Adam Schlesinger takes no prisoners, at least not during our interview with him.
I know you guys like to joke and don’t take yourselves too seriously, do many artists take themselves too seriously?
I don’t know. It’s a weird conundrum. It is what you do with your life so you have to take it somewhat seriously, but anytime you hear an artist pontificate about pop songs you want to punch him.
All I know is these groups have a job that every other guy in the world would want. What could be cooler than playing music to a crowd of people?
It is really fun. We love to do it. I think part of what people enjoy is we are having fun ourselves. I think if you are up there thinking you are hot shit and taking yourself too seriously it takes the fun out of it.
I read reviews of your records and some critics just love it and others seem puzzled by it. Should people just listen to it and are people over-thinking it?
I don’t know what is so puzzling about it. I think people over-think it. Sometimes you get people who are writing about having a real chip on their shoulder and are looking for a way to say something mean spirited. It’s supposed to just be fun.
Without sounding stupid or naive I wonder if you have ever thought about just taking these songs and making the title and lyrics something you could sell-out to a bunch of teenage girls so you could make a bunch of money.
I wish it was as simple as that. We don’t know how to do that, actually we don’t know how to do it any other way than how we do it. We aren’t intentionally trying to make it not-mainstream. It’s just how we write. I wouldn’t know how to write an-
Actually I probably would know how to do that. (We both laugh) I wouldn’t know how to do it with this band and have it be at all credible.
Was the deal with the record label the fact that you were you and wouldn’t sell out that you got dropped?
Basically we were on Atlantic Records and we did a few records with them they didn’t pick up the option to do another one so we did this next one on our own.
It seemed weird because you have a hardcore following.
It was really no big deal. They didn’t pull the plug on us during a project. What happened was that we didn’t sell millions and unfortunately that is what people are looking for. We are proud of the following we have but in the grand scheme of the record business it’s not just generating the huge bucks for a big corporation. I kind of understand.
I read an interview with E from the Eels and he said that if he were on any other record label other than Dreamworks he wouldn’t still be on a record label.
His situation with Dreamworks and him is that they want to maintain a certain clout with their label even if these groups aren’t making them all their money. They are a more artistic label. That isn’t much of a priority with Atlantic. They just want hit records. That isn’t even an insult to them. They don’t have any pretentious to being anything other than a hit record label.
Is that hurting music in the end because we don’t give groups a chance to blossom to their full potential? It seems that thirty or forty years ago that happened more often.
I don’t know if there was really ever a golden age of the music business. Most of what was released has always been garbage and some has been able to get through and last. I don’t know that it was much better thirty years ago. The music industry just wasn’t as efficient. The music industry was more oddball guys who did it for fun and now they are huge corporations that have become more structured.
Did you approach this record differently?
Definitely. We spent more time making it and writing songs. We wanted to make a more varied record. We approached songwriting the same but we wanted it to sound more diverse.
Listening to the music it sounds like songwriting is like breathing for you guys – is it a gift or skill?
I think it’s a craft. After doing it for a long time you know how to put a song together structurally and make it work but I don’t think it makes it any easier to come up with the initial idea. Chris and I go through dry spells for months and months. We have periods where we write a lot and some where we don’t write at all. Once we do have that spark of an idea we know how to finish it and write it properly.
Do you write separately?
We write separately. We don’t really collaborate, we used to but now we each write our own songs and bring them in.
The songs sound so similar, are you guys separated at birth or how the heck do you get these songs that sound like they were written by the same person?
I think we write for the band and we have a pretty clear idea what works for the band. I think if we were doing solo projects we’d sound much different. When we are writing for Fountains of Wayne we write in that style.
With the Beatles they seemed to have different agendas.
Also it was easier to tell with the Beatles because they traded off lead vocals. Because Chris is the lead singer it’s more difficult to tell since he sings my songs and his songs everything sounds more similar.
