Fountains of Wayne: Ears Open, Eyes Closed

Spent the day listening to Andew WK and Fountains of Wayne. The power pop action is strong on FOW’s new Sky Full of Holes (Yep Roc). Kinda forgot I much I loved that band. Also forgot that I did a blindfold test thingee with songwriting principals Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger several years ago.  You know: hide the record, spin it, and have them take a shot at guessing the artist. Do the guys who sang “Maureen” know “Gloria”?

The Beach Boys – “Mona,” from Beach Boys Love You (1977, Capitol) 

Adam Schlesinger: I don’t have any idea what that is.

Chris Collingwood: That’s not so good.

Jim Macnie: It’s the Beach Boys’ “Mona.” It’s Dennis Wilson singing.

Adam: Who wrote the lyrics?

Chris: I was gonna ask the same thing.

JM: I thought you guys followed the Beach Boys.

Chris: I think if you ever use the word “groovy” in a song, you’re an idiot. But I’m not saying that Brian Wilson is an idiot. When we met the guy we were like, “Mr. Wilson, it’s such an honor to meet you.” He made a grimacing face and said, “Take the photo!”

Adam: We love some Beach Boys songs a lot. But they have kind of a spotty catalog. Some of it is amazing, though. We actually did “Be True To Your School” in front of Brian Wilson at an awards dinner last year. It’s not our favorite Beach Boys’ song, but it’s easy. Some of that stuff is so hard to play. We’re lazy and we didn’t wanna rehearse that much.

Chris: “Rah rah rah rah, sis boom bah” is pretty easy to pull off.

The Clash – “Janie Jones,” from The Clash (1977, Epic) 

Chris: The Clash, right? I don’t know the song though. It’s basically “Rockaway Beach,” isn’t it?

Adam: What album is that on?

JM: The first album: “Janie Jones.” Never went there?

Adam: No. I don’t really know the first couple of Clash records. I mean I had Sandinista! and I hadLondon Calling and I had Combat Rock.

Chris: The Clash was definitely happening when we were in high school.

Adam: I sorta appreciated the Clash more later on. At the time that was happening, I was into much more melodic music. I didn’t really get that they were good songwriters at that point. To me it sounded really distant back then. It sounded really raw and I wasn’t used to it.

Chris: It reminds me of the new Green Day record. It’s so simple and basic but I kinda like it.

JM: Do you ever go back and investigate stuff from the past?

Adam: I do, but not in a scholarly way. It’s more like I’ll hear a record that I didn’t really know about and I’ll get into it. Sometimes that will lead me to hear what else they did, but sometimes it won’t. For example, I never really got into every single Buzzcocks song there is. I’m not elitist like that. It’s weird because we’re the kind of band with fans that assume know every B-side ever. Guys come up to us, “Do you know this B-side by The Shoes? It came out only in Belgium.”

Chris: Collector freaks.

Adam: We always feel like we’re getting totally busted because we don’t know this stuff that they assume we know. Like right now.

Simon & Garfunkel – “Cecilia,” from Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970, Columbia)

Adam: “Cecilia”! I love this song. All Paul Simon songs – or at least the singles – are three chords. I like that simplicity.

JM: Are you oversaturated on it, or does it still tickle you?

Adam: I actually haven’t heard it in a while. I think it sounds cool.

Chris: I never get sick of Paul Simon songs. Even the worst Paul Simon song is better than the best Billy Joel song.

Adam: I’m much more into this era than Graceland and beyond. There was that era where he and Peter Gabriel became gentlemen of the world. It’s just really annoying. This stuff is just much more straight-ahead. His first solo record is one of my favorite albums.

Chris: Where he’s got the hood on? That’s a great record.

Toto Is Next…

Toto – “Rosanna,” from Toto IV (1982, Columbia)

Adam: Is this “Rosanna?”

Chris: Oh my god. This is the guy, [drummer] Jeff Porcaro.

Adam: We recorded a new song, “Maureen,” at Jeff Porcaro’s house.

Chris: It’s the creepiest place. He’s dead, but he had a little room in the house. It was probably originally a closet, but then he had a door that locked from one side and the other side. There was barely enough room to sit. There’s a mirror table with a whole bunch of razor blade marks on it. It’s like his little cocaine room! You gotta love that stuff, though, right?

Adam: This isn’t half as funny as “Africa.” Let’s face it, Toto really got by on their looks.

JM: Is “Rosanna” a good song or bad song?

