Fountains Of Wayne: Transcending Time And Place Songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood discuss the transformative power of arrangement. The power-pop band's new album is titled Sky Full of Holes.
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Fountains Of Wayne: Transcending Time And Place

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Fountains Of Wayne: Transcending Time And Place

Fountains Of Wayne: Transcending Time And Place

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It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

You know you're listening to a song from the band Fountains of Wayne when it starts like this.


FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE: (Singing) They opened up a bar called Living Hell. Right from the start it didn't go too well. They didn't have the vibe or quite the right clientele.

BLOCK: A good dose of wry humor has helped power Fountains of Wayne for about 15 years. Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood started the band. Their latest album is "Sky Full of Holes." And I talked to them about the musical influences we hear. As Adam explains, they fold in favorite sounds from the past.

ADAM SCHLESINGER: We love all this music from different classic eras of pop songwriting: '60s, '70s, '80s, and the '90s stuff that was going on when started the band. So we genre-hop in the sense that we incorporate these different eras and try to put our own spin on them.

BLOCK: Chris, does it feel like genre hopping to you?

CHRIS COLLINGWOOD: Era hopping maybe. I'm pretty sure that even bands from different eras that we listen to all are derived in some part from the Beatles and the British invasion stuff that was happening around that time.

SCHLESINGER: We definitely gravitate toward stuff that's melodic and where the melody is the most important thing as opposed to a guitar riff or a drumbeat. So in that sense, you know, yeah, it probably does go back toward The Beatles more than, I don't know, blues or R&B or something.

BLOCK: Yeah. Well, let's take a listen to the song "Acela," which certainly has a lot of Beatles overtones to it.


OF WAYNE: (Singing) There's a train on a track, painted silver, blue and black. Heading to Massachusetts, and then it's coming back. And it's entertaining by New Haven. Once you've had yourself a drink or two, ooh, ooh...

BLOCK: I think it's really there, especially on those notes, those ooh notes that I'm hearing. Wow. That really feels like the Beatles. That sounds just like the Beatles to me.


SCHLESINGER: That actually is the Beatles.

BLOCK: That is.

SCHLESINGER: We didn't want to tell you.

BLOCK: You channeled them.

SCHLESINGER: That song has a blues influence in the sense that it's the way the Beatles did the blues, which, honestly, was my first exposure to any kind of blues writing. But I think one thing that's important for us in any song is some kind of surprise or contrast. And so, you know, that's like taking a retro-sounding blues-pop kind of thing, but then telling this story over it that's in a modern setting. I mean, the song is about the Acela, which is this commuter train on the East Coast.


OF WAYNE: (Singing) When they come all aboard, you were nowhere to be found, though you swore you were sure you'd come with me out of town. And I looked at all the stars...

BLOCK: And, Chris, you're the lead vocalist here. Would you go back and listen to Beatles' records at all to think about what they were doing? I mean, obviously, they're in your head anyway. But how conscious is that, do you think?

COLLINGWOOD: This song, not so much. I mean, there are other periods during our career where the John Lennon sort of ripping off was a lot more obvious in my head. This song, I think that a lot of what you hear that sounds like the Beatles is just the production techniques.


SCHLESINGER: What really brought this song to life was we left a lot of the first-take instincts when we recorded it. I mean, Brian's drum take is really loose and kind of fun. And Jody's playing all these Beatles-inspired stuff on the guitar. But also, Chris and I have always harmonized well together. And when we put our harmony vocals on songs, that's when they really get a sense of that sparkle. So the hook of this song is just these little harmony stabs.


OF WAYNE: (Singing) For your information, hits South Station at about 11:22, ooh, ooh.

COLLINGWOOD: I think it's also true that, you know, when you bring a song like that in, and you're trying to describe to the band what you want it to sound like, you know, it's got all the obvious reference points for things that Brian and Jody are just as familiar with as we are. A lot of it just kind of falls into place based on what your common experience is of those early songs.

BLOCK: Well, I was curious about that. When you go into the studio, say, with the song "Action Hero," do you already have in your mind what it's going to sound like? Not just what the words are, but you have the feel of the song in your head too. Adam?

SCHLESINGER: I think that varies from song to song. I mean, there's times where Chris or I will bring in a song, and we'll pretty much have it mapped out in our mind already. But there's other songs where we really just bring in the melody and some chord changes, and it takes on its own life in the studio.


OF WAYNE: (Singing) He is searching for his keys at a small Vietnamese place on East 11th Street.

SCHLESINGER: "Action Hero" was not a song that I had so mapped out in my head. I guess the one idea that I had for it was that it's about this guy who's - he's got his real life and then he's got his imaginary life in his head, and I wanted the music to show that contrast. So the verse is very intimate, and it's just based around this acoustic guitar, arpeggio. But then when it hits the chorus, and it talks about him imagining himself having this life as an action hero, that I wanted the music to sound more anthemic and sort of stadium-like. It's like a "Guitar Hero" line as opposed to action hero. Like, I don't know, you know, maybe a U2 or a Coldplay kind of influence for a second.


OF WAYNE: (Singing) his mind...

BLOCK: There's those big bursts of guitar and drums. And I'm sort of picturing Adam at this point. He's almost like a cartoon guy. He's sort of popping right out of the cartoon frame with his fists in the air, you know, flying.


COLLINGWOOD: That was kind of the idea, yeah. It's nice sometimes when you can let the music do the explaining for you in terms of the story. There's actually not a lot of lyric in the song. There's just two verses. I'm trying to leave space like that for you to imagine the rest of the story without having to actually say it.

You know what's interesting to me about that one? I seem to remember that the heartbeat sound, which is just like some kind of muffled kick drum, wasn't there to begin with. And now when I listen back to that, it strikes me as a really central part of that arrangement.

BLOCK: Because this character, along with - in his mind being an action hero, he's actually got some heart trouble. He's hooked up to monitors, and there is this sort of almost beeping kind of monitor sound, I think, going on in there too.

COLLINGWOOD: Yeah. I mean, there's a keyboard that's kind of percolating under the verses.


OF WAYNE: (Singing) I suggest you get some rest, try to cut back on the stress because I don't like what I see. But the action hero swears he feels just fine. He's...

BLOCK: When you think about the album as a whole, are you thinking that you want fans of your music to be able to listen and think immediately, oh, this is a Fountains of Wayne song, I know what I'm listening to. Or is it more like you want them to be surprised to hear sounds that they wouldn't have expected? Adam, what do you think?

SCHLESINGER: I think we want to be able to evolve as a band. We want to be able to try different things. But I don't know if we're thinking out in terms of maintaining a sound that we've already established. But even when we think we're doing something radically different, usually people hear it and say, oh, that sounds like Fountains of Wayne.


SCHLESINGER: I mean, I think Chris' voice is very distinctive. And I think there are certain things that we tend to do with our songwriting that we've become associated with, you know, the kind of lyrics that we write and the kind of stories that we tell. I do think this record sounds fairly different from some of our other ones within the context of what we do, but it still sounds like the same band.


OF WAYNE: (Singing) I promise it won't be too long. I know it's not what you'd call necessary.

BLOCK: Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood, thanks so much. It's been fun talking to you.


Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And you can hear more songs from Fountains of Wayne's latest album, "Sky Full of Holes," at


OF WAYNE: (Singing) I'm still writing you a road song that you can call your own. Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh, oh-oh-oh.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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