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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's no surprise that a band named after a store that sells lawn ornaments would write songs that focus on the quirky, joyful moments in life, but that's Fountains of Wayne.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) I pick her up outside the station. Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh. She's telling me about her spring vacation. Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh. She's not leaving much to the imagination. Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh.

WERTHEIMER: Fountains of Wayne have a new double CD that collects years' worth of offbeat music that never made it onto their albums. It's called "Out of State Plates." Music journalist Ashley Kahn spoke to the band's co-leaders.

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ASHLEY KAHN reporting:

Fountains of Wayne have been around for almost a decade. In that time, they've released three albums of smart, but funny songs that can be surprisingly sincere and are always well-crafted. Their music offers depth and maturity uncommon in most pop recordings.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) TV, she finds intoxicating shows about cops and dating. She has a soft spot for cops who are robots.

KAHN: Fountains of Wayne are the pop band for those who don't like pop. They've earned a devoted following of fans and critics.

Mr. CHRIS COLLINGWOOD (Fountains of Wayne): We had an interviewer once point out to us that so many of our songs had to do with transportation, you know, flying, driving.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) And I don't know where this is going, but I've got a feeling I'll do the driving from now on.

KAHN: That's Chris Collingwood, one of the four guys who make up the band. He and Adam Schlesinger are the songwriters at the heart of Fountains of Wayne.

Mr. ADAM SCHLESINGER (Fountains of Wayne): I am that guy, Adam. I sound somewhat like this.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: And on this side, it's that guy, Chris.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: I grew up mostly in Montclair, New Jersey.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: I grew up in a tiny little farming town north of Philly called Sellersville.

KAHN: On stage, Fountains of Wayne never fail to deliver energy and excitement, but songwriting is really what the band is about.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: I think we both sort of value songwriting over the performing aspect.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: We both really like melody a lot, and we both like kind of traditional song structures with verse and chorus more than, you know, riffs or just tracks, which is how a lot of today's music is written.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: And we like the word `baby' a lot.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: We like to say `baby,' `mama' occasionally.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: That's important.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Well, baby, I think, won't you come back home because I've changed my wicked ways, and I'll never throw your mail away and I won't tell you that your hair looks great, and I'll let you listen to Sugar Ray and I'll say `I love you' every day, 'cause it's true. Baby, I do.

KAHN: When the two are speaking together, they play off each other like a comedy team. Adam Schlesinger offers straight answers while Chris Collingwood throws in the punch lines. It reveals a camaraderie that's made their creative partnership so fruitful and comes after years together.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: When Fountains of Wayne got started in about '95, Chris came in with a batch of songs that had all these references to his friends and people he knew and kind of a light bulb went on for me. I said, `Oh, I didn't know we could write about that stuff, the guy that we have the temp job with or the place we went to high school,' and it just kind of opened these flood gates for us.

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Mr. COLLINGWOOD: The hard part is coming up with the initial idea for it, and then, you know, it is kind of almost like finishing a crossword puzzle at that point, you know, where you've already discovered the theme of the puzzle and you're just filling in all the little words around it.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Well, she picked me up in a German car and she took me out to an Irish bar where I...

KAHN: Schlesinger says "The Girl I Can't Forget" is a good example of that crossword puzzle approach.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: You know, I knew when I started writing it that it had to start with this guy having this night that got away from him, and at the end, he has to end up with the girl, and then it just took a little while to piece all the lines together so that it got from point A to point B.

KAHN: Did you have a role in it, too, Chris?

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Just hyperventilating while he sang it because there's too many words.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) ...at least that helps explain the cuts and bruises on my head from the man I can't remember with the girl I can't forget.

KAHN: For Fountains of Wayne, how a lyric sounds is often more important than what it actually means.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: A lot of times, when critics review an album, they kind of review it like they're reviewing a book. You know, they just take the lyric sheet and they talk about it, and sometimes, a line that looks really stupid on paper can sound amazing and sound really meaningful and vice versa.

KAHN: Fountains of Wayne's new album "Out of State Plates" is a closet-cleaning collection of unreleased recordings by the band. One of the stand-out tracks is a cover of this well-know hit.

Ms. BRITNEY SPEARS: (Singing) Give me a sign, hit me, baby, one more time.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Oh, baby, baby, how was I supposed to know something wasn't right here?

KAHN: In their sentimental version of the song, Fountains of Wayne find an unexpected depth of emotion that the original recording skipped over.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Give me a sign, hit me, baby, one more time.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: When we heard that Britney Spears song the first time, it was 1999, and she just released it, and we both immediately said, `That's a really great song,' you know, and although it was produced in a really slick, kind of mainstream pop way, I mean, you could hear this cool melody, and we're very open to listening to a song that could come from anywhere.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: I tend to rework stuff to make it easier to sing. You know, I'm actually a baritone who sings like a tenor, so it's often an issue for me.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: I'm a Scorpio.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: No, you're not. You're a Libra?

Mr. SCHLESINGER: No, I'm a Scorpio.

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: Hmm.

Mr. SCHLESINGER: But I sing like a tenor.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Midnight, on the water...

KAHN: And surprise on Fountains' new album is their take on an old arena rock ballad from the '70s.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) Walking on ...(unintelligible) she came, standing as she called my name. And I can't get it out of my head.

KAHN: Yes, that's Electric Light Orchestra's classic tune, and its title says a lot of what a well-crafted song can do. For nine years now, Fountains of Wayne has made a habit of creating or re-creating melodies that simply get stuck in one's head, and that's not a complaint.

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FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) No, I can't get it out of my head. No, I can't get it out of my head.

WERTHEIMER: Ashley Kahn is author of the book "A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album." Fountains of Wayne's new CD, "Out of State Plates," has just been released.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): And I'm Renee Montagne.

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