Live in New York: Fountains of Wayne, who make songs into witty short stories
Also appearing: Nick Lowe, Esperanza Spalding, Lucero and Counting Crowes
By Jim Farber / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, April 19, 2012, 8:00 AM
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainmen ... z1sWWSoVJz
The reference points come fast and furious in the songs of Fountains of Wayne. On their latest CD, “Sky Full of Holes,” they allude to Journey singer Steve Perry, comic Will Ferrell, Boston’s South Street Station, People magazine, the Acela train, Mount Sinai Hospital, Cracker Barrel cheese and Steve Miller’s “The Joker
,” in the space of just a few songs.
On their previous work, 2007’s “Traffic and Weather,” they name checked the Greenpeace movement, Subarus, Pintos, Dockers slacks, the sitcom “The King of Queens,” and NBC anchors Chuck Scarborough and Sue Simmons.
“Our breakthrough as songwriters came when we realized that you don’t have to sing about the wind and the trees and the sky, like U2,” says Fountain’s most trenchant writer, Adam Schlesinger. “You could write about something ordinary and everyday and that would resonate with people, too.”
Especially since Fountains of Wayne’s songs don’t just rely on the specificity of their images to make that connection. They also place them in the context of a clear, full narrative. Schlesinger, and the band’s other scribe, lead singer Chris Collingwood, make short stories of their songs, putting sharply defined characters at their core. The cast on “Sky Full of Holes” includes a woman who downs a fifth of Scotch, with a chaser of psychedelic mushrooms, to deaden her family memories, a pair of deluded businessmen in “Richie and Ruben,” and the guys in “Radio Bar"” who who drink every night while listening to the same old Steve Miller song.
Tales like these have helped FOW sustain a career for 16 years now, though they’ve only scored one hit, “Stacy’s Mom,” back in 2003. The group will play that song, and many others from their five CDs, at Irving Plaza Saturday.
Schlesinger says his love of narrative came naturally. “It’s just how my brain works,” he says. “I’m literal. Also, a lot of the stuff I grew up listening to was like that. Randy Newman had the idea that the person singing the song was a character and not necessarily him.”
When asked how many of his characters come from real life and how many from whole cloth, he jokes “seven.”
But seriously folks, Schlesinger says he doesn’t necessarily even have a character in mind when he starts a song. “I just have a few lines. Then I keep playing with them until it turns into a story.”
Some of them clearly come from the band’s real life. The “Radio Bar” song alludes to the West Village watering hole where the band used to hang out in their early days (yes, listening to the Steve Miller song on the jukebox). The players, all local boys, formed in the mid-’90s, bonding over a melodic and punchy style of music everyone, but the band, refers to as power pop.
“A lot of power pop has a negative connotation because it means you’re just imitating Cheap Trick or the Raspberries,” Schlesinger says. “I think our sound is more varied. But anytime you combine melodic songs with a little crunch of guitars, it becomes power pop.”
They used it to its most potent effect in “Stacy’s Mom,” a ditty about a young man lusting for a middle-aged woman that, essentially, compacted the movie “The Graduate” into a four minute pop hit — one meant, Schlesinger admits, to sound “like a Rick Springfield or a Cars song.”
Not only has the band not scored another hit since, they haven’t been particularly prolific in their entire 16-year career. Schlesinger blames it on the fact that “it takes us a long time to write stuff we’re happy with. Also, the band semi-breaks up after every record.”
There’s open friction between Schlesinger and Collingwood (who writes his songs entirely separately from his bandmate). Collingwood has also been open about personal problems in the past, referring to having “checked out” for a while.
In the meantime, Schlesinger was involved in outside projects, like writing songs for the Broadway musical “Cry Baby,” and creating the side project Tinted Windows with Taylor Hanson (of Hanson) and James Iha (of Smashing Pumpkins).
He says Tinted Windows may yet play and record again, if the time is right. In the meantime, he says that Collingwood is “in much better shape than he’s been for years. He’s a much more fully engaged partner on this album.”
Given all the ups and downs, however, many fans have been surprised that the group has been able to sustain itself at all. “It’s something we all still value and enjoy,” Schlesinger says in explanation. “And the fact that we also take time to get away from each other probably doesn’t hurt.”
On missing Steve Perry .. "His intuition. His sensibility. He had a certain panache and style that I clicked with. And there will always be that chemistry that we had. It was the most success that I've ever been associated with." Jon Cain 2011