You make it just sound so easy and most bands seem to have an easy time writing one or two tracks but then the rest of the album falls so far off –
– We definitely believe in the album rather than a couple of singles and some filler. We don’t want to put out an album that has a bunch of rewrites of the single.
What do you listen to today that keeps you interested in music?
I think we are in a more creative period now than we were a few years ago. I think there has been a bit of a creative resurgence even with things that aren’t selling as well.
Did they just say you had to get off?
Yeah, but off the bus not off the phone. I can still talk, but I have to grab some clean underwear. (We both laugh)
What do people get when they see you live?
One thing people say a lot is that it’s a bit more of a rock show than people expect which I think is really good. We try to keep it energetic and visceral live. The earlier records sound more controlled but live we know how to rock when we need to. I think people are pleasantly surprised that we are more of an aggressive live band.
I see you guys as a fun band and sort of kooky so I think it would be a surprise that it’s not gimmicky like the Flaming Lips show, even though it was awesome to behold.
I love the Flaming Lips. I wish we had the ambition and the money to put together that multimedia show that they do, but our show is pretty no nonsense for the most part we just play our songs. There aren’t any frills.
In some aspects of the Lips you wonder if you aren’t intelligent enough to get it but knowing those guys you realize that isn’t their intention.
Right, they aren’t the types to try and be cooler than the room.
Speaking on that topic, do you think we’ve come to a point where we are sick as fans of dealing with self-aggrandizing rock stars who think they are cooler than the room?
There still are a lot of bands that do that and sell tons of records doing that with the Creeds of the world. We are who we are and I think what people respond to in our songs is that there are references to real life and not fantasy grandeur.
When you aren’t recording nor on tour are you still always working on music?
It’s not always Fountains of Wayne. I do produce and play in another band, Ivy. I run a studio in New York so I stay pretty busy.
How are you able to produce your tracks compared to others?
It’s kind of the same process. It’s different when you are working on someone else’s record is that you are trying to help them realize their own vision and trying to help them focus on what they want to do rather than what you want to do. You have to put yourself into their head.
A lot of bands say of self-producing is it’s hard to be objective, but then you have the Brian McKnight’s of the world who approaches it business like and says there is no difference.
Some people find it very creatively freeing. They try to make a hit and express themselves through that while other people ruin what they are doing. I think Brian McKnight makes these huge records and has a knack for that. I couldn’t make a Brian McKnight record – I wouldn’t know how.
Do you have a goal when you make a record?
The only real goal when writing a song is to create something you like. You kind of know when you nail it or not. There is a certain feeling. You can try to convince yourself that something is working when it isn’t but ultimately you kind of know you are cheating yourself.
Do you know something is great right away?
Some take longer than others but there is that old cliché which is true that the best ones usually come quickly. I like to have a clear idea about what the song is about before I start and a few lines that start me out. The rest is like a crossword puzzle where you have to fill in the blanks.
Do you bring your life into the songs?
Some are totally made up and some are based on our real lives. We have no rules.
You have critical success – what do you still hope for?
All we ever really wanted out of it is to make a living and do what we like and are proud of. To that end I feel like we are really successful already.
I think fans appreciate that you do continue to be Fountains of Wayne and not selling out like I asked about.
A lot of groups have come and gone who started when we did and after their huge hit single was gone they were gone. What is great about us is that when people come and see us they aren’t waiting for one hit single, they like all the songs.
I have to ask you lastly about the RIAA…
…On how they are going to sue consumers?
Exactly. Well and grandparents too – I heard reported.
It seems kind of dodgy to me. It seems impractical. It’s just going to piss off everyone more and want to cheat them even more.
That is what I think too.
It seems like the technology isn’t going away and you are putting your finger in the dam. I don’t think it can ever be stopped. People like us didn’t get into music to get rich we got into it because we can’t think of anything else to do. (We both laugh) We never made any money selling records anyway.
+ Charlie Craine