seems really silly and tossed-off
but put it against a melancholy ballad then suddenly it becomes
so much more dark or poignant. Or you could go the other way and
just put it against something that's fast and bouncy and it changes
the meaning of it.
44 now, and I saw in your bio that you'll be 40 this year, so
we're in the ballpark of influences.
What? I'm 19, man. What
are you talking about?
sorry, you'll be 20 this year… (laughs) That kind of kills the
question. But I'll forge ahead nonetheless. Being a child of the
seventies, I still have a soft spot in my heart for those WABC
pop songs of the time. My brother was born in '67 as well, but
he was more of an eighties cat. But is it right to assume that
pop music was always a jumping off point for your work?
we love pop music. We love catchy songs you remember after the
first time you've heard them. That's just our taste, you know?
That's a quality in pop music that isn't specific to any one era.
But I personally love that period of time, that AM radio period,
when they would play "Smoke On The Water" and then the DiFranco
Family back-to-back. This whole mosaic of pop, everything from
funk to country to hard rock fell into.
It wasn't about a genre, it was about good songs. I have K-Tel
records from the mid-seventies with these incredible swatches
of all different popular musical styles from that moment, and
they're all great.
got the same albums. This is what I'm talking about with you guys.
You hit that chord with your stuff.
hope so, yeah, thanks.
produced the record alone this time.
always taken somewhat of the lead on the records. It's something
that Chris is perfectly capable of doing; he's just not that interested
in it. He doesn't want to spend the hours sitting in front of
the computer or in front of the console doing edits or whatever
it might be and I actually enjoy that stuff. This time around
I did more of the grunt work, but that's not necessarily what
always happens with us. There's been a lot of times where we'll
sit together in the studio, as in "Welcome Interstate Managers"
it was credited to me and Chris and Mike Deneen, who was our engineer,
because really the three of us would kind of sit around and discuss
every song and make a range of choices. It's just that this time
around I was doing a lot more of that work on my own.
do you look for in a studio sound? Are you an analog freak? You
must fool with digital recording.
use Pro Tools and we're not afraid of modern gear, but we definitely
start with vintage amps and really good mikes and sort of keep
it organic at the most basic level. I think because we're kind
of a traditional rock band we record in a traditional way. We
set the band up and try to get good sound on tape and towards
the end we're not opposed to using modern devices like plug-ins
or synths or whatever it might be.
built a studio in Manhattan, Stratosphere Sound. Was it structured
in the style of how you personally feel a studio should be, or
did you even have a hand in designing it?
Stratosphere is owned by three guys; It's me, James Iha, and Andy
Chase, who I play in the band Ivy with. Andy was the one who actually
started the studio before James and I got involved. But when we
got involved we moved into a new space and we were all involved
in the design and building from scratch. We hired a guy named
Fran Manzella, who is one of the country's best recording studio
designers and really talked about what are uses for it would be,
and it really came out great. It's a perfect studio for the kind
of bands we all play in and produce. It's definitely geared towards
making rock records and its very comfortable without being too
sterile. He has a nice clubhouse vibe to it.
you find producing Fountains Of Wayne decidedly different than
sitting in as a producer for an outside project? Plus, you're
playing on the record, so you're in the band, yet you're acting
as producer, which is a role normally left to an objective ear.
it's definitely easier to produce someone else, because, as you
say, you're the guy that can step back from the whole thing and
maybe see something that the artist is doing that they don't see
themselves. When you're producing your own record it's very easy
to let your insecurities get in the way of being objective. A
lot of times what we do is bring somebody in at the mixing who
is also a trusted ear or producer in their own right. In this
case it was John Holbrook and Michael Brower, both of whom are
just incredible mixers but also good producers, so there's that
eleventh hour help of getting somebody from the outside to catch
stuff that you probably missed.
takes care of producer, but what about writing for someone else
as opposed to writing for Fountains Of Wayne? I understand you
wrote songs for the film "Music & Lyrics" and you penned the title
song for the Tom Hanks' film, "That Thing You Do". Is that liberating
to write for different styles and voices as opposed to your own?
a case like that it's a very specific assignment. You don't have
time to sit around and wait for your muse to strike. It's like,
"Well, we need a song on Thursday and it has to be about this
and it has to be this long. It's as if you're a carpenter and
you're just trying to deliver what the director wants, just like
the set director or the costume designer. (laughs)
become a craftsman in a sense.
obviously you want to do something good and that you personally
like, it's not that cut and dry. You still have to put your own
inspiration into it, but it's definitely got to be right for the
film more than anything else.
not sure how "Music & Lyrics" did as a film, but the soundtrack
did big numbers on ITUNES.
