Fountains of Wayne
is Brian Young
and Jody Porter.
Time has Come for Fountains of Wayne Obscurities Set
Published: Jun 24th, 2005
Author: Tom Lanham
Source: Inside Bay Area
Aspiring songwriters can never accurately pinpoint the unusual places such career-launching muses will appear. Take, for instance, clever musical craftsman Adam Schlesinger, who — as an admittedly impressionable child — grew strangely fascinated with one of his parents' pals, the late film composer Michael Small, who'd scored such hits as "Klute," "Marathon Man" and the original "Stepford Wives." Quite a quirky idol for a kid to have.
"But he became sort of a hero of mine," recalls Schlesinger, who took up keyboards, then guitar and bass, in Small's honor. "Because I always just thought that was the coolest idea; that you could sit at the piano, make something up, and then see it on the screen or hear it on a record. So I started my own little songs."
Now, says the 37-year-old tunesmith, he's completed "literally hundreds of songs, but that's including a lot of ones that no one ever hears."
Fortunately, most of his numbers have hit the shops, some on "In The Clear," the latest album from Schlesinger's part-time art-rock outfit Ivy; others on the brand-new "Out-Of-State Plates," the 28-track B-sides/rarities anthology (on Virgin) from his brainy power-pop combo, Fountains of Wayne.
Only three records on, Schlesinger says that he and his vocalist partner Chris Collingwood combed through their massive obscurities vault and made a necessary decision: "It had gotten to the point where we were like, 'If we don't put this stuff out now, it's going to get too big to put out and it'll end up being a seven-CD set that nobody will buy.' So we had to draw the line."
FOW fans will go ga-ga over early B-sides like "Karpet King" and "Janice's Party," as well as the promo-only chestnuts "The Man in the Santa Suit" and "I Want an Alien for Christmas."
Collectible covers are also included: Bacharach/David's "Trains and Boats and Planes," a live version of E.L.O.'s "Can't Get It Out of My Head," and a breathy, gently-strummed take on Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby One More Time" (the rarest gem in the glittery set).
Rounding it all out are two chiming new originals — "Maureen" and "The Girl I Can't Forget" — that show just how remarkably far Schlesinger has taken Small's initial inspiration.
In fact, Schlesinger himself is no stranger to movie scores. His retro-themed title cut for Tom Hanks' Beatle-ish "That Thing You Do!" fable actually nabbed a Best Song nomination at the'97 Oscars.
And Fountains' recent Top 40 smash "Stacy's Mom" — with its Cars-kitschy motif, kiddie-crush lyrical theme and playful video (starring a luscious Rachel Hunter) — proved so pivotal, it inspired an actual Dr Pepper spinoff/spoof commercial.
Schlesinger remembers being blindsided by both coups. "And I never really thought of anything I write as having upbeat teen optimism," he adds. "But I guess sometimes it can be viewed that way. But pop music in general is traditionally a teen form, so I'll start with that when I'm writing and play with it a bit, put some kind of twist on it. Which doesn't necessarily mean that I'm always the most optimistic person."
Truth be told, the musician is looking pretty beat today. Fresh from his soundcheck with Ivy, he slumps onto a barstool at a South of Market taqueria in San Francisco and orders a stiff whiskey.
With his partner James ("Smashing Pumpkins") Iha, he also oversees a thriving indie imprint, the New Line-distributed Scratchie Records, and a roster of breakout artists like Sweden's Blondie-shrewd The Sounds.
Once the Ivy tour wraps up, Schlesinger will return (to Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco on Tuesday) with Fountains of Wayne, performing a groovy all-acoustic set. No wonder he sounds exhausted.
Having two separate bands and a label, says the multi-tasker, "is a little bit schizophrenic, but it's always worked out naturally and hasn't taken that much advance planning. I think mostly because both of my groups take a long time to make records. And for me, it helps keep me interested in both to get away from either one for a while and go do something else. Then I can come back to it and get excited all over again."
Schlesinger and Collingwood first teamed up while attending Williams College in Massachusetts. Then they split, Schlesinger to New York to form Ivy, his chum to Boston for a short-lived country band dubbed the Mercy Buckets.
In 1996, they reconvened, with an odd concept: "Chris was going to be this solo artist and I was going to be his producer."
They made one cassette called "Smalltown Criers"; two of its songs are on the anthology. "Relics from this really weird period," Schlesinger says.
Two other crucial decisions were made around the same time. First, that the duo would dub all of its work a collaboration, yet continue to write separately, a la Lennon and McCartney. Second, that the velvet-voiced Collingwood would be the permanent FOW frontman.
His singing, Schlesinger laughs, "is the reason I put up with Chris. I think everything he writes is generally amazing. But as a singer, he can take anything and make it work. He has the same ability John Lennon had, where he could sing a ballad or rock out and still sound equally believable. When we first started, we used to trade off lead vocals. But at a certain point, I just said, 'You are so much better than me, I'm no longer going to sing half these songs.'"
Are there enough FOW cultists out there to warrant a curiosity like "Plates"?
Schlesinger is sure of it. "And I love every song on this compilation, and I wanted people to have a chance to find them without spending $35 on some Japanese import, or $500 tracking them all down online. And there are people who are willing to do that for us. It's amazing."
A B-side can be just as entertaining as an A-side, he adds. "I mean, look at Oasis. I love Oasis, but the best Oasis song ever is a B-side, 'Aquiesce.' For me, that song just defines that band. And I'm equally proud of ours, as well."