Adam: Bad. Nah, I take that back; I kind of like it all right.

Chris: It’s a guilty pleasure. I mean, Adam, you like Rush for god’s sake.

Adam: Yeah, well this is no Rush.

The Monkees – “Valleri,” from The Birds, the Bees and the Monkees (1968, Rhino)

Chris: [At the intro] Speaking of prog rock … Oh, it’s not prog rock.

Adam: Sounds like Davy Jones singing. It’s the Monkees, but it doesn’t sound like them. Weren’t we at some bar in L.A. and you turned around and Micky Dolenz was right next to you? That was exciting. I used to watch the TV show, definitely.

Chris: I remember watching that and Solid Gold. You know, with the Solid Gold dancers? They would always end on a pose.

Laura Branigan – “Gloria,” from Branigan (1982, Atlantic) 

Chris: Stop, turn it off! That’s the worst song ever. [Sings] “I think I’ve got your number.” Isn’t that how it goes? What does that mean?

Adam: Do you think when they made that record they were like “This is gonna be a timeless classic. Listen to the sound of this thing. This will never sound dated.” [Laughs]

Chris: What’s that about the tightrope walker?

JM: Are there songs that could be good, but they’re ruined by crazy lyrics?

Chris: We’ve collected the worst lyrics in history. The one that floats to the top of the cup every time is “recriminations fester” by Don Johnson.

Adam: Paul McCartney is really good at writing some really great melodies with really nonsensical lyrics. But they’re good.

Chris: But they’re never as pretentious as Pete Townshend. Ridiculous. I don’t listen to that guy. I hate him. I just don’t get the “he’s a musical genius” thing.

Bruce Springsteen — “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” from The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle (1973, Columbia)

Chris: That’s one of my favorite songs ever.

Adam: I’m not a Springsteen fan.

JM: Why do you get it Chris and you don’t, Adam?

Adam: I don’t hate Bruce Springsteen the way Chris hates Pete Townshend, but I find Springsteen songs melodically uninteresting. He’s a good lyricist, but I find his whole songwriting persona annoying. He has a tendency to be really bombastic. I like getting a rise out of the music because the melody does something that gives you a rise, not because you’re getting really loud and playing an eight-minute song and having chimes come in.

Chris: So why do you love Rush?

Adam: That’s a whole different thing.

JM: What about “Hungry Heart?”

Adam: That’s a terrible song.

Chris: That’s a great song. It’s terribly produced — I will agree with that. It’s way bombastic and way overdone. But that was just a sign of the times, ’cause it was the 80s.

Adam: Supposedly there’s some song on the new Springsteen record about a guy that has anal sex with a prostitute.

Chris: I heard about that. It’s called “Backdoor Bob.” Actually, I’m a huge Springsteen fan. I was really bummed out when he made that record after 9/11. What was it called, The Rising? I was just like “Who the hell are you to feel everybody’s pain? You’re not Jesus.”

Adam: But that’s been his whole thing forever.

Chris: No, it’s usually little personal vignettes.

Adam: That whole everyman thing, that’s annoying.

The Kinks – “Monica,” from Village Green Preservation Society (1968, Reprise) 

Chris: Is that Donovan?

Adam: What is this? It’s cool?

Chris: Oh, it’s The Kinks! I thought I knew every Kinks song. I don’t know this one.

JM: You guys recorded a great version of The Kinks’ “Better Days.”

Adam: I played drums on that. I’m a maniac drummer. Brian, who’s actually the drummer of the band, is a way better drummer than me, but I’m like a wild maniac.

JM: What made you choose to cover that song?

Chris: We actually used to play it in college. I played in bands for like 15 years.

Adam: I discovered the Kinks through “Better Days.” It came out when I was in high school and the Kinks were having this big resurgence. At the time, I just thought they were one of the current bands like the Pretenders or the Police. Then I found out they’d been around forever.

JM: Ever heard another band do one of your songs?

Adam: We had a flattering one recently: Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze has been playing “Red Dragon Tattoo” as his opening song in his show for a couple of years now. We were huge, huge Squeeze fans, especially of Glen. So, we’ve sorta become friends with him through that. We ended up doing a show with him in London. It was super cool.

Paste Interview

VH1

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One response to “Fountains of Wayne: Ears Open, Eyes Closed

  1. Wow what assholes. The Beach Boys catalog “spotty.” Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel “annoying.” On their best day these morons couldn’t approach the least of songs by any of those songwriters.

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