The film did okay. The record at least on a certain level did
well. I didn't actually write all the songs for it, I wrote three.
I sort of got more credit than I deserved on that movie because
there were a lot of other songwriters involved, but I had three
pretty prominent ones in the movie.
that the same kind of deal as the Tom Hanks' film? Did you already
have "That Thing You Do" or did they say, "Write us a pop song
that reflects a vanilla early-sixties pop group"?
didn't have that song beforehand. I heard what they were looking
for after I got some notes. It's a little bit different because
in that scenario I was just one of a bunch of people just trying
to submit stuff on spec, whereas with "Music & Lyrics" I was hired
for the film. I had the chance to rewrite stuff and try again.
It was more of a hired job up front.
must have been a kick, in the case of the Tom Hanks film that
song is plays every 30 seconds. (laughs)
the first time I saw it I almost wanted to apologize to everyone
in the theater.
I read you're working on the music for the new John Waters' Broadway
musical, "Cry Baby"?
it's kind of in the workshop stage. The plan is hopefully to be
on Broadway at the beginning of next year.
Jimmy Vivino from the Conan O'Brien band acting as musical director?
actually Jimmy Vivino played on and produced all the demo recordings
when I was writing the songs. I don't think he's going to be the
music director because he's got so many other things on his plate.
He may be involved in some kind of consultant capacity because
he did play all the guitar licks on the original demo recordings,
so whomever they bring in is going to have to imitate him, which
is no easy task.
was working out the music for a Broadway play?
some respects it's completely new. I've never written anything
for Broadway or even for theater particularly, but in other respects
it's the same, you know? You're given an assignment and each song
has very specific meaning in the script and in the story, and
you just have to make it work. I'm lucky to be working with some
really smart and top people from that world. The guys who wrote
the script are the guys who wrote "Hairspray" and "The Producers"
and "Annie", and all kinds of huge shows. They know what they're
doing. I'm working with lyricist David Javerbaum, the executive
producer of The Daily Show, and the two of us were just trying
to deliver songs that fit into their script.
to the band, have you guys played any shows promoting "Traffic
we're just starting. We're still in rehearsals. I think the first
thing we're doing is an acoustic thing at the Apple Store in Soho
on the 20th, and then we start playing full band gigs after that.
was the last time you guys were on the road?
done some sporadic gigs here and there over the last couple of
years but in terms of really heavy touring I think we wrapped
it up in maybe early 2005.
what's the mind set when you go from songwriter, to recording
artist and producer, and then working on films and musicals to
a touring act again?
fun in a totally different way. In a way the hard part of the
work is over, because you've written and recorded the songs and
now you're just going out and playing them and having fun. It's
much more visceral. I don't think anybody in this band wants to
live on the road. We like to go out for a couple of weeks and
then take a break and then maybe do a couple of more. We all have
normal lives at home now, families and stuff like that, so we
can't be like a bunch of 21 year-olds hopping into vans and disappearing
for a year. (laughs)
Is there pressure in promoting a record as opposed to just playing
the odd gig here or there? Just doing something like this, doing
interviews, making appearances, making yourself constantly available
know, compared to most things you have to do for a living, it's
hard to complain about it, really. (laughs) If I have to talk
about myself for a couple of hours it beats flipping eggs, as
my drummer always says. It's our catchphrase whenever we're stuck
doing something kind of crappy, it's like "Well, it beats flipping
are you now? At the studio?
at home. I live in Manhattan about three blocks from the studio
so it's a very easy commute. I'm about to head over there now,
live about ten or so miles from the actual Fountains Of Wayne.
I know you've been asked this a billion times, but is there any
particular reason why you named the band after a garden furniture
I grew up in Monclair (New Jersey) near there and it was just
one of those names that we had in our back pocket along with a
lot of other band names. We used to spend half our lives thinking
up band names. That's the one that stuck. It's actually worked
out well for us. We sort of took a lot of shit for it at the beginning
because people thought it was a horrendous name. In some ways
it is. It doesn't really roll off the tongue. I feel like it's
ended up fitting what the band's about and sort of bonded us with
people from this area somewhat.
about the proprietors of Fountains OF Wayne?
we talk with them, and when we were working on our first record
we went to those guys and made sure they were cool with it. We
didn't want them to be surprised. They gave us their blessing
and said let's stay in touch, and we've talked with them occasionally
over the years. And every once and a while a journalist with call
them up and ask them questions and they play along with the whole
well, of course now that you're famous, but back then I can only
imagine, "You're naming a what after us?" (laughs